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Monogatari: Recording the US Air Force Band of the Pacific in Tokyo

Album cover art for "Monogatari" by the US Air Force Band, Pacific Showcase
Album cover art for "Monogatari" by the US Air Force Band, Pacific Showcase

In late February to early March of 2023, I embarked on a unique musical journey as the recording engineer for the US Air Force Band of the Pacific's jazz ensemble, Pacific Showcase. The backdrop for this creative endeavor was the wonderful Onkio Haus studio in the heart of Tokyo, Japan, where we spent five days crafting what would become an extraordinary album.

Onkio Haus main booth, view from the top
Onkio Haus main booth, view from the top

I was introduced to this talented ensemble via the band's tenor sax player and arranger, Ian O'Beirne, with whom I had collaborated on several previous projects. Ian's recommendation opened the door for me to showcase my work to the band's management. After reviewing examples of my previous projects, the band made the decision to entrust me with the responsibility of capturing their magic in the studio.

Ian O'Beirne and Eitan Brown in the control room at Onkio Haus
Ian O'Beirne and me in the control room at Onkio Haus

The project unfolded seamlessly, thanks to meticulous planning and preparation. Months before the recording sessions commenced, our dedicated producer, Jeff Valentine, and I worked together in close communication with band member Ian O'Beirne to create a comprehensive plan and ensure that every detail was carefully considered. Our shared commitment to excellence and the art of music production fueled a sense of anticipation and excitement among the entire team.

Left to right: Wallace (Asst. Engineer), Eitan Brown, Jeff Valentine, Kai (2nd Asst. Engineer) at Onkio Haus
Left to right: Wallace (Asst. Engineer), Eitan Brown, Jeff Valentine, Kai (2nd Asst. Engineer) at Onkio Haus.

Onkio Haus studio in Tokyo perfectly facilitated our musical endeavor. The studio staff's professionalism and the state-of-the-art equipment at our disposal ensured that we could fully realize the sonic vision we had for the album. From the initial setup to the final wrap-up, every step of the recording process was infused with a sense of purpose and dedication.

Drum kit and mics at Onkio Haus
Setting up the drum booth. Photo by Jeff Valentine

Mics and chairs setup for jazz band brass section at Onkio Haus
Brass section positioning and mic setup. Photo by Jeff Valentine

Working with a "mini big-band" jazz ensemble (three saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, drums, upright bass, piano, guitar and two vocalists) presented its own set of challenges and rewards. The dynamic range of instruments, from brass to percussion, required a keen ear and precise technical skills to capture each nuance. Throughout the five days, the studio buzzed with the energy of talented individuals coming together to create something truly special. The dedication of each musician to their craft was evident in the hours spent perfecting their performances. Jeff Valentine's expertise as a producer provided valuable guidance, inspiring outstanding performances from the musicians, and ensuring that the recording process remained focused and productive. The collaborative spirit among the musicians, producer, and studio staff created an atmosphere of creativity and camaraderie that elevated the entire recording experience.

Jazz ensemble brass section, view from the control room at Onkio Haus
View of a take rehearsal from behind the glass.

As the recording engineer, my role was to capture the essence of the band's sound and translate it into a recording that accurately reflects their expressed vision. From the very beginning, I consulted with the band members to ensure that I understood the sound they were looking for. The conversations I had with the band informed all of the technical decisions along the way, from mic selection and placement, choice of equipment and settings, to recording levels. Communicating with the ensemble made this task not only achievable but immensely enjoyable. Mutual respect and a shared passion for the music fostered an environment where creativity flourished.

Musicians listening in a studio control room
Day 3 morning, listening back to the previous day's work. Photo by Jeff Valentine

After the recording sessions, the responsibility for weaving together the individual tracks into a cohesive and polished final product fell on the capable shoulders of our producer, Jeff Valentine. With his keen sense of sonic balance and creative flair, Jeff took charge of the mixing process, ensuring that each instrument found its rightful place in the musical tapestry.

Once Jeff delivered the final mixes, the band searched for the right mastering engineer to finalize the album. To keep the band objective and consistent with their pursuit of excellence, they asked several mastering engineers to master one track from the album and submit it for a blind listening test. A panel of band members listened to the renamed and level-matched masters to ensure they based their choice solely on what they heard. I was humbled to be selected unanimously by the panel to master the album. So, my role extended into the mastering phase, where I applied the final touches to optimize the overall sound quality, ensuring that the album would be a sonically rich and immersive experience for listeners.

Record button illuminated
Recording in progress

In that way, Jeff and I continued our collaboration during post-production in tag-team fashion, driven by our shared commitment to sonic integrity that defined every stage of this musical journey. Together, we fine-tuned the nuances and dynamics, putting the finishing touches on an album we are all immensely proud to present to the world.

Jeff Valentine, Eitan Brown, Lencys Esteban Nuñez, Jason Plosch at Onkio Haus
The Production Team. Left to right: SMSgt Jeff Valentine, Eitan Brown, TSgt Lencys Esteban Nuñez, Lt Col Jason Plosch

In conclusion, my experience recording the US Air Force Band of the Pacific jazz ensemble at Onkio Haus studio in Tokyo was a harmonious blend of professionalism, talent, and camaraderie. The album showcases the talent and dedication of each member of the band. The journey from pre-production preparation to the final master was a testament to the collective passion for music that unites musicians, producers, recording engineers and music lovers everywhere.

USAF Band of the Pacific, Pacific Showcase at Onkio Haus
USAF Band of the Pacific, Pacific Showcase at Onkio Haus

The album, Monogatari, is available on CD as a free gift at any of the band's live performances.

To learn more about the band and their performance schedule, visit their website or Facebook page.

Coin of the US Air Force Band of the Pacific.
At the end of the recording week, Lt Col Plosch presented me with this coin of the US Air Force Band of the Pacific.


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