News Column

The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif. Lib at Large column

November 8, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 08--'The Marin Project." That's the name of the most intriguing album that's come across my messy desk in a long time. To say this collection of a dozen mostly instrumental tunes is eclectic doesn't begin to describe how wonderfully random it is.

I mean, how many CDs can you think of that have compositions by Mozart and the early 20th-century Parisian avant-gardist Erik Satie alongside tracks by Roger Eno, Brian Eno's less famous brother, the late Marin jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi and our own Booker T. Jones of Booker T and the MGs?

While you're thinking, I should tell you that these are all meaningful pieces in the life soundtrack of John Liviakis, a 57-year-old Kentfield music lover who bills himself as "the world's leading financial relations consultant."

Any profits from the album's sale and from a planned January concert will go to the Salvation Army and Marin's Homeward Bound. But Liviakis admits that as altruistic as that sounds, "The Marin Project" began as a vanity project.

"I have to be honest, my original thought was the creative aspect of making a record," he told me the other day, speaking from his office in Mill Valley. "I had wanted to do this for many years of my life."

As the founder of Liviakis Financial Communications, a financial PR and investor relations firm, he's done pretty well for himself. Forbes reported that his fee for one deal alone was worth $12 million. The man can afford to race thoroughbreds, so there was no need to skimp on his coming out party as an executive producer and creative director, shelling out $90,000 of his own money for this maiden voyage into the inviting but often treacherous waters of the music business.

Working with co-producer Anastasi Mavrides of Fairfax, he hired a couple dozen top Bay Area session musicians, including several symphony players, to record over a monthlong period at TRI Studios, Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir's uber-high-tech digital facility in San Rafael.

A couple of things struck me listening to this CD. First, how good the production is. TRI's Rick Vargas, who recorded and mixed it, knows his stuff. And second, that it's just about a note-for-note rendition of the original recordings.

That last bit made me wonder why, for example, you'd hire local musicians to try to re-create the Memphis soul sound of "Time Is Tight," the classic 1968 instrumental by Booker T and the MGs that featured Booker T on Hammond B-3, drummer Al Jackson Jr., bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and the great Steve Cropper on guitar?

I don't care who you are, or how much better your recording equipment is, you're not going to sound as hip as those guys did in that magical studio in Memphis back in the day. They aren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for nothing. So why even think about trying to sound just like them? Same with Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," a 1963 Grammy winner for best original jazz instrumental.

I'm not the first to ask Liviakis that question. And he has his reasons, seeing this effort as something of a homage -- with apologies to Proust, as a remembrance of things past. If he hears someone playing a song that doesn't sound like he first heard it, for instance, it doesn't sit well with him. He actually fired a musician he thought was deviating too much from the transcribed score.

"There is some interpretation, obviously, because these are human beings playing," he explained. "But I didn't want to embellish. I didn't want to be presumptuous and start meddling too much. These are historic, classic works, iconic in some cases. I didn't feel I should start changing things around."

This somewhat antiseptic approach works better with the four less familiar pieces by Eno, and with Mozart's Sull Aria from "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Pa, Pa, Pa" from "The Magic Flute." Satie's "La Diva L'Empire" is so obscure nobody knows what it's supposed to sound like in the first place, so knock yourself out.

And that's what Liviakis did. This album was done on his dime, and he picked pieces that are important to him, that bring back memories and stir him emotionally. He's a tenor in the St. Anselm Church Choir under the direction of Maryliz Smith, whose musicianship is all over "The Marin Project." When she sat down at the grand piano and began playing the poignant opening notes of Eno's "Winter Music," Liviakis, a father of four, wept.

"I actually cried," he confessed. "And to this day I'll have some tears when I hear it. I grew up with these pieces, and my children grew up with them, from the time they were newborns. It really meant a lot of me to hear it played one instrument at a time. It was a moving experience. It was one of the great moments of my life, really."

Producing an album like this takes a lot of time and effort and money, as Liviakis found out. The Salvation Army wants him to produce one a year for fundraising purposes, but he's realized his dream and now that he's done that, he wants to wait and see how this one does before even thinking about doing another.

"I'm not planning on producing more records for the time being," he said. "I'm not going to jump into making another disc unless we have a really compelling reason. I'm not going to do it just to do it. It's got to be something as great as this one is."

Contact Paul Liberatore via email at liberatore@marinij.com; follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LibLarge. Follow his blog at http://blogs.marinij.com/ad_lib.

___

(c)2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.


For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel

Story Tools






HispanicBusiness.com Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters