Our Favorite Things: Recordings.
Steven G. Baird (SGB)
What a great time to be an audiophile who's just starting his CD collection! With digital audio finally crawling out of its insensate infancy, the budding audiophile has many excellent sounding selections to choose from in two great digital formats, SACD and HDCD. So much progress has been made in digital recording technology that I find it nearly impossible to recommend any current production CDs that do not employ, at minimum, 24/96 or XRCD mastering (but there will be a few). While I have often taken the stance here that digital sound was sometimes disappointing (and more often than not), I think it is safe to say now that the industry has made great strides recently towards correcting this. I consider HDCD to be a move in the right direction (my Rotel RCD971 makes for convincing evidence that the HDCD naysayers were/ are misinformed) and SACD what digital should have sounded like all along. SACD finally makes it difficult for me to hear many differences between digital and a quality vinyl source. Numeric ratings first for sound, then performance, on a scale of ten, end each item.
Gustav Mahler: Symphony # 8 (Symphony of a Thousand); Sir Georg Solti, Chicago Symphony, Decca 289 460 972-2 (24/96 remaster). Recently I waxed eloquently over this one in Reissue Roundup, and will add here that Solti has not been among my favorite conductors. He has his moments, though, and there are 79 of them here alone. If you have only a passing interest in classical music, this might be the one CD you should buy this year. Although the music may be a bit overwhelming for the novice listener, it certainly belongs in any classical music enthusiasts collection. It would be difficult to imagine a more riveting performance than Solti's or one with better sound (7/10).
Ottorino Respighi: Roman Festivals and Pines of Rome. Lorin Maazel, Cleveland Orchestra, Decca 289 466 993-2 (24/96 remaster). Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he's just delivered an early Christmas present. In that recent article mentioned above, I published my wish list of mysteriously missing great performances from Decca. Well here's one of them, and it is especially welcomed because it restores this reference recording to the catalog for the many who missed it in the past. As a bonus, they've thrown in Rimsky-Korsakov's Suite from Le Coq d'Or. The biggest difference I hear between this astounding CD and the original Decca LP is in those extremely dynamic moments where the orchestra bursts out of the silence. I might have to side with JMC on the matter of requisite amplifier power on this one: anything less than several hundred watts, say, 500, from your transistor amp might not reveal all that this CD has to offer. The LP is still a bit more dynamically startling, and the image slightly different, but the CD bears a remarkable likeness to the record otherwise. This is absolutely the very best of the Decca Legends remasters I have heard so far. You will not want to miss this one (9/9).
So as not to take up a lot of space listing all of the Reference Recordings label's HDCDs, I'll just say that Professor Keith Johnson provides us with some astounding sound shows on every CD I've bought from them recently. Here's the perfect excuse for you to upgrade to an HDCD-capable player right now. I'm particularly fond of the Stravinsky release (RR-70CD) that packs more than 74 minutes of reference quality sound from Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra onto a single CD. The company often runs special offers from its web site, so you might want to visit them regularly to pick up on some reference standard CDs at truly bargain prices. The Stravinsky CD rates a 9/9 as do many others from the label. Sad to say, though, that if you picked up on the allusion above, my recent communications with the company indicate that some of their early vinyl releases will not be remastered to CD.
Dave Brubeck: The 40th Anniversary Tour of the U.K., Telarc 83440 (SACD). It simply would be difficult for me to imagine a finer combination of sound and music than what's on this 1999 release, unless it were one of the other new SACD releases from Telarc. This one takes the cake, though, for the exceptional playing Brubeck gives us in this live performance from London. It kind of takes you back to the things he was doing with Desmond et al about 40 years ago. Buy this dual-layered version in preference to the standard CD, as I am told that there will be a $ensibly priced SACD player for about $800 on the market in time for the Christmas season. You can enjoy the music now on your standard CD player, and then hear it at its most glorious when you upgrade to SACD. Only one other digital recording I've ever heard sounds as natural as this one, the now out-of-print Blues in Orbit (10/ 8) from Mobile Fidelity, and both reveal the sonic shortcomings of my old favorite, Getz/Gilberto 4/2 (6/ 10) quite easily. The layer for standard CD players does, indeed, give you an inkling of what Direct Stream Digital really sounds like. There is a clarity and a see-through quality to it that I just don't hear on the majority of PCM-created CDs (SACD layer: 10/10; standard CD layer: 7.5/10).
Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out, Columbia/Legacy CK 65122 (HDCD). Several years ago, I compared the sound of this CD to my then newly-acquired Classic Records vinyl release. That was before I had my RCD-971 (the unit is about a year old now) with the HDCD decoding circuit. Although Sony makes no mention of the fact that this CD is HDCD anywhere in its packaging, it is, and it comes alive when heard on an HDCD player. Still not quite as good as the C. R. vinyl, it leaves many of the other 20-bit jazz remasters that Sony released at the same time as this one (i.e., Kind of Blue) in the sonic dust (7/10).
Lee Konitz: Inside Hi-Fi, Koch KOC-CD-8504 (HDCD). This 1957 recording is quite a surprise. Konitz has not endured as several other alto players from the era have, but the playing here is as adept and convincing as that of a Rollins or a Webster, and, at times, with the martini-dryness of a Desmond. The original liner notes make mention that, like The Bird, Konitz occasionally played the tenor sax as he does on 5 of the 8 tracks here. The very wide stereo throughout, as was common for recordings of the day, leaves a sizable hole in the middle, but not to worry. If you enjoy bebop, you'll find yourself playing this one many times over. The alto and tenor sessions each have their own sound, although each was originally recorded by Rudy Van Gelder but during different sessions. Sound quality belies its rating (7/9).
The Beach Boys: a two-fer featuring Sunflower and Surf's Up, Capitol 25692-2 (24/96 remaster) Yes, I admit it, I'm still a Beach Boys fan, reaching all the way back to their early days of 1961 when their first national hit, "Surfin'," was released on the Luau label, all the way through to their departure from Capitol and the formation of Brother Records (distributed in the '70s by Warner). When those later Brother recordings were first released on CD in '94, they were on the Caribou/Epic label, but all were soon deleted. Sunflower and Surfs Up are the first of the Brother albums to be reissued, this time on the Capitol label, which now has, presumably, the rights to the entire Beach Boys catalog. From what I've read elsewhere, the entire Brother catalog will be released over the next several months in the two-on-one format. The 24/ 96 remasters are exceptionally clean. Special attention to Sunflower (8/10) is recommended here. As an LP, it was something of a sonic experiment that fares very well here. The sound on the Surf's Up segment (6/10) is a bit of a personal disappointment, as it was always my favorite from the group's later years. While it surpasses the earlier Epic CD, I find that the current remix departs from both the original LP and the CD reissue quite noticeably. As a music preservationist, I find this just a little disappointing.
The Beatles: Original Master Recordings, BEAT CD-013-2. The origin of this 2-CD set is questionable at best, but the music on the CDs is not. Here are the first four Beatles albums (U.K. versions) in excellent stereo sound. All it will take you is just a second or two to compare what's here with what you've been listening to from Capitol/EMI since the dawn of the digital age and you'll be hooked. Without a lengthy discussion about what goes on in the mastering process, just accept that the original master tapes are seldom used whenever a CD is pressed. Any old tape sitting around will do. Even on records from the '60s you will not be able to hear what's on these CDs, as the bulk of the material here was just reprocessed to stereo from the mono tapes sent over to Capitol at the time. Not sold in stores, this collection features nearly all of the 55 titles in true stereo, and some for the first time ever (7/10).
The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin, Warner Brothers 46876 (HDCD). What an album! What a group! Being for the benefit of those past their prime who can still get their dander up, here's one recording that, maybe, your kids are listening to, and maybe, too, it presents us with the evidence that there is musical life in the year 2000. Lyrical and imaginative, the CD sports some of the best new songwriting I've heard in years. My stepdaughter tells me these guys are way cool, and, you know, I think she's got something there. Kansas is just a distant image in their rearview mirrors. My vote goes to this as the best new popular CD release of 1999. Sound is incredible but not what I would call natural; music's far better. Follow the directions found for listening to this CD in the liner notes and play it loud. Warning to all Casper Milquetoasts: this is not, repeat, NOT, The Carpenters (7/10).
B.B. King & Eric Clapton: Riding with the King, Reprise 47612-2. This is one of the few 16/44.1 CDs that I've allowed to appear in this list of superb recordings. Many will find the sound here to rival that of any other popular recording I've listed here. But in the final analysis, I think this is probably one of Clapton's finest performances in years. He coupled with the King of the Blues here, which surely compels EC to get with the program. Judging from its position on the Billboard Charts earlier this summer, I am not alone in finding this disc thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish (6/10).
The Rolling Stones: Strictly Stereo, Arcade (Germany) RS-6469. Thanks to the abkco label, legal owners of early Rolling Stones music, all of those Decca/London pressings from Japan and England that were available in the mid-'80s are now out of print. I saw a Decca/London Hot Rocks listed on e-Bay a few months ago and even participated in the bidding until it hit $100; final bid on it was just short of $200. The reason collectors are willing to bid these up is that these import versions contained some selections in stereo that are now available only in mono from abkco's masters--and in poorer sound quality to boot. As with the Beatles CD set mentioned above, this CD is not available in stores, but as with that Beatles set, it will offer you a chance to hear these great Stones classics as they've never been heard before (8/10).
Neil Young: Silver and Gold, Reprise 43705-2 (HDCD). Has Neil Young come full circle? This one harkens back to his music of three decades ago. In many ways I find it reminiscent of the maudlin qualities heard on Harvest and After the Gold Rush. If you have not gotten crotchety with age, and still find music from the likes of Young, Mitchell and Dylan (and maybe even Roy Orbison) interesting, this one is right up your alley. The HDCD encoding on this renders the sound quality almost as natural as SACD, and one of the best sounding Neil Young records ever (7/9).
Have a question about upcoming reissues, or a comment about any of the CDs on this list? Just e-mail me at email@example.com and keep the shiny side up.
Joseph M. Cierniak (JMC)
As usual I have placed my choices into two categories, the categories being historical significance and demo quality sound. And as usual I have also confirmed that my choices are available for purchase; I am much more comfortable with writing about a recording when said recording may be purchased. To write about a recording no longer available for purchase is akin to writing about an audio component (amplifier, preamp, etc.) no longer available. If I am going to make declarations about a recording then the reader should--if he chooses--be able to purchase the recording and hear for himself what I am praising. Oh, all my selections are on CD; just thought I should mention that!
Richard Strauss in High Fidelity (RCA Living Stereo, CD # 09026-61494-2, Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony/Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben). I have heard and read criticism of BMG (which owns the RCA label) for using the original album cover showing a spiffily dressed Fritz Reiner holding a cigarette! Whew! Speaking as a person who has never smoked, I say to those critics: Get a life!
Not only have I heard this momentous Zarathrustra recording in three different consumer formats, i.e., LP monaural, reel-to-reel tape, and LP stereophonic, but I can also lay claim to having heard this recording in the year which it was released (1954) and also hearing it with the technology available at the time. As a very young audiophile I played the opening bars of this recording (LP monaural) so many times that I went though several pressings! This recording was for me a means of getting the attention of those who had a mindset that associated "High Fidelity" primarily with classical music. In my ethnic, working-class neighborhood, classical music was associated with dull, pretentious, and highbrow to the extreme. Zarathrustra may be many things, but it isn't dull, particularly the opening bars. Even the ultimate hater of classical music, my father, who relegated classical music to being as useful as you-know-whats on a bull, raved at the sound. Once the opening bars were finished he very quickly left the room for his newspaper, stuffed chair, and cigar or pipe. Others stayed for the full score. Many, many years later I've had old childhood friends thank me for introducing them to classical music via my audio system. It's always a nice feeling to know that we've affected someone's life in a positive way.
This recording demanded more than the playback technologies of the postwar era could deliver. The recording goes high, it goes low (32.7 Hz), and it's a breathtaking musical rainbow of sounds ranging in level from pianissimo to fortissimo. As I've mentioned repeated playing of this LP quickly wore out the record grooves. I've been duly corrected(!) by an LP cultist who indignantly informed me that with today's technology wear is no longer a factor in the playing of LPs. Friction between the stylus and LP is just in my imagination. Alas, another basic tenet of physics sent to the trash heap by the LP cultists. I do wonder why though that even with today's non-friction stylus/LP contact the styli are eventually replaced ...
I was never able to play this LP monaural recording at realistic levels because of "acoustic feedback." An older "rich kid" audiophile friend of mine convinced his parents they should construct a waist-high concrete block (in the basement) on which to mount a second turntable; he later tried to convince them of building a sperate but attached room in which to place the woofer; his father wavered but his mother drew the line with a resounding, "Not while I'm alive!" This ultimatum resulted in an ever-so-slight smile on her husband's face!
With this basement turntable, acoustic feedback via the air and floor was minimized, at least for my audiophile friend. I would bet that the turntable is long gone but I laugh out loud when thinking about what some far future archeologist will proclaim was the reason for a solitary concrete block located in the basement of a circa-1950 living space! Sacrificial altar, huh?
I eventually (about 1955) went the tape route for playback (stereophonic, reel-to-reel, 3" tape, at 7.5 ips). I was now one up on the rich kid! Glorious stereophonic sound and the ability to crank up the volume to the point where I started receiving requests from the neighbors to play various pieces of music! The tape was a quantum leap in every respect to the LP, particularly in the bass frequency region. Sadly, the tape went the way of the dodo bird when the stereophonic LP hit the streets in 1958, resulting in a return to the technical dark ages for over 30 years.
