1992 Records To Die For Page 10
I could see Richard sitting there at the keyboard with his herbal tea and Tipparillos, giggling and stabbing the air with his fingers as he finally figured a way to thwart my using The Sun Sessions in this year's "Records To Die For." WHY WHY WHY? Why did they have to be stereo? Given that "Sound Quality" is merely a tool for the optimal transmission of the musical event, does the mere fact that a recording is monaural render it handicapped in its ability to deliver the goods? Is our esteemed Music Editor, a man I would proudly take a bullet in the ear for, ACTUALLY SAYING THAT STEREO IS AN ABSOLUTE NECESSITY FOR A RECORDING TO BE DUG ON ITS MOST SUPREME TERMS?!! Is this the same Richard Lehnert who, paraphrased by JA in the Nov. '91 "As We See It," opines that to be even aware of such a thing as "Sound Quality" means that you can't be moved by recorded music on as pure and open terms as when you were more ignorant? [JA made me do it, Corey.---RL] And is all this lather merely a smokescreen so I can stick Elvis Aron Presley's Sun Sessions (RCA CD-6414-2-R), a mono 1954 recording and the most important music in the history of man, in here without breaking the rules? Yes ma'am.
That said, here are my five Records To Die For With Guaranteed Stereo Separation:
THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE: Live At Winterland
Rykodisc RCD-20038 (CD), RALP 0038-2 (LP). Mark Linett, eng.; Alan Douglas, prod. ADD. TT: 71:40
This '68 concert recording is far and away the best-sounding live Hendrix available. I was stunned when this first came out; none of the "official" live sets even comes close to sounding as clear and alive as this disc. And my Hendrix bootlegs? HAH!
From the acid-soaked tribute to the just-disbanded Cream of "Sunshine Of Your Love," to the 11 minutes of beautiful, celestial future-blues on "Red House," Live At Winterland is a trip (and I do mean trip) back to a better time. Hard, relentless, funky-butt rocket-ride blues, the coolest power trio ever, and good sound to boot; what else is there in life?*
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
EMI-Manhattan CDP-7-48036-2 (CD only). Judie Clapp, eng.; Michael Beinhorn, prod. AAD. TT: 38:18
*Well, this; funkier than their debut and harder than the George Clinton-produced Freakey Styley, ULMFPP is the Chili Peppers' finest hour. This is hard-core, guitar-heavy sexfunk by tattooed surfpunks who often play gigs wearing nothing but a white tube sock. Uhm, that's not on their foot, homes.
The sound is pure fistinyoface; exactly the way the Chili Peppers sound live! Taken on the terms that the perfect recording should exactly mirror the sound of the live experience, Uplift Mofo Party Plan is a perfect recording.
PROFESSOR LONGHAIR: Rock'N'Roll Gumbo
Dancing Cat DD-3006 (CD only). Steve Hodge, eng.; Philippe Rault, George Winston, Steve Hodge, Frosty Horton, prods. AAD. TT: 47:12
Oh boyoboyoboy! HAHA! THIS is IT! The baddest, wackiest boogie-woogie whorehouse pie-yanna ever cut, Rock'N'Roll Gumbo was originally recorded in 48 hours back in '74 and released only in Europe; 11 years later (and 5 after the Prof passed away), George Winston (yes, that George Winston!) secured the rights to the tapes and remixed them in the interest of a) better sound, and b) potting up the Prof to his due and prominent level, and the rest is Western History.
This is prime monkey-bone music, the kind of stuff that makes people angry that they've only just discovered it now. From time to time, I may play around a bit, but here, I am deadly serious; until you own Rock'N'Roll Gumbo, you are but half a person. This is the music I want played at my funeral.
ROBERT LUCAS: Luke and the Locomotives
AudioQuest AQ-LP1004 (LP), AQ-CD1004 (CD). Allen Sides, Michael C. Ross, engs.; Joe Harley, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 43:55
This is the audiophile record of the CENTURY. Whereas Usin' Man Blues was a purist, Blumlein-miked acoustic affair, Luke and the Locomotives is all electric, multi-but-sensibly-miked, and KICKS ASS! Welcome to the sound of REAL DRUMS IN A REAL ROOM. Everything sounds real; the Fender P-bass is fat and loose, the guitars are plugged into vintage Fender tube amps, and the whole thing sounds as close to live as it gets. When Joe Harley told me about this session earlier last year, he said that his intention was to let Lucas's band set up THEIR funky old gear and make THEIR funky old noise; all he wanted to do was point some mikes at them and get it down straight. He did. A must-have.
THE WHO: Live At Leeds
MCA MCAD-31196 (CD only). The Who, prods. AAD. TT: 37:44
Ah, Live At Leeds; the greatest live rock album of them all. This is the Who at their absolute performing peak, when everybody in the band was gobbling speed like caged rodents and hated each other with such passion that even an urbane ditty like Gentleman Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" became an atomic blast of churning snarl when thrown into their collective midst. And the sound is more than up to it all; this is what Who concerts sounded like before Keith Moon died. In fact, the guitar and bass are recorded just as they stood onstage, with Pete's guitar panned hard right and John's thunderous bass all the way left; I spent a good part of my adolescence first cranking the balance control all the way right to learn the guitar parts, then all the way left to learn the bass!
