Volto! Aims to Tear Your Woofer Cones From Their Surrounds

The late Rick Griffin's mischievous rodent cover art isn't the only retro aspect of this prog-rock/jazz fusion recording debut by a group that's been together for more than a decade. (Griffin is best known for his Grateful Dead work including the Aoxomoxoa cover).

The trio of Tool drummer Danny Carey, guitarist John Ziegler and bassist Lance Morrison augmented by keyboardist Jeff Babko recorded this "high T" album at The Loft, Carey's home studio live to analog tape using a limited (to 95) edition Studer A827 Gold Edition 2 inch 24 track analog tape recorder.

The notes don't stop there. The board was an API 2448 with Neve Flying Faders. While some analog enthusiasts wuss-out and mix to digital, not these guys! They mixed to a Studer A800 at Joe's House of Compression through an SSL 4000B board ("why"? "why"? "why"? say the SSL haters). Trust me: the board didn't harm the recording quality nor did Joe over compress it on the way to two tracks.

You get the complete list of Carey's drum kit and the microphones used (a lot of kit, a lot of microphones), ditto Ziegler's guitars and effects boxes, Morrison's bass gear and Babko's keyboards. Gear heads will enjoy the left side of the gatefold, that's for sure.

Musically, I don't think the band would be insulted by having it capsulized as Jeff Beck's "Freeway Jam" off of Blow By Blow but injected with a lower dose of funk and a much heavier dose of testosterone without losing any of Beck's artistic subtlety. These guys can really play with feeling and while they show you what they can do (which is plenty) they avoid the kind of grandstanding that can turn these kinds of things into major league turn-offs.

The playing joy translates to listening joy encouraged by an insanely great recording guaranteed to rock your system, particularly if you've got big, full range speakers. The drum miking sounds pretty close, with lots of ear-dazzling panning. Drum textures and timbres are full-bodied and realistic—something that will be immediately obvious on the opening track's softly sprung tom-toms. Don't be a fool and crank it up based on that because within a few seconds the thing explodes and away you go!

Bob Ludwig mastered from the 1/4" master tape and Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman's cut lacquers from a hi-res file. Okay, I know, why not go AAA all the way? Believe me once you spin this on your turntable you will not give a shit about the one "D" in there. I recall Bellman telling me that Carey was there for the mastering to get it just the way he wanted it. Between Ludwig and Bellman, what more could you want?

I can't think of a better way to get one's adrenaline pumping then to put this 3 sided album on and rock out! Every time I've played it, which is a lot, I think a side will do but I end up playing all three at SPLs that someone my age (or any age!) should avoid. Too much fun! (Tool guitarist Adam Jones adds a "shocked rat" inside jacket illustration).

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Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

...Zappa's "Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar". Masterpiece. Humiliating for guitarists to hear. Chops and ideas. Few have both.

Martin's picture

I'm sure this sounds wonderful, but I have to question the digital last step.
When so much care and attention to detail has been taken in getting the recording to sound like it does, why take the last step to digital? Regardless of how nice it sounds as it does, I think most people reading this would agree that digital degrades sound and removes a certain emotional content, that texture that makes us come back to certain recordings time and time again.
I'm sure this is nice and I'm equally sure I'd play it a couple of times then it would go on the shelf, rarely if ever to be heard again.

Why does Bob Ludwig not offer Analogue mastering?
Quite frankly, why does one of the best, if not the best in the business NOT offer analogue mastering?
Is it too much trouble? More work to master analogue?
Has a certain complacency, or even laziness set in?
Is it "Bob's the best, so gotta go to Bob".
So you go to Bob.
"Yes, your tape is analogue, but we only master to digital. So if you want to work with me, you gotta' go digital. Sorry".
So having gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain integrity up to this point, the integrity is disrupted at the end.
Why can that integrity of the chain not be maintained?

I know, I know, I'm sure it sounds great. However, I am a great fan of Bob Ludwigs work, I have lots of stuff with the "RL" in the deadwax, from Tattoo You, to Back in Black, to Led Zep II, to Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, to Tibetan chants on Nonesuch records. All great, to truly great stuff. Big fan of Bobs work at Masterdisk and before. But I have to say it, I would not actively seek out Bobs stuff at Gateway mastering.
Because it lacks the soul.

