TITLE: Villa-Lobos - The Little Train of the Caipira

ARTISTS: London Symphony/Goossens

LABEL: Everest
SDBR 3041-200G Classic Records Reissue

Reviewer: James Darby

Like movies by Pixar, this recording is equally enjoyable by adults and children. It would make a perfect introduction to classical music for your kids as well as those adults who find traditional "classical" music too dry or inaccessible.

The music, especially “The Little Train” is not profound like Bach, Beethoven, Mahler or the rest, but it is proudly enjoyable and fun. Even humorous at times. It will put smile on your face and cause your stereo system to reach for its limits. It is the definition of the "audiophile spectacular" and will easily impress visitors and friends - if your system is up to the challenge.

Vaguely recalling other ritualistic “fire dance” type compositions, Australia’s John Antil’s “Corroboree” is an orchestral showpiece of unique combinations of instruments that sometimes impersonate even other exotic examples. There is a high emotional quotient that is exciting to experience.

Contemporary Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera who left us in 1983 at the age of 67 contributes selections from the ballets Panambi and Estancia, both evoking life in the South American country. Like the other compositions on this LP, it is full of color and wonder and are short enough to not demand long attention spans.

This release features the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Eugene Goossens at the helm.

While I do not own the original Everest recording of this release, I have several others that Classic has re-issued and the Classic version has always been superior, so it is safe to assume that it is here as well, particularly in the area of quietness and surface noise. As usual for Classic but uniquely among other companies, this LP is cut from the original master tape to 200 gram Quiex vinyl. The Classic is almost dead quiet with nary a click or pop and minimal tape hiss. The background is velvety black that allows the plethora of Latin percussion instruments to explode from the silkiness in hails of huge dynamic range.

The soundstage is immense in scale, wide and deep with well defined layers and height. Upper strings can sometimes be a little to strident, but only momentarily at their loudest levels. Perhaps a bit of tape saturation from the original 35 mm movie-film acetate on one or two tutti climaxes, but the clarity and prodigious detail draws you in and keeps you engaged throughout.

TITLE: Hot Rats

ARTISTS: Frank Zappa

LABEL: RS 6356-150G Classic Records Reissue

Reviewer: James Darby

Released in October 1969, Hot Rats is the second solo album by the ever inventive and controversial Frank Zappa. Five of the six tracks are instrumental with only Captain Beefheart featured on "Willie the Pimp". Ian Underwood is the sole member of the then disbanded "Mothers of Invention". To underscore the jazz roots of this recording, world class violinist Jean-Luc Ponty was called in for the sessions.

In addition to be a musical breakthrough, Hot Rats was also on the bleeding edge of recording technology. While most of the world was still getting by with recording on only 8 individual tracks. The Beatles were still using 4-track machines and did not move up to 8 until 1969’s Abbey Road. Hot Rats was one of the first to enjoy the added versatility of 16 tracks to play with and Zappa made profuse use of them with many overdubs and exploitation of stereo imaging. Underwood is a jack of most instruments and master of all he plays which can be heard on everything from keyboards to clarinet on the same track. Very novel for the era.

Zappa had prodigious guitar chops and this LP is his vehicle to exhibit them in psychedelic solos on almost all of them. While jazz is clearly present as an idiom, this is still very much a rock album, and a powerful one at that. While several of the tracks are tightly structured arrangements such as "It Must Be a Camel" , others such as "The Gumbo Variations" are "establish a groove and let's let 'er rip" style of jamming.

If you are a fan of Zappa's, you know the tune " "Peaches en Regalia" is one of Zappa's most famous and highly regarded compositions, right up there with "Dirty Love" and "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow", though it does not feature any of his snarky lyrics. Showcasing Zappa on lead guitar, Underwood on keys, flute, sax and clarinet, Shuggie Otis on bass and Ron Selico on drums, it is elaborate and ornate yet typically down and dirty at the same time. As explorative as the instrumentals are, Zappa always had a strong sense of melody, though no one will mistake his phrases for the Beach Boys, or the Beatles for that matter. Still, his phrases flow and can easily stick in your head, especially if you happen to be listening while indulging in some substances that the DEA would frown on. A masterpiece of jazz/rock.

The cuts, totaling over 47 minutes are as follows:

1. Peaches en Regalia (3:37)
2. Willie the Pimp (9:16)
3. Son of Mr. Green Genes (8:58)
4. Little Umbrelllas (3:04)
5. The Gumbo Variations (16:55)
6. It Must Be A Camel (5:15)


From the sturdy slipcover and record sleeve to the heavy 150 gram vinyl, Classic Record's reissue is superior to the original in every way. The music emerges from a quieter background with minimal tape hiss which allows the steep dynamics to power through ruthlessly. This is a very high-energy recording made even more so by Michael Hobson's magic.

