Recording of the Month

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jun 30, 2011 Published: Nov 15, 1988 0 comments
A useful test CD has recently come my way, courtesy of the Stereophile editorial staff in Santa Fe (a copy was provided to each of the contributing equipment editors). Digital Test was produced in France by Pierre Verany (PV.788031/788032, 2 CDs), and is distributed in the USA by Harmonia Mundi. It provides a wide variety of tests and useful musical selections, but the subject of special interest here is its test bands for evaluation of laser-tracking and error-correction capability.

There are two interrelated parameters which, in the absence of drop-outs or information gaps—we'll get to them shortly—can affect the ability of a player to track the CD "groove" (or "whorl," as the quaintly translated disc booklet calls it): linear "cutting velocity" and track pitch. The standards for the first establish a range of 1.2 to 1.4 meters/second (the rotation speed of the disc varies from 500 to 200rpm from the inside to the outside of the disc to maintain this linear velocity); for the second, the spacing between adjacent tracks, from 1.50 to 1.70 micrometers (µm).

Robert Baird Posted: Jun 08, 2011 0 comments
Jordi Savall: Dinastía Borja
Music by Guillaume Dufay, Josquin Des Prez, Lluis del Mila and others Jordi Savall, viola da gamba, director; Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Alia Vox AVSA 9874A/C (3 SACD/CDs). 2010. Jordi Savall, prod.; Toni Figueras, recording coordinator; Aline Blondiau, Nicolas de Beco, Dominique de Spoolberg, Olivier de Spoolberg, recording assistants. AAD? TT: 3:43:19
Performance *****
Sonics *****

As is usually the case, a recent performance at New York's Lincoln Center by Jordi Savall, his instrumental ensemble, Hespèrion XXI, and his choir, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, was a triumph—his impeccably researched and realized early music had the crowd on their feet. In lesser hands, such exotica as old-world Spanish music influenced by indigenous forms from Mexico would have trouble drawing a paying crowd, let alone filling Alice Tully Hall; but Savall's unique vision has rescued and revitalized obscure musical forms aplenty, from the medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods. Along the way he's also managed to record notable versions of more popular works of the standard classical repertoire, such as the Mozart Requiem, and J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.

Richard Lehnert Posted: May 31, 2011 Published: Dec 01, 1988 1 comments
CHARLIE PARKER: Bird (Original Soundtrack)
Charlie Parker, Charles McPherson, alto saxes; Red Rodney, trumpet; Monty Alexander, piano; Ray Brown, Ron Carter, basses; Charlie Shoemake, vibes; John Guerin, drums; others
Columbia SC 44299 (LP), CK 44299 (CD). Bobby Fernandez, Neal Spritz, engs.; Clint Eastwood, Lennie Niehaus, prods. ADA/ADD. TT: 41:21

Unlike Round Midnight, which encased Dexter Gordon's Bud Powell character in a soft-focus, romanticized, soundstagily mythic NY/Paris jazz juncture that never quite was (Herbie Hancock's music direction was deliberately inauthentic for that or any time or place other than the film studio), producer/director Clint Eastwood's labor-of-love Bird attempts to place Charles Christopher Parker Jr. squarely in the bebop world he created. The modern musicians he "plays" with here blow strictly in that tradition, accompanying Parker's solos, as peeled off the original Savoy, Verve, and home recordings with audio wizardry (massive EQing, dynamic noise filters, etc.).

Robert Baird Posted: May 06, 2011 1 comments
The Twilight Singers: Dynamite Steps
Sub Pop SPCD 844 (CD). 2011. Greg Dulli, prod.; Brenndan McGuire, Ben Mumphrey, Steve Nalepa, Mike Napolitano, others, engs. AAD? TT: 43:03
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Unleash "Retarded," the unforgettable first track of Up In It (1990), the Afghan Whigs' first Sub Pop album—the one with the eerie stitched-up hand on the cover—and immediately the madness seeps out. No one has ever done the angry leer and tormented spat quite like AW singer/songwriter Greg Dulli. As the charismatic leader of one of the nastiest, hardest-edged live acts ever to prowl a 1990s indie-rock stage, he and the Whigs were one of the Yo MTV 120 Minute generation's most striking acts—one that combined buzzy guitar thunder with odd but welcome leanings toward classic R&B that persist to this day in the Twilight Singers. The assault of the Cincinnati-based Whigs was led by Dulli, a seemingly normal Ohio boy whose unhinged wailing, self-flagellating lyrics, and shrieking, Cobra-like stage persona made him a rock star: dangerous candy for the girls, unhinged fury for the fellas.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Apr 28, 2011 Published: Jan 01, 1989 1 comments
BOBBY KING & TERRY EVANS: Live and Let Live!
Rounder 2089 (LP), CD 2089 (CD). Larry Hirsch, eng.; Ry Cooder, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 44:42