Superfuzz's picture

"Why does Bob Ludwig not offer Analogue mastering?
Quite frankly, why does one of the best, if not the best in the business NOT offer analogue mastering?"

He does offer all analog mastering - he can master to tape. He mastered Jack White's last couple of records all analog, from Jack's master tapes, to another tape, an "LP cutting master" if you will. Then sent the tapes to NRP for them to cut. I have no idea why he mastered this one to digital, maybe a cost factor, who knows?

Michael Fremer's picture
I can't speak for Bob but just for me and what I think happened: I believe Bob sold his lathe after one of his Stones reissues turned out to be NG. The label at the time (I believe it was Virgin) refused to allow for test pressing approval so it just went into production and as many recall, it had his name on it but did not sound at all like a Bob Ludwig cut. Not sure what happened during the cutting or manufacturing process but this was just about at "the end" of the vinyl era and Bob was frustrated and at that point didn't see a future for the medium so he sold his lathe. Doug Sax on the other hand, simply mothballed his and once the vinyl revival got underway he returned to service at least one or perhaps two of his lathes.
dconsmack's picture

Was that the Sticky Fingers reissue? That one sounded terrible. Something obviously went wrong.

Martin's picture

It was Exile on Main Street.
Bob Ludwig mastered Exile for vinyl, the same "sound" as the CD, ie. excellent, kick ass, the best Exile has ever sounded, period.
Then Virgin screwed it up. Somehow. By that stage difficult to imagine how they screw up a practically finished product, but it happened. I have that LP. It's dead.
I can understand in a way, you master the best sounding, kick-ass version of Exile ever, a record you know and love by a band you know and love. Then someone screws up your work. I'd be furious and frustrated too.

Michael Fremer's picture
You can't blame RL...
Martin's picture

RL did a stellar job, best ever Exile going on what the CD sounds like...
What a shame.
Love to know what happened to the tape though.

JohnZguitar's picture

howdy all!
my name is John Ziegler, and i'm the guitarist/composer/producer from the group known as VOLTO!. first off, on behalf of the band and everyone else involved in making "Incitare", THANK YOU so very much to all the folks who've taken the time to check out our stuff. we're trying our utmost to keep it as "real" as possible and we truly appreciate it more than you know, especially in this day and age.
plus, massive thanx to Michael Fremer, for your extremely kind words and your concise critique of the album. i'm an avid follower of yours, and not only do i enjoy but also really respect your opinions and insight, so please keep up the fantastic work you do, bravo!

now to address the mastering/cutting of the album's vinyl...
we(primarily myself, Danny Carey, and a few other trusted sets of ears) listened with extreme scrutiny as far as attemping to release the best sounding product we could unleash upon the masses...and from all the comparisons we did with the completed mixed tracks we believe that what you hear in those grooves is indeed the BEST representation of what came from the analog tapes! bottom line...being fellow audiophiles/analog mavens, we are damn proud and enthralled with the finished products!
(btw, with our label Concord Music Group/Fantasy Records our albums will all be available on as many formats as possible, from vinyl, to hd-downloads.... http://www.VOLTOband.com )
Bob actually did 3 final masters for us, specifically for vinyl, cd, and digital download. each so they'd sound the most "truthful" within their own medium and delivery system. also to be honest, he did very VERY little to the final mixes, which we went back and forth contemplating a little compression, eq-ing, and volume levels before the final decisions were made. but obviously what Mr. Ludwig did was nothing short of stellar sounding alchemy...the guy is a true sonic shaman, AND Chris B at Grundman's nailed it too, with the dynamics as best as i've ever heard coming off a turntable's needle, in my humble opinion of course. just turn it up and let it sink in, yeah!

the "endgame" of VOLTO! has always been to keep everything as authentic as possible, from our live performances to the recordings. we just hope that people will share our enthusiasm for all these cherished yet depleting things...musical conversation/improvisation, capturing performances to tape, placing that needle gently onto vinyl, and checking out all the stuff from an LP's liner notes and artwork. all of this is lifeblood to us!