TITLE: Live at Massey Hall 1971

ARTISTS: Neil Young

LABEL: Reprise 43328-1 Classic Records Reissue

Reviewers: Mike Peshkin & James Darby

Peshkin: I’m in a relatively, by many modern standards, small auditorium. I can see the painted wooden floorboards of the stage, a thousand feet have walked or danced or simply sat on those black strips of wood. A couple of them have splinters taken from the sides, I can see the gaps between one board and another. The sound of the lone person on the stage reaches me as I sit in the second or third row; lucky, as the room’s filled to hear this young man who had spent, I think according to the tones and words, too much time on the road with too many people…and losing a few along the way. He sits dead center upon that stage; toward the front…I can see his feet!

“I’ve seen the needle and the damage done, a little piece of it in everyone, ‘cause every junkie’s like the setting sun…” I hear a bit of anguish in his voice. Controlled; many singers would have forced or allowed more angst to be heard; his restrained, giving the lyrics more power than they otherwise could have had.

Heck, I have no idea what Massey Hall really looks like, but the sound of these (2) LPs is so good I easily envision that stage. Hall ambience is heard distinctly. As a matter of fact, it looks like every high school stage I ever walked across and I’ve walked across quite a few.

Neil Young Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise 43328 2007) is not a should have LP or CD; it is a must have LP and CD. I played it over and over again in my car and over and over again on my VPI HW19 MK.IV. O.K., the HW19 is tricked out and delivers a huge amount of detail, but it’s there on my slightly more pedestrian Kenwood KD500, too. The detail on the LP is incredible…I really do not think I have ever heard a live recording…well, so alive!

It’s as if you are hearing every song for the first time. Young’s voice is…well, young. You can still hear naivety you wouldn’t hear just a couple years later. You don’t even hear that in the two studio LPs that are the reason we are just now hearing, in the late part of the first decade in a new millennium, this LP! It was never released because it was recorded between the two big sellers, After the Gold Rush and Harvest. The ties felt it might ruin sales of those LPs so the tapes sat unused for lo! those many years.

Young does a bit of talking with his audience, not too much as to turn it into a TV show spectacular (for instance), but makes each song more meaningful, seemingly for us and for himself, too. His introduction of Old Man is may favorite part of the album.

And old fogies like me as well as young, some day to be old fogies should be glad they did not release it. Because we never heard these recordings they seem especially fresh…and the sound in every way is truly astounding. From the attack of his fingers to the decaying tones of Young’s guitar strings, the weight of his instrument(s), his voice and his guitar, this is stellar sound; even better music!

Darby: 1971. My first year in college. I feel old. Another old fogie like Peshkin I guess. But Neil sounds oh so young and Classic captures him wonderfully.

This LP was playing in many demo rooms at CES 2009 in Vegas, and for good reason; it's a real sonic stunner. But real music isn't about sonics, it's about feeling, emotion. Call it soul; we call it Mojo. And that is what this LP exudes. There is more here than a kid on the brink of stardom. More than just a singer sitting on a stage alone with his guitar and piano. I can't name it because it evokes a different name for each listener.

There's more than entertainment here. Maybe it was enhanced by Young's drug of choice for the night (you can almost smell the weed in the air), but this performance is transcendent on several levels. I was transfixed and I am not a Neil Young fan - not until he was part of CSN&Y anyway. I played the grooves off of that one.This is a special recording - a special performance - and this 200 gram Quiex gets out of the way and lets it happen, with no warps and no noise; on my copy at least.

I don't have the original like Mikey or the CD. But I do have the Classic and for me at least, that's all I need. This one pegs both the needles on the Mojo Meter!

TRACKS

Side One:
1. On The Way Home
2. Tell Me Why
3. Old Man
4. Journey Through The Past

Side Two:
1. Helpless
2. Love In Mind
3. A Man Needs A Maid/Heart of Gold Suite
4. Cowgirl In The Sand

Side Three:
1. Don't Let It Bring you Down
2. There's A World
3. Bad Fog Of Loneliness
4. The Needle and the Damage Done
5. Ohio

Side Four:
1. See The Sky About To Rain
2. Down By The River
3. Dance Dance Dance
4. I Am A Child

TITLE: Wagner: Wotan’s Farewell to Brunhilda and The Magic Fire Music from the Opera “Die Walkure”
Chopin: Mazurka in A Minor Prelude Waltz, Op. 64, No. 2
Thomas Canning’s Fantasy: on a hymn by Justin Morgan for solo String Quartet No. 1 and 2 with String Orchestra

ARTISTS: Leopold Stowkowsk/Houston Symphony

LABEL: Classic records (SDBR 3070-200G) 200 Gram Quiex

Reviewer: Mike Peshkin

The Stokowski Everest LP from Classic records (SDBR 3070-200G) is a great example of being taken to another space, directly to the Houston Civic Center; it is a gorgeous recording! Each instrument is depicted within the space it should occupy, the size and its weight is portrayed beautifully. There is a sense of space the engineers caught on that recording that really makes it easy, with these speakers, to be transported to the concert hall. The WIN labs SMC10 cartridge throws an immense soundstage when the engineers capture it in their recording. While seemingly quite real, the soundstage extended just outside the speakers, extending toward my back wall with more than a good bit of three dimensional imaging.

