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Home > Entertainment > Music > Reno Jazz Orchestra releases “Spirits” (commentary)

Reno Jazz Orchestra releases “Spirits” (commentary)

By ThisIsReno
Reno Jazz Orchestra's trombone section at rehearsal for "Spirits," RJO's fifth album released October 2021.

Submitted by Chuck Reider, Reno Jazz Orchestra

Today I am proud to announce the release of our fifth album, “Spirits,” which is a collection of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s (EWF) music and our first studio recording since 2000.  Last year and this one have been a challenge for us all and this album is a response to that challenge. As EWF’s leader Maurice White said, “Most people can’t see beauty and love. I see our music as medicine.” Their music is that medicine we need right now and the RJO is proud to present our interpretation. 

Back in early 2020, we put together the material for an EWF concert with arrangements by members of the band. As it became clear that there would be no 2020 concert season, we decided to make an album, not with the whole band playing together, but rather section by section to be COVID safe. 

The RJO has always prepared as a full ensemble. Arrangers would provide draft arrangements, hand out the parts for each of the musicians, and we would rehearse to fine tune the final arrangements. That was not an option during COVID and I was thrilled the band was wholeheartedly behind the project. 

With arrangements in hand, the rhythm section started the process by rehearsing, socially distant, in the Good Luck Macbeth theater Aug. 19, 2020, followed by the saxophones Aug. 25, trumpets Aug. 30, and trombones Sept. 1. The recording sessions kicked off with the rhythm section Aug. 30 at Tanglewood Productions. In the subsequent weeks the other sections came in to record their parts.

RJO's Andy Heglund on drums, working on "Spirits."
RJO’s Andy Heglund on drums, working on “Spirits.” Image: RJO

Starting the end of October, it was time for me and Michael Eardley, owner of Tanglewood Productions, to edit all of the instrumental parts. During this time the seven vocalists were rehearsing their lead and background parts under the direction of Lori Johnson. 

With the instrumental parts edited we invited the singers to record the background vocals mid-November.  The vocals were recorded in isolation to separate the voices on individual tracks. It was a bit tricky because there were three isolation booths and the main room to isolate and be COVID safe. Four singers recorded all their background parts followed by the remaining three singers. 

Ten songs with background vocals required a lot of studio time to lay all those tracks down. Next, as with the band, came the editing. Between the holidays and setting editing dates, it was not until early January when the lead vocalists recorded their parts. 

With the band and vocal tracks done we brought in the instrumental soloists to lay down their tracks in February. It was a thrill for Michael and I to hear the songs develop as each section, vocals, and soloists added their parts. It was (and is!) amazing to me that the rhythm section could lay down such a solid base for the rest of the band without hearing what the rest of the band would be laying down. 

Done? Not yet…

March through June Eardley and I became best friends spending many hours finishing the project. Mixing is the art of getting just the right volume levels for each of the eighteen instruments, seven vocalists, and soloists so everyone can be heard. Stereo placement is just as important so each instrument/voice has a space in stereo as not to be covered up by another instrument/voice.

Inside the control booth at Tanglewood Productions during work on RJO's "Spirits."
Inside the control booth at Tanglewood Productions during work on RJO’s “Spirits.” Image: RJO

Here Eardley was a master! You don’t just set a level and leave it. Most times you must adjust that level for each part as the song progresses to match everyone else. His dedication to this project was inspirational and on full display during this part of the project. 

Done? Getting closer…. 

We decided to enhance two songs with special effects: the opening song “Shining Star,” and at the end of “After the Love Has Gone.”  It sure was fun adding those elements. 

The end of the recording process is called mastering where you ensure that each song is the same level as others to provide consistency across the entire album. Sounds simple, but this is an art in itself. 

Speaking of art, somewhere along the way it was time to design the cover artwork and CD package layout. Here Chris Casaceli shone. His cover artwork is both beautiful and creative. Eardley assisted with the entire package layout listing songs, musicians, credits etc. 

The “Spirits” project took a year to complete and it was a family affair to get this out to you.  Thank you staff and donors who had faith in getting this done. It took passion, resilience, and spirit to present to you the finished product.

Thank you band and vocalists:  

SaxesTrumpetsTrombones
Alto 1Karl BuschJosh DunlapDean Carter
Alto 2Dallas SmithJosh ReedJohn Bennum
Tenor 1Jim GaraventaLarry MachadoScott Thunder
Tenor 2Chris CasaceliJulien KnowlesCody Forcier
BaritoneMauro DiGioia
Rhythm SectionVocalists
GuitarJoey BergerLori Johnson – vocal arranger
KeyboardsAngelo MonroyDavid Wells
Electric BassHans HaltTrey Stone
DrumsAndy HeglundCaitlin Collins Martin
PercussionDavid GervaisKira Mcglothen
Kandeh Jones
Stanley Bailey

Maurice White said, “Music is always a creative process that comes from the heart. It’s a feeling, a vibration, that we ride on.” “Spirits” is one of those vibrations. It is my hope through each other’s eyes humanity will rise from the vibrations between us all.

Chuck Reider is the Reno Jazz Orchestra Board President. Visit www.renojazzorchestra for more information about “Spirits.”

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