The furnace has been shut down, the refrigerator unplugged, and the computer upstairs turned off; Pierre Sprey is ready to record. Sitting before a tiny pre-amp unit and a modified Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder, he adjusts dials and headphones, then points and says evenly, "You got it."
The four band members and their instruments completely fill the front room of Sprey's century-old mansion in Upper Marlboro. Mapleshade recording studio resembles a combined musicians' gym and a stage for performance art. Patches of foam rubber decorate the walls. A plywood canopy angles over the head of the drummer, whose traps are surrounded by joint-compound buckets filled with lead. Next to a rebuilt 1911 Model O Steinway grand piano -- the room's centerpiece -- a tubular aluminum frame supports a wedge of Plexiglas holding two tiny microphones. The soloist in the adjoining front hall has another miniature microphone and not much more space than the quartet. And that's it.
"Conventional recordings are laid out one track at a time and then mixed -- they are nowhere and no time," says Dick Turner, a salesman at the sound-equipment store Soundscape. Turner says Mapleshade's CDs are excellent tools for selling audio equipment. "At Mapleshade, people perform together at a particular time and place. When the flute player opens his mouth to begin a solo, you can hear him open his mouth. Listeners find that fascinating."
The Mapleshade label specializes in jazz recordings, but the studio also has a blues label (Wildchild!), and is expanding into gospel. "Music without compromise" is the company's motto, and in all its CDs' liner notes Sprey writes, "No mixing board, filtering, compression, equalization, noise reduction, or overdubbing."
"I hate mixing boards," says Sprey, who records everything live to two-track on analog tape. "With a mixing board, if there was a problem with the way [the soloist] sounded, they would adjust it with the mixing board. Here we adjust it with the microphone itself in front of the musician."
This session's soloist is C. I. Williams, 64, an alto saxophonist from New York. A retired schoolteacher, Williams is thin, dapper, and soft-spoken. He recorded three albums in the early 1970s, has played with Clark Terry's big band, and has accompanied Ruth Brown, but he is hardly a household name, even to the jazz cognoscenti. Nevertheless, he is an accomplished player with a mellow tone and impeccable taste in musical quotation.
It is up to Sprey to capture that talent on tape, a knack he has been perfecting for the better part of two decades.
- excerpt from Baltimore City Paper article
by James Dilts (1996)