According to Classic Record's website, "The LP, as are all reissues from this series, was cut DIRECTLY FROM THE 35mm MAGNETIC FILM using a vintage Westrex 1551 tape machine, with specially built playback electronics that are vastly superior to any others used on these machines to playback the original 35mm tapes. The LP's are pressed on Classic's 200g Super Vinyl Profile making it possible to get ever nuance out of the non-distorted grooves that make SVP sound superior to all other records on the market today. Authentic tip on construction jackets with all original artwork and labels add to this must have deluxe LP edition as part of the Classic Everest 35MM LP Series."

You’ve heard various performances of Wagner’s Wotan’s Farewell to Brunhilda and The Magic Fire from the opera Die Walkure, but Stokowski’s arrangement and the way he conducts that music is seemingly less dramatic, with constrained dynamics. I felt it was as if Stokowski’s desire is to force you to listen more deeply, to perhaps give one the opportunity to form their own pictures of the scenes rather than those portrayed on TV or even with Elmer Fudd, or of course, seeing the opera.

At first listen, I’d confused this movement with “The Attack of the Helicopters” from the movie Apocalypse Now and expected the incredible dynamics of that piece (Ride of the Valkyries). Even when my brain finally kicked into gear and realized the two were different orchestral portions of the opera, I felt that Stokowski was indeed, being a bit restrained.

But side 2 is the audiophile side of that LP. THERE is where you’ll find the dynamic swings one needs to get their juices and woofers pumping. If you listen only to the string sounds, the various nuances Stokowski arranged, you will be both musically and sonically thrilled. John Rich and I agreed, when listening on totally different systems, that this LP may be among the best recordings for string sound we’ve heard. But Chopin and Thomas Canning on an LP with Wagner? Rather strange and different, but however you construe the combinations of music, Stokowski will make you think along with listening. And listening is a truly wonderful experience. Everest’s 35 mm recordings have always been highly regarded, but I always thought they must have used recycled asphalt from various road surfaces to achieve their vinyl formulation. Thankfully, Classic records has tossed out the Everest formulation and used their Quiex SV-P. The record surfaces are nearly silent; while not CD Spic n’ Span, the few soft clicks I heard did nothing to ruin the musical experience. This LP is a work-out for your brain. I felt smarter for having listened to it, that being an easy accomplishment for if brains were dynamite, I wouldn’t have enough to blow my nose.

I have to admit this is not a record I would have normally purchased, but as I’ve written, the string sound alone is enough to make me very happy to have listened to it. You’ll enjoy it as I did, I’m sure.

WORLD'S FIRST REVIEW!

CLASSIC RECORDS CLARITY VINYL

Leo Kottke 6 & 12 String Guitars

In a conversation with Michael Hobson, head of Classic records, at a New York audio show two years ago, we were talking about sound quality of vinyl, pressing plant and quality control issues and various other LP related subjects. During our discussion, he happen to mention that he had been doing research into different vinyl formulations to determine which had the best sound quality. He discovered that the best formula was one in which no pigment was used which renders the LP colorless or clear. He explained that black is added to the vinyl recipe to make the grooves and spaces between cuts easier to see and thus cue. The problem is that the black pigment has magnetic properties that adversely affects vinyl playback. I asked him if he thought he might ever produce LP’s without the added black color and he said probably not because it would make them too difficult due. I told him I thought that people who bought Classic Records were more concerned with the utmost in sound quality and that most people play LP’s from the beginning all the way through, so cueing up individual cuts is not that much of a factor.

It appears Michael eventually agreed, so here we have their first LP pressed with no black pigment. Do they really sound better? Mike Peshkin takes a look…and listen. James L. Darby - publisher

Review by

MIKE PESHKIN

My first record was colored green, not black. I played “Tommy, the Turtle” over and over and over again. I made sure I changed its color! I think, when it finally became part of the earth once again, it was closer to gray.

What is it about non-black LPs that gets my heart, and I assume quite a few other people have the same reaction, pumping wildly enough to scare my cardiologist? When Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs entered the scene, it was the clear (but still black) vinyl that turned me on; I just KNEW it would sound better! That fact is argued quite often at my favorite neighborhood, so I’ll speak neither good nor evil about the old Mobile Fidelity or any other manufacturer. Collecting records, I’ve of course found my share of clear red (OOOOOH!) and rainbow colored vinyl, but…

What I do get excited about, however, is having 2 (not ONE) records to compare, one black, one clear …of the same recording, both reissued by the same company. Black is beautiful, but white is different; and that’s how the two “6 & 12 string Guitar” sound! It’s not important, but I thought you may like to know that I placed a hierarchy upon all three, the original being part of the listening session. Numero uno: the clear vinyl; numero dos: the original record from Tacoma; numero tres: the black vinyl reissue. I thought that was strange…exciting, too. I’d be blown away by the superb sound of any of the three if I’d heard just one!

