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“…one of the best pure trio recordings of the year” – Audiophile Audition
“The recorded sound is expertly shaped around the trio and the excellent soli so that it is impossible not to be knocked out by the sheer creative firepower of each artist as well as by a recording that meets every demand of the audiophile in the capture and delivery of this music” – World Music Report
“…the group has searched for—and found—a process of recording that captures to perfection the experience of hearing a piano trio in the real world—warm and interactive, organic, the bass embracing drums like it does from the seat in one of the front rows of a small jazz club, with the piano dancing inside that musical abrazo, on this highly-engaging debut” – All About Jazz
The Hazelrigg Brothers “Songs We Like”
Jazz piano trio reimagines the music of Jimi Hendrix, Sting, Led Zeppelin and more
by Jeff Tamarkin
Some things in life are worth waiting for. The Hazelrigg Brothers’ debut album, Songs We Like, is one of them.
George and Geoff Hazelrigg—pianist and bassist, respectively—have been making music together for most of their lives, but it wasn’t until recently that the New Jersey-born siblings were certain that all of the elements they required were in place to cut an album of their own. “We’ve been trying to achieve this aesthetic for many years,” says Geoff Hazelrigg, who cites the jazz trio’s drummer, John O’Reilly Jr., as one reason the timing was right for a Hazelrigg Brothers album. “Until John, we really couldn’t find a drummer who could understand what we needed from that chair, and who was willing to adapt and evolve with what we were doing.”
The brothers—who are also proprietors of Hazelrigg Industries, which manufactures and markets high-end audio gear for the D.W. Fearn company—held out until they’d developed the ideal recording situation in their own home studio. “We were struggling with the engineering part,” George says. “We didn’t feel that we were adequately capturing what was really happening in the room. It took years of trial-and-error before we came up with our current engineering techniques. A byproduct of that process resulted in us taking over D.W. Fearn. We also really needed a proper space to work, and proper instruments. We spent a month three summers ago building acoustical treatments for our space. The project required us having some sort of lab to figure out how all the pieces needed to work. We like DSD (direct stream digital) and dislike other recording formats; they give us headaches. We finally found a multi-track DSD solution from Tascam.”
Songs We Like is the result of all of the brothers’ painstaking work and patience. The album’s nine tracks include material originally performed by classic rock giants such as Led Zeppelin (“Ten Years Gone” and “What is and What Should Never Be”), the Jimi Hendrix Experience (“If 6 Was 9”), Steely Dan (“King of the World”), Jethro Tull (“Living in the Past”) and the Police (Sting’s “Spirits in the Material World”), plus one from the ’80s Australian band Men at Work (“Catch a Star”) and two classical works, Béla Bartók’s “Evening in the Country” and “Passacaglia,” by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer.
Each number is given a complete reimagining by the trio, who will often introduce a new song at a rehearsal or gig. “We start playing the song by what we can remember of it, without really analyzing it,” says Geoff. “Later, we will determine what parts we got wrong and make adjustments. We continuously make improvements, so they’re always in an evolutionary state. This way, we don’t get caught up in the details; we foster the essence of the tune without dwelling on the style points.”
The classical material is an extension of the brothers’ training in that genre. “It is our
discipline,” says George. “Jazz was never really that for either of us. So much of the best rock and jazz has its roots in classical music.”
The shared familial and cultural background gives the Hazelriggs what Geoff calls “a dialect,” a shared vision. But they also bring their individual personalities and concepts to the whole. “I think we speak a proprietary language,” says George. “We’re at opposite poles of the same ideal. No doubt, this is a great advantage.”
