1995 Records To Die For Page 4
THE WHO: Quadrophenia
MCA2-10004 (LP/CD). The Who, prods.; Ron Nevison, eng.; Ron Fawcus, mix. AAA/AAD? TT: 91:54
A compositionally ambitious record, Quadrophenia holds together. The story smacks of reality, the playing caught the band at a creative peak, and John Entwhistle's bass rises to formidable levels. Townshend wrote the whole thing, making remarkable use of four themes representing the protagonists' four personalities, and bringing them together at the climax. The self-production could have caused sloppy sonics, but the synths and horns create a nearly orchestral milieu. This, however, doesn't prevent the Who's edge from cutting through; they set the standard for rock with such trappings, Entwhistle's every demihemisemiquaver coming through cleanly. Add to this such masterpieces as "The Real Me," "Love Reign O'er Me," and "The Punk Meets the Godfather," and I wouldn't go to a desert island without it.
TOUMANI DIABATE/KETAMA/ DANNY THOMPSON: Songhai
Hannibal HNCD 1323 (LP/CD). Joe Boyd, Mario Pacheco, prods.; Antonio Morales, eng.; Carlos Martos, mix. AAA/AAD? TT: 34:00
Proof that McLuhan knew! On paper, the fusion of the Malian Griot kora player, the first family of Spanish Gypsy flamenco rock, and the Pentangle bassist would seem absurd; on disc, it's sublime. Surprisingly crisp high-end separation keeps the African harp's lyrical arpeggios from getting lost in the Spaniards' aggressive strumming and melodic solo work. The low end is dominated by Thompson's bass, acting as the glue holding the whole affair together.
CHARLES MINGUS: Passions of a Man
Charles Mingus, bass, piano, vocals; Jackie McLean, Safi Hadi, John Handy, George Coleman, alto sax; JR Monterose, Booker Ervin, George Adams, Ricky Ford, tenor sax; Pepper Adams, baritone sax; Rahsaan Roland Kirk, flute, siren, tenor sax, manzello, stritch; Ronald Hampton, Jack Walrath, trumpet; Jimmy Knepper, Willie Dennis, tro! mbone; Phillip Catherine, Larry Coryell, guitar; Mal Waldron, Bob Neloms, Wade Legge, Horace Parlan, Don Pullen, piano; Doug Watkins, George Mraz, bass; Willie Jones, Dannie Richmond, drums
Atlantic SD3-600 (3 LPs only). Neshui Ertegun, Ilhan Mimaroglu, prods.; Tom Dowd, Hal Lustic, Larry Hiller, Phil Lehle, Gene Paul, Bobby Warner, engs. AAA. TT: 2:17:20
More like a Perugina sampler of Mingus's Atlantic output than a definitive Mingus collection, for many reasons I go to this collection for my Mingus fix, and have to crank up the Victrola to do it. The LPs capture the disc-friendly warmth that Neshui Ertegun mandated for Atlantic's groundbreaking '60s jazz recordings, yet the recent Rhino CD doesn't bode well for this three-LP set seeing the light of laser.
Like the Peruginas, though, these albums are addictive, better because they lack the Rhino box's pretensions of presentation. Herein is some of the bassist's most adventurous work, including an awesome, underrated Coryell/Catherine "Goodbye, Porkpie Hat" (a version to die for), and ending with Mingus, often considered arrogant, admitting, "I was blessed."
FELA: Original Sufferhead
Shanachie 44010 (CD). Fela Anikulapo Kuti, prod. AAD? TT: 63:08
A great recording by one of the world's greatest, most unpredictably erratic band leaders, this CD reissue includes the entire masterwork Black President, with the title track thrown in almost as a bonus (but, alas, none of the original English release's wonderful artwork). For pure Afrobeat excitement, this record has no equal, with far superior audio quality to pretty much anything coming out of Africa---especially in the early '80s. No muddy horns or out-of-kilter guitars, no mastering or tape noise, none of the tra! ppings that often plagued pre-'85 (or so) Afropop. Any rapper should check out the master's diatribe against the police, "Sorrow, Tears and Blood." Chilling, funky, and bare-roots ethnic---all at the same time.
RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON: Shoot Out the Lights
Hannibal 1303 (LP/CD). Joe Boyd, prod.; Bill Gill, eng. AAA/AAD? TT: 40:53
True quality lasts longer than the Energizer bunny. This eternal critic's pet has provided solid pleasure for over a decade, and has yet to yield all its secrets. From the Celtic metal of "Back Street Slide" and the title tune to the mournful "Did She Jump," this album chronicles the demise of a relationship. Unlike the similarly themed Rumors, Shoot Out the Lights bares all warts, lyrical and musical, often in raw, bracing sound. The recording captures all grit, horror, and exultation of the event with a clarion clarity that can touch nerves and break hearts. The stuff of legends. (XV-2, XVIII-1)
JANIS IAN: Breaking Silence
Morgan Creek 2959-20023-2 (CD only). Janis Ian, Jeff Balding, prods.; Jeff Balding, eng.; Doug Sax, mastering. AAD. TT: 48:49
Apparently out of the blue, this has come to be regarded as a high-fidelity reference. For vocal accuracy, focus, dynamics, deep, powerful bass, and great rhythms, look no further. However, to describe it thus would do a great disservice to Janis Ian, who sings superbly on this record. All 12 songs are either written by Ian, or in association with Joe Vezner, Kye Fleming, and Jess Leary.
The sound is really clean; only after listening for the first time did I read the liner notes, which state, "No synthesizers, vocal limiters or samples of any sort were used on this album." Why can't more rock be recorded this way?
For a show-stopper, try the title track as loud as your system will cleanly deliver. (XVII-1)
GERSHWIN: Gershwin by Knight
Fantasy on Porgy and Bess, Rhapsody in Blue, Songs
Hyperion Knight, piano
Wilson Audio W/WCD-9231 (LP/CD). Sheryl Lee Wilson, prod.; David A. Wilson, eng. ADA/ADD. TT: 49:00
I became acquainted with this release during my review of the Wilson Grand SLAMM loudspeaker, and have since found it indispensable. Earl Wild's transcriptions of the original orchestral scores have great authenticity, and Hyperion Knight plays with marvelous verve and breathtaking confidence. Notes are never fumbled or blurred, yet the performance has swing and drive---both vital if the jazz quality of the music is to reign supreme.
Knight plays a 9' Falcone, and engineer Dave Wilson has captured a big sound---close, but not overly so. The harmonic balance of the piano is preserved---especially that powerful singing tone from the left-hand register.
Mastered on Wilson's big, open-reel analog deck, this fine LP is complemented by the 20-bit CD, which has power, and is also a continuing pleasure.
SCHUBERT: Symphony 9
Josef Krips, London Symphony
Decca SXL 2045 (180gm German Limited Edition LP). Keith Wilkinson, eng. AAA. TT: 48:55
Perhaps the incandescent recording in the career of this Viennese journeyman conductor. Krips's vigorous reading is flexible in tempo, but maintains Classical proportions in this last great symphony of the period. The flowing speeds are especially helpful in the finale, where many conductors contrive mere boredom instead of Schubert's "heavenly length."
At the 1958 recording session, Decca used purist M-S miking, which true Deccaphiles prefer to the later, "Christmas Tree" arrangement. The sound is classic early Decca: incredibly vivid timbres, blooming if occasionally fierce strings, powerful bass, and a focused if not terribly large soundstage.
FRANK ZAPPA: Hot Rats
Frank Zappa, guitar; Ian Underwood, keyboards, woodwinds; Max Bennett, Shuggy Otis, bass; John Guerin, Paul Humphrey, Ron Selico, drums; Sugarcane Harris, Jean-Luc Ponty, violin; Captain Beefheart, vocals
Bizarre RS6356 (LP). Dick Kunc, et al, engs.; Zappa, prod. AAA. TT: 43:40
Rockcrit conventional wisdom sees this as Zappa's first guitar showcase, and exceptional Muzak. I sez it's the most original (though, natch, Dadaist) display of orchestration this side of Ravel, thanks to many layers of Underwood's woodwinds and keyboards, overdubbed with consummate skill. It rocks, too: Harris's violin on "Gumbo Variations" is a model of bluesy economy. Zappa the Modern Composer is also represented: "It Must Be a Camel" is Steely Dan-like cyber-bop harmonies commingled with Schoenberg.
Beware Ryko's CD. Sound is worse than LP, and the editing-room leavings Zappa restored to fill the longer format make for less coherence. (XI-5)