The attack on the clear vinyl, when Kottke’s fingers first contact the strings, is real enough that I looked up from the book I was reading and looked for Leo; an incredible sense of realness, of being in the same room as Kottke! The black reissue had a smidgeon less of that reality. The original possessing a smidgeon more than the black…old black beating new, but only by a baby hair. On all three, the center image is rock solid, I used it to fine tune azimuth and anti-skate…worth the entrance price for that alone.

You get to hear, GOLDURN IT, almost “see” his fingerings, the image is so solid, the vinyl so quiet on both allowing us to discern the special gift Kottke owns. Both the black vinyl and clear are dead quiet, I tried to hear a difference and I have to admit IF I WERE TO GUESS, that the clear is more silent, but…

The difference is that attack, the dynamic energy, the thrust of the music and sound of the guitar, if you will allow that description. My listening notes I wrote: ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! (Maybe Tora, Tora, Tora?). No sense, NONE of fatfingeritis*.

*That feeling with some recordings that either the strings of the guitar or the player’s fingers are the thickness of a bratwurst.

Kottke is best known by rockers with his hit, “Power Failure” which is an incredible guitar piece…personally I think Kottke should keep his mouth closed. “Pamela Brown” is rather well known, too and I have to admit I enjoy his croaking on that song. You needn’t worry, he doesn’t sing on this, his first record for Takoma records. This LP “6 & 12 string guitars,” I’d imagine, is known only by guitar aficionados and the bluegrass crowd.

You needn’t like bluegrass to enjoy both Kottke’s mastery and the sound of this LP…EITHER THE BLACK OR THE WHITE! But that smidgeon I speak of may only be REALLY noticeable with discerning equipment; J.C. Penny rack systems need not apply for the listener’s license in order to hear this LP, but I hope they do anyway, as the music’s “to die for.”

ARTIST: CLAIRE MARTIN

TITLE: TOO DARN HOT

LABEL: LINN AKH272

Claire Martin is known as "The First Lady of British Jazz" and she has five British Jazz Awards (including Best Jazz Singer and Best Vocalist) to back it up. While this is her 9th album release for the Linn label (yes, the same Scottish company that makes Linn turntables), it is her first to make it to vinyl. While she is often compared to Ella Fitzgerald,that comparison is not all that valid. While their styles might be similar, Ella had much wider ranges in terms of low to high pitch as well as dynamic from soft to loud. She also had a lot more overall chops and vocal dexterity. Claire has a lot more in common with someone like Lena Horne or Peggy Lee which is still living in very high rent neighborhoods

Claire is decidedly an alto who knows her limits and stays within them. She shares with the other three ladies a sense of class and ease of presentation that is beguiling and entertaining. She can be seductive and warm but not to the scorching degree of Lena or Peggy - a bit more British reserve perhaps. Nevertheless, Claire is right at home in these 10 selections ranging from Rogers and Hammerstein's The Gentleman is a Dope to Noir by Siegle & Cottle and Buddy Hollie's It's Raining in my Heart.

Things get off to a simmering start with Something's Coming from West Side Story. The into is sax solo with lots of echo and 'verb before an acoustic bass enters followed by Claire. There are several emphatic stops and tempo changes in the interesting arrangement. Claire goes Latin in the uptempo Love at Last.

In the closest to Ella's trademark swing and a highlight of the collection is The Gentleman is a Dope. This is straight ahead jazz swing at its best with extended guitar and piano solos. Clair even trades scat choruses with Britain's male jazz counterpart Ian Shaw. Speaking of extended solos,there are a lot of them featuring saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock, pianist Gareth Williams, guitarist Phil Robeson and drummer Clark Tracey - all first rate musicians. Claire is no hog as the album is almost equally split between her vocals and the player's inventive and adroit solos. I would call this a jazz recording more than a solo singer's. And that is a good thing.

The pop It's Raining in my Heart gets slowed way down and spotlights Martin's rich low range .I wish we could hear more of it - it's wonderful. Rather than a large, sappy string section, the arrangement adds a string quartet for added warmth. Very tasty.

Side two starts off with the title tune Too Darn Hot which begins with acoustic bass and bongos. Claire's voice starts off breathy soft and builds throughout along with the instrumentation. Pretty darn sultry.

Black Coffee is another highlight in a burning blues style. Everyone really lets loose in this one with Claire showing she can project in a big way rather than just soft and mellow.

Noir is a very fast halftime feel hard bop screamer interpretation where everyone gets to stretch out more into an almost avant guarde style. The tempo is breathless but the piano and sax solos are such that Bird would not be ashamed of them. These guys can play!

