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Carols according to ADAM CZERWIŃSKI

Cicha Noc (Silent Night)
AC Records | TAŚMA ⸜ CD

Where: KRAKÓW/Polska
When: December 2022


Written down by WOJCIECH PACUŁA images Jaromir Waszczyszyn


February 1, 2023

KRAKÓW SONIC SOCIETY is an informal group of music lovers, audiophiles, friends who meet to learn something new about audio products, records, music, etc. The idea for KSS was born in 2005, although its roots go back several years. This is its 137th meeting.

ECEMBER MEETINGS of the Krakow Sonic Society differ from others, which is understandable. We've known each other for years, so the opportunity to talk in a more relaxed atmosphere, make jokes, reminisce, and finally - make offer holiday wishes are extremely valuable to us.

This year was no different. This time the focus of the 137th meeting was the album Cicha Noc (Silent Night), which was released by AC Records under the name of ADAM CZERWIŃSKI BAND, and which was brought to us by the leader of the group himself , and a member of the KTS. The band consisted of:

• Marcin Wądołowski – guitars & arrangement (A – 1, 2, 5 ⸜ B – 3)
• Artur Jurek – Hammond & arrangement (B – 1, 4)
• Piotr Lemańczyk – double bass, bass guitar & arrangement (A – 6)
• Irek Wojtczak – saxophones, flute & arrangement (B – 5)
• Adam Czerwiński – drums & arrangement (A – 3, 4 ⸜ B – 2)
• Guest performance: Patrycja Gola – vocals (A – 5)

As I say, it was a Christmas meeting. However, Adam suggested that we not only listen to jazz arrangements of the most famous Christmas carols on the album, but also compare its different versions: CD, 24/192 WAV files and ¼” copy of analogue master tape. He promised to tell us interesting facts about the recording and the album itself. And this one, let us remind you, was released in a very limited edition of 250 copies, on colored vinyl.

The meeting took place in the Jaromir Waszczyszyn’s man cave, the man behind the ANCIENT AUDIO brand. So we used his CD player to listen to the CD. The tape was played on a semi-professional Tascam 312 tape recorder. The signal from the analog outputs of the CD player or tape recorder, via a passive switch, was sent to the Ancient Audio Vintage Horten D active loudspeakers, which received the BEST SOUND 2022 award from our magazine (test → HERE).

The files were to be played from the Coctail Audio X30 file transport section, digitally connected to the Ancient Audio digital input. The player was rented by Jarek only for this evening. As it soon turned out, something went wrong and every now and then the sound would be accompanied by some clicks and crackles as if the transmission had been interrupted. Which reminded me of the conversations we've been having for some time with Tomek, one of the hosts of KSS meetings, about files in general.

Tomek is a recent convert, which means that by buying the AURENDER N20 file transport (→ HERE ⸜ PL) he got rid of the CD transport. As he says, he knows that Compact Disc still offers a better sound than files, but the difference in his system was so small that he chose the convenience and accessibility of files. Our conversations focus on the procedures related to getting the best sound out of them. And although abandoning the CD format is a mistake for me, we agree on one basic point: for the sound from files to be really high-class, such a system must be extremely complicated, and the number of devices, activities and worries related to it is similar to that of setting up and calibrating a turntable. Usually, there are even more problems.

Therefore, when it turned out that playing the Master WAV 24/192 files brought by Adam on a flash drive encountered problems, I was not surprised. I'd be much more surprised if everything went right off the bat. Anyway, let's be fair, we had some issues with the tape recorder too, because it turned out that the tape speed was a bit too slow. Adam caught it after a few seconds - but after all, he is the drummer :) And only the CD played without any problem. WP

Adam Czerwiński about this album


THANK YOU FOR THE INVITATION and I am very happy to be a guest at the meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society - again. If I had known what would have happened in Krakow, I would have left home three minutes earlier :) (it had just snowed a lot, like we hadn’t seen here for a long time - ed.). We are here for an evening with carols, because that was the idea for the meeting. I brought with me material from the album that I recorded with my band last year.