When listening to this recording today it's difficult to believe it was made in 1954; to be exact, March 8, 1954. Forty-six years Freddy Martin and his Orchestra, lyrics by Bobby Worth, music by Freddy Martin, Ray Austin, and, of course, Tchaikovsky), which was the number one song on the Lucky Strike (Those damn cigarettes again!) Hit Parade for 16 weeks in 1941. Gilels, visiting from Russia as part of an exchange of artists program, was not influenced by the sentimentality or pacing of this piece by those on this side of the Atlantic; neither was Reiner. Other interpretations (e.g., Cliburn) may lay claim to being a better interpretation, but Gilels led the way.
I still find it hard to believe in 2000, but in 1955 there were those wanting nothing to do with a pianist from a communist country who added insult to the phobia of anything red by having red hair! This was the era in which the Cincinnati Reds baseball team changed its name to the Cincinnati Red Stockings and in Baltimore there was a move afoot to change the name of Redwood Street back to its former name, German Street. The name, German Street, had been changed to Redwood Street during the First World War! Fortunately, this beautiful music has always remained the same.
A milestone recording which should be part of any audiophile's library, it's a 45-year-old recording but it has aged ever so gracefully. Buy it before RCA removes it from the catalog; you will not be sorry.
Demo Quality Sound:
Swingin' and Burnin' (Wildchild CD # 06652, John Cocuzzi Quintet). As some of my readers know I am not all that I enthralled with the analog technology. Here's an example of analog technology with which I am enthralled! Yeah, you read that correctly. Pierre Sprey, the head honcho at Mapleshade/Wildchild uses a two-track analog tape recorder running at 15 ips to capture the sounds somewhere in their travel at a point exactly at not too soon and not too late. The result is some of the best sound ever heard by these two ears. Add to this a swinging group of talented musicians having fun and even this staid old classical music aficionado can't help whistlin' and tappin' his foot! I have played this CD so often that if it were an LP I would have worn it through to the turntable.
There are 12 tracks on this CD, 12 tracks of some of the best old standbys such as "Cheek to Cheek," "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You," "Lady Be Good," etc. These selections raised my eyebrows (prior to playing the CD), as the cynic in me said something about same old "stuff." Yep, it's the same old "stuff," but it's sure as hell not played the same old way. Several seconds into track one of this CD and I was hooked, and I still am.
Take a vibraphone, clarinet, electric guitar, bass, and drums, played by musicians who give new meaning to improvisation, and the result is a fun-filled 66 minutes and 21 seconds that end all too quickly. Add to all this talent a recording that faithfully captures the sound of the individual instruments, and produces a sound that replicates where this music would normally be played, in a smallish, cafe-type surrounding. The result is sound so realistic as to cause several hard-nosed rock musicians to stop what they're doing and sit down and listen: that's the ultimate compliment.
As I said, I don't care that such marvelous sound is the result of recording on an analog tape machine, eventually being digitized on a custom analog to digital converter. I am tempted to question and answer how such marvelous sound can be a result of what starts out with an analog tape, but there's a time to shut up and listen to and enjoy the music. And that's what I'm doing.
Ohene Kesse A Ebin (Wildchild CD # 07052/ Asante, the master drummer from Ghana). Translated into English, the title of this CD includes a scatological word which begins with an "s" and ends with a "t." Once you get past this word (assuming it bothers you) the talents of Asante of Ghana later, with recording and playback technologies available not even dreamt about in 1954, this recording holds its own in the sound arena.
There's not much to be said for Reiner and the Chicago Symphony which hasn't already been said. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner was well on its way to becoming one of the world's premier orchestras. Fritz Reiner's interpretation of this masterpiece, benefiting from his personal friendship with Strauss, is, in my opinion, second to none. Combine this with corporate commitment by RCA to being the best and the result is a recording which sound-wise is only slightly deficient by today's standards, and an interpretation which ranks with the best. Buy it while it's still available.
Piano Concerto No. 1/The Nutcracker-Excerpts, (RCA Living Stereo, CD 09026-68530.2, Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony/ Emil Gilels-pianist). The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 is another of the great RCA recordings that I have heard in three different consumer formats as mentioned in the previous write-up. This recording is three tours de force. There's the technical accomplishment by the RCA recording staff, the playing of the Chicago Orchestra, and the interpretation by Reiner and Gilels.
From the technical perspective I might nit-pick a bit with the microphone setup; the piano is up close and the orchestra somewhat distant, but keeping in mind that the recording was made in October 29, 1955 (there was still a learning curve for RCA in recording music stereophonically) it holds its own in today's world.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was being honed to a fine edge by Reiner. The tone, cohesion, and the musicianship of the orchestra and its players were reaching heights seldom seen on this side of the Atlantic. If you want proof that newer isn't necessarily better compare the Chicago Symphopny Orchestra of 1955 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra of 2000.
There are many recordings of this warhorse out there but this Gilels and Reiner interpretation remains my favorite to this day. Until Gilels came along this piece was played with sugary sentimentality and at a snail's pace. Interestingly, I think the classical clan was influenced by a popular rendition of this song ("Tonight We Love" by relegate any drummer/percussionist I have ever heard to a distant second place. To quote from the liner notes, "He plays all the parts of a five-man drum group by himself." In the center of the liner notes is a picture of Asante surrounded by more drums than I've seen in one place at the same time; more drums than stocked by several music stores! Add to this assemblage of drums, and I quote again the liner notes, "a dense foliage of gongs, chimes, cymbals, shakers, bells, and a hundred varied noisemakers." And there's morel Pierre Sprey, the head dude at Mapleshade/Wildchild mentions, "the floor is his bass drum; its resonance is crucial to his sound." You read that correctly, as Asante is moving from drum to drum, he's also stomping on the wooden floor to create the bass sound; this gives a whole new meaning to "floor-shaking bass!"
All of this drum and percussion sound could be nothing more than a variety act skit you might see on the old Ed Sullivan Show, or even a skit on Saturday Night Live; however, it's not. I'm not sure how this guy does it but the result is a symphony of drums, percussion, and other assorted devices. The resulting rhythmical sound is mesmerizing!
I mentioned Asante stomping on the wooden floor to create the bass sound. Stomping isn't the correct word; kids stomp but in his hands, or should I say in his feet, the floor becomes one of the instruments. He plays it soft, he plays it loud, and he plays it in-between loud and soft. Laugh if you will (I would have prior to hearing this CD) but this is truly something you have to hear for yourself to appreciate. Combine this kind of talent with superb sound (we're back to the analog tape recorder again) and you have a demo disc that will bring the drum, percussion, gongs, chimes, cymbals, shakers, bells, a hundred other assorted noise makers, and floor shaking bass directly into your living room. Don't laugh until you've given it a listen.
Kevin East (KE)
Gee, let's see. When the Beatles burst on the rock scene in November 1963, I was 14; my brother, a year younger. Besides being utterly smitten, we knew, and it wasn't long before we had our first guitars. My brother went on to play professionally, record, and whatnot. I'm still mostly smitten. But the allure of the instrument, and what it can do in the hands of a master has endured over the past three-plus decades. For this year's musical treat, here are my all-time favorite guitar solos. No, it isn't and doesn't pretend to be The Greatest Ax Moments of the Millennium. Nor does it represent every slinger of the past 30 years and better. It's my idea of what constitutes the perfect, or at least nearly perfect, solo. There are gobs and gobs of good players who can rip off notes with blazing speed and unearthly dexterity. But what I want, and love, is the one that fits within the confines of the song, adds to the song's impact, and makes me want to go back and play it again and again and again.
So far as genres are concerned, I'm sticking with rock: what I know best. Lord knows, there is amazing work by jazz, folk, and classical players. But for the most part those idioms require a different kind of playing where the song and its solo are less important. So, sit back and enjoy. If you have any of these, you might want to play them while you read along, one of the great reasons to have a carousel changer. We've got, and in no particular order, two Glenns (Tilbrook and Frey), two Johns (Cipollina and Hall), two Eliots (Randall and Easton), and only one Eric--and it's not Clapton.
Randy California, "I've Got a Line On You" (Spirit, The Family That Plays Together). The late California was the heart and soul of this band. His solo races out the gate, circles around twice before hovering, building, anticipating--and screams back into the song's chorus.
Dean Parks, "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number" (Steely Dan, Pretzel Logic). Although the Dan's lineup included prodigious guitar talents Denny Dias, Jeff Baxter, and Walter Becket, they frequently hired studio aces for those special parts. By the time Pretzel Logic, their third album, had rolled around, Dias was more of a producer, Baxter was on his way to the Doobie Brothers, and Becker concentrated on bass. Parks' solo is a masterpiece of chordal tracking and pace.
John Cipollina, "Pride of Man" (Quicksilver Messenger Service). Actor/ musician Hamilton Camp will be remembered for out-Section 8-ing Klinger on M*A*S*H: remember Mr. Sock? But perhaps his shining achievement is this one song, and Quicksilver's double-guitar lineup of John Cipollina and Gary Duncan do it more than justice. Cipollina's solo, like Randy California's on "I Gotta Line On You," emerges out of a chorus before erupting into life. Cipollina's classic use of vibrato defined the psychedelic guitar style of San Francisco's `60s.
Glenn Frey, "Take It Easy" (The Eagles). Frey, teamed with Don Felder and later Joe Walsh, is underrated as a guitarist. But check out his work when The Eagles were Linda Rondstadt's back-up band, especially on standards such as "Silver Pins and Golden Needles." "Take It Easy" is an amazing piece that riffs relentlessly around the song's melody.
Keith Richards, "Don't You Hear Me Knocking" (Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers). After Brian Jones's death, the Stones hired bluesmaster Mick Taylor as their second guitarist. It's presumed, since Taylor was hire to play lead guitar, that this one was his work, but it has Richards' fingerprints all over it, from its descent into low bass notes to its off-measure timing. A masterpiece.
George Harrison, "Old Brown Shoe" (The Beatles). Unfairly dissed as a second-rank player, Harrison's gift was recognizing the limits of a song's structure. Even then, when he wanted to, he could cut loose, and loose he cuts on this one: short, sweet, and utterly perfect for the song. Harrison's genius is as aptly showcased in songs as diverse as "Till There Was You" (With the Beatles) and the sublime "Nowhere Man" (Rubber Soul).
Gary Duncan, "Fresh Air" (Quicksilver Messenger Service, Just For Love). After serving time in Q for possession, a pumped and buff Dino Valenti returned to his band and wrested control back from John Cipollina. Cipollina may have kept the band alive, but now that Dino was back, this was one band that didn't need two leaders. Dino preferred Duncan, and Duncan struts his melodic sense on "Fresh Air," prefacing a heady challenge by pianist Nicky Hopkins (also ousted by Valenti), with an extended journey through multiple choruses.
Pete Townshend, "Behind Blue Eyes" (The Who, Who's Next). Townshend prided himself in powering the band with monster chording and spiffy, well-placed solo work. But when he chose to cut loose, like on "Behind Blue Eyes," he unleashed blistering, note-perfect shards. Townshend's sense of rock guitar's history and heritage echoes throughout.
Eliot Randall, "Reeling In The Years" (Steely Dan, Can't Buy A Thrill). Even on their first album, the Dan had studio guys pitching in. Indeed, "Reeling In The Years" was their second single, and Randall's guitar work helped put the band on the map. Randall scorched the introduction and then wove in and out of the song's verses and choruses, playing hide-and-seek with the rest of the band, answering Donald Fagan's vocals with pithy phrasing and staccato harmony. When Vivaldi or Mozart did it, it was called a concerto.
Keith Richards, "Honky Tonk Woman" (Rolling Stones). Another melodic masterpiece that my brother and a good many others nearly broke their fingers trying to emulate. It wasn't until many years later that Richards revealed its alternate tuning, a variation on open G. [I seem to recall that Ry Cooder claimed that Richards got the idea, not only the tuning but the riff itself, from him, and Cooder was pretty shocked when he first heard the song on the radio. -KWN]
John Hall, "Crazy" (The John Hall Band, All Of The Above). Hall was best known as the lead singer and songwriter for Orleans. All Of The Above was his third solo effort after becoming a M.U.S.E. spokesman along with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. The "Crazy" solo, like Duncan's "Fresh Air" and Richards' "Don't You Hear Me Knocking," swoops around the melody like a coy mistress, as Hall squeezes out one harmonic diversion after another before letting the melody have its way.
Neil Finn, "Nobody Takes Me Seriously" (Split Enz, True Colours). Before there was Crowded House, there was Split Enz, a fabulously inventive and imaginative band. Finn, forever underestimated as a guitarist, punctuates brother Tim's slightly whiny song with a torrent of spattering urgency.
Bruce Springsteen, "Cover Me" (Born in the U.S.A.). For a guy who made his reputation playing blues licks in and around Red Bank (why do you think they called him "The Boss"?), precious little of his guitar work finds its way on to his albums. But on "Cover Me," Bruce does rare double duty, starting the song with a scalding preface and simply smelting the bridge. This song had more to do with my transition from vinyl to CD than any other: it liquified too many cartridges.
Mike Campbell, "The Waiting" (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Hard Promises). Campbell may be the tastiest of the hard rockers. His solos are generally short and to the point. But on "The Waiting," especially on the video, he struts like a guitar god, and slams the bridge like a Turkish salami.
Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Without You" (David Bowie, Let's Dance). We all know how Stevie Ray blew Freddie King by Hendrix by Billy Gibbons. But early on he singes the edges of Bowie's petite disco diversion. Oh, he rarely strings together more than a dozen notes, but each one burns with intensity, bonfires on the horizon of Bowie's urbanscape.
G.E. Smith, "Family Man" (Hall and Oates, H20). Smith is best known as the long-time leader of the Saturday Night Live band and poignantly remembered as Gilda Radner's first husband. Before and during all of that, he led Hall and Oates' band, a role that H&O resolutely refused to acknowledge in their liner notes. Smith's bridge on "Family Man" is a model of pace and speed. Of all the solos in this collection, Smith's is the one most likely to tear the cover off the ball.
Mitch Easter, "Waters Part" (Let's Active, Cypress). Easter co-produced with Don Dixon R.E.M.'s first two albums and has haunted mid-Atlantic recording studios like a gym rat since the demise of Let's Active. His guitar work on "Waters Part" is not just a solo in the classic sense, it is a statement. Like Hendrix's three-part bridge on "All Along The Watchtower," Easter roars through his bridge with wave upon wave of chiming, ringing, layered choruses. Just when you think he will take a breath, he shifts gears, changes tone, and races off for another go. The I.R.S. CD is out of print, and virtually impossible to find, even on the Internet. If you stumble across it or the LP, get it.
Jerry Garcia, "Touch of Gray" (Grateful Dead, In The Dark). Whoa. Choosing a Jerry Garcia solo, among the literally hundreds on record (if indeed we were actually nominating guitarists and picking one piece that would exemplify their canonization) is a perilous task. DeadHeads everywhere have their list, and they're not shy about sharing them. And each Head has his favorite, so for the many who will be pleased with this selection, no doubt I'll piss off thousands more. Sigh ... the plight of a critic. But for all of his improvisational wizardry, all those stony forays into jazz-tinged psychedelia and free-falling modal excursions, Garcia was best working within the confines of a song. The song, however much he chafed and bristled at its strictures, challenged him to make his statement and make it with a far greater degree of economy than he preferred. And on "Touch Of Gray," also a great song, he plays around the melody with deft humor and deadly (ahem) accuracy, crafting a tour de force of pop artistry.
Eliot Easton, "Candy-O" (The Cars, Candy-O). The Cars (what a great name for an American band!) were a synth-heavy, courtesy of the wondrous Greg Hawkes, rhythmic band, which did not place an emphasis on individual histrionics, save perhaps for Ric Ocasek's and Ben Orr's vocals. Eliot Easton's guitar was the growling counterpoint, the savage rock'n'roll accent to Ocasek's new world. On "Candy-O," Easton squeezes 30 years of rock history into a bridge of a mere 14 seconds: speed, pace, and chops.
Glenn Tilbrook, "Another Nail In My Heart" (Squeeze, Argybargy). Tilbrook, like Neil Finn, earned his reputation as a songwriter, teamed with the wry Chris Difford, relying on smart melodies and penetrating lyrics in lieu of instrumental flash. Nonetheless, Tilbrook nails "Nail's" bridge with a whip smart flurry, another riff on melody of which the best stuff is hewn. This version of the band, with Jools Holland on keys, Gilson Lavis on drums, and John Bentley on bass, was perhaps their best (despite a later version with Paul Carrack that scored with "Tempted")and Arbybargy their best work. Tilbrook's masterworks include Argybargy's "If I Didn't Love You" and "Quintessence" from East Side Story.
Eric Johnson, "Cliffs of Dover" (Ah Via Musicom). What you haven't found so far in this piece are a bunch of guitar geeks, guys who play oh-so-well, but really can't fit into a band. They hunker down in studios with a drummer, a bass player, and a compassionate engineer and peel off longish tone poems, eclectic journeys into one man's solitary imagination. Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, amazing players, and to a lesser extent Les Dudek and early Lee Ritenour, fit this mold along with Eric Johnson. Ah Via Musicom is a geek's wet dream, replete with trick licks, cascading arpeggios, and giddy feats of fret mastery. Then there's "Cliffs of Dover," a coherent, melodic, unbelievably fast stream of guitar consciousness. Its miracle isn't so much its technical virtuosity, though that's abundant, but the fact that it's a whole song where the guitar and melody are one. The rest of the disc is a bit fiat, though not without its moments (both of genius and the inevitable bombast). But "Cliffs of Dover" makes it all worthwhile.
Jay Graydon, "Peg" (Steely Dan, Aja). Even being mercilessly parodied by Garry Trudeau (the snotty "Wah-Wah" Graydon of the Jimmy Thudpucker sessions) couldn't prevent this ace session guitarist from ripping through another of the Dan's signature bridges. Steely Dan, as we've noted elsewhere, was a guitar band and, more importantly, a guitarist's band. Session vets like Graydon, Elliot Randall, and Dean Parks were given room to stretch and create, and were given full credit for their work, a bonus in a profession where anonymity is the rule. Tommy Tedesco, anyone?
Angus Young, "You Shook Me All Night Long" (AC/DC, Back In Black). Now AC/DC and I don't exactly have a lot in common. Okay, we have nothing in common--except this song and Young's thundering bridge. Most guitar solos start in a song's higher octave and go higher, but not Young's. He starts low and plunges straight down into subterranean mode, rattling anything in the listening room that's not nailed down. And if you play it really loud, it will threaten the structural integrity of your house.
Duane Allman, "Loan Me A Dime" (Boz Scaggs). Like Stevie Ray, my favorite Allman piece is not with his own band. Scaggs had just departed the Steve Miller Band, and "Loan Me A Dime" is a small statement to remind all why he joined the Steve Miller Blues Band in the first place. Allman punctuates the song with neatly crafted fills, and when Boz is done, Duane takes over, serving up one ecstatic, joyous, frenzied chorus after another. A remarkable performance.
Carlos Santana, "Black Magic Woman" (Santana, Abraxas). Like "Stairway To Heaven," this song has been played to death on the classic rock stations. But sheer repetition can't dull Santana's magical mastery. The solo is pretty much the song's melody, but what Santana does around the edges is amazing: triads, fills, petite runs: everything that separates the men from the boys.
Jimmy Page, "Whole Lotta Love" (Led Zeppelin II). Page pours a jerry can of gasoline over the inexcusable ethereal murk that mars this song, lights it, and dances with maniacal glee around its charred remains. The first time I heard it, I was sitting in somebody's room in a Berkeley student coop: instant brain fry.
Allen Collins, "That Smell" (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Street Survivors). For all I know this one could have been Steve Gaines or Gary Rossington, but Collins wrote the song, so he gets the credit. Like most three-guitar line-ups, especially this bad-ass Southern band, there was a lot of tripping over egos, ego tripping, and constant battles for space on the record. But the opening notes on this song lick the skyline with towering flames, just like the album's cover. Collins (or Gaines or Rossington) crafts both the intro and the bridge from a fourth harmony, an ingenious piece of picking and a maul of pure power.
Rick Nielsen, "I Want You To Want Me" (Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan). Robin Zander may have been the heartthrob, Brad "Bun E. Carlos" Carlson, the monkish cipher behind the drum kit, but Cheap Trick was Nielsen's band. He wrote most of the material and dictated its style with furious chops, glittering 32nd-note arpeggios of finger-numbing intricacy. And when the song called for it, like "I Want You To Want Me," Nielsen rip-sawed triads in a blizzard of power chording. And you had to ask, "Are you sure he has only two hands?"
Eddie Van Halen, "Jump" (Van Halen, 1984). Eddie Van Halen, along with Vai and Hendrix, changed the way electric guitar is played. He may or may not have invented dual-handed hammering and tapping, but he perfected it. The solo on "Jump" has five discreet sections, all of which approach the song's chordal center from different directions: brazen, confident musicianship with a wink and a grin. Of course, all of this occurs in a mere 16 seconds.
Larry Carlton, "Don't Take Me Alive" (Steely Dan, The Royal Scam). Carlton opens with a ringing arpeggio played on the fifth fret, a simple chord whose final note hangs in an oozing, decaying, overdriven sustain. The elongated intro that follows, faithfully tracks the song's chord changes, flawlessly setting the change for Donald Fagan's opening line, "Agents of the law ..." It isn't until Fagan completes the first verse that you realize that Carlton's opening solo is, like Collins' work on "That Smell," crafted from a harmony line.
The sharp-eyed among you will have caught on by now that there's very little on this list that was recorded less than 15 years ago. Is this because nobody plays the guitar on rock records any more? Yes and no. There are few bands who do not have a guitarist, so the instrument's place in the genre seems secure. And there's no shortage of talented players: Rich Robinson with The Black Crowes, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, the late Kurt Cobain and Brad Nowell (Sublime), the seriously underrated Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Prince/AFKAP, Peter Buck, Marshall Crenshaw, and others. But for the most part today's guitarists are focused on rhythm, not a bad thing, and a very, very dirty tone. But what happened to the solo?
Two things. First, punk's ethos flattened bands out into a Spector-ish sound wall. Soloing was equated with ego-strutting, very uncool and very unpunk. And it's no accident that today's favored tone, filthy dirty like baked hardscrabble, is another of punk's gifts. Well, in Seattle they called it "grunge." Get it? Second, the advent of hiphop and its rise to today's predominant musical force caused little boys of 14 and 15 to dump their guitars and buy turntables. The result is that successive generations' listening preferences have precluded the guitar as anything but rhythm support. Will the guitar attain its former perch atop the rockpile? Will another generation of strutting idols and fret maestros emerge? From this vantage point, I can't tell, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn't take odds against it.
Howard Ferstler (HF)
Here are some excellent demo-grade transcriptions that will allow an exemplary audio system to do exemplary things. No, not every disc is an explosive, "bug out your eyes with impact" item. Indeed, a few are superlative in a multitude of more subtle ways. Some of these releases I have only recently encountered, while a few others have been reviewed in my books or previous magazine reviews and have been reauditioned for this review. Classical, pop, and jazz formats are interfiled in this very eclectic listing.
Bann, Stan and his Big Band: Good Intentions. (Sea Breeze Jazz 2087). This small-label release is punchy, clean, and just plain impressive. The solo vocalist is up close, which works effectively in this case. If you apply some center-steered DSP he probably will be moved back closer to the soundstage. This is brilliantly done, powerful, big-band jazz.
Beachcomber: Encores for Band. (Reference Recordings RR-62). This Frederick Fennell-directed release displays the characteristically "wet" sound of some other HDCD recordings. The listening perspective is interesting, in that it combines close-up imaging and detail with a degree of spaciousness that may not quite be what one would experience in a typical live-concert situation. One other notable feature is the impact of the bass drum, meaning that subwoofer salesmen should love this disc. The bass extension is a two-edged sword, however, because there is also some occasional background noise that sound like a big central heater or air-conditioner blower is running way off in the distance.
Berlioz, Hector: Symphonie Fantastique; Roman Carnival Overture; Les Francs-Juges Overture. (Telarc 80271). Still one of the most impressive Fantastiques available, this recording features an almost three-dimensional sound stage that exhibits both notable width and depth. Because of this, it "decoded" quite well with my processor's Dolby Pro Logic circuitry. It also exhibits great instrumental clarity, detail, and impact, combined with realistic hall ambiance.
Biber, Heinrich and Johann Schmelzer: Seventeenth Century Music and Dance from the Viennese Court. (Chesky CD-173). The soundstaging and frontal depth of this transcription is superior to nearly any other two-channel recorded material I have encountered, as is its clarity, and detail. This is a sensational technical achievement and one that I recommend to anyone who wants to have a good piece of demo material for showing off their system and their listening room. I have used it myself in several product reviews.
Catlingub, Matt: Your Friendly, Neighborhood Big Band. (Reference Recordings RR-14). The sound of this earlier RR release is distant to the extent that you must crank up the amplifier gain somewhat above normal for its full impact to hit you. With the levels advanced appropriately, the result is a phenomenally realistic and dynamic soundstage, with great depth, envelopment, and imaging.
Dire Straits: On Every Street.(Warner 22680). I am impressed enough with this release to regularly use it as an evaluation tool, even though I do not ordinarily consider rock music as particularly effective in this respect. The sound is loaded with impact and the bass is not really loud but it is sometimes deep and room-filling. Those with "ordinary" sound systems will miss the effect completely, because it periodically slides, stealth-like, beneath the typical, rock-music mid-bass that permeates the recording. Another impressive characteristic is the soundstage. At first, it seems laterally pinched but then, after a short while, it just expands outward, almost simulating surround sound. The vocals are sometimes a bit forward but the technique works in this case.
Durufle, Maurice: Requiem; Four Motets. (Summit 134). This is an exceptionally clean, smooth, and standout recording, with a wide-stage image and a remarkable sense of depth. The singers have a substantial amount of organ accompaniment and the instrument sounds realistic, deep, and powerful. The blend between the ensemble and the instrument is smooth and refined.
Green, Bunky: Healing the Pain (with Billy Childs, Ralph Penland, and Art Davis). (Delos 4020). This effort displays a near-perfect blend of everything that is required to make a fine jazz recording. The sax sounds like it is on the stage instead of in your face and the ensemble itself has a near-perfect integration with the solo work.
Handel, George Frideric: Music for the Royal Fireworks; Concerti a due Cori. (Novalis 150 102). This particular release, performed with modern instruments, is rich and expansive, with excellent articulation and clarity--and a sense of realism beyond my previous "technical" favorite, the legendary Fennell recording on Telarc, done way back in 1978. The wide, enveloping soundstage will appeal to those who care to sit moderately close at live performances.