Pressed in Germany, the heavy and thick 180 gram vinyl was flawless and dead quiet. As you can imagine, Linn knows how an LP should sound and the production is immaculate.

Martin's voice is front and center but not "in your face' while the players are evenly spaced in a very natural perspective behind her. The drum set has its own space and is not artificially spread out from side to side. It simply sounds like a real drumset is a real room. The acoustic bass is low and woody with lots of "fingers on the strings" detail and the piano sounds organic and convincing with no trace of glare or ringing. Some tasteful compression is present limiting dynamics a bit and keeping things smooth, but never really detracting from the recording. You get the impression you are in the best seat in a medium size yet cozy jazz room without the attendant audience noise and tinkling whiskey glasses. As for Ms. Martin, you can make mine a double.

TITLE; BLUES IN ORBIT

ARTIST: DUKE ELLINGTON

LABEL: CLASSIC RECORDS REISSUE

REVIEWER: MUSIKMIKE PESHKIN

I discovered this LP years and years ago. I recognized not only its great sound but how Ellington had blended the new with the old; the big bands of his past with a more modern sound. I was thrilled. I told everyone I knew to seek this LP. That was then and this is now.Now it’s been reissued on 200 gram Quiex vinyl by Mike Hobson and the folks at Classic Records. What a marvelous choice! Of all records needing a diaspora, this one has to be at the top of the pile. When you get to hear the brilliance of Ellington’s leadership, Ray Nance’s stupendous abilities on not only one, but two instruments; Johnny Hodges creamy sound on alto sax…well, it just doesn’t get any better than this!

Different as night and day; you can’t get any more diverse than trumpet and violin, Nance’s musicianship is startling. On one cut he even does a Stephane Grappelli imitation that would have fooled Grappelli. You can imagine Stephane, if he heard this LP, saying, “I don’t recall sitting in on that session!”

If the sound was good and not great, this would still be an LP worthy of mention. But it’s far more than that. It sound is superb! Weirdly enough, however, is the difference between two originals I own and the reissue. All three sound different from one another! I don’t mean subtle differences, either. When you’ve listened to an LP three times and notice, when putting an original LP onto the platter, a bass viol where no bass fiddle was heard previously, then your interest increases.

I don’t think it’s a matter of mixes…well, perhaps it is. My 1B/2G copy sounded quite different from my 1C/1G pressing. Both sounded different from the reissue! I listened to the records a number of times, wondering if I was daft. I do not think so, but your ears may hear things differently.

Yet, the ability to hear, on Three J ’s Blues,” two trombones clearly delineated; with no smearing of an eminently “smearable” instrument, that is something worthy of wonder. I even heard the tiniest mistake, a slight increase in tempo half-way through “Sweet and Pungent.” On that cut, the call and holler between Nance’s trumpet and the trombone is worth the price of admission all on its own!

No matter how hard you try to play the audio nerd, this record will keep pulling you back into listening to music. So, if sound is what you want you can go ahead and get this LP, it’s beautiful sounding. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. There is plenty of boring but great sounding LPs out there that allow you to focus on hearing a chair squeak.

Returning to “C Jam Blues,” the trombone solo sounded so real I reached out and straightened Booty Wood’s (??? Or Matthew Gee Jr.) tie. Ellington would NOT like one of his musicians to have his tie askew. All solos were recorded with a “stepping up to the plate” sound; all played forward of the band. The musician’s leaning backward from their waist to blow a loud note make you feel you are witnessing the band being recorded. You are there! Of course, I must admit that the title cut (side 2) has not only some superb piano work from the Duke, but the sound of his piano captured during the recording is pretty stupendous. Johnny Hodges solo on Brown Penny is easily one of his best offerings…although saying that is akin to saying there’s water in the ocean!

This LP is a collection of recordings done throughout 1959, but the overall mood of the record makes it an album all its own. Various Ellington styles are portrayed; the tunes vary in that sense, but still at no time do you have the feeling that this is a collection…it is an album of great musical worth.

While some listeners may feel, while acknowledging it as a great LP, Blues in Orbit is a big band effort; the LP never struck me as only being another Ellington big band record. I felt upon first listen that it was a departure from Ellington’s usual fare. Perhaps the jam session feel of every piece lends itself to that conclusion, but Blues in Orbit will always be a Jazz record first, a big band record only because of the bigger sound that is the essence of an Ellington LP. There is, somehow, a small combo feeling to every cut on this LP. To claim that it is Ellington’s best might be the silliest thing anyone could ever utter. To claim that it isn’t among his very best would still be an understatement.

Every cut is worth the price of the entire LP, don’t get me wrong here, but it was side one that I kept playing over and over again. Perhaps, if I didn’t want (and need, under penalty of death) to get the record back to James as quickly as I did, I would have spent more time with side two. But James missed that LP the second he took it off his table. I wouldn’t want him to cry or anything like that!