If you've heard a Ry Cooder album in the last 12 years, you've heard Bobby King and Terry Evans—they're the gorgeously voiced gospel/R&B singers who've backed up Ry while he's learned to sing in public—and from whom he can't help but have learned a lot. To crib from the liner notes, King is from a Louisiana gospel background, while Evans sang R&B in Mississippi. Their music together is a seamless blend of the best of both sides of the churchyard gate, smack dab in the middle of the strongest undercurrents of American music. Virtually every tune is a gem, but "Let Love Begin," so warm and lovingly sensual it'll melt your speakers, and the best version I've ever heard of "Dark End of the Street," are instant classics. "Saturday Night" has a hint of sprung Cajun rhythm, and "Let Me Go Back to the Country" has that vital feel of a pick-up band one by one sitting down to sit in, music made for the sheer joy of singing and playing. Only "Bald Head," another misogynistic Cooder tune, falls flat, though not for lack of trying by King & Evans.

Robert Levine Posted: Apr 08, 2011 1 comments
MOZART: Piano Concertos 22 & 25
David Fray, piano; Jaap van Zweden, Philharmonia Orchestra
Virgin 5099964196404 (CD). 2010. Etienne Collard, prod.; René Möller, eng. DDD. TT: 66:04
Performance *****
Sonics *****

From 1782 to the end of 1785 were successful, fertile years in Vienna for Mozart. He was sought by the aristocracy and the upper classes as a pianist, teacher, and composer. Throughout this period—and the following year, during which he ran out of money—he composed piano sonatas, songs, marches, wind serenades, a horn quintet, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, arias, quartets, works for violin and/or viola, horn concertos, the C-minor Mass, symphonies 35, 36, and 38 (37 was written by Michael Haydn), piano concertos 14–25, Le Nozze di Figaro, and dozens of other works.

Les Berkley Posted: Mar 30, 2011 Published: Feb 01, 1989 0 comments
RAMEAU: Works for Harpsichord
Albert Fuller, harpsichord
Reference Recordings RR 27 (LP), RR 27-CD (CD*). J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., prod.; Keith O. Johnson, eng. AAA/DDD. TTs: 57:45, 63:57*

I have to admit that I gave Reference Recordings' last Baroque release somewhat short shrift: I was disappointed enough in the performance that even KOJ's usual superb recording was insufficient to redeem things. Here, however, Albert Fuller (who was also present the last time out) is in fine fettle, giving as good an account of these works as we could wish. Clearly he is more sympathetic to Rameau than he seemed to be toward Bach; the French emotionalism of the former is apparently more in accord with the performer's personality. I still enjoy the rendition given by a young Trevor Pinnock in the mid-'70s (Vanguard VSD 71271), and you will find the roots of Fuller's style on the old Bach Guild releases of Gustav Leonhardt, but the present recording stands on its own merits musically and is orders of magnitude better sonically than any of the previous versions. Fuller also sticks to real English in his liner notes, which he most emphatically did not do on the previous RR disc.

Stephen Mejias Posted: Mar 07, 2011 1 comments
Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen: For the Ghosts Within
Domino DNO271/WIGLP263 (CD/LP). 2010. Gilad Atzmon, prod.; Robert Wyatt, Jamie Johnson, Philip Bagenal, engs. ADD? TT: 56:13
Performance *****
Sonics ****

For the Ghosts Within marks my introduction to the wonderful world of Robert Wyatt. It happened in Denver, Colorado, at around 1am, several hours after the first full day of the 2010 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I'd taken a break from posting blog entries to flip through the November 2010 issue of my other favorite magazine, The Wire. There, on p.11, I saw a neat, simple ad that offered little more than an album's intriguing cover art: stencil-like cutouts of three figures that seem meant to represent the album's three musicians, though these figures are almost entirely stripped of human form, reduced or distilled to their musical functions—as if the players are their instruments. Drawn by the rich colors and provocative imagery, I went straight to Domino Recording Co.'s website and listened to "Laura," track 1 of For the Ghosts Within. (Like so much of the album, "Laura" was completely new to me, but I have since learned that it is the title song from the 1944 film Laura, composed by David Raksin, and given fine treatments by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Julie London, among others.)

Richard Lehnert Posted: Mar 04, 2011 Published: Mar 01, 1989 0 comments
KEITH JARRETT: Dark Intervals
Keith Jarrett, piano
ECM 1379 (837 342-1, LP; -2, CD). Kimio Oikawa, eng.; Manfred Eicher, prod. DDA/DDD. TT: 58:22

After a five-year hiatus in which he explored jazz standards, classical music, the clavichord, and the unclassifiable Spirits, Keith Jarrett has returned, however briefly, to the form that gained him his widest reputation: solo piano improvisations. But with a difference—only a single LP this time (instead of two, three, or ten), that LP composed of eight short sections, each with a title. This is a far cry from unbroken piano improvs spanning three LP sides, titled only with the name and date of the venue.

