If you like pinch harmonics — and who doesn’t? — then you’ll enjoy this tune from a Riverside Green reader! Happy New Year, everyone!
darTZeel NHB-108 model one stereo power amplifier
Regrets, I have a few… even about reviewer-loan audio equipment I now wish I had bought, way back when.
The first audio magazine I wrote for was Wayne Green’s Digital Audio magazine. The première issue came out in September, 1984. The articles listed on the cover included “How to Buy Your First CD Player.” (Snort.) I was the founding classical-music columnist (“Classical ReMarks”).
I got that columnist job by pure happenstance. Someone I knew (Chuck Dougherty) worked for the regional hi-fi chain Tweeter, Etc. Chuck also was a computer whiz who moonlighted writing for one of Wayne Green’s computer magazines. Word got around to Chuck that Wayne Green Enterprises needed someone who knew about classical music, and who also could write. Seeing as I was already writing reviews of classical music concerts and recitals for the Providence Journal, I seemed to be a good fit. Wayne Green’s little publishing empire was based in New Hampshire. As it happened, I was visiting New Hampshire frequently, in that I was organizing and presenting the chamber-music performing-arts series at Thomas More College in Merrimac.
While writing for Digital Audio, I not only reviewed CDs and wrote a column; I also interviewed musicians, including André Watts, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Joseph Silverstein. Although my duties did not include equipment reviews, I did have occasion to drool over (or lust over) some pieces of gear. I moved on to the Planet HiFi website (which was where I first reviewed audio equipment, and not just recordings), and then back to print journalism, first with The Absolute Sound, and then Stereophile.
Please note, this mini-series is limited to products that I had the opportunity to hear in my home, as part of a formal review process. There are many excellent products I would consider buying, but which I just have not had the opportunity to hear at home; the best examples I can think of at the moment are the excellent radial loudspeakers from MBL.
After the jump, I recall some of the “big-fish” (as well as some “little fish”) audio-review-loan components that got away. Continue Reading →
The Beatles’ final studio album Abbey Road was released on LP in the United States on September 26, 1969. As will be discussed after the jump, audio-industry maven Philip O’Hanlon pulled together (under the “Magnum Opus Rediscovered” banner) a coast-to-coast Abbey Road “listening party” for Saturday, September 28, 2019, in which 40 audio dealers will play the remastered album on “fine audio” (or “high end”) equipment, from 3:00 to 6:00 PM (local times).
Which is all fine and good. But I for one wish that the participating audio shops would have extended the duration of their events by not all that much time (32 minutes), and spin what is to my mind, far and away, the best Abbey Road cover album ever, George Benson‘s woefully under-appreciated The Other Side of Abbey Road. Will they, won’t they? Matters not. It’s easy to add this gem to your collection!
Starting only three weeks after Abbey Road‘s US début (October 22-23 & November 4-5, 1969), producer Creed Taylor (who produced this record for Herb Alpert’s label A&M) convened a rather astonishing gathering of participating musicians at engineer Rudy van Gelder’s legendary studio. Don Sebesky was in charge of their comings and goings, in that he was the arranger. (Benson sang, as well as playing guitar.)
How’s this for an (incomplete) lineup? Ray Barretto, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Bob James, Hubert Laws, Idris Muhammad, George Ricci (brother of Ruggiero Ricci), and Emanuel Vardi? More information (and sound samples) after the jump. Continue Reading →
Before we begin today’s discussion, I have to get something off my chest. Long-time readers of this blog will recall my personal fascination with New Orleans, pursued through various visits and acquisitions. They may also recall my fondness for the David Simon show “Treme”. I’m not sure there is much, if anything, to improve about that show, but there’s one scene that really grinds my proverbial gears. It comes from Season One, Episode Five:
Producer: “Do you want to cut bass and drums first?”
Davis: “What is this band, Journey? Everyone in the big room, all at once, classic New Orleans R&B”
Producer: “Gonna have to call me Cosmo”
Why does that piss me off? Because Journey’s best-selling (and, frankly, just plain best) album, Escape, was recorded live in the studio. They didn’t split the musicians up and record them individually, the way Page did with Zeppelin or… well, pretty much every other arena-filling rock band did. Journey albums have a diamond-hard polish to them, but it’s mostly because the musicians involved are Just. That. Good. Even if their musical instruments are worthless.
Now you can argue that Steve Zahn’s character in “Treme” is meant to be an idiot, so perhaps that line in the script is meant to point out how stupid he is. ‘Twould be nice, but I doubt it. I think that David Simon just assumed that Journey did everything the way Steely Dan or the Doobie Brothers did, crafting pop confections one subtle ingredient at a time. He probably has no idea that Escape was recorded in six weeks, while Aja took ten times as long and cost about twenty times as much.
