UI professor releases new album

BY NINA EARNEST | JUNE 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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John Rapson needed seven years to complete his latest album.

He transcribed. He composed. He recorded.

Yet everyone involved had the chance to contribute a significant idea.

“They’re not just realizing the idea of the composer,” Rapson said. “And in that regard, the composer — me — is more of a midwife. I’m not birthing the baby but assisting it to be born.”

And with his direction, Mystery and Manners finally came to be.

Rapson, an acclaimed trombonist, pianist, and composer, will speak about his album recordings at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Times Club Café, 15 S. Dubuque St.

Though Prairie Lights Books is known for its literary readings, this is the first event to feature music available in the store. Jan Weissmiller, the co-owner of Prairie Lights, said she and Rapson first considered the idea of presenting music when the store remodeled the café in winter 2010.

“[Rapson] is such an asset to the community,” Weissmiller said. “He just knows so much about jazz.”

Rapson’s discussion will cover Mystery and Manners, his third in a trilogy of recordings molded from improvisations of jazz luminaries. Dances and Orations with Anthony Braxton, and Water and Blood with Billy Higgins preceded the new record.

The recording process for each selection in the trilogy followed the same basic process. The professor invited the performer — in this case, Brazilian musicians Vinícius Dorin and Nenê — to record short improvisations in a studio.

“They just do something that comes into their mind,” Rapson said. “And then I ask them if they finish one to do another one, to do something different with tempo and style.”

Rapson transcribed the resulting recordings and slowly began to build new compositions. But the process is unique among jazz musicians, who often improvise off an already-written composition.
“It’s starting from the opposite jazz normally does,” the professor said.

The transcriptions for Mystery and Manners, recorded in Brazil, required five years alone because of the complexity and length of Dorin and Nenê’s improvisations, while balancing other projects.

And the record, Rapson said, depended on the recording technology only available in the new century.

“This is a recording that could only have been done in the new millennium,” Rapson said. “It couldn’t have been done earlier.”

Rod Mickle, the audio and video engineer who constructed the album, said this sort of record would have been too expensive in the early days of mastering to tape.

Back then, Mickle said, each person — “the band, the parking attendant and the guy that cleaned the toilet” — had a specific role to fulfill in the mixing process.

“It was like a big dance, standing around the board,” he said.

Yet today, with digital technology and work stations like Pro Tools, time-consuming mistakes can be avoided even though the process still demands careful attention to consistency across distances and different sounds.

And it all came together in the end.

Mickle said Rapson did a “phenomenal” job on the album.

“Whether you’re into that sort of esoteric jazz or not, you’ve got to take your hat off to his genius,” Mickle said. “He really is quite genius at what he does.”

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