Recording of the Month

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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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.).

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).

Richard Lehnert Posted: Jul 29, 2011 Published: Oct 15, 1988 0 comments
Lyle Lovett: Pontiac
MCA/Curb MCA-42028 (LP), MCAD-42028 (CD). Willie Pevear, eng.; Tony Brown, Lyle Lovett, prods. DDA/ DDD. TT: 35:41

Jesse Winchester has been silent for seven years now, and we needed some mint-julep–voiced cowboy to write and croon such smooth, fluid, irresistible songs, no sharp edges and none needed, thanks. Thank God Lyle Lovett stepped in; we could have done much, much worse.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Sep 01, 2011 Published: Sep 01, 1988 1 comments
Wynton Marsalis Quartet: Live at Blues Alley
Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Marcus Roberts, piano; Robert Leslie Hurst III, bass; Jeff Watts, drums
Knozz-Moe-King (4 takes), Juan (3 takes), Just Friends, Cherokee, Delfeayo's Dilemma, Chambers of Tain, Au Privave, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, Autumn Leaves, Skain's Domain, Much Later
Columbia PC2 40675 (2 LPs), C2K 40675 (2 CDs). Tim Geelan, eng.; Steve Epstein, prod. DDA/DDD. TT: 117:39

Branford Marsalis: Random Abstract
Branford Marsalis, saxes; Kenny Kirkland, piano; Delbert Felix, bass; Lewis Nash, drums
Yes and No, Crescent City, Broadway Fools, LonJellis, I Thought About You, Lonely Woman, Steep's Theme, Yesterday's,* Crepuscule With Nellie*
Columbia OC 44055 (LP), CK 44055 (CD*). Tomoo Suzuki, eng.; Delfeayo Marsalis, prod. ADA/ADD. TTs: 58:46, 74:10*

Harrison/Blanchard: Black Pearl
Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Donald Harrison, saxes; Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Reginald Veal, bass; Carl Allen, drums
Selim Sivad, Black Pearl, Ninth Ward Strut, Infinite Heart, The Center Piece, Somewhere, Dizzy Gillespie's Hands, Toni, Birth of the Abstract
Columbia FC 44216 (LP), CK 44216 (CD). Tim Williams, eng.; George Butler, prod. ADA/ADD. TT: 53:09

"Jazz isn't dead—it just smells funny," said Frank Zappa in 1974. Back then, in those dark days of Fusion, one could be forgiven for thinking that jazz's greatest years were over, that the form had died, or at least mutated enough, in its wooing of the huge, bucks-wielding rock audience, to be unrecognizable, or at least unlovable. Then, in 1982, fresh from Art Blakey's band (Blakey remains a seemingly bottomless well of fresh young talent; Harrison/Blanchard, too, worked with him), Wynton Marsalis's eponymous debut LP was released. This was possibly one of the most important jazz releases of all time, not so much because of its musical content as its stylistic choices: intelligent, hard-edged, fully fledged acoustic jazz in the style of Miles Davis's second great quintet. Marsalis, in fact, used most of that quintet on half of that release, the other half his new band of Kirkland, Watts, Moffatt, and brother Branford.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Sep 29, 2011 Published: Aug 01, 1988 0 comments
888rotm.jpgJane Siberry: The Walking
Reprise/Duke Street 25678-1 (LP), 25678-2 (CD). John Naslen, eng.; Jane Siberry, John Switzer, John Naslen, prods. DDD. TT: 53:03

I came to Jane Siberry's music pretty late in the game. This is her fourth album, and the third released by a major label—No Borders Here and The Speckless Sky were released by Open Sky/Windham Hill a few years ago. Hadn't heard 'em (footnote 1). Didn't need to. On the basis of The Walking alone, it was clear Siberry is one of the most important singer/songwriters we've got.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Oct 27, 2011 Published: Jul 01, 1988 1 comments
788rotm.jpgWynton Marsalis: Baroque Music for Trumpets
Vivaldi: Concerto for 2 Trumpets, RV 537; Telemann: Concertos for 3 Trumpets, in B-flat and D; Pachelbel: Canon for 3 Trumpets (arr. Leppard); M. Haydn: Concerto for Trumpet; Biber: Sonata for 8 Trumpets & Orchestra
Wynton Marsalis, piccolo trumpets; Raymond Leppard, English Chamber Orchestra
CBS M 42478 (LP), MK 42478 (CD). Bud Graham & Steven Epstein, engs.; Steven Epstein, prod. DDD. TT: 47:18

There are very few musically satisfying compositions for solo trumpet. A great deal of the standard repertoire is Baroque, and that primarily of the Paradestuck (parade, or showoff piece) school. Of Wynton Marsalis's five Masterworks releases, at least three fall into this category, the present one most of all. There are gimmicks galore here, of composition, arrangement, and recording—Wynton Marsalis, genius of all trades, overdubbing himself ad infinitum through digital wizardry. The fact is, given the music, such an approach is probably the most appropriate; certainly no one listens to the Biber Sonata for 8 Trumpets for profound spiritual insight, and none of this music was written to stretch the boundaries of anything but the trumpeter's chops. In the recording of such antiphonal works, the 18th century's version of "special effects" or "stereo spectaculars," it makes sense that the soloists seem as telepathically in tune with one another's playing as possible. So why not use the same single player?

