There’s Something Here To Delight (And Possibly Offend) All Of Us

Got this today from Hagerty’s new Community Editor, the one and only Sajeev Mehta. Every track on this mix slaps, as the kids say nowadays. Certainly a few of my readers will be annoyed by the cultural implications of Japanese musicians playing fusion with a header image of a “JDM”-style C3 Corvette at a Japanese trackday. The irony is that Japanese listeners are all but singlehandedly supporting jazz and blues nowadays. I’ve read more than a couple interviews with both fusion and trad-jazz types where they say something along the lines of “You have to tour America because that’s how you maintain credibility, but the venues are half-empty and the people who do show up are a pain in the ass. But the Japanese audiences will sell out a concert hall and make you glad you got on the plane.” Certainly a not-so-close look at the published touring itinerary of any jazz player will reveal as many Tokyo dates as there are “flyover country” gigs — or more.

Oh well. At least the Japanese like the good stuff. A friend of mine spent several years working for Sheryl Crow. Said that any time she needed to fill up her mad-money account she’d head to China for a corporate gig. What’s it cost to have Sheryl Crow play “All I Wanna Do” in China? Fifteen years ago, it was a million dollars PLUS EXPENSES. Imagine having seven figures to pay for music… and buying Sheryl Crow!

Lyle, Interrupted

To entirely misquote Prince Hal, I could have better spared a better-known musician. Lyle Mays died yesterday, after what his niece called “a long battle with a recurring illness”. Just how long of a battle? It is not possible to know, although perhaps there is a hint of it in the interview section of a 1994 Pat Metheny Group DVD in which Mays says, “I think a lot… about time… and what to do with the time I have.” Mays was forty-one years old at the time; the comment came off as an uncomfortable mix of ego and baked-in oddity. In retrospect, perhaps it was merely a statement of fact from a man who knew he had an expiration date.

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I Swear I’m Not Gonna Buy This Guitar, But You Could Buy It

Almost seven years ago, I wrote a paean to the awkwardly-named uber-Matsumokus named “Skylark” and sold by JC Penney department stores. Well, there’s a perfect example of the big-dog model on Reverb right now. The seller says he won’t take a penny under $800.

If I buy this thing, it will go in my steel-shelf archives with over one hundred of its closest relatives. If you buy it, you would have an absolutely first-rate guitar for the same price as a new Chinese Fender. Someone should play it. There’s no sense in saving it for the future. Who will care about guitars in an era where most people can’t be bothered to learn an instrument?

Maybe you don’t want to spend that much. So here’s an offer which I might repeat in the future but might not: For $299 net Paypal or Venmo, I’ll ship you a very nice Japanese guitar which will only need a quick setup and a change of strings to play pretty well. I have some duplicates I’ve been meaning to shuck off. Stuff like these. My purpose here is to spread the gospel of Matsumoku guitars. If you want to spend more than that, let me know. If you want to spend $800, skip me and buy that SKylark. That’s all, folks!

The Audio Equipment I Regret Not Having Bought, Way Back When (Part 1)

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 →

George Benson: “The Other Side of Abbey Road”

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 Roadlistening 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 →

Don’t Stop Enthusin’

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.

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Weekend Music: One Of These Two Albums Is Not Really A Seventies Reissue

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.

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When Sofie Sings

von otter good

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.

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An Evening of Roses

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 →