Great music, great sound. The air surrounding the instruments; the feeling that you can see their bodies standing (or sitting) behind those instruments make this an audiophile wonder. Even better, at no time are you aware this is an audiophile recording; it is always ONLY a musical recording. And that’s incredible. If you own an original in good shape it’s your call whether to get this LP. If you don’t have an original and don’t buy this record, you should be forced to walk barefoot across the broken glass of a million 2A3’s.

TITLE: HOPE
ARTIST: HUGH MASEKELA
LABEL: ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS AAPJ 82020

With "Hope", Masekela brings his heavily South African style to a live crowd in NYC and the results are stunning. Forget the 1812 Overture, this is the LP to spin when one of your "CD’s have much better dynamic range" friends comes over.

This version is a two-LP set mastered at 45 RPM to deliver some of the most explosive instrumental dynamics ever committed to vinyl. Like high definition TV high bitrate digital , recording and playing back at 45 rpm delivers more information from a groove. More is more. Of course, like higher bitrate MP3’s for example, more space is needed, thus the  necessity for four sides of two lp’s.

Masekela, assembled a seven-piece group and recorded this live at Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley. And it sounds live, not only in a spatial perspective, but this recording faithfully captures the spirit of the crowd and how it interacts with the performers. There is some much space and air within the soundstage that I thought this must have been recorded on an outdoor stage.
If your amps and speakers can handle it (as well as your turntable and cartridge),the percussion, bass as well as Masekela's voice and horn will amaze you. It sounds as if there was no compression at all used in the recording or mastering of this astonishing recording. More than once I was more than a little startled by some instrument or voice leaping out of the speakers. Needless to say, this 45 rpm version of the performance is a stringent test for any cartridge.

Speed, agility and perfect trackability are a must to reproduce what this LP has to offer. The standout cut for me is "The Coal Train" where Masekela poetically speaks (yes, speaks in the beginning) about the trains that brought, not coal, but slaves from all over Africa to work the horrific gold and diamond mines. There are two events in the song that can make a follicley challenged man's hair stand up; one is a long crescendo that starts out with a muted cowbell softly playing straight 16th notes, joined by a floor tom as it grows louder and louder as you think all hell is about to break loose, to a stunning thunderous climax.

The other is when he impersonates the shrieking sound of the train whistle. If there existed a pictorial dictionary of descriptive, audiophile terms, this album would be the illustration of the word "visceral". "Dynamic" is much too tame. But more than that, there is a fervently emotional, human quality that transcends the merely musical.

While I am not fanatic about this South African musical style, I am a fan of great music and that is what we have here. When you add the fact that Chad Kassem and Kevin Gray of Analogue Productions have turned this Masekela masterpiece into a sonic sensation, you have a recipe for an essential addition to any serious record collection.

TITLE: Aqualung

ARTIST: Jethro Tull

LABEL: Classic Records Reissue

REVIEW: MusikMike Peshkin

I’m sure when Aqualung first hit the record stores and we excitedly took home Ian’s latest, we thought it sounded fine. That booming bass, the thin upper mids, heck, it sounded great (it really was not that bad! Sounded great on the radio, too. The phenomenon of Audiophile reissues from the likes of Nautilus and, in this case, Mobile Fidelity, had not yet occurred. Of course in 1971, 99-and-44-one-hundred-percent of the kids who bought Aqualung had no idea about high fidelity playback.The Mobile Fidelity reissue MFSL 1-061, must have impressed me. When I looked on my shelves for the copies I expected, I found only the Mofi. Originals are the standard, we know it wasn’t the greatest recording on earth, so why, I asked myself, do people expect miracles? You can’t guild a turd.Well, people said it wasn’t, and a bit of what Classic records says by reissuing it, the same thing. Comparing the Mofi to the Classic, I agree the Classic has improved things, but not dramatically so. The bloated kick drum which sounded as if the skin was made of glove leather on my Mofi is, with the Classic LP, is a bit tighter. On the title track, the radio-styled voice now sounds more like what we, as baby boomers, thought the radio announcers of our parent’s youth sounded like. The acoustic guitar on "Wondrin’ Aloud" has a bit more presence, you hear a bit more of the soundbox.Side 2 is the audiophile’s side. While not reference sound, "My God" will strike you where you sit. The piano is big, loud and as real as can be expected on an average recording…it is a bit above average. The drums tighten up and the kick drum especially sounds as if it was miked a bit better (or they put a real drum head on instead of that glove leather).When I was young, and they groomed me for success, it sounds as if Ian’s in the room expressing his disgust. An interesting note is that it sounds like yech on the Mofi. Throughout side two his guitar has better string and box sound; good attack, nice decay. "Locomotive Breath" seems to have much more drive, more depth to the heavy rhythms. Throughout the record but on side 2 especially, I was playing air guitar along with Martin Barre; Ian’s flute is, if not crystal, at least Windex clear. The guitar and Ian’s voice on "Wind Up" sound pretty darned good, not reference mind you, but pretty darn good.I listened to the Classics reissue with a Dynavector 20XL on my VPI and on a vintage deck, a Kenwood KD500 with a Win Labs SMC10. The Win Labs dug a good bit more from the grooves, enough to tell you guys with mega-buck decks the reissue is worth getting another copy.Listening to a blue label Chrysalis borrowed from my listening partner, Bob, I was reminded of the sound that we’d heard in 1971 on the radio in my ‘68 ‘Cuda. Great road music. I was crazy about Tull; I went to more concerts than I can possibly remember. Introduced to hi-fi sound a few years later, I still thought it was great. As I wrote earlier, I thought the Mobile Fidelity beat the original by a good bit. This Classic does the same to the Mofi, beating it by a good bit more.While this is not a reference sound LP, if you don’t already own it, it’s worth getting, it’s a classic (as well as being a Classic). If you do have it? Yep, it’s worth getting, too. At the least, it’s worlds better than the Chrysalis blue label reissue. That gem cuts off the final “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday” at the end of side 2!I loved this LP. My showers have been filled with "Locomotive Breath" and "My God". I can honestly say I sound better than Ian…as long as he’s suffering with severe laryngitis.Now if "Minstrel in the Gallery" and "Passion Play" were reissued by Classics, I’d be really, REALLY happy!