with stating all that, if anyone is interested, here's a little further info on the process of making the album...
we went into the rehearsal room(18' x 18' w/20' ceiling) in our warehouse space/studio known as "the Loft", set up the gear just like we do for rehearsing, attempted to isolate the mics as much as possible...it's all close-micing, with a few packing blankets involved, guerilla style, lol! then BAM, we were off to the races!

over a couple of weekends, all of the tracks on the album were captured live, each performance in their entirety(through the gear listed in our liner notes, as mentioned here in the review) and to be honest, out of the 9 album tracks, 4 were first takes, 3 were second takes, and 2 were third takes. we didn't play anymore than 3 or 4 takes of the tunes and selected the best(or least abused? lol) complete performance from each song.
PLUS, i think there are only 2 or 3 added overdubs on the entire album...which was the guitar doubling a melody here and there, and that's it! then we bugged Joe B for a few days as he mixed all the tracks over at his studio, with our scrutiny meters running full tilt the entire time. i think we pissed him off a time or 2, oh well, lol. we all got what we wanted in the end...a pretty decent analog debut album.

so, with making a short story long....
what you hear on VOLTO!'s "Incitare" album is what you get from straight out of the room, live and in your face, yeah!
and we shall continue on with future albums done in the same manner. we love and respect our gear so damn much, from the old API board that "Super Freak" was done on, to all the other amazing vintage pre's/eq's/comps, to the awesome Studer behemoths, to the killer mic collection, to the plethora of top-notch and rare analog outboard gear, we are in this for the long haul!
we're also maybe looking into actually cutting 2 track stuff live directly to disc...now wouldn't that be bad ass?! life's short, why not!?! ;-)

long live analog, long live vinyl!

thanx again and cheers!
john Z

J. Carter's picture

Hi John,
Thanks for your deep in depth expiration of the process. I bought this as a hi res download when it first came out and I think it sounds spectacular. One of my favorite new release hi res purchases and I have made several!

Keep up the great work and thanks again.

JohnZguitar's picture

thanx so much, i really appreciate it!

Michael Fremer's picture
Thanks so much for participating here John!
JohnZguitar's picture

ahhhh, you're more than welcome MF! thanx again for all your fantastic words and awesome support...it truly means the world to us!
take care and cheers! jz

Cjh79's picture

Hey John,
You should check out our studio, Welcome To 1979, in Nashville. We are an all analog recording facility with a Neumann VMS 70 for doing direct to disk recordings. You can check out our site at welcometo1979(dot)com

Dorian Workman's picture

I've never heard of your band John, although I am a big Tool fan. I also haven't yet heard this album, but I just ordered it based on your obvious passion for your music, process and vinyl. Well done, keep it up!

JohnZguitar's picture

thanx so much...sure hope ya dig it!

Dorian Workman's picture

I wouldn't have heard of these guys without your review, which was thorough and excellent as always. Thanks Michael!

Simoon's picture

I've seen these guys play live several times at the Baked Potato, the local jazz club here in Los Angeles.They never fail to kill it!

I just ordered the vinyl.

I am also happy to see a prog review (INDUKTI) and a fusion review in the same issue of Analogue Planet. Nice going Mr. Fremer.

Way too many people think that both of these genres died in the late 70's, but in fact, there has been a revival of both starting in the mid 90's and still going strong. There is even more variety than there was in the 70's.

JohnZguitar's picture

thanx for seeing us play AND also ordering the vinyl, awesome! sure hope you enjoy it, cheers!

Tullman's picture

The label on the front of the album says recorded, mixed, and mastered in analog. A bit confusing, I would say. If I didn't read MF's review, I would have believed this to be an AAA vinyl lp. I will be listening to the album later today. I think AAA should have been the way to go. You should not have let Bob influence you in the way he did.

Tullman's picture

I listened to the vinyl. Excellent playing and music and recording.

Bob D.'s picture

Sorry, but honestly the sound is pretty veiled. Sounds like a blanket over the speakers. A bit compressed also. With all the talent behind this how does it sound this bad?
I've heard Danny and John live many times at "spud room" and they are amazing, so I'm disappointed.

Bob D.'s picture

I heard a bit of this tape at Grundman's last year while they were working on it. It sounded vailed then too. I'd say it was the recording unless RL did it.