Higgs, David: David Higgs at Riverside (playing organ works by Sowerby, Shearing, Mendelssohn, Franck, etc.). (Gothic 49117). This is a fine, large-scale organ demo release that displays excellent tonality, wonderful depth, and clean bass. The depth is not quite so extended as some other Gothic recordings I have encountered (such as the Alan Morrison release, discussed below), but in this case much of the music is not demanding of that kind of power.
Howells, Herbert: Hymnus Paradisi; An English Mass. (Hyperion 66488). The bass response of this presentation is both subtle and powerful at the same time and the dynamic range is impressive. The chorus and orchestra blend together quite well, an unusual occurrence with recordings of this type. The soloists are positioned precisely the way they would be at a live performance and their tonality is near perfect.
Hyman, Dick: Swing is Here. (Reference Recordings RR-72). This is a release that sounds good because of good microphone techniques and not any exotic (read HDCD) digital hardware. The presentation is smooth and well blended, with nice detail throughout, and excellent drum impact. The performance environment is rather on the large size for jazz work, and that factor, along with the slightly compressed fade to silence engendered by the HDCD recording process, delivers a rather "wet" sense of reverb.
Hyman, Dick: From the Age of Swing. (Reference Recordings RR-59). The sound of this release delivers a large-room ambiance that is surprisingly supportive of this ensemble's sound. The clarity is up-front sharp and the piano in particular is extremely well focused, although maybe a bit more forward than some might prefer. The imaging is what one would expect from RR and the you-are-there feel is almost surround-sound like.
The Kroumata Percussion Ensemble & Manuela Wiesler. (BIS 272). The overall sound of this 16-year-old release is very transparent, with surprisingly wide dynamics at times. Indeed, track 12 is a percussion powerhouse that will fully exercise even potent speaker systems. The disc is also a reliable test item for CD player low-level clarity, because there are some revealing quiet passages, including a well-recorded flute, interspersed with the pyrotechnics.
Mangione, Chuck: Everything For Love. (Chesky JD-199). As usual with Chesky, this item displays clean and clear sound, with superior soundstaging and ambiance. The bass line is sometimes impressive by virtue of its controlled subtlety. This is an excellent performance, with superior ensemble work.
Les Miserables (with Gary Morris, Philip Quast, Debbie Byrne, and many others). (Relativity/First Night 1099). The soundstage of this pieced-together release (excerpted from a three-disc presentation of the full work) has a studio-like feel to it. However, in a home-listening environment, this characteristic may be preferred over a more realistic, reverberant balance. It may seem perverse, but subwoofer enthusiasts will be thrilled by Javert's jump to death, because there are a series of strong, fairly deep organ chords at that point.
Morrison, Alan: Alan Morrison, Organist (playing works by Dupre, Durufle, Franck, Demessieux, and Langlais). (Gothic 49083). If you like your pipe organ recordings to sound real, as well as large-scale, then this transcription is for you. A notable feature that hits you right off are the subtle, room-filling (and unless you live in a concrete bunker, room-shaking) pedal notes of the opening piece by Durufle. If you want to demo your subwoofer to friends, while at the same time proving to them that you also have some musical taste, this is the disc for you. This is one of the best, most cleanly recorded organ recordings available, with realistic stage depth and a fine, mid-distance listening perspective.
Nelson, Ron: Holidays & Epiphanies. (Reference Recordings RR-76). This is a sensational release, with wonderful soundstaging and typically RR dynamics. The transparency is uncanny, and you can sometimes listen right into the ensemble. Not only is the sound superior, but the music is upbeat, and eclectic enough to satisfy nearly any rational taste.
Terry, Clark and Frank Wess: Big Band Basie. (Reference Recordings RR63). This is another of those semi-controversial HDCD releases that nearly always display substantial dynamic range, admirable clarity, and pinpoint imaging. As with a number of HDCD releases, this one has a fair degree of room reverb surrounding the instruments but with the right playback system, the effect is uncanny, almost surround-sound like. The overall sound is big, full, rich, and very clean, with a degree of envelopment that is remarkable.
Widor, Charles-Marie: Symphony Number 5; Francis Poulenc: Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani; Felix Guilmant: Symphony Number 1. (Chandos 9271). The organ sound on this release is often stupendous, with deep, room-filling bass that reverberates the way it would in a big space, and a large sense of space that complements the music. In spite of the reverb, the orchestral sound is impressively articulate and dovetails well with the organ.
Williams, Joe: I Just Want to Sing, (Delos 4004). This 15-year-old recording delivers the sonic-perfection goods in full force. It exhibits an excellent, broad and yet intimate soundstage, marvelous sense of front-to-back instrumental layering, and a wide-frequency bandwidth, including some impressive bass. I believe that this is still one of the best-sounding discs of its kind and is the one that I often use when I am reviewing other jazz recordings and need a reference standard.
James T. Frane (JTF)
Polka Dots and Moonbeams by Paul Desmond (BMG/Bluebird 61066-2) features Paul Desmond on alto sax, Jim Hall on guitar, Connie Kay on drums, with Eugene Wright, Eugene Cherico, or Percy Heath on bass for various cuts. The six well-recorded cuts on this album are music for kicking back and relaxing.
Kenny Burrell's Sunup to Sundown (Fantasy/Jazz Heritage 513277A) is a great showcase for the talents of Mr. Burrell and the other fine artists on this CD. He plays electric and acoustic guitar, Cedar Walton is on piano, with Rufus Reid on bass, Lewis Nash on drums, and Ray Mantilla on percussion. From the lively "Out There," to the melodic title song, to the slow and lilting "Smile" and a mix of six other tunes, this is an album that grabs your attention and involves you in the music.
Charlie Hunter and his 8-string guitar team up with Leon Parker on drums and percussion on Duo (Blue Note 7243 4 99187 2 6), a live recording (except for percussion overdub on the first cut, which a bit of Cuban music). "Don't Talk" is slow and thoughtful, while others, such as "Recess" and "Calypso for Grandpa" are lively. "You Don't Know What love Is" reaches deep into the lowest octave. I had to buy the CD for my collection after hearing it on our local jazz station. From the energetic to the laidback, the 10 cuts on this album lay out a detailed, three-dimensional soundstage. The volume balance between the performers is very good, but in some cases the unusual miking or mix puts conga and bongo drums at extreme left and right. The guitar is often at stage right and sometimes center stage. With each listen, I noticed a few more details in the complex performances. Hunter moved from the San Francisco area to Brooklyn in 1997 and a chance encounter with Parker led to this recording.
Jazz for the Quiet Times (32 Jazz 32097) is part of a series of "Jazz for....." CDs. It features a different artist on each of the 11 songs. Sonny Criss, Houston Person, Sonny Stitt, Kenny Burrell, Bobby Hutcherson, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Antoine Roney, David Newman, Pat Martino, Russell Gunn, and Wallace Roney, each backed by other artists. This is music to relax with, to perhaps play in the background while reading a good book, or to listen to with concentration and enjoyment. Jazz For The Quiet Times topped the Billboard "Traditional Jazz" Chart. Other theme albums from 32 Jazz include Jazz for a Lazy Day, Jazz for a Rainy Day, and others.
C.I. Williams makes his alto sax talk to the audience on When Alto Was King (Mapleshade). Eleven beautifully performed and recorded tunes, such as "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To," "Misty," and "Avalon" draw your attention away from whatever else you might have planned on doing. His sax never has to get loud to grab you--it's so full of emotion, even at very soft levels, that you can't ignore it. C.I. is backed by piano (Larry Willis on some cuts and Donald Blackman on others), Ed Cherry on guitar, Keter Betts on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Liner notes provide more than average detail about the recordings, with a biographical sketch of C.I. and technical notes about the recording equipment and cables. No mixing board, filtering, compression, equalization, noise reduction, multitracking, or overdubbing were used in making this album. Initial recording was live to two-track analog tape at 15 ips. This is among the best-sounding CDs I have heard.
Dick Conte is a great jazz pianist who is local to the San Francisco Bay Area, plays often in local clubs, and DJs for our local member-supported jazz station, KCSM. His album Yesterdays (DC Jazz DCJ13) is one I play again and again. Of hundreds of CDs, there are those select few dozen kept ready at hand for frequent use, and this is one of mine. Dick recorded this at Mobius Music in San Francisco, along with Chris Amberger on bass, with drums by Michael Aragon on some cuts and Glen Cronkhite on others. There are 11 songs, such as "Summertime," "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," and the title song. My copy is autographed by Dick, which adds immeasurably to my pleasure for no definable reason, except it's pretty cool.
Severe Tire Damage (Stickmaster Recordings SM-9944, website: www.stickmaster.cjb.net) is an unlikely name for this recording by Michael K on the Chapman Stick. For those of you who have not yet had the experience of hearing it, the Stick has 10 or 12 strings (depending on model) over a fingerboard with frets. The Stick's pickups are so sensitive that the instrument is played by pressing strings to frets with the fingers, rather than strumming or striking the strings. It is an instrument with a wide frequency response and a mellow, detailed sound. It is, of necessity, amplified though a speaker, in much the same manner as an electric guitar. Michael has recorded a variety of tunes, from the title song to "Stairway to Heaven," "Misty," "Greensleeves," and 10 others. I bought the album because I heard Michael play many of these tunes live and really enjoyed the music. He is a versatile and accomplished musician, and the album is so well done it varies little from the live performance.
Count Basie Meets Oscar Peterson: The Timekeepers (Pablo OJCCD-790-2) is a masterpiece of jazz piano. This was their fourth album together. The two pianos are stage right and left (Peterson at stage right, I think), separated by Louis Bellson on drums and John Heard on bass, except for the duet "Rent Party." This 1978 recording was remastered to CD in 1993. The two pianos play counterpoint and/or blend extremely well as one might expect from two master artists. The result is a melding of contrasting styles into musical bliss. Although Peterson is known for generally more energetic playing, both artists play softly and exuberantly at different times.
Gregory Koster (GK)
Having done my Top 25, vielles vignes, and tribute albums, I was looking for a theme among these recent acquisitions. It doesn't come out in the selections, but this last year was a "Waiting for Godot" time for me. I hesitated before each jazz CD purchase, wondering whether the label was about to upgrade it to 20-bit, K2 or 24/96 technology. As a result you'll notice a lot of JVC XRCDs (expensive, but with sound that's unlikely to be bettered), and a widening of taste toward KWN's "more jazz than not."
Mose Allison: Allison Wonderland (Rhino 71689) Last time I listed the Jazz Profile compilation of Mose's later work on Blue Note. There used to be a similar compilation of his early work on Prestige, Sings and Plays, but that's been out of print for a while. This 2-CD anthology covers his early work on Prestige, the 10 landmark albums on Atlantic, the brief interludes on Columbia/ Epic and Elektra, and even the first two albums on Blue Note, so it's both a thorough introduction and a comprehensive cherry-picking of most of the high points in the long and illustrious career of the hippest, most cynical blues singer in the world. This set has the usual Rhino virtues (great selection and elaborate booklet) and flaws (slightly bright sound).
Bud and Travis: The Best of Bud & Travis (Collectors' Choice Music CCM-065) Growing up during the folk music boom in the '60s, I quickly tired of the hokey jokes and limited musical range of the Kingston Trio and the Limelighters, but I played the grooves off Bud & Travis' In Concert album. It's risky to go back to such remembered pleasures, but this thorough compilation (11 cuts from that set with 13 highlights from their other albums) reconfirms my judgment that Bud & Travis were by far the class act of that era: they transcended "folk music" and were so eclectic in their sources that they could be considered the first great "world music" group.
Michael Carvin: Drum Concerto at Dawn (Mapleshade 03732) Fifty minutes of solo drums! How'd this get on the list of a guy who generally hates drum solos of even a few choruses? Because Michael Carvin gets such a range of sounds and emotions out of a basic set of traps that it's almost like an orchestra. Great Mapleshade recording, although you can't expect a wide soundstage on a solo album.
Children of Eden "American Premiere Recording" (RCA 63165) I saw this show at a community theater and ran right out to get this CD of the Paper Mill Playhouse production. Children of Eden, by Stephen Schwartz (composer of Godspell), is the best musical that never ran on Broadway. It tells the stories of Genesis from the Creation to the Flood and traces a compelling theme of the joys and heartaches of fatherhood. The songs cover a wide range of musical styles and this cast is up to the challenge of all of them.
Kenny Dorham: Quiet Kenny (JVC XRCD 0049) Originally recorded in 1959, this XRCD remaster brings the sound fully up to date. The music is timeless: a relaxed session of bluesy jazz from Dorham's trumpet, with Tommy Flanagan, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; and Arthur Taylor, drums.
Duke Ellington: Ellington at Newport 1956 Complete (Columbia 64932) Ellington at Newport has long been regarded as one of Duke's great albums, but it turns out that Columbia's been hawking a fraud all these years. The live tapes were poorly recorded, so much of the album was a studio re-recording with dubbed-in ambience. This new release used the latest digital techniques to clean up the original tapes, and a very innovative use of Columbia and the Armed Forces Radio's independent mono masters to create a stereo ambience. For the first time we can hear the full concert that launched Duke's comeback, and Paul Gonsalves' 27-chorus solo comes through beautifully (he wasn't off-mic, as the story has been, but rather was blowing into the Army's mic). The studio cuts are also included for completeness.