JD: I listened to this a few times before I sent it to Mike for review. As usual, he nailed it. This was never a sonic wonder. More like you'd wonder if it had any sonics, but Classic Records, though not guilding a dog rocket, has somehow managed to polish it. The biggest disappointment for me was the bass axe which was pretty paltry sounding and it was sorely needed to propel these tunes along. But then the origianl suffered the same ball-lessness. The foundation was crumbling, but I doubt if it was Mike Hobson's (Classic's engineering guru) fault. The next time I see him I'm going to ask him if the bass was on a separate track or recorded along with the drums. By the way, he told me at CES that this is the only Aqualung redo that was cut from the original master.

If, like MusikMike, you like an Aqualung in your shower (I once saw a girl at a party with a snorkel in a hot tub...), then this is probably the best rendition available - on 200 gram Quiex to boot.

TITLE: Transistor Radio

ARTIST: M. Ward
LABEL: Merge Records MRG260

REVIEWER: Oliver Amnuayphol

What is it with the Portland, Oregon music scene these days? With bands like Menomena, The Helio Sequence, The Decemberists, and The Shins all calling Portland home, it would seem this picturesque but rainy Northwest locale is a breeding ground for some very talented musicians, perhaps none more so than M. Ward. With his craggy, jazzy, folksy voice and penchant for musical storytelling, Ward landed critical acclaim with his third album, 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent. His 2005 follow up, Transistor Radio, pays homage to simpler, purer music from bygone eras while retaining an effortless and spontaneous feel.

On Transistor Radio, M. Ward blends old time folk, blues, rock, and country to create songs that sound antiqued by time yet equally familiar and fresh. The album opens with such a unique, instrumental rendition of The Beach Boys’ “You Still Believe in Me” you could easily mistake it for one of Ward’s own compositions. From there, Transistor Radio only gets better—there isn’t a single dud in the bunch. Ward has a knack for slowly build tension throughout an album, never hesitating to confidently guide the musical journey. And while every track is a good one, first half standouts on the album include the gently rocking number “Hi Fi,” with its lush electronic guitars, layered vocals and down-tempo, kick drum propulsion; or the bluesy, boogie woogie, rockabilly infused “Big Boat,” which could easily pass for something Jerry Lee Lewis might have written today were he still alive.

On the second half of Transistor Radio (or side two if you bought the vinyl), Ward slowly winds down the journey with simpler, more acoustically quaint songs. One example is “Here Comes the Sun Again,” easily the album’s best number, with its melodically-infectious and optimistic vocals and simple guitar and piano underpinnings. “Paul’s Song,” “Deep Dark Well,” and “I’ll be Ya Bird” all help to bring closure to this album with their more intimate, country music-infused sounds. It’s clear Ward has done his homework on a vast plethora of musical idioms, effortlessly moving between them as only a consummate musician could.

The sound on Transistor Radio is artistically expressive in its own right, creating an auditory backdrop that is always in service of the music. While a departure from the usual audiophile standards of highly polished, clean and clear sound (most of the album was recorded in an attic, after all), the sonics are engineered to hint at that old time radio sound; expect a slightly closed-in upper treble, rich, warm, upper bass, somewhat distorted midrange and mildly emphasized presence region, and imaging that is well above average, with fine lateral extension and some front to back layering. Again, the sonic feel for each song was chosen from an artistic standpoint, clearly to evoke certain moods and to connect the listener to the musical events; any musically communicative hi fi should have no trouble painting the appropriate aural picture. And while both the CD and LP versions are sonically good, do yourself a favor and buy, or at least listen to, the vinyl version of Transistor Radio first; it has a sonically subtle yet musically important organic wholeness that the CD version can’t quite match.