Robert Baird Posted: Feb 15, 2011 0 comments
Markus Schwartz, Haitian Rada & Petwo drums, miscellaneous percussion, loop sampler, conch, vocals; Jean Caze, trumpet, flugelhorn, conch, vocals; Monvelyno Alexis, electric guitar, percussion, vocals; Paul Beaudry, double bass, percussion
Soundkeeper SR1002 (CD). 2010. Barry Diament, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 43:16
Performance ****
Sonics *****

Think of flat, one-dimensional downloads of soulless, AutoTuned music that sounds more manufactured than played. Then feast on this.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Feb 01, 2011 Published: Apr 01, 1989 1 comments
It is often said that anyone with a recorder and a couple of microphones can record an orchestra. It's true, assuming you can get permission to do it (another story entirely). But that statement fails to address an important question: "How well?"

The rudiments of any skill can be learned from books. Practice can develop a fair level of competence. Beyond competence, however, the student is governed by his genes and/or family environment, depending on which theory of human potential you subscribe to. Whatever the reason, some practitioners of both disciplines never seem able to transcend mere competence, while others go on to become legends in their own times. John Eargle, chief recording engineer for Delos Records and producer of this fascinating recording, may or may not qualify as a legend, but he is obviously 'way past "a fair level of competence."

Robert Baird Posted: Jan 19, 2011 0 comments
Sun City Girls Funeral Mariachi
Abduction ABD 045LP (LP). 2010. Alan Bishop, prod., eng.; Scott Colburn, Randall Dunn, engs. AAA. TT: 37:12
Performance ****
Sonics ****

There are musicians for whom fame and fortune hold no allure, whose goal is to fulfill a more esoteric vision. Nearly 50 albums and 25 years ago, three mad punk polyglots, their brains baked by the Arizona sun, and all of them in love with the Middle East–North Africa axis of what, in the 1980s, was ineptly titled "world music," decided to make music without borders. With no fear of influences and no burning ambition for commercial success, they zestfully and successfully mixed comedy, noise, Zappa, Beefheart, Middle Eastern drones, jazzy horns, psychedelia in all its forms, film composer Ennio Morricone's inventive moodiness, Indonesian Gamelan mojo, lots of real and made-up languages, and, yes, some actual singing. Rougher in the beginning, the records began to sound better as time went on.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Jan 02, 2011 Published: May 02, 1989 1 comments
The ideal rock singer/songwriter? Someone who addresses adult issues with all the passion of adolescence (than which, believe me, there is none more monomaniacal—there's no righteous indignation like a teenager's). Someone who can sing about him- or herself and strike the universal; someone who can tell a story of what the swells call "the human condition," or of some social injustice, in terms of how it affects a single life in all that life's unique details. In this case, some musical near-illiterate like "The Beloved Entertainer," as it says on the little brass nameplate under the harlequin-painted face exploding from the golden Warner Brothers shield on the cover of Spike—The Little Hands of Concrete himself.

Robert Baird Posted: Dec 10, 2010 0 comments
Having a long career in the temporal world of indie rock, as the Posies have, has its drawbacks. Before I wrote this review, someone sent me a quote about Blood/Candy from the all-powerful world of Internet music criticism, where speed trumps knowledge. "A collection that's thankfully a world away from their largely charmless and invariably dull nineties output for Geffen."
Barbara Jahn Posted: Dec 04, 2010 Published: Jun 15, 1989 0 comments
These are two very fine discs. Both convey to perfection the full weight of Richard Strauss's opulent orchestration for Zarathustra without the slightest hint of distortion, despite the huge dynamic range both employ. Both have the measure of the venues they are recorded in: Denon's Lukaskirche actually gives the impression of an acoustically superior concert hall, and it is astonishing to discover from the insert notes that the well tuned-in and integrated organ has been post-synchronized from the Schauspielhaus, Berlin.

Telarc's disc is their first of the Vienna Philharmonic, and their first from the Musikvereinsaal. It can hardly be faulted, except perhaps for the consistent richness of its more tonally refulgent sound—some may find this oppressive. But it does reflect perfectly Previn's more emotionally charged, almost maniacal response to this score. It is the kind of music he excels in; the meditative, almost ponderous fugue giving way to the near hysteria of "The Convalescent," and reflecting real joy at the climax of the "Dance Song." Previn is living these colorful swings of emotion, and if he makes great demands of the score in doing so (just as Blomstedt does), then his intuitive balance renders this all the more convincing.

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