Herb Ellis: Nothing But the Blues (Verve 521674) The classic Herb Ellis album, now with half again as many bonus cuts from a JATP session. Roy Eldridge and Stan Getz, plus Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson on the fillers:and this is still a guitar album thanks to Ellis's swinging blues playing.
Bill Evans: Everybody Digs Bill Evans (JVC XRCD 0020) Bill's second album and first classic, this shows off his distinctive piano tone and lyricism in a solid trio setting with Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones. XRCD sound is as great (and expensive) as always.
Bill Evans: At Shelly's Manne Hole (JVC XRCD 0036) Live recordings often catch an extra intensity, and Evans raised the stakes by introducing new material on the night of this session; this is one of the more intense Evans efforts. "Round Midnight" is a particular highlight.
Tommy Flanagan: Sea Changes (Evidence 22191) Tommy Flanagan's first album was recorded in 1957; forty years later he released this CD with remakes of five cuts from the earlier one. The "sea changes" theme comes from this career span plus the selection of a few water-related song titles and a poem by Lawrence Durrell. (Luckily, the music holds together better than the concept.) Flanagan's delicate touch on piano is ably backed by Peter Washington's bass and Lewis Nash on drums.
Flanders and Swann: The Complete Flanders & Swann (EMI CDFSB1) Most of the cuts on these 3 CDs are musical, but these are really comedy albums. If you like British comedy of the more intellectual variety (Beyond the Fringe and Allo! Allo! rather than Benny Hill) you'll love Flanders & Swarm. This set includes their two great live albums: At the Drop of a Hat; and ... Another ...: plus a throw-away CD of animal songs and other lesser material. The only prerequisites are a liberal education and a love of puns: O Temporal O Mores!/O Times! O Daily Mirror!
Chico Freeman: Destiny's Dance (OJC 799) This represents the trend in the '80s toward acid jazz and fusion, before the Marsalis-inspired return to straight-ahead roots. It's one of the classics of that period, but I personally can't warm up to it.
Bill Holman: A View from the Side (JVC XRCD 0002) Last time I included Holman's album of Monk tunes, Brilliant Corners, which is an arranging tour de force but maybe a little over the top. This one, with the same great West Coast big band in 1995, features a wider range of material (from originals to the "Tennessee Waltz") but the same high levels of arranging and playing.
Wynton Kelly: Kelly Blue (JVC XRCD 0050) This is kind of blue: that is, the rhythm section from Kind of Blue. Three originals and four standards, all with a relaxed bluesy pulse from Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) plus a few guests here and there.
Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um (Columbia 65512) Mingus' greatest album and part of the essential jazz collection, I omitted the earlier CD release because of poor sound. Columbia's new Legacy release not only fixes the sound but restores several cuts to unedited versions. Mingus could be pretty far-out surreal, but this album is down to earth from its gospel opening to the closing waltz. Down to earth, but still world-class.
Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (OJC 026) I own enough covers of this title, so it's time to list the original. The first of four great albums Monk turned out in half a year's time, this includes wonderful sextet versions of four Monk standards (the title, "Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are," "Pannonica," and "Bemsha Swing") plus "I Surrender Dear."
Houston Person and Ron Carter: The Complete Muse Sessions (32Jazz 32010) Person was a founder of acid jazz (not my cup of tea) but this 2-CD set is sweet as honey. Just tenor and bass in an extended dialogue on 17 tunes, cleanly recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and restored by 32Jazz. I was attracted by the low price, figuring it would be too same-sounding for more than one or two plays, but it has become a recurrent favorite as the musical ideas generate new interest every time.
The Poll Winners: Barney Kessel with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown (JVC XRCD 0019) When a tenorman or trumpet player won the Downbeat readers' poll in the '50s, it meant immediate record sales. But guitar, drums and bass are the rhythm section so Contemporary figured they needed all three of these greats to move the vinyl. It worked, and not only is this a great set of laid-back swinging jazz but there are two more like it on OJC.
Andre Previn: Jazz at the Musikverein (Verve 537704) Andre Previn was one of my first jazz favorites, way back before he became a longhair. Now he's back to his jazz roots, and I so enjoyed his Telarc album After Hours that I was really looking forward to the same style with better Verve sound. But for some reason it leaves me cold maybe this group is better after hours, with a more relaxed groove.
Sonny Rollins A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note 99795) Originally released as two separate CDs, now remastered as a Rudy Van Gelder Edition 2-CD set. The sound of the bass is clean and full, but the drums are sometimes flat and boxy, so I don't know whether Rollins's biting sound was how his sax sounded that night or is a result of the RVG signature mix. Once you adjust to his tone, and to the trio format, you discover some great Rollins solos.
Teenagers in Love (Razor & Tie 89019) From the sublime to the ridiculous, but baby boomer memories have a low standard for taste! Record stores and late-night TV are full of oldies compilations, but this one caught my eye with a list of 43 songs from the '50s and '60s that were all familiar. The CD doesn't disappoint: the original recordings are presented in surprisingly good sound. The only mystery is what "Alley Oop" has to do with teenagers in love, but it's a welcome reminder of the novelty song genre anyway ... If you have trouble finding this, it's available from Collectors' Choice Music.
Ben Webster: Ben Webster and Associates (Verve 543302) We can't go out on that note, so I'll include one more. The classic 1959 album by the warm-toned tenor, remastered in the latest 24/96 technology. You'll get a chance to buy it again in true 24/96 when (if) DVD-Audio takes off, but that will surely cost more and isn't likely to sound better than this.
Tom Krehbiel (TK)
As a rule, my favorite recording is the one I'm listening to at any given moment. But here are a few that entered my collection in the past year (no matter when they might have been issued) and spent a lot of time on my turntable or in my CD player. They're listed in no particular order.
Chubby Jackson and His Orchestra: Father Knickerbopper (45 EP, Columbia B-2017) This collects the four (well, three out of four) spectacular performances that bassist Jackson's big band recorded for Columbia in the late '40s. The title track is a high-speed, high-pressure bebop screamer. The most memorable performance is "Tiny's Blues," aka "TNT Blues," a composition and arrangement by the late great drummer-composer Tiny Kahn. He even sings on one track, opening the band's performance of George Wallington's "Godchild" with a wordless bop vocal statement of the classic theme. These performances are the complement to the eight that Jackson recorded for Prestige in 1950. You can get those on Fantasy OJCCD-711-2, Gerry Mulligan Quartet/Chubby Jackson Big Band. The Columbia EP is, of course, out of print.
Meredith Willson and His Concert Orchestra: Modern American Music (LP, Decca DL 8025) Look, I'm sorry about this. But it's not my fault that many interesting recordings that cross my path show up on used vinyl. Actually, this appears to be an early LP reissue of a set of 78 rpm sides and it suffers from the dull, canned sound that afflicted many of those repackagings and convinced many music lovers that sound technology had taken a wrong turn when the LP came out in 1948. (Sound familiar?) The great appeal here then is the music. The LP comprises ten short compositions by contemporary American composers, most of them quite well known. The compositions, on the other hand, are all but unknown and there's a thrill to uncovering "new" works by Duke Ellington ("American Lullaby"), Harold Arlen ("American Minuet"), Ferde Grofe ("March for Americans"), Vernon Duke ("American Arabesque"), Sigmund Romberg ("American Humoresque") among others. This is a wonderful piece of '40s Americana, one that we'll never get to hear in any better form, unfortunately.
Joe Viola Plays Manny Albam (Berklee Jazz in the Classroom Vol. III) Joe Viola is a reed player who performs all parts in these recordings of two Manny Albam works. Side one has "Six Pieces for Eight Reeds" and side two offers "Sounds from the Sax Section" with the added starters of a jazz rhythm section. I'm a great lover of Manny Albam's compositions and arranging in the jazz vein. These are almost classical in character, especially the Six Pieces. Viola's multitracked performances are perfectly on target throughout. This LP is a treasure that I'll be returning to again and again for enjoyment and illumination.
Triple Play Stereo: Pop + Jazz = Swing (Audio Fidelity Stereodisc 3P-AFSD 5978) Audio Fidelity put out a few of these Triple Play LPs in the early '60s. It's a gimmick, but a cool one, and one that would be even more effective on CD than LP because of the near total elimination of interchannel crosstalk. Here's the schtick: Benny Golson wrote dual arrangements for complementary pop and jazz compositions. One is a pop string orchestra arrangement. The other is a jazz band arrangement. The strings are in the left channel. The jazz group in the right. The performances are synchronized so you can listen to both at once, hearing a jazz band with string cushioning. You can also turn the balance control and listen to the jazz group alone or the string orchestra alone. Call it an early interactive disc, if you will. It's great fun and good music. And the jazz group is an all star aggregation: Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, and more.
Joe Mooney: Lush Life (Koch Jazz KOC CD 8524) This is a perfectly presented reissue of a rare classic that I didn't think I'd ever hear on CD. Mooney's laid back vocals and delicate yet persuasive Hammond organ swing are irresistible.
Pony Poindexter: Gumbo! (Prestige PRCD-24229-2) I knew Fantasy would get around to reissuing this coveted collector classic. But I never dreamed that they'd expand it with four unissued tracks by Poindexter and five by tenor sax legend Booker Ervin with organ legend Larry Young. What a treat!
Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge: Hey, It's Me. Great jazz by pianist Levine, whose credits include work with Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, and Cal Tjader, plus sessions with Woody Shaw and Stan Getz. The group is essentially a jazz piano trio with added Latin percussion, but the Latin tinge runs through all the members so the performances are more cohesive than some where the conga player sounds like more like a visitor than a participant. The added joy here is the spectacular recorded sound. I have more than a few recordings where the horrid piano reproduction makes me wonder whether my CD player or amplifier might be malfunctioning. This one makes clear that my hardware is doing just fine and a lot of software sucks.
Sarah Vaughan: Linger A While (Pablo PACD-2312-144-2) Here's another surprise from the vaults at Fantasy. This CD opens with Sass' swinging vocalizing at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. Norman Granz had Verve's mikes set up to record Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. He let the tape run while Vaughan performed and since she was under contract to Mercury, simply shelved the result. Now we can hear these fine Vaughan performances after only a 43-year delay. The rest of the disc has alternate takes from recording sessions that Vaughan did for Granz's Pablo label a couple of decades later. The combination makes this the Sarah Vaughan disc to own if you don't own any other, or the one to add to your Vaughan shelf as a splendid retrospective of an extraordinary singing career.
Duke Heitger and his Swing Band: Rhythm Is Our Business (Fantasy FCD-9684-2) This is the very best swing revival disc I've heard. The key is in the title. This hot little band knows what jazz rhythms sound like. They swing. Most of the heavily publicized "swing" bands have recycled rock drummers thudding along. From the first cymbal ride that opens the first track ("Swing is Here"), it's clear that the band enjoys the kick of a real hot jazz drummer in the person of Chris Tyle. Everybody else in the group is just fine, too. Leader Heitger is a hot trumpet player in the Bunny Berigan/Roy Eldridge tradition. And don't miss guitarist Rebecca Kilgore's punchy vocal on "Murder He Says."
Sandra Collins: Tranceport 3 (Kinetic Records 5648-2) According to a website I found, Collins' music is progressive house/ trance. I have no idea what the hell that means. But I'm not alone. I first heard this amazing mix of sounds playing in a record store in Seattle's university district. The guy on duty said I could find it in the techno section, but it sounded a much more finely crafted than they typically invigorating but brash and noisy techno stuff I've heard. In fact, in spite of the overall density of sound and total reliance on electronics, this has a lot in common with the music produced by minimalists such as Phillip Glass. One thing I promise you, you'll never find a better disc to exercise both your system's deep bass response and its treble extension and smoothness. But take it in small (10 to 20 minute) doses. It's rich listening.
Duke Ellington: Ellington at Newport 1956 Complete (Columbia/Legacy C2K 64932) This is a total reconstruction of Ellington's historic 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival and more. What originally appeared on two LPs is expanded with 100 minutes of new music. And the astonishing live performance of "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo In Blue" is in stereo! That treat is due to the happy accident of finding a mono tape made by the Voice of America that the producers combined with Columbia's own single-channel recording from a different mike to get honest two-channel reproduction that is more real-sounding and musical than you'll hear from any major label's current output. (A similarly astonishing example of stereo serendipity also involves Ellington and dates back to the Cotton Club band. This also involved finding two mono masters of the same music recorded at the same time with spaced microphones. True stereo from 1932!)
Linda Presgrave: In Your Eyes (Metropolitan Records MR1119) It takes guts, talent, creativity, and inspiration for a pianist to open her debut CD as a leader with a cover of Horace Silver's "Cape Verdean Blues." Linda Presgrave does just that and all but takes ownership of the tune. A slight adjustment of phrasing sheds new light on the ingratiating tune and makes the listener want to find out what more Presgrave has to say about jazz today and yesterday. She says a lot and all of it is worth hearing.
Tom Lyle (TL)
In my last Staff Picks contribution I said I would try to avoid mentioning albums that were too difficult for the average music lover to locate. This time, I will do something a bit different. I want to focus on the vinyl LPs I've been listening to for the past year or so. Some are harder to find then others, but I feel they are all worth searching for. No, I am not anti-CD: my CD collection numbers more than 1,500. But I've been listening to vinyl almost all my life, so my collection numbers near 5,000 and the number is still increasing. Plus, someone has to write about analog playback. It might as well be me. I'll start with the classical, the jazz, and then the pop.