Considering the sum of the parts then, parsing out an album track by track doesn’t nearly do justice to what M. Ward has accomplished with Transistor Radio. The album really must be listened to straight-through to hear how Ward has painted a musically cohesive picture that, much like a good story, has a clearly defined arc. Transistor Radio has that altogether rare and highly communicative ability to transport the listener to another time and place—one of simpler time, when radio was still a new medium and a communicative tool for bringing people closer together. One listen to Transistor Radio and you’ll be dreaming of long, winding, country dirt roads, sun-kissed fields and hot summers spent on the porch drinking ice cold lemonade. Transistor Radio is an absolute gem — a treasure of an album that will take you on a musical journey and worth a listen by music lovers of any stripe.

TITLE: Miles Smiles

ARTIST: Miles Davis Quintet
Label: Speakers Corner Reissue CS 9401

Recorded in 1966, this was the only studio recording by Miles in that year. His new (2nd) quintet was now made up of a young Herbie Hancock on piano, Tony Williams on drums,Ron Carter on bass and Wayne Shorter on sax. Gone were Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on double-bass and drummer Philly Joe Jones. There are four originals (three by Shorter and one by Davis) and two covers-- Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance" and Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy".

This is a not a new and different Kind of Blue, it is a new kind of jazz, more complex and polyrhythmic, aggressive and on the threshold of "free". This is most obvious in "Footprints" which starts out with Carter's riff played in 6/4 time. Tony Williams initially plays within the 6/4 feel but transitions to a 4/4 feel while Ron Carter continues the 6/4 bass line. I would go as far to say that if you loved "KOB", you just might not even like "Miles Smiles". While there are melodies, they can be more obscure and taken farther away from tonal centers and even time feels than Miles earlier work.

The sound is clean, slightly warm and focused with excellent pacing and momentum. The recording surfaces are flat and relatively quiet. My copy had no flaws, pops or skips. Mile's horn, especially when muted, is more accurate and cleaner than the original, less strident and piercing. If you are a fan of this LP, this Speaker's Corner edition will be a welcome addition.

TITLE: Khachaturian Piano Concerto in D Flat

ARTIST: Peter Katin, Piano & The London Symphony Orchestra under Hugo Rignold

LABEL: Class Records Reissue

Some of the most emotionally involving recordings I own are of the Khachaturian Piano Concerto. I know most of you are saying “Huh?” about now, but this is one composition of which I own almost every known recording. Besides the fact that it is a real pyrotechnic finger buster that includes shades of everything from jazz, rock, folk and classical from several periods, it happens to be the first Piano Concerto I performed with a live symphony. You know what they say; you never forget your first, so this is the case here.

It so happens that Classic Records did a re-issue of the Peter Katin version with Hugo Rignold conducting the London Symphony. This is an Everest 35mm magnetic film recording and an insert in the jacket says that this reissue was cut from the original using an “all tube” cutting system. I have the original and I can say that the re-issue kills it sonically and the best Khachaturian I own from an audio perspective. Performance wise, the William Kappel is considered by most the benchmark, but the Katin is better to me from a more rhythmic and melodic as well as dynamic point of view.

Listening to this recording inspires me to do much more than tap my toe. My arms flail about as I conduct some parts and my whole body reacts to every crescendo and syncopated rhythm. Be glad you aren't there to witness it, but I don’t care. Music can and should have that effect.

The first movement is a big, bold melody stated by the piano in octaves in both hands that streches the tonal scale a little without being too dissonant, but more adventurous than Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff and every bit as dramatic and beautiful. It will stick in your head if you're not careful. There is a quiet and instrospective piano solo before things take off in a frantic pace with the trumpets, piano and french horns playing melodic tag before piano and orchestra take of in diverse directions.

In the Second Movement “Andante con Anime” (“Anime” does not refer to Japanese animated films), the exquisitely gorgeous theme is stated by an oboe, but is reflected later by an early electronic synthesizer called a “Flexitone” or sometimes also a Theremin is used. Not having access to either, I used an Arp Odyssey programmed to simulate the sound. The melody is moderately slow and haunting with very expressive giant leaps that tug the heart strings, made even more so by the exotic vibrato of the Flexitone.

The third movement is a jazzy, Gershwinesque blast of fun and humor and incredible pyrotechnic viruosity. The Concerto is full of remarkable, expressive, beautiful, and characteristically diverse musical themes. It is full of passion, angst, tempestuos ferocity and fire as well as beauty and drama that touches the heart and soul. If you have any appreciation of classical music, you owe it to yourself to hear this.It is also avaialbe from Classic Records as an high res HDAD.