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Contemporary Latin Jazz


Electronic Musician - RHYTHM SPACE
By Diane Lowery

Ritmo Junction gets their room to swing.

With a nod to legendary percussionists Machito and Tito Puente, Ritmo Junction features some awesome groovers and shakers on its new album, Ritmo Junction. Latin jazz is well known for its joyful rhythms, such as songo, tumbao, and cascara, that make you want to dance. The key to creating that feel is a lively percussion and rhythm section. But for the three core members of Ritmo Junction (guitarist Rob Teegarden, drummer Chris Webster, and keyboardist-engineer Stuart Ridgway) and a rotating ensemble of nine horn and percussion players, it wasn't easy creating those lively rhythms in a small, cramped studio.

"We wanted to sound like one of the 1940s salsa bands, which were always recorded in a big hall, such as the Palladium," explains Ridgway. "Unfortunately, we didn't get to record in a dance hall. We were stuck in my tiny 8' x 10' studio and we had to be careful-there were so many things going on musically in that little space that we constantly worried about turning the band sound into mush. Unfortunately, that also meant we were unable to record all the musicians together at the same time. We had to record parts separately and work really hard to produce the feeling of a live band."

Adding to the challenge was the fact that Ridgway's studio is deader than dead. Natural ambience was not available. ("The drums sounded like toys," he says.) There was also a frequency hump at about 230 Hz that produced low-end mush. Ridgway had to cut the lows with the console EQ to have a fighting chance at tracking the band in a relatively flat room. "EQing to tape is not my favorite thing to do," he says. "But I was trying to plan ahead and come up with a consistent room sound to use throughout the album."

Another tricky part was getting realistic handclaps. After several practice runs with different mics that made the claps sound "too thick," Ridgway settled on an AKG C 451 small-diaphragm condenser mic. "Actually, a single track of handclaps sounded pretty thin when recorded with the C 451," says Ridgway, "but the drummer and I recorded eight tracks of handclapping so it would sound like sixteen people clapping away. When we submixed the tracks, it sounded like dinosaurs stomping!"

During the mix, Ridgway was careful not to reintroduce any mush by going overboard with signal processing. He applied a simple, tight room reverb to the percussion, then put a longer hall reverb and a delay of 120 ms on the lead instruments and horns. This small room/big room approach allowed the percussion to sound more "up front," while the chordal instruments appeared more spacious and spread out.

For the next album, Ridgway would like to record the whole band live. "There's a different vibe going on when we play on stage, especially since the band has been together for seven years," says Ridgway. "But still, this CD was a nice way of putting our best foot forward and I'm very happy we pulled it off."