Mortimer H. Frank
BERLIOZ: Les Troyens
Jon Vickers, Josephine Veasey, Berit Lindholm, Peter Glossop, Heather Begg, Roger Soyer, Anthony Raffell, Anne Howells, Ian Partridge, Pierre Thau, Elizabeth Bainbridge, Ryland Davies, Raimund Herincx, Dennis Wicks, David Lennox; Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Sir Colin Davis
Philips 416 423-2 (4 CDs only). Erik Smith, prod. ADD. TT: 4:00:00
Here is one of the monuments of the phonograph: the first complete recording of this towering masterpiece, it conveys the blend of Romantic grand opera at its most flamboyant and Gluck-like Classicism that defines much of the greatness of this remarkably rich and original score. Davis's direction generates dramatic continuity and tension, and the singing is worthy of the admirable production, which in these CDs can be heard with even greater clarity and impact than in the original 1970 LP release.
MAHLER: Symphony 4
Edith Mathis; Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic
DG 415 323-2 (CD only). Günther Hermanns, eng.; Dr. Hans Hirsch, prod. ADD. TT: 62:23
Karajan offers a gentle, tender projection of a score that benefits from restraint and understatement. The lightness of sonority, the pointed and tasteful application of rubato and portamento, and the avoidance of anything that even hints at vulgarity lend this work an almost other-worldly ethos that perfectly suits its mixture of na;d;iveté, lyricism, and sardonic dissonance. This is orchestral direction of the most sophisticated sort, complemented by the expressive, child-like directness of Mathis's gorgeous singing and the intimate ambience conveyed by DG's engineering. (I speak for an LP copy, not having heard the CD transfer.)
Jack W. English
Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chesky RC4 (LP only). Lewis Layton, eng.; Richard Mohr, prod. AAA.
Everything is as close to perfect here as it gets. Rimsky-Korsakov, the most talented and best known of the Russian Five, has turned the story of 1001 Nights into an extremely colorful and beautifully orchestrated symphonic suite. Fritz Reiner and the CSO give a close to perfect interpretation, with finesse and sensuality, in Chicago's wonderful Symphony Hall (ca 1960). RCA, at its zenith, captured the performance through the legendary efforts of Lewis Layton and Richard Mohr. But that was 30 years ago. To the rescue have come the dedicated Chesky brothers; they and their team painstakingly created a new release from the original three-track master tapes. The result is a musical and sonic blockbuster in every respect.
RACHMANINOFF: Symphonic Dances, Vocalise
Donald Johanos, Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Athena ALSW-10001 (LP only). David B. Hancock, eng.; Thomas Mowrey, prod. AAA.
Symphonic Dances, a three-part suite written in 1940 and dedicated to Eugene Ormandy, was Rachmaninoff's final composition. It was scored for two pianos or orchestra. This orchestral performance has---as all dance music should---superb colorations coupled with vibrant rhythms. Johanos and the DSO play with intensity and immense energy in the McFarlin Auditorium of Southern Methodist University. The performance was expertly captured by Mowrey and Hancock for the 1967 Vox Turnabout LP. Athena has come to our rescue by re-releasing this masterpiece with sonics that, if anything, even outdo the original. The excellent soundstaging, superb portrayal of inner detail, and stunning dynamics make this a wonderfully lifelike recording.
MILES DAVIS: Kind of Blue
Miles Davis, trumpet; Cannonball Adderly, alto sax; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; James Cobb, drums
Columbia 62066 (LP), CBS 62066 (LP, Dutch pressing), CK 40579 (CD, not recommended in current version). Teo Macero, prod.; Larry Keyes, eng. AAA/ADD. TT: 45:08
Without doubt, this Miles Davis/Bill Evans collaboration represents the high point of group improvisation, if not the pinnacle of all jazz. The all-star sextet (Kelly filled in for Evans on one track) seemed to be connected at the soul for this splendid musical tour de force. Unfortunately, the original recording has been long out of print. While the CD contains the music, I have included this recording because Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds has made available a number of Dutch pressings of the LP. There is no multi-tracking, splicing, or overdubs anywhere. The performance is spontaneous and very live.
JONI MITCHELL: Hejira
Joni Mitchell, vocals, guitar; Larry Carlton, lead guitar; Jaco Pastorius, bass; Neil Young, harmonica; Tom Scott, horns
Asylum 7E-1087 (LP), E2 1087 (CD). Henry Lewy, eng.; Joni Mitchell, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 51:54
Hejira, recorded in 1976, was essentially a commercial flop. It was Joni Mitchell's first exploration into the avant-garde jazz scene, but maintained adequate bridges to her earlier folk and rock roots. This particular recommendation just edges out Joni's splendid Blue (1971)and Rickie Lee Jones's self-titled 1979 debut. Mitchell's intensely introspective, richly poetic lyrics are of paramount importance. The music is melodically complex and superbly recorded, the powerful and articulate bass foundation of Weather Report's Jaco Pastorius setting the stage. Of particular note is the clarity and cleanness of this recording, which led me to give it the nod over the other recordings I mentioned.
DIRE STRAITS: Love Over Gold
Warner Bros. 23728-1 (LP), W2-23728 (CD), Vertigo 6359 109 (UK LP), 800 088-2 (UK CD). Neil Dorfsman, eng.; Mark Knopfler, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 41:21
Rock performances, even if splendidly recorded, rarely qualify as sonic spectaculars (Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is a notable exception). Rock performers tend to use a limited set of musical tools, often ignoring such things as dynamics and empty spaces. Not so here. Dire Straits, led by the marvelously talented and creative Mark Knopfler, use plenty of dynamic contrasts as well as an unusually wide palette of tonal colors. Love Over Gold, released between the commercially successful Making Movies and the monstrously popular Brothers In Arms, stands head and shoulders above both of these releases musically and sonically. It is a great recording.