Although most of the tracks on the self-produced Songs We Like are derived from the rock canon, a genre in which Geoff and George have worked in the past, the two brothers long ago gravitated toward jazz as their common means of expression. Says George, “Over the years, we have played and produced a wide variety of music from pop and rock to classical and jazz. I played Hammond B3 organ on a track for a notable country singer recently. Geoff toured with a notable rock artist and engineered a recording of me and [keyboardist] Gavin Black playing an arrangement of J.S. Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” for two harpsichords. To us, it’s all the same. What evolves is our ability to go farther with dynamics and phrasing, and connecting with our audience. A rock band is most often a terrible place for a pianist. Guitarists and drummers dominate that idiom. The piano trio was an efficient way for us to play what we wanted, in the way we wanted to play.”
For the album, the trio recorded many tunes before deciding on the nine that made the final cut, all of them penned by outside composers. “We are interpreters of music,” says George. “Neither of us feels the need to compose substantial pieces for this idiom. In some cases, we’re drawn to a song because of the lyrics, which is a component that doesn’t even get translated to our arrangement. We like to extract the ingenious parts of songs that aren’t the obvious points. People often remark how they have never envisioned Hendrix without guitar. For us, Hendrix was more than a guitar player. His harmonic approach was as deep as any jazz composer. Led Zeppelin was influenced heavily by both Delta Blues and Elizabethan music. Béla Bartók brought in the folk music of Eastern Europe. It’s easy for us to draw a connection between the early Baroque style of Fischer and Afro-Cuban jazz.”
Also, George notes, “Much of our repertoire consists of songs that we liked when we were teenagers. They were already old songs by then. Jazz musicians have always done this. Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans’ most famous recordings were of old material that they reinvented. We feel that our strength lies in being able to choose songs that have interesting angles that we can exploit. Here again, they’re most often not the obvious things. Actually, we shy away from tunes that may seem like they would naturally fit the format.”
With the music carefully chosen, the next vital phase of the Hazelrigg Brothers’ creative process is the recording itself. They’ve spent years perfecting not only their sound but the ideal method of capturing it, largely eschewing most modern equipment and techniques in order to create the warmest, most authentic listening experience. “We strive for recordings that make you physically feel good when you’re exposed to them,” says Geoff. “This is heavily dependent on capturing dynamic energy. Most engineers are
concerned with frequency, EQ, compression, etc. We start with the composite sounds from the group, like how the bass interacts with the floor tom, or a bow sound on the bass and a chord voicing, and then capture as much of the detail as possible. We use big ribbon microphones and, of course, our own preamplifiers, which we believe are the best ever designed. With the three of us in such close proximity, each player is keenly tuned in to what each other is playing. There are no electronics between us and what we play. No headphones. No computers.”
“We like instruments that have character,” adds George. “Also, I have done a lot of work as a harpsichord technician, so working on old pianos doesn’t feel foreign. We got a Steinway through our tech who had a client who needed to get rid of it. We took a risk on it not exploding after we invested in a new action for it. It’s mostly held together with super glue.”
“We all play close together, jammed into a tiny space,” comments Geoff. “Nothing is plugged in, other than the DSD recorders and the mic preamps. The bass has to be heard acoustically above the drums (they share a single microphone), so John has to be very careful about his parts and textural choices. Usually, piano trios nowadays are recorded with the instruments in isolation so that they can be rebalanced in mixdown. We prefer to approach our performances in a more classical way, like, say, how a string quartet might hone their dynamics through every phrase of a piece.”
Both brothers heap praise upon O’Reilly, whose drumming so perfectly complements what they produce on the piano and acoustic bass. “John is the best,” says George. “He is an in-demand session player. He was raised as a violinist and his father is a notable composer, so he has an incredible understanding of counterpoint and musicality. He grew up listening to a lot of the same music we did, and he has great instincts in regards to the repertoire. He is an equal part of what you hear on the album.”
What you hear on the album is the sound of innovation, originality, inspiration, open- mindedness and care, enough of the latter that the Hazelrigg Brothers had to be 100 percent certain they’d achieved an honest, natual representation of their music before they would release it for public consumption. “We play what we like, for whatever reasons we like it,” says George, echoing the album’s title. One listen and you’ll immediately feel the love that went into Songs We Like.