Producing an independent record
Article: Alfredo Cruz On The Making Of The Latin Playerz: Under The Influence
by Alfredo Cruz
The story of my association with Henry Brun and his Latin Players goes back now several years. Being a San Antonio native with a serious interest in Afro-Cuban music and jazz is much like being a Mexican in New York — it's not unheard of, but we're few and far between.
When I met this enthusiastic exiled Nuyorican in Texas, the intensity of our common interests bonded us almost immediately. For the last three years, every time I've visited S.A., I've hooked up and hung with Brun and his Playerz. Why? Because the close to twenty years I've spent in the industry have sharpened my appreciation and recognition of quality, authenticity and inspiration in music. These cats can really burn. So when Henry asked me to help him produce the group's first release, I jumped at the opportunity. There was only one catch, I was in New Jersey and they were in Texas. I said I'd do it for free if he would fly me there and back. I must admit, I didn't really expect anything to happen, so you can imagine my surprise the next day when he introduced me to his manager Keith Charlton, who offered to pay for the trip saying, "if it's going to help the recording, let's do it." At that point, I realized they were really serious and had to start thinking about how to approach this live concert recording.
The biggest problem with producing an independent record is that there are never enough resources to guarantee the quality of your recording. A remote truck would've been great, but was financially out of the question. Then, as with any live recording, there exists an infinite number of things that could sabotage it: the dreaded ground loops, amplifier and instrument buzzes, RF, bad lines, microphones, shared power sources, weather conditions, or heaven forbid — a bad performance! The list of possible dangers goes on and on. All these concerns multiply exponentially when you're going direct to two-track, you only get one shot at it and if it doesn't happen, you lose! It was a huge gamble and Henry had wagered it on me and the rented equipment. At this point he was out of the picture and left the entire project in my hands.
The day of the concert was cloudy with a chance of rain. We had the usual tooth-pulling session with the stage crew, didn't have all the equipment I would've liked to work with or much time to do a sound check or to get a real mix. But everything seemed to be working and the lines were clean. It was a good sign. The Playerz were performing in the middle of a triple bill, and the first band was using our traps which allowed me to work on the drum mix during the first set. Everything else was pretty much mapped out and I was hoping to get the mix together during the first couple of tunes by the Playerz
Now it was showtime, and when the boys hit — from the very first tune, everything was there. These guys play so well together that they practically mixed themselves. The horns play with such dynamics that from the softest passages to the most wailing solos, they stay within the boundaries of good sound. The percussion/rhythm section(s) also just fell right into this intense groove that moved everybody. The only thing missing was a line of sight to the stage, but then again Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder mix their own records without the benefit of a visual.
Under the Influence isn't perfect, but it's a damn good record. I think we were able to capture the energy, musicianship,emotion and energy of that very special evening in the Sunken Garden, under the stars in San Antonio, Texas. Five of the eight tunes included on the CD are taken from that performance. If you pick up and listen to the Latin Playerz, I guarantee, you, too. will fall Under The Influence.