Finding Kip Hanrahan 

Tracking down an elusive jazz producer.

The musician/producer's albums on his very independent American Clavé label are often near-perfect collisions of undiluted styles; cutting-edge jazz meets bone-deep blues on top of a communal conga beat.

Conflict is at the center of Hanrahan's art. "A lot of my best working relationships have involved a lot of fighting," he confides. This includes his long-term working partnership with ex-Cream bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce and his knife-sharp collaborations with composer/nuevo tango master Astor Piazzolla.

His is fierce idealism clashing with the cutthroat ethics of the music business. One early deal ended in both a Pyrrhic courtroom victory and a collaboration with Sting. Hired to provide a score for a biopic about Puerto Rican playwright Miguel Pi¤ero, Hanrahan recalls, "I quickly realized that however corrupt the recording industry, it's just a suburb of the downtown evil of Hollywood." (That film, once touted as an Oscar contender, was torpedoed by Tinseltown politics when its star Benjamin Bratt broke up with megastar Julia Roberts.)

The spare, trumpet-haunted soundtrack of "Pi¤ero" is a model of Hanrahan's masterful production. Technique and technology combine to create a transparency through which the naked physicality of wood, brass, voice and skin reverberate with palpable immediacy. It reveals his multidimensional sensibility like a sculpture reveals the hand of a sculptor.

Predominately a producer, Hanrahan most often stays in the shadows, only occasionally adding his own percussion or backup vocals. His image on the packaging is just as illusive, his features hidden by a raised hand or lost in the lighting. Even his portrait on his Web site is obscured by expressionistic brushstrokes. He lets the work speak for itself, which it does, eloquently.

"I learned a lot about how to work in the studio from Teo Macero," Hanrahan says. (Macero, who appeared on several American Clavé releases, famously edited fragmentary Miles Davis sessions into concise modern masterpieces like "In a Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew.") "Teo said, 'Don't worry about perfection; mistakes can be fixed later if the ingredients are right.'" S


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