Which isn’t to say that Escape was not carefully produced, or that you can’t find a tremendous amount of tradecraft in it. Which brings us to the above video.
Long-time TTAC readers might be aware of my affection for Gil Scott-Heron and his early work with keyboardist Brian Jackson. Their album Winter In America is one of the all-time greats, written and recorded without a single misstep to convey a message at once deeply nostalgic and radically political. His talent was so incomprehensibly massive that it swallowed him whole, turned him into a self-destructive crackhead who ended up dying of AIDS just as the hipsters had taken notice of his swan-song album, I’m New Here.
Progressive white America never really took to “GSH”. I suspect it was because your “woke” types get off on feeling superior to the objects of their putative compassion and admiration. It’s no great trick to feel superior to Drake or Tyga or Kendrick Lamar; they’re drooling morons babbling into a microphone, the African-American equivalent of Nikki Sixx or Justin Bieber. Artists like John Coltrane and Miles Davis might have been major talents but their primary allegiances were to the church and/or the female body, which made them safe and comfortable for a white audience. Scott-Heron, by contrast, was a nightmare fusion of Promethean IQ and keen insight, delivering lyrics with a pace and panache somewhere between laconic and surgical, unflinchingly focused on politics and race in a manner that couldn’t be bought off with a Bentley or a promise of reparations. You’d need a pretty stout sense of self-image to feel equal to the man, much less superior to him. It doesn’t help that he never really saw anything wrong with his cocaine use or his voracious sexuality; our modern progressive catechism demands that you either do penance for your perversions or take a defiant, self-conscious pride in them. Scott-Heron didn’t apologize for his life and he didn’t demand that we have a special month for crackheads. He simply liked drugs and he respected your right to not like them.
I chose to kick off the Music-Video Fridays series on my site, The Tannhauser Gate, with Anne Sofie von Otter, from her live-in-Paris 2004 DVD Voices of Our Time—a Tribute to Korngold.
The daughter of the Swedish diplomat Baron Göran Fredrik von Otter, Anne Sofie von Otter studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and made her début as Alcina in Haydn’s Orlando paladino in Basel in 1983.
In addition to her notable successes in the oratorio and opera music of Bach, Bartok, Elgar, Handel, Monteverdi, and Mozart, von Otter’s art-song repertory encompasses Brahms, Grieg, Korngold, Mahler, and Sibelius. In 1993, her Grieg song-recital CD (with Bengt Forsberg) became the first song recording ever to win Gramophone magazine’s “Record of the Year” award. Were that not enough, she has also collaborated with Elvis Costello, and with Brad Mehldau.
In 1957, Israeli composer Yoseph Hadar put music to the words of poet Moshe Dor and created one of the great modern love songs, Erev Shel Shoshanim, Evening of Roses. It was first recorded by Yafa Yarkoni the same year. A year later it was a local hit in Israel for the Dudaim folk duo and as they toured around the world it was popularized internationally in the folk music craze of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
It’s been recorded by a truly diverse group of artists including Harry Belefonte, Miriam Makeba, and Nana Mouskouri, all in Hebrew, with Mouskouri doing an original Greek version. Yarkoni even rerecorded it in Spanish, with a Mexican orchestra. In 1974, Yugoslav prog-rockers Dah recorded Šošana, featuring a melody based on Hadar’s tune. A year later, the band moved to Belgium, changed their name to Land, and they recorded an English version titled Shoshana, which became enough of an international hit that, according to Wikipedia, became a popular soccer chant in Europe. Continue Reading →
The musical form I had the most commercial success in (as a classical-music record producer and label owner), was the string quartet. Granted, my remarkably successful string-quartet recordings consisted of quartet arrangements of sacred and traditional Christmas music. But those recordings are a lot more “classical” in character than “crossover” in character. In other words, no Frosty and no Rudolph. My three original JMR Arturo Delmoni & Friends Rejoice! A String Quartet Christmas CDs have been reissued by Steinway & Sons Recordings as a 3-CD set.
Whatever happens to me from here on out, evidence of my devotion to the string-quartet form will live on. That’s because I am the dedicatee of Morten Lauridsen’s (to-date) sole work in that genre, a transcription for string quartet of his chamber-choir chanson “Contre Qui, Rose.” “Contre Qui, Rose” is one of Lauridsen’s settings of Rainer Maria Rilke’s French-language poems. Lauridsen chose among the Rilke poems that mentioned roses for his 1993 cycle Les Chansons des Roses. The story continues after the jump link.