The Classics: I have quite a few British EMI, Deccas, and a host of other LPs dating from the late 1950s to the early 1980s that are part of my collection that I listen to regularly. Some of my current favorites are UK EMIs of Shostakovich and Prokofiev symphonies, and Messiaen's Triangulia conducted by Andre Previn; Sibelius conducted by Paavo Berglund; Vaughn Williams conducted by Adrian Boult; and Elgar's Cello Concerto played by Jacqueline Du Pre and conducted by Sir John Barbiroli. On UK Decca lately I've been listening to Bruckner's Fourth Symphony conducted by Karl Bohm; Stravinsky's Violin Concerto by Kyung-Wha Chung conducted by Previn; Mahler's Seventh Symphony conducted by Sir George Solti; and a box set of chamber music by Schoenberg and a disc of chamber music by Ligeti, both conducted by David Atherton. I have just about every German Wergo release of LIgeti's music, and not much time passes by before one ends up on the turntable.
But sometimes I can't resist the better sound quality of the recently released reissues. The RCAs pressed by Classic Records are flawless. Many are now out-of-print, but stock still exists on many a mail-order website. It would be difficult to choose favorites: there are too many and there is not enough space to write about them all. Bartok, Richard Strauss, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky conducted by Fritz Reiner with his Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and French composers conducted by Charles Munch with his Boston Symphony Orchestra would definitely be among my long-term and current favorites. Others by Shostakovich, Dvorak, and Berlioz spend a lot of time on my turntable. Classic has repressed a few Mercury LPs too, a few are likable just because they are sonic blockbusters, but musically my favorite is Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges with his Scythian Suite conducted by Antal Dorati. Germany's Speaker's Corner has been repressing the Decca catalog, but I've only gotten a few of those because they are a bit pricey. Most listened to are Bartok's Divertimento conducted by Rudolf Barshai and Debussy's La Boite a Joujoux led by Ernest Ansermet. King and Cisco are pressing the London catalog in Japan. My current favorites are Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 by the Borodin Quartet and Mahler's Third Symphony conducted by Sir George Solti.
The Jazz: I do not have the money to get the reissue box set of my favorite period of Miles Davis, the time with his Quintet from the years 1965 through 1968. I wish they would release them separately. [They are coming out separately now. I recently picked up Miles Smiles, but was so put off by Tony Williams's drumming, both musically and sonically, that I decided to pass on the rest. Different strokes for different folks ... -KWN] But I did manage to find the original Columbia "six-eye" pressings that sound pretty darn good. I constantly listen to them. What are favorites of that period, and which spend the most time on my turntable? That's a tough one. Perhaps Miles Smiles. Or Sorcerer. No, it would be Miles in the Sky. Maybe, because I listen to them all. I spend lots of time spinning albums from his more "blasphemous" late 1960s/early 1970s period, too. Theme from Jack Johnson would be my current favorite.
Impulse records have re-released almost every John Coltrane LP from his catalog on nice, thick vinyl that costs no more than their CD counterparts. I'm very thankful for this, because, his Impulse years are by far my favorite. I can listen to them all, from the relatively straight-ahead Crescent, to the free-jazz of Live at the Village Vanguard Again. These are two of my current favorites. I have some originals on Impulse that sound pretty good, but during the past year the reissues have reigned. If one doesn't have LPs on the original Blue Note Records, the reissues will have to do, and in most cases the reissues sound better than the originals. The mastering is first-rate, and the vinyl is better quality; surface noise is much, much less. Collectors will probably tell you the originals sound better, but their motives may be different than a plain music lover's, a group of which I consider myself a member. I regard the reissue of Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch to be one of the most important records in my collection. Needless to say I don't go long without listening to it. My favorite original Blue Note LP that I'm lucky enough to own which I've been listening to over and over this past year is Jackie McLean's One Step Beyond.
The Rock and Everything Else: Most are surprised to learn that nearly every album released that is in the Rock and Pop sections of the record store is not only available on CD and cassette, but vinyl as well. The major labels don't even acknowledge their existence, but they are manufactured. Every one of these is pressed in small numbers, and some only in Europe. Yet they are not impossible to find. In a metropolitan area, the larger chains usually have a good selection, and of course the Internet is a good source.
Some artists I've been listening to over the past year I buy almost exclusively on LP. On Geffen Records is the dissonant guitar-pop orchestration of Sonic Youth. Their latest album nyc ghosts & flowers is a US pressing, one of their best, and one of my current faves. Fugazi's post-punk albums are all available on vinyl from the independent Dischord records. Their latest End Hits is about two years old now, but I still listen to it regularly, and their entire catalog is still available from this Washington, DC label on vinyl. Kraftwerk's robotic-dance-funk is a staple of my listening room, and the 1991 album The Mix is played on vinyl almost as much as the CD on my system. The difference? The LP's lyrics are in German; it is on the European EMI/ Electrola. All of Kraftwerk's other albums are from the LP's "heyday," as some like to call it, and are still in print on various labels.
I listen to lots of other electronic music, and about 2/3 of those artists on vinyl. My favorite records dejour are 12" singles from industrial electronic Front Line Assembly's early `90s album Tactical Neural Implant, drum and bass 12" singles from Ed Rush, and the psychedelic trance of every release from Hallucinogen, especially the Twisted and The Lone Deranger albums.
The above aren't nearly all the records I've been listening to over the past year, but they are my favorites of the lot. Still, I would be remiss if I didn't list a few of the other records from the rock category I've been frequently listening to over the past year: Japanese pressings of old Genesis with Peter Gabriel and the pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd; Japanese and recent reissues by MCA and Classic Records of the Jimi Hendrix catalog; Italian and German imports of Can; and domestic and UK pressings of PJ Harvey, Bjork, T. Rex, and Brian Eno's classic 1970s albums Before and After Science and Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.
Karl W. Nehring (KWN)
Bach: Lute Suites Paul Galbraith (Delos DE 3258). The amazing Paul Galbraith and his 8-string guitar are back again, this time bringing us some lute suites by Bach in crystal-clear sound captured by Delos's Jeff Mee. Bach's music sounds so natural in this context that it is hard to believe that this is not the instrument for which it was originally written.
Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge Juilliard String Quartet (Sony Classics S2K 45 937). An ultra-clean rendition of Bach's compelling counterpoint.
Joey Baron/Arthur Blythe/Ron Carter/ Bill Frisell: We'll Soon Find Out (Intuition 3515-2). These guys, superstars all, sound like a real band, not just four guys knocking out another CD. Good, good stuff, one of the best jazz CDs to come along for quite a while.
Bartok: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra; Eotvos: Replica, for Viola and Orchestra; Kurtag: Movement for Viola and Orchestra Kim Kashkashian, viola/Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra/Peter Eotvos, conductor (ECM New Series 289 465 420-2). All three works are musically exciting and superbly performed and recorded, making this just the sort of recording that music-loving audiophiles should embrace with enthusiasm.
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7 Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Zander (Telarc CD-80471). This bold, brisk, and bracing recording couples the 5th with the 7th on one disc and includes a bonus disc with Zander lecturing on Beethoven. Listening to the bonus disc is a fascinating and educational experience, and I salute Telarc and Maestro Zander for making this available.
Clint Black: D'lectrified (RCA RCA07863-67823-2): An all-acoustic recording that jumps right out of your speakers both musically and sonically. Black sounds as though he is having the time of his life.
Terence Blanchard: Wandering Moon (Sony Classical SK 89111). Jazz that is strong in its emotional appeal without ever sounding sentimental. This is adult music, mature music, played by young hearts, jazz at its finest, a truly magical release.
Arthur Blythe Trio: Spirits in the Field (Savant SCD 2024). If you enjoy good jazz, and the combination of alto, tuba, and drums is something you have never heard, then you need to run right out and get hold of this disc. If you do, you'll probably be back at the store before long looking for more Arthur Blythe recordings.
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Georg Tintner (Naxos 8.554128). Rustic and atmospheric, but with excellent sound, this Naxos disc is a genuine bargain, and I recommend it highly.
Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Boulez (DG 289 459 678-2). The performance on this CD was recorded from a live performance at the 1996 International Bruckner Festival in St. Florian, Austria, now becomes my version of choice, going right into my collection alongside the late-'80s RCA from Wand (his performance of the Adagio may never be equalled) and the Telarc recording by Lopez-Cobos.
Don Byron: Romance with the Unseen (Blue Note Records 7243 4 99545 2 6) Clarinetist Don Byron gets superb support on this recording from Bill Frisell on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. A thoroughly rewarding CD that was one of the best jazz recordings to have hit the streets in 1999.
Elliott Carter: Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei and Clarinet Concerto Michael Collins, clarinet/BBC Symphony Orchestra/ London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen (DG 495 660-2) The music of Elliott Carter (b. 1908) is not for the faint of heart or conservative of taste, but I recommend this disc highly to those with an interest in contemporary orchestral music--and to clarinetists of all stripes.
Chick Corea: Solo Piano Standards (Stretch Records SCD-9028-2) Surprisingly (at least to me, as I had never thought of Corea as someone who would play much Monk), there are four cuts by Thelonious: "Monk's Dream," "Blue Monk," "Ask Me Now," and "`Round Midnight." It is fascinating to hear how Corea stamps these songs with his own personality; you know they are Monk, but you also know they are Corea.
The Chamber Music of Claude Debussy (Complete) The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center/David Shifrin, Artistic Director (Delos DE 3167, 3-CD set). It would be hard to exaggerate just how lovely both the music and the sound are on this release.
Patrick Demenga/ Thomas Demenga: Lux aeterna (ECM New Series 1695 289 4.65 341-2). The title cut is one of the most compelling pieces of music I've heard in quite some time; indeed, it is hard to belive that two cellists could produce such sounds. The rest of the cuts are also excellent, and the sound quality is first-rate.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore: One Endless Night (Windcharger Music/Rounder 11661-3173-2). If you have not yet heard Jimmie Dale Gilmore, this CD is an excellent place to start, presenting as it does a nice mix of familiar songs and originals.
Harris/Moran/Osby/Shim: New Directions (Blue Note 7243 5 22978 2 5) These young players take some of the classic jazz cuts of the '60s (e.g., "Theme from Blow Up," The Sidewinder," "Song for My Father") and rearrange them with some modern-sounding harmonies and quirky melodic twists and turns.
Dave Holland Quintet: Prime Directive (ECM 1698 314 547950-2). You can tell that these musicians have played together in live sessions, because they really play as a unit, not as a collection of soloists. Trombone and vibes add an interesting sonority to the proceedings, with Holland's bass rumbling up from below. The recording is well balanced, providing the crowning touch to an impeccable production. Great stuff!
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Whisper Not (ECM 1724/25 314 543 817-2). Never a hint of showing off or playing for mere effect; rather, all three musicians listen to each other and work together to serve and honor the music, thus serving and honoring the audience.
Dr. John: Duke Elegant (Blue Note Records 7243 5 23220 2 2) The beat tends to slip-slide around in good New Orleans fashion, the vocals are gruff but expressive, and everybody just seems to be having a great time, with a sense of joy in playing Ellington's music that gets passed right along to the listener.
Gidon Kremer/Kremerata Baltica: Silencio (Nonesuch 79552-2). Violinist Gidfon Kremer and his namesake chamber orchestra present works by contemporary composers Part, Glass, and Martynov on this delightful Nonesuch recording. The recorded sound is excellent, with a sweet tone to the violins and a nice sense of space.
Kris Kristofferson: The Austin Sessions (Atlantic 83208-2). This well-recorded CD is a reminder of just how many really good songs Kris Kristofferson was responsible for back in the `70s. These songs may be familiar, but they still pack a wallop, as does the sound.
Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith: Yo Miles! (Shanachie 5046) These performances simply sparkle: the musicians sound as though they were having a blast playing this stuff, and the excellent sound quality sparkles, too. Both CDs in this two-CD set clock in at nearly 80 minutes each. If you are a fan of the electric Miles, then you really ought to give this set a listen--it will blow you away. Big fun indeed!
Charles Lloyd: The Water Is Wide (ECM 1734 314 549 043-2). Charles Lloyd on ECM is always rewarding. This is a truly beautiful and inspirational recording with exquisite sound quality.
Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony; L'ascension Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit (Naxos 8.554478-79). The folks at Naxos have released an incredible bargain with this set. The music of Messiaen is incredibly colorful, intensely expressive, and perfect for showing off the abilities of a good audio system. Although the sound may lack that last bit of bass power and hall sound, it is clean and clear and well balanced, allowing the listener to enjoy the music undistracted.
Pat Metheny: Trio 99-00 (Warner Bros. 9 47632-2). The three musicians sound quite comfortable playing together, all three players making their musicianship heard throughout the recording. The sound has a nice, unforced quality to it; it seems to be cut at a slightly lower level than usual, which may well be a reflection of an uncompressed dynamic range. A wonderful release in every way.
Mahler: Symphony No. 4 Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez (DG 289 463 257-2). The performance lacks the warmth and rhythmic flexibility that some other condutors bring to Mahler, but on its own sewing-machine terms, brings the beauty of this work out by revealing every little facet of the score. The recording quality is excellent.
Mahler: Symphony No. 10 Berlin Philharmonic/Sir Simon Rattle (EMI 7243 5 56972 2 6). Although at times Rattle's interpretation seems a bit restrained, particularly in the opening Adagio, overall this is an impressively performed and recorded version of the Cooke realization of Mahler's uncompleted final symphony.
David Murray Octet: Octet Plays Trane (Justin Time JUST 131-2) Murray's Octet seems to be just the right size for this music, combining the collective power of a big band with the creative interplay and dazzling virtuosity of a tight quintet. The sound quality is punchy and clean, making this CD a must-have for Coltrane fans and audiophiles alike.