Robert Hesson Posted: Nov 21, 2011 Published: Jun 01, 1988 5 comments
Songs My Mother Taught Me
Arturo Delmoni, violin; Meg Bachman Vas, piano
Kreisler: Tempo di Menuetto; Brahms: Hungarian Dance No.1; Valdez: Gypsy Serenade; Paradis: Sicilienne; Sarasate: Romanza Andaluza; Massenet: Meditation; Tartini: Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Smetana: From the Home Country; Gluck: Melodie; Vieuxtemps: Romance "Desespoir"; Faure: Apres Un Reve; D'Ambrosio: Canzonetta; Mendelssohn: Song Without Words ("May Breeze"); Kreisler: Sicilienne et Rigaudon; Dvorak: Songs My Mother Taught Me
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFCD 877 (CD), North Star DS 0004 (LP). David Hancock, eng.; Bruce Foulke, prod. A-D. TT: 52:51

Here, at last, is one huge exception to the "Rule": an outstanding musical performance superbly recorded. Songs My Mother Taught Me is the product of a love affair between violinist Arturo Delmoni and the almost defunct practice of programming only short pieces in recitals. Delmoni's aim was to recreate that lost practice, and the result is stunning.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Dec 29, 2011 Published: May 01, 1988 1 comments
Ry Cooder: Get Rhythm
Warner Bros. 25639 (LP). Ed Cherney, eng.; Ry Cooder, prod. TT: 40:43
John Hiatt: Bring the Family
A&M SP5158 (LP). Larry Hirsch, eng.; John Chelew, prod. TT: 45:26

There are a few white men in American music—Delbert McClinton, Jerry Jeff Walker, John Fogarty, Van Morrison, Joe Ely, and Steve Earle all come to mind—whose music is consistently true, believable, honorable, and unpretentious. Ry Cooder has been one of those names since his solo debut in 1970; with Bring the Family, John Hiatt's must now be added to the list.

Bring the Family is what Robbie Robertson's overrated new album should have been (sorry, Gary Krakow): simple, strong, mature, its feet rock-solid on the ground. "Thing Called Love," in fact, sounds much like the album The Band might have made between The Band and Stage Fright.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jan 30, 2012 Published: Apr 01, 1988 0 comments
Beethoven: Sonata No.32, Op.111; Sonata No.21, Op.53 ("Waldstein")
Tibor Szasz, piano
Bainbridge BCD-6275 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 58:03

Mozart: Piano Concerto No.13, K.415; Overture to Lucio Silla, K.135
Jeremy Menuhin, piano; George Cleve, 1987 Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra
Bainbridge BCD-6273 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 36:58

Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kije
Andre Previn, Los Angeles Philharmonic
Telarc CD-80143 (CD). Jack Renner, eng.; Robert Woods, prod. DDD. TT: 63:37

Rachmaninov: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.19
Steven Kates, Montagnana cello; Carolyn Pope Kobler, Bösendorfer piano
Bainbridge BCD-6272 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 40:42

The Sounds of Trains, Vols.1 & 2*
Bainbridge BCD-6270, -6271* (CDs). Brad Miller, eng. & prod. DDD. TTs: 60:45, 50:14*

If you read my article in these pages about recording the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railway steam trains (January 1987, Vol.10 No.1), you may recall the mention of Colossus. Colossus is the name of a new digital recording system which designer Lou Dorren claims to be different from every other digital system in several ways, none of which has ever been disclosed to us. I had a chance to listen to some tapes made on it shortly after writing the C&TSRR article, but since they were made with a completely unfamiliar microphone (Mobile Fidelity Productions of Nevada's own design) and featured mainly the sounds of trains, airplanes, and other sources of potential ear damage, I couldn't really tell anything about the recording system, except that it had the kind of low end I expect from any respectable digital audio. A sonic evaluation had to wait until I heard Colossus on more familiar terms—that is, with music recordings. Now, that time has come.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Feb 22, 2012 Published: Mar 01, 1988 1 comments
Wagner: Lohengrin
Placido Domingo, Lohengrin; Jessye Norman, Elsa; Eva Randova, Ortrud; Siegmund Nimsgern, Telramund; Hans Sotin, Heinrich; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Heerrufer; Vienna State Opera Chorus; Georg Solti, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
London 421 053-1 (4 LPs), 421 053-2 (4 CDs). James Lock, John Pellowe, engs.; Christopher Raeburn, prod. DDD. TT: 222:54

It's always surprised me that Lohengrin, Wagner's most awkward, transitional, and static opera, was, for its first 100 years, his most popular. It didn't help, I suppose, that I began my study of things darkly Teutonic with The Ring and Tristan, working forward and backward from there. In Lohengrin we can hear the last reluctant pullings away from operatic conventions—especially choral—of the first half of the 19th century, and the gropings toward full-blown musikdrama—especially in Act II, scene i.

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