File this under Yet Another Candidate For A Saying To Be Known As “Baruth’s Law” After My Death: Enthusiasm for the accoutrements of a particular practice or discipline burns brightest in the third-rate practitioner. Consider, if you will, auto racing. I have never met a front-running talent who truly cared in any way whatsoever about the brand, layout, “DNA”, or “heritage” of the car he was driving. Nor are these people historians of their sport. The people who make history rarely read it. Conversely, any time I meet someone who blabs on and on about their intimate connection with Porsche or Ferrari or Shelby, they are absolutely garbage behind the wheel. To some degree, I can personally attest to the way this process works; I started off as a Volkswagen fanatic ham-handing my way around Ohio roads, obsessed with the difference between 8-valve and 16-valve GTIs, but I ended it as a fellow who can match data with any but the very best racers and who is also entirely indifferent to the particulars of what I’m driving or where I drive it. Achievement in a subject is the mortal enemy of contentment within it.
Music is not an exception to Baruth’s Law — in fact, it aligns with the Law so closely that we can use it to detect a flagging of ability in musicians. It is no coincidence that men like Slash and Jimmy Page become progressively more obsessed with their guitars as their musical drive and creativity gradually fades. The Jimmy Page who recorded the “Stairway” solo with a beat-up Telecaster in a hallway is not the same fellow as the Jimmy Page who used a TransPerformance-equipped Gibson Custom Shop R7 Goldtop to play the Zep reunion show thirty-four years later. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. John Mayer was obsessive about his gear from the beginning, featuring a Novax Expression on the cover of “Room For Squares” and then moving to an intimate relationship with the Fender Custom Shop before developing the love-it-or-hate-it Silver Sky with Paul Reed Smith. Those exceptions, however, are few and far between.
What causes the death of enthusiasm as proficiency increases? I suspect that it is a variant of the old “familiarity breeds contempt” trope. As kids, we want to believe in the superiority of a particular car, bike, or guitar; as we actually learn to operate these devices we begin to see them as tools with limitations to be overcome. You start by pulling Excalibur from a stone, but after ten years of close-quarters combat you find yourself cursing the thing for having too shallow of a blood groove. About twelve years ago I caught the gig of a very talented seventy-something bluesman who had made his name playing Les Pauls but who on this particular evening was sporting a beat-up PRS CE bolt-neck. “Why aren’t you playing the Les Paul?” I asked him. “Don’t you miss the tone?”
“Ah, fuck tone,” he spat, “the Gibson is too damn heavy for my old shoulder. And it never did sound that good anyway.” Which made me wonder: If equipment doesn’t matter, and tone doesn’t matter, what’s left? The answer, of course, is production.
ORA Singers: The Mystery of Christmas
Music of Allain, Anonymous, Byrd, Hall, Hyde, Lauridsen, Macmillan,
McDowall, Peacock, Rowarth, Rutter, Samitz, Sixten, Tallis, Williams, and Weir.
CD Harmonia Mundi HMM 905303
Downloads (24-bit/96kHz stereo AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV) available from HDTracks.
Streaming available from Tidal.
Recorded at St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London, January 23-28 and August 7-12, 2017. Nicholas Parker (all tracks except track 5) and Tim Handley (track 5 only), producers; Mike Hatch, engineer. Support for the arts from the Pureland Foundation. Total time 76’37.
Here’s a fantastic new recording from a group new to me, Suzi Digby’s ORA Singers. They are as good as any handpicked professional choral ensemble out there. (I have heard most of the top ones live.) This collection showcases ORA’s “Unique Selling Proposition,” which is to prove that today, we are in a Golden Age not only of choral singing, but also of composing works for vocal ensembles. (Funny; I have long said the exact same thing about the art of the string quartet. We live in a golden age of the string quartet—both for playing and for new works.)
Therefore, ORA’s (for lack of a better phrase) business plan is to commission 100 new works for chorus over the course of ten years. (They are well on their way to achieving that goal, having commissioned 40 works in three years.) To make it even more interesting, Ms. Digby’s approach is to ask today’s composers to create works that are personal reflections upon the choral glories of the past, especially the masterworks of the Renaissance. Ambitious, yes. But several of the new works on this disc should find their ways into the standard repertory fairly quickly.
As a producer of classical recordings, one of my favorite Shibboleths (or, rubrics or axioms) long has been that, once your CD has started playing in the CD player of the reviewer, radio programmer, or record-store buyer, you have only ten seconds to make the sale. Furthermore, I believe that you make the sale only by giving the listener that “You are in good hands with Allstate” feeling. If the listener gets the feeling that your performance is for you a nerve-racking tightrope walk, no sale. (Obviously, there are exceptions to my little rule. Not much at all happens in the first ten seconds of Mahler’s Symphony 1; at least, not much by which you can distinguish a great performance from one that is merely unobjectionable.) In the case of the ORA Singers’ The Mystery of Christmas, convincing me took only the first four to eight seconds of the first track.
More information, a performance video, and sound bytes from The Mystery of Christmas after the jump. Continue Reading →