Friday, September 09, 2016
Goodbye, Lewis Merenstein
I'm hearing word that Lewis Merenstein has died. Merenstein was the producer of Van Morrison's holy Astral Weeks and the man responsible for bringing Richard Davis (pictured with Merenstein above) and other jazz musicians onto the date. If you've heard the album, you know that the seemingly simple act of assembling the group lies at the heart of its genius.
Here is my detailed 2009 interview with Mr. Merenstein on the making of the album. I only spent a couple hours with him, at a little restaurant on the Upper West Side, but I remember him as an exceedingly warm and gracious man. Four decades after the album's release, he still seemed to stand in awe of what Morrison and the musicians had achieved that day.
Fitting, since, to my knowledge, there is nothing else like this music anywhere:
The producer's art is a humble one, but in some special cases such as this, the handling of logistics, the calling of the shots, as it were, becomes a kind of spellcasting, and something new happens within the music that wouldn't have happened before. An idea — "What would happen if we brought this person into the mix?" — becomes the key that unlocks some untapped potential within the artist. In this case, it happened exactly once. Morrison and Merenstein would go on to make Moondance together, an excellent album that exists on a whole different plane: a pop masterpiece rather than some kind of heavenly avant-folk-jazz soundbath.
It's probably just as well that there isn't another record like this. It's the sound of a convergence, a moment, of various aesthetic currents crossing just that once. Thank you, Lewis Merenstein, for making it happen.