The material for it is the result of an ordinary order. It was ordered by the Marshal's Office of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, whose marshal has been my friend and fan for many years. This office has a tradition of issuing a Christmas card each year for its employees and associates. Each time a new Christmas carol material is recorded by different bands. They are usually folk or children's bands. Last year, after one of the concerts, the marshal said that maybe this time we would do it.

I said OK, but we must be a serious about it - it has to be released on vinyl, without any bull***t and all the way in. The Office agreed and financed the recording. So I set to write the arrangements so that the carols could still be enjoyable - so that they would be a bit different, but still not over the limit of acceptance. I like various covers, but I find most of them not that good, mostly over-complicated. And in the case of a Christmas carol, you have to stick even more closely to the original. We know these melodies and they are close to our hearts.

So the idea was to make the material „digestible”, and at the same time a little different from the original, and sometimes even innovative. An interesting fact is that we recorded the material in May, so in full sun. The point is that the vinyl production cycle is long and the material had to be put together in late October. We had to hurry, which was not comfortable in the sense of "feeling", but we did our best. I wrote a few arrangements, my friends added the rest.

Nine tracks are instrumental, and two tracks feature vocals by PATRYCJA GOLA, an outstanding Polish singer, in my opinion the best Polish voice at the moment. She provided backing vocals, to this day sings along with all known Polish singers. The music was recorded on the so-called "hundred", so we all played together and that's how it was recorded. In one track, the vocal was added later in a separate session, and in one - in a duet with Marcin Wądołowski on guitar - it was recorded along with the instruments.

The recording was made on tape, using a 24-track Studer tape recorder, mixed in analog and recorded on a master tape for the LP, and in Pro Tools, 24/192 for the CD. The digital material is ripped from the tape. When recording, I do not allow the use of the entire wall of devices that are there in the Custom 34 studio. Piotrek Łukaszewski, with whom I have been recording for a long time, got used to it. However, others cannot grasp it - the logic of the studio is that if there is a device in it, then it should be used. I prefer simplicity.

⸜ RYSIEK B. • KTS Who has the final say, you or the sound engineer?
⸜ ADAM CZERWIŃSKI It’s always me who has the final say in it. But the sound engineer proposes various solutions, and I use some of them. I try to get a sound that is perfect in a sense, that is, not weird.

⸜ JAREK WASZCZYSZYN • Ancient Audio What exactly is your perfect sound, what’s your ideal you’re trying to achieve?
⸜ ADAM It’s always been a live sound that I hear when I play.

⸜ JAREK In studio, or on a stage? – Are these sounds different for you?
⸜ ADAM Obviously these are different, because a studio has a specific, dampened acoustics, and each stage is different. It feel very different to play outside, and in a small club. But generally speaking, for me it is about natural sound of instruments. I have been discussing it for a long time each time when meeting audiophiles, because I know the canons of most and I know which albums are most important to them, and I simply do not agree with them.

⸜ JAREK The so-called „audiophile” recordings annoy me and I try to avoid them whenever I can.
⸜ ADAM And that's a nice topic. Because it is a choice between puristic, somewhat austere approach, and aesthetics, i.e. something "done" in studio. Everyone can find something they like. I have nothing against coloring music, after all, it is supposed to give pleasure. And so be it. But I don't use reverbs, coloration, etc. I record the drums as if I'm sitting here in front of you. In nature, it is not so that the snare drum is on one side, the kettledrum on the other, and the cymbals are spread apart. These are studio treatments. And that's what most recordings do.

⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA So do you prefer the drums to be presented in a recording from your perspective, or from listener’s?
⸜ ADAM This is a good question, because there are two schools: European and American. In the former, the drums are recorded as the audience hears them: ride - cauldron - cymbals - crash. In America, it's the other way around - what we hear is what the drummer hears. It's the same with the piano. Which is also not natural. When recording a piano, I use a single ribbon microphone from HUM AUDIO DEVICES, which "looks" towards the pianist, from the bend of the piano. That is why it sounds different, more like from the room, not punctual. I like it very much.

⸜ JULEK SOJA • Soyaton, KTS Your albums offer a characteristic sound – dense and low, maybe even warm.
⸜ ADAM It seems so to me too. That’s how I hear it. I don't like too much bass, although my records don't sound light. When mixing, I use something that I learned from my friend Darek Oleszkiewicz when I lived in Los Angeles. When we recorded my albums, the bass below 50 Hz was filtered out. As he said - everything rumbles below.

I'm very sensitive to treble quality and I don't like shrill cymbals. I don't use many types of sheet metal that you will find elsewhere. I play in the midrange, bottom - large, "muscular" cymbals. Therefore, I have a question:
Who can guess what this "shimmering" is that can be heard together with the cymbals in the recording we listened to? The prize is a CD with this material. Nobody? OK, the answer is: it's my patent that I put on cymbals. Some companies make models of cymbals with rivets. It used to be popular in jazz. When I bought my first metal cymbals, they were so precious to me that it never occurred to me to pierce them. Some people drill and put things on to make „noise”.

Later, someone came up with the idea to put a chain on the cymbals. It was hanging all over the cymbal damping it. The effect was nice too, but it muffled the treble too much. The patent I use I saw a long time ago in America, probably from Victor Lewis. I stick a piece of band aid, and on top a dime - believe me, I've tried different coins and a dime sounds the best. The coin vibrates when I am playing and selectively dampens some of the sound.

Session I

⸜ WICIU • KTS I liked the tape better, even though I don't have it at home, I play music from CDs. the tape just sounded more natural. The saxophone was more three-dimensional, and the bass was clearer and warmer. Physiologically, it was something more pleasant. It's hard to describe, but my preferences are clear.

⸜ TOMEK • KTS I liked both sources, with the tape being slightly preferred. It was interesting that with the CD the space was bigger, everything was more scattered in stereo. It is accurate, precise and everything is where it needs to be. In turn, the tape has its "analog charm" and nice timbres, it is very pleasant to listen to. I will also say that the sound is very good today and I like it.

⸜ JAREK To be honest, thinking about how to put together today's system, I decided that the main idea would be active loudspeakers, which received from Wojtek the High Fidelity Award for 2022. I wanted us to listen to the tape on a relatively inexpensive system and answer the question whether in such a situation the tape still crushes the CD.

The comparison was very interesting and depending on which instruments I focused on, I liked the tape or the CD more. From the tape the Hammond sounded great because it was a Hammond organ, right?

⸜ ADAM That’s right, my own Hammond B-3.

⸜ JAREK It was beautiful. You could hear all the stuff that the organist was doing - it disappeared on the CD. But, on the other hand, the drums were better on CD, and a bit lost on the tape. The cymbals sounded particularly good from the disc, on the tape they were withdrawn and warmed up. The space was also very good. So I guess it is safe to say that the CD did not turn out to be a flop, and the tape ruled. So I don't have to sell a kidney.

⸜ RYSIEK B. I have mixed feelings. In some aspects, like the aforementioned drums, the CD sounded better, while the bass was definitely better from the tape, because it was controlled. The timbre range of the saxophone was also wider on the tape. The CD has been mastered in such a way that the upper midrange sounds impressive. It is impressive, but does not show the entire spectrum of instruments. But thanks to this, the CD told more about the details. Anyway, if I were to listen to it for a long time, I would chose the tape recorder.

⸜ DAMIAN I also have mixed feelings. With the Gdy śliczna panna carol I liked the tape better. It’s sound was coherent, homogeneous and more natural. The instruments were clearly audible, but with Jezus malusieńki the CD showed something more. The whole "work" was done by the cymbals, sounding much better, more resolving and legible. Only I am not sure if this is not the effect of the CD "jumping out" with the upper midrange. It's really impressive sound, but in the long run I would choose a tape recorder.

⸜ JULEK After the emotions stirred by the last meeting, I fell into the "delight and appreciation" mode for everything I hear :) That's why I think that both the tape recorder and the CD sounded great and I liked both very much. The tape-recorded is closer to my heart due to the timbre and harmonics, but the CD sounded really nice.