Greg Osby: The Invisible Hand (Blue Note 7243 5 20134 2 5) The New Directions CD reviewed above is a wonderful CD, largely because of alto saxophonist Greg Osby; as good as that CD is, however, The Invisible Hand is even better, both musically and sonically.
Arvo Part: Alina Vladimir Spivakov, violin/Sergei Bezrodny, piano/Dietmar Schwalke, cello/Alexander Malter, piano (ECM New Series 1591 289 449 958-2). This is very intimate music, very personal. What you get out of it will depend in large measure upon what you bring to it. It can wind you up, or it can wind you down. At times the music seems to reflect quiet desperation, at other times, it seems to reflect intense hope; indeed, it sounds like prayer.
Nicholas Payton: Nick@Night (Verve 314 547 598-2). Trumpeter Nicholas Payton always seems to deliver the goods; his quintet sounds really, really tight, as though they have been playing for a long time as a unit. Payton and saxophonist Tim Warfield seem to have a special empathy, blending together so tightly that they seem to be reading each other's musical minds.
Penderecki: Orchestral Works Vol. 1 (Symphony No. 3; Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima; Flourescences; De natura sonoris II) National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice)/Antoni Wit (Naxos 8.554491) Conductor Antoni Wit was a student of Penderecki, and he leads the orchestra in a performance that certainly sounds as though all concerned believe thoroughly that this is great music. The Naxos recording crew has framed it all in excellent sonics, making this CD an unbelievably great bargain for audiophiles and music lovers who are interested in exploring the music of the late 20th century.
Penderecki: Orchestral Works Volume 2: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5 Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Antoni Wit (Naxos 8.5544567) The Fifth opens impressively with an atmosphere of mystery and drama that is maintained throughout. The First may be a little tougher sledding for many listeners, but overall it is great fun. To have such a disc available at a bargain price is truly woderful, and I urge all those with desires to expand their musical horizons to give this CD an audition.
Penderecki: Orchestral Works Volume 3: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4 Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit (Naxos 8.554592). Of Penderecki's symphonies, the Second is the most easily accessible for most listeners. The Fourth, completed about a decade later, is more complex in its construction and mood, ranging from loud and boisterous to introspective, with the ghost of Mahler hovering above the orchestra. This disc represents an easily affordable way to experience music you might be afraid to take a chance on at major-label prices. Try it, you might like it ...
Danilo Perez: Central Avenue (Impulse! IMPD-279). What is so special about Perez is the way he is able to blend traditional jazz forms with his Latin sensibility to make music that is so well integrated. It's too Latin to be straight jazz, but it still sounds like good jazz, not Latin music.
Joshua Redman: Beyond (Warner Bros. 9 47465-2). Many of Redman's compositions have a song-like quality about them. Even his more abstract compositions seem to have a tune to them, or snatches of tunes running through them, giving them a communicative feel. This is one of the most exuberantly enjoyable jazz albums to come down the pike in quite a while.
Wallace Roney: No Room for Argument (Stretch Records SCD-9033-2). THE jazz recording of 2000!
Shostakovitch: The String Quartets (complete) Emerson String Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon 289 463 284-2). The four instruments always seem to be equal, and of one mind--the very essence of superb musicianship for a string quartet, and the result in this case of excellent musicianship combined with sympathetic engineering.
Bobo Stenson Trio: Serenity (ECM 1740/ 41 314 543 611-2) This two-disc set (priced at approximately 1.5 times a single CD) contains a bit more than 90 minutes of probing, haunting, but always satisfying music. Tempos tend to be on the slow side throughout, with the overall effect of the recording truly being one of serenity.
Texas Tornados: Live from the Limo, Vol I (Frontera Records 72438 7751 2 4). If you've never heard the Texas Tornados, you have really missed some entertaining music, and this live CD is a great introduction to their Tex-Mex stylings, with accordionist Flaco Jimenez being free to cut loose more than he ever did in the studio.
Veljo Tormis: Litany to Thunder Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Tonu Kaljuste (ECM New Series 1687 465 223-2). The eight cuts on this recording are all fascinating in their mood and sonority, the end result being an album of great beauty and endless fascination. This is a wonderful recording that I recommend to anyone who appreciates choral music.
Erkki-Sven Tuur: Flux David Geringas, cello/Radio Symphonieorchester Wien/ Dennis Russell Davies (ECM New Series 1673 289 465 134-2). The young Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tuur (b. 1959) here follows up on the promise of his debut disc for ECM New Series by bringing listeners three fascinating new works.
Vasks: Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra ("Distant Light"); Symphony for Strings ("Voices") Gidon Kremer, violin/ Kremerata Baltica (Teldec 3984-22660-2) This is the third version of Voices in my collection; it strikes me as the most dramatic-sounding of the three. The newer piece on this recording is Distant Light, which Vasks completed in 1997. Gidon Kremer and his young group of musicians give it a compelling reading, from the eerie opening notes on the violin on through passages of both hope and aguish. A beautiful production, with informative liner notes, interesting artwork, top-quality engineering, engaging perfomances, and intriguing music.
John J. Puccio (JJP)
Here are a dozen recordings I reviewed in the last year that either I fell in love with in the case of new issues or fell back in love with in the case of reissues. I have listed them in an approximate order of preference.
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1. Argerich, Dutoit, Montreal Symphony O. EMI CDC 7243 5 56789-2.
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade. Beecham, Royal Philharmonic O. EMI 7243 5 66998-2.
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2. Previn, London Symphony O. EMI 7243-5-66997-2.
Mahler: Symphony No. 1. Mackerras, Royal Scottish Philharmonic O. EMI 7243 5 73510-2.
Haydn: Seven Last Words of Christ. Janigro, I Solisti di Zagreb. Vanguard SVC-133.
Mahler: Symphony No. 10. Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic O. EMI 7243 5 56972-2.
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9. Zinman, Tonhalle O. Zurich. Arte Nova 74321 65410-2.
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto. Berinbaum, Somary, English Chamber O. Vanguard SVC- 136.
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4. Wand, Berlin Philharmonic O. RCA 09026 68839-2.
Barber: Adagio for Strings. Janigro, I Solisti Zagreb. Vanguard SVC-123.
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3. Horowitz, Ormandy, New York Philharmonic O. RCA 09026 63681-2.
Bax: Symphony No. 5. Lloyd-Jones, Royal Scottish National O. Naxos 8.554409.
David A. Rich (DAR)
James Bongiorno once pointed out to me that every audiophile has 10 demo discs that show his system off but they are a different set for each system. I work around that problem by keeping multiple systems with very different speakers. Room sizes range from small to large as do the speakers. In the cone world I have the very different ACI Sapphire III, Monitor Audio 6, and the AR 302 on permanent display. Electrostatic hybrids come from Janszen and Sound Lab. My favorite continues to be in a highly treated room that is dominated by discontinued Sound Lab Quantum hybrid electrostatics. Like a friendly untrained dog they tend to own you and not the other way around. If not placed well away from a wall, in a medium sized room with extensive sound treatment they will sound pretty bad which is why I assume they went out of production. Given the run of the room they produce an airy sound space with a sense that one is sitting further back in the hall then what the prospective that cones in a box produce. On the correct recording they just sound more natural than any box speaker that I have had in my place. Other recordings need a more live room and a more direct soundfield to sound correct. Often one gets surprisingly different in my different rooms but a clear preference cannot be determined. I also use headphones from AKG and Grado to gauge the tonality and transparency of a recording,
In the list below I picked only recordings with exemplary sound quality although not necessarily in all systems. These effects are noted below. For the most part I have tried to include compositions that you may not have familiarity with since one can take the 1812 Overture only so many times. All these recording should make for an interesting musical experience. Many of these recordings are very useful for quick evaluations of speakers owing to a large variation in color and dynamics over a short time period. With correctly chosen discs and passages in advance (CD-R comes in handy here) I can get a good sense of what a good loudspeaker is doing in 10 minutes and a bad one in a minute. That is how I get through most of CES in four days. You of course have a similar need if you are going to pick your next speaker at the dealer before you get thrown out of the showroom.
Please do not think of this as a demo list. Doing demos for normal people is futile because even if they hear the difference they will think this is a strange hobby in which one spends too much money and has too make too many changes to room decor. Doing demos for audiophiles rarely results in an honest assessment (your friend being too polite for that) or a depressing situation if anybody in the room happens have a different idea of what a stereo sounds like (even if they just like something different but not better).
Since this is my first time out for this exercise I have not restricted myself to discs released this year. Unfortunately, many of my favorite releases have come and gone. Anything that has been cut out of the catalogs has been eliminated from my list. I have avoided discs that do not have some audiophile interest. I also do not present the obvious such as RCA reissues of the CSO under Reiner, the Decca film score excerpts of Hermann, etc.
Brahms: Horn Trio, Clarinet Trio / Borodin Trio Catalog # CHAN 8606 Label: Chandos Records
Arensky, Tchaikovsky: Piano Trios Cardenes, Solow, Golabek (Delos DE 3056). These discs make a strange pair. If you find a speaker that gets one of them right, the other will likely be relatively poor-sounding.
No need to spend any time on the Brahms works themselves, which are some of the finest music ever created. That is especially true of the late Clarinet Trio but the earlier Horn Trio (Brahms played the horn) is also a masterpiece. As a test CD this thing is great because you get five instruments spread across two works in a similar acoustic.
The Arensky trio is a nice but not very original piece that is best heard a few times and then left in the closet for a while. The Tchaikovsky is big in every way: it is really waiting to be a symphony or something. It is also best appreciated by keeping significant space between hearings, lest its weaknesses become the dominant part of the listening experience. When the listener is in the right mood the piece can be powerful and moving. I expected that to happen at this weekend's live performance of it which coincidentally had Jeff Solow playing cello in his regular Amadeus Trio. Unfortunately, things did not take wing (possibly because I spent too much time listening to this recording beforehand).
The Delos disc, engineered by John Eargle, has a mid-hall perspective that is typical of his work. On cone speakers with limited dispersion the resultant sound has an extraordinarily natural you-are-there perspective. Other speaker topologies that create a diffuse sound can result in things that are far less wonderful. This can be an excellent CD to test soundstaging and imaging.
The Chandos disc sounds great on bipolar and omnidirectional speakers. I have never heard a better horn sound than from this recording than when played through the Ohm Fs. Direct-firing systems can become guided missiles, firing a flat edgy sound, although the best of the breed do rather well. The contrast of winds, strings, and piano really tell you a lot about the tonality and dynamics of a speaker. This CD is thus the opposite of the Delos/Arensky. If I ever find a speaker that does both these discs I will have found one that is excellent indeed.
P.D.Q. Bach: 1712 Overture & Other Musical Assaults (Telarc CD 80210). The ultimate Demo piece with a twist. This is great for deflating the pompous high-end sales person. Just queue to the middle of the track and see how long it takes for him to figure out this is not the 1812 Overture (some never do). You know that you are dealing with a lost soul when he tries to discuss midrange transparency during the section with the duck calls. The 1712 is one of Schickele's best PDQ Bach efforts. Walter Bruno and the Greater Hoople area Off-Season Philharmonic were said on the Internet to be Zinman and the Baltimore Philharmonic. You will fall on the floor laughing during the section of endless sequences near the end of the piece: that is just one of the many ingenious parodies.
This disc also lets you test how a speaker will respond to the omnipresent Telarc sound -- not that I like it. To me, Telarc uses a formatted sound that audiophiles with underpowered tube equipment and limited live music experience appear to love. To me, it sounds as if Telarc starts with a bright recording and then tries to air it up and push the soundstage back on post-processing. The result is a unique combination of edge and mud with highlighted tympani thrown in for fun.
Holst: The Planets; Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, op.30: Mehta, Los Angeles Philharmonic (London/Decca 2DF2 452910). Mehta's tenure at the New York Philharmonic appears to have destroyed his zest to make music. His reputation today stands on a bunch of overblown and boring recordings from that period.. He was a very different conductor when he was at LA, as this disc shows. The close-miked recorded sound matches the performance. The current incarnation of the disc contains an Also sprach that I have not heard.
Yes, the sound is Hi-Fi and Hollywood. "Neptune" is a great test cut for overall tonal balance. You also need a Planets with a more idiomatic reading a sound closer to what it sounds like in the concert hall, but Hi-Fi can be fun, and the price is right.
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 Litton, Murphy, Lang, Dallas Symphony (Delos DE 3237) I was really surprised at how well Dallas plays this under Litton, but this is not the best Resurrection on CD. If you want to get into a discussion of what is the best performance, however, you will have to find someone who knows more about performance practice than this nerd.
From a sonic point of view you will not find a much better recording of anything by anybody. The Meyerson Symphony Hall is clearly a world-class recording venue and John Eargle shows us again that he a master engineer. The word here is "natural." No hype, no edge, no Hi-Fi. The perspective is distant, making it dangerous to use only this recording to evaluate your next pair of speakers. Laser-beam tweeters can go unnoticed until it is too late. On the other hand, problems in the midrange will stick out like a sore thumb. Only those who have done their homework in setting up a system for flat bass response will appreciate what the recording does downstairs. Listen on good headphones to see what clean bass is about and then see if your speakers can come close. Be prepared to be disappointed. The purchase of a good loudspeaker placement software may restore your happiness by telling where the speakers really need to be.
