On the 2021 album Archetypes, Chicago Recording Company (CRC) engineer Jonathan Lackey helped transform an ambitious musical vision into a trio of Grammy nominations.
Archetypes is a collection of 12 “collaboratively composed” tracks by Brazilian guitarist Sérgio Assad, Chicago avant-garde classical ensemble Third Coast Percussion and Brazilian-American vocalist / multi-instrumentalist Clarice Assad, who is also Sérgio’s daughter. With an array of Latin accents, tricky beats and easy listening grooves, it sounds like Frank Zappa, King Crimson and Sérgio Mendes walked into a studio full of Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Johann Sebastian Bach.
According to the Third Coast website, the songs are “portraits of timeless character types that appear in stories, legends, and myths throughout the world.” According to Lackey, who worked with independent engineer Dan Nichols and Cedille Records house engineer Bill Maylone to complete the pictures, the individual compositions have a way of reflecting moods that is “almost cinematic.”
“It opens with ‘The Rebel’, which is very high energy,” he says. “‘The Sage’ is really creepy and eerie. ‘The Jester’ has a duck whistle, and there’s a jaw harp and bamboo sticks that they bang on their legs. When you listen to it, it’s hard not to laugh.”
Other goodies in the Third Coast bag included bells, chimes, whistles, Oriental fans and a wobbly plastic sheet.
Behind the scenes of Archetypes
Lackey and crew recorded Archetypes in Studio Four, CRC’s largest music room, on the first floor. Divided into three compartments, he says that the space is uniquely designed to complement the album’s instrumentation.
“There’s one big room with wooden floors and lots of reflections so things sound really live, and that’s good for percussion and strings,” he explains. “Going from left to right, it gets progressively more dead, and the floor is carpet.”
The size also helped accommodate the arsenal of “20 or more” B&K, Neumann, Royer and Sony microphones that were running “at any given point.”
After recording at CRC, Third Coast’s David Skidmore described the location as “the perfect place to capture our classical albums.”
“CRC is a legendary studio for a reason: it’s an amazing place to create music,” Skidmore says. “Not only does it have all the gear you could possibly hope for, everyone who works there is a pro, and they’re great to work with.”
But Lackey credits the “super-talented” and “super-friendly” artists for Archetypes’ success. “They make the job of the engineer easy,” he says. He was particularly impressed with the members of Third Coast — who know how to play “every percussion instrument under the sun” — for prevailing over a unique logistical hurdle.
“They each had their own station with a marimba or vibes or xylophone and a table full of random percussion instruments,” he recalls. “The biggest challenge was the fact that, for each song, they were moving around from station to station. They move very fast.”
Released in 2021 by Cedille Records, Archetypes has earned Grammy nominations for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Engineered Album in the Classical genre.