⸜ ADAM I'm going to be biased because I heard this recording in the studio. CD mastering is of course different, you can hear the electronics involved in its preparation. That's why the treble sounds stronger, the space is different, etc. Some people like it, but for me it's not the right image for this session. I can still listen to it, but only briefly.

Session II

⸜ RYSIEK S. The tape - this is what live music sounds like, I felt like I was in a club. I swear - I was at a club show right now, the tape just sounds amazing.

⸜ JAREK And what I heard here was a strong compression obtained by saturation of the tape - I mean the compression of the sound attack.

⸜ ADAM I can’t agree that it's compression. It's the dynamics of the tape, that's the role of the tape.

⸜ WOJTEK It was interesting for me, Adam, that you didn't dominate these recordings, that you gave space for everyone else, and you remained in the shadows.

⸜ ADAM Drums are an accompanying instrument, not a solo one :)

⸜ RYSIEK B. We have to answer the question of what we expect: do we want to listen to what is happening at concerts, or do we prefer to listen with microphones, with the creation of sound directors. There are also two different performances here. Some things I would choose from the tape recorder, and others from the CD. I didn't like the saxophone on the CD - it was dry, sharp, poor in timbre, but the keyboard instruments came out great with it. Listening through the microphone for a long time, which is how I understand the CD version, seems tiring to me. I used to imagine audiophile listening like this.

⸜ WOJTEK It is interesting that in the sound of the Hammond you can't hear much of the Leslie speaker - how did you do that?

⸜ ADAM It's just a matter of experience. I recorded my second album with Larry Goldings, who played piano and Hammond. The material was recorded in Los Angeles and I came with it to Poland.

We must have been mixing it for almost a month, and I usually work fast. Every day, every two days, I took the finished material home and constantly complained that there was not enough Goldings in all this, that I could not hear Hammond. I dragged it on and on and only after some time did I understand that I had to go back to the starting point and that you don't have to pull everything out like that, not everything has to be in the foreground. Since then, I know that Hammond deals with flavors and details, but it is not a lead instrument.

⸜ WOJTEK Can you tell us how many takes you did for a single track?
⸜ ADAM One, sometimes two. If something goes really wrong, three. Generally speaking, I believe that with each next take an energy of the track drops. That’s why most material you can hear on my albums was recorded in one take.

⸜ JAREK Each of us wants something different from music I have to be turned on by music or I fall asleep. I agree that the sound from the tape is enjoyable and fatigue-free. I can't imagine though, that I could listen to the concert-like sound for a long time. It is such a load of emotions, expression that a maximum of an hour of concert-like intensity is something that my body is able to withstand. And I missed this energy in the tape recorder. It's a beautiful makeup, but I was more into the sound of the CD.

⸜ TOMEK For me, the second session was no different in terms of sound from the first one, and I still I liked the tape recorder better.

⸜ WICIU This time I liked the CD, mainly because of the space. There is a difference, it's obvious, but in this recording it seemed to me that there were more instruments on the CD. Maybe it's just a moment of weakness...

⸜ JULEK I agree that the CD sounded more spectacular, but for me it was more flashy. In fact, both carriers were pleasant to listen to. If we didn't compare them, but listened to these sources separately, then with each of them we would say that they sound very good. But because we are comparing, this time I choose the analog, although the difference wasn’t that big. There are more decays, harmonics, etc.

⸜ DAMIAN Nothing has changed for me, I feel the same as before - the analog sounded better. But again, the "wow" effect in this case is created by the decay of the cymbals, and they were better conveyed from the CD. It's not there on the tape. I am not discussing whether it is natural or not, but - as Jaromir said earlier - you can have fun with the CD, and you can listen to the reel for ever, and maybe even fall asleep.

⸜ ADAM In a word: a tape for old guys, a CD for teenagers! But seriously - with the tape I had the impression that everything was around us, and with the CD it flattened out, and more philosophically, that with the disc Father and Son stayed, but the Spirit fled.