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra and choir, Marius Rintzler, bass (London/Decca 425073). This performance has just been restored to the catalog at midprice. This choral symphony, set to texts about anti-Semitism in Russia by Yevtushenko, did not go down well with the Soviet authorities. The dark powerful music is scored for male chorus and bass. After celebrating the triumphs of the revolution in the dreadful 12th Symphony, Shostakovich presents his best, original voice again in this work. Changes in color happen really fast, and the work moves quickly from small-scaled to big-scaled. Add in Rintzler's dark resonant bass voice and the result is a top-flight test disc. The Haitink performance with the Concertgebouw is very fine, maybe the finest. The close-in Decca sound highlights all the score's complexity and it works well across a variety of systems.
Shostakovich: String Quartets Emerson String Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon 463284). I learned all these quartets from the Fitzwilliam cycle issued in the `70s, and they may have established a performance tradition in my mind that is too strong for me to accept other viewpoints. Sonically this is a close-in recording that can sound very unpleasant in the presence of any upper midrange peaks. Ultra-flat speakers such as the Waveform can sound ultra-wonderful. Note the recording had two producer/ engineers. The earlier recordings, made by Max Wilcox, sound a bit more natural.
Both the Borodin and Fitzwilliam cycles are available at bargain prices and both those quartets worked directly with the composer. The sound and playing here may be may be more precise and clinical but in my opinion not worth the price difference.
Simpson: Symphony Nos. 3 & 5 Vernon Handley, Royal PO (Hyperion CDA 66728). Simpson is better known as a musicologist who wrote the definitive text on the music of Carl Nielsen. His compositions are tonal but complex harmonic structures. After a mysterious opening, the 3rd Symphony's first movement takes on an energy and drive that once experienced is not soon forgotten. The second movement, which is a single massive accelerando, takes more time before its quality is fully appreciated. The Handley performance is not the best performance this work has had, but it is the only one available and the sound is state-of-the-art. All the complexities of the score are brought to light but one still is left with a sense of performance in a hall. The low end is flat and clean. The strings are free of any edge. One is most struck by the freedom from any distortion in the climaxes.
The 5th Symphony is said to be Simpson's best by those who know but I find it to be overly dissonant and lacking in the thematic interest of the earlier symphonies. It is big, big, big, and will clean out any dust on your speaker cones. Use the finale as demo material next time you visit your favorite audio store to check out a speaker's ability to deal with complex material while you also clear out the listening room with anybody with soft ears (as Ives would put it).
Stanford: Symphony No. 3 in F minor, Op. 28 "Irish" and Irish Rhapsody no 5 in G minor, Op. 147 Handley, Ulster Orchestra (Chandos CHAN 8545). The 1887 Symphony is a winner. Great themes and lots of orchestral colors. For those who search for innovations in structure or harmony this is not the composer, but for us just plain music lovers this is fun, fun, fun. Next time you are in mood for Brahms but do not want to hear the 2nd Symphony again try this. The Irish Rhapsody is the type of piece that lights up switchboards when it is played on radio stations. Lots of memorable ideas are given respect as they are spun out.
The sonics are identifiable as Chandos at once. Lots and lots of hall sound. Smooth strings and winds miked to a golden brown. The brass are recorded with full tone but are never bright. If you hear any harshness in your system with this you have big problems. Not a recording to show off your system, but rather one that lets you find out what audio is really about.
Pettersson: Symphony Nos. 7 & 16 Antal Dorati, Stockholm PO (Swedish Society Discofil SCD 1002). This rerelease coupling the 7th and 16th Symphonies has just come out. Unlike the others on this list, this is not a recording of remarkable sound quality, although it is very good. It is the works that are remarkable. The 7th sounds to me like the type of work Mahler would have written in the 1960s. It is very personal, expansive, and very powerful. It is at times loud, harsh, manic, and dissonant. At other times the writing possesses a singing simplicity that is heightened by the contrasts around it. This is a work that does not give up its secrets easily, but it is worth the trouble to get to know it. The Pettersson 8th is also worth investigating but others, including the 16th, emphasize the complex and violent over the sweet and tender. Antal Dorati premiered the 7th and this recording came a year later. The authority and power of the performance have not been rivaled since.
Lloyd: Symphony No. 3, Charade Lloyd, Albany SO (Albany TROY 090). This is the last of the Lloyd symphonies to be recorded by the Albany Symphony under the composer's direction. Recorded in the fabled Troy Savings Bank music hall, this CD has a wonderful mid-hall sound with warm brass and sweet strings. You never can go wrong with Lloyd's symphonies, which are finally crafted with great tunes. Lloyd is not the most profound composer but he is always enjoyable. He is just the type of composers university-based composers love to hate despite his original voice and abundant talent. Of all his works, I like the least the one that takes up most of this disc. Charade, which is subtitled "Scenes from the `60s," is not at all characteristic of the composer. Music lovers are thus better off starting with an earlier recording, such as the disc of Symphonies 1 and 12. Unfortunately, those discs do not have the same level of creamy string tone and golden brass found here.
Linde: Symphony #2 Sinfonia, Pensieri sopra un cantico vecchio Violin Concerto, Wallin Jun'ichi Hirokami, Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra BIS CD 621). BIS has made a specialty of recording unknown Nordic composers with provincial Nordic orchestras in state-of-the-art sound. Norrkoping is a Swedish town of only 150,000 but you would never guess that by the quality of the orchestra. Bo Linde was born in 1933 and died young in 1970. This was to be the first volume in a series of his complete orchestral works but no other volumes ever appeared. The Second Symphony has a toccata second movement that will delight any audiophile with lots of rhythmic drive from the percussion and brass. The last time I used this as a CES test disc people kept coming in the room to find out what in the world this disc was. The low end on this recording is especially smooth and deep. Misbalanced subwoofers make their presence known very quickly. The rest of the orchestra is captured with great transparency. The mastering was done on a lowly Fostex DAT machine, which shows that it is the hall and where the mics get put that establish the fundamental quality of the recording.
Rubbra: Symphony Nos. 5 & 8, etc. Hickox, BBC NO of Wales (Chandos CHAN 9714). Rubbra's music, at least that from his middle period has a sense of naturalness and normality that is almost nonexistent in music of the middle of the century. The Fifth Symphony is perhaps the most characteristic and it closes out the first complete Rubbra cycle on Chandos. The Eighth Symphony dates from 20 years later at a time the 12-tone academics were in control, but you would never know it from this deeply communicative work. Hickox once again turns in wonderful performances beating anything else that is easily available.
Chandos gives us good sound, but this disc appears to reflect a recent disappointing trend in that it is closer-in than what the company has given us in the past. It sounds like a good modern recording that lacks the individual stamp of the wet acoustics that has been immediately identifiable as Chandos sound in the past. Despite this, though, the sound is very good. This is a great demo disc for your next trip to the high-end store to show that you are not an audiophile but a music lover.
Thompson: Symphonies 1, 2, & 3 / Schenck (2 and 3) Sedares (1) (Koch International Classics KIC 7413).
Thompson: The Nativity According to St. Luke. Conductor: Burmeister, Frances, Ensemble: Cleveland Sinfonia Sacra, Warren First Presbyterian Church Choir Vocal soloists Kramer, Root, Joyce-Abbott, Hughes (Koch International Classics KIC-7210). Randall Thompson (not to be confused with Virgil Thomson) is a little-known composer whose works often appear on great-sounding records, two of which are listed above. To my mind, he is the most underrated composer of the 20th century.
His training and career are similar to Howard Hanson, although the two had a strong dislike for each other. Thompson's work is characterized by an outward simplicity that hides the true complexity of the score. His Second Symphony achieved significant popularity in its time for its folksiness and wit, but the academics held their noses. The Third Symphony is his instrumental masterpiece; unfortunately, by the time of its premiere, the academics were firmly in control of the world of music, and this work's greatness was never appreciated. Thompson wrote a small tone poem in the '50s (available only as a pirate air check), which Ormandy cut significantly at its premiere. Thompson, unlike many other tonal composers who would have a miserable life producing works in the `60s that were not true to their sprit yet still unaccepted by the 12-tone crowd, moved away from orchestral music. Instead he produced great choral compositions for church and college choruses. The Nativity According to St. Luke is a wonderful example of this side of Thompson.
The Schenck performances are excellent although one cannot say he outdoes Bernstein (his first professional performance was this work) in the Second. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays as well if not better than the `60s New York Philharmonic. The sound is dynamic and transparent yet smooth and free of harshness. This disc sounds good on almost any good system. The Nativity According to St. Luke is a first recording. On the correct system it presents a remarkably transparent sound. Solo voices can appear almost detached from the speakers on the correct system but other systems will yield a rather diffuse image. The bass is overdone no matter what system you play this on, but even on a boom box the sprit of this music will make you forget any issues of sonics as it transports you to another realm.
Chadwick: Symphony No. 2, Symphonic Sketches Neeme Jarvi, Detroit SO (Chandos CHAN 9334)
Ives, Creston: Symphony No. 2 Neeme Jarvi, Detroit Symphony (Chandos CHAN 9390). The American Series under Jarvi and the DSO came to an abrupt halt in a contract dispute between Jarvi and Chandos. Jarvi has since fallen completely off the recorded map. This is no doubt at least partially the result of a blacklisting that may have occurred after Jarvi led members of both the NY Phil and the Philadelphia Orchestra in a battle of the bands concert that was set up to aid the striking Philadelphia Orchestra.
It is a great shame that Jarvi is not recording any more, because his ability to take excellent, if flawed, works of secondary composers and realize them in the best possible light was his specialty. Jarvi may not linger to smell the roses in the works above as some conductors do but his quick tempos bring about a structural unity not found in other performances.
If you like Brahms and Dvorak, then you will like Chadwick. The second symphony may sound like Dvorak's Ninth but it predates that work by several years and we know Dvorak was familiar with Chadwick. This is a work that remains a delight even after many hearings. The slow movement has an interesting and surprising structure. The Symphonic Sketches are a later work that clearly bears the stamp of an American composer. They are great deal of fun and I have no idea why they are not better known.
The Ives Second is the first great 20th century American symphony and it may well be the best as well. This work has had many recordings with a wide variety of interpretations. Only a great work could be interpreted in so many different ways from highly romantic to slick and modern. Jarvi's interpretation may be the best of the lot. His Creston Second is unquestionably the finest performance this work has had. Although it may be said that Creston wrote one work many times, his output does have an approachable individual voice. The Second is his best work, at least in my opinion.
DSO recordings by Chandos can sound slightly thin and harsh in the hands of the wrong system but wonderfully natural with the correct system. They appear to sound best on headphones which raises suspicion that the fault lies not in the recording but the speakers. Violin sound varies most dramatically.
Ives: The String Quartets Lydian Quartet (Centaur Records CRC 2069). This relatively wet recording is one of the finest-sounding string quartet recordings when reproduced by some loudspeakers. Bipolar designs (not surprisingly, given the amount of hall in the recording) do not fair as well with this one. Only speakers with great transparency and little coloration can pull off the "they are here" trick of which this recording is capable. Speakers "voiced" to sound good are revealed quickly.
Ives's first string quartet is his first major work and it is a masterpiece. Church hymns are transformed to conform to the classical form of a string quartet. The resultant reworkings are an irresistible work of early genius. The second quartet comes 15 years later at the height of Ives's powers. Unfortunately, the musical language is very complex: I find it virtually incomprehensible.
Alberic Magnard: Symphonies 3 & 4, Jean Yves Ossonce, B. B. C. Scottish Symphony Orchestra (Hyperion CDA 67040). French symphonists appear to die young. Magnard was killed while defending his house against the Germans in World War One. The Third Symphony is a wonderful work from 1895. Ansermet made a great recording of it on the '60s, but the work never caught as it should have. The slow movement is the highlight, by using ancient harmonic systems and continuous turbulent interruptions of the singing line. Like all great works, the Third stands up to repeated hearings. The Fourth comes 20 years later, and to my mind is not as coherent and original as the Second. Magnard appears to have caught a bad case of Mahler/Straussitus. If he had lived longer he might have recovered, although many composers caught this disease around this time (Chadwick, Suk, Novak, etc.) and only a few recovered.
All the stormy mood and color changes of the Third make for a great test disc. The first movement opens with a slow introduction in the winds but two minutes latter we are off with great energy in the strings. I used this recording last year at CES. It gets harsh if the speakers have a tendency in that direction but it also gets unhappy with large flat bipolar panels. It is far happier when reproduced by a big line source. Ossonce and the BBC give an excellent performance; I find myself not missing the Ansermet, which had a brief reappearance on CD but is gone again.
Peterson-Berger: Symphony No. 3, Earina Suite Michail Jurowski Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra (BIS CD 999632). Wilhelm Peterson-Berger was a highly paid critic whose caustic reviews caused, according to the liner notes, many readers to choke over their breakfast. This no doubt has contributed to his decline to the state of the unknown although what appears to be an uneven catalog of works could not have helped. The Third Symphony (1913-1915) is said to be his most important work. It opens like an English pastoral work. That mood is then combined with some quirky rhythmic ideas. The scherzo is a spooky thing said to invoke a trip in Lapland during winter night, complete with northern lights. A songful, if static, slow movement is followed by a relatively weak finale. The Earina Suite, an orchestration of earlier piano pieces, is not as strong as the symphony.
The Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra is back in top form on this release. The sound is transparent but not too close. I am still getting the feel of this new recording and I think it is destined to make a trip to find out more about its powers as a test disc.
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|Title Annotation:||staff favorites of the past year|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
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