And I used to think our annual "Records To Die For" issue was difficult. Whew! When it came down to choosing the 40 most influential rock/pop, jazz, and classical records of the past 40 years, during which this magazine has been the most honest and enjoyable source of high-end audio journalism, my initial list contained more than 200 choices. A painful paring-down process ensued, with input from every member of the Stereophile staff.
The fundamental object of the invention is to provide...the listener a realistic impression that the intelligence is being communicated to him over two acoustic paths in the same manner as he experiences in listening to everyday acoustic intercourse....—Blumlein, et al, British Patent #394,325, issued June 14, 1933
I don't know who originated the idea of "desert island" recordings. I do know that for many years there was a BBC radio program in the UK that asked celebrities to list their choices. While reading quite a few of those lists, I had the sneaking suspicion that the respondents either hadn't entered fully into the spirit of the task, or were tailoring their choices with a view to what the radio or reading audience would think. (Interior monologue: "I am an anorak-wearing viola da gamba player. Hmmm. Birth of the Cool had better be on my list. London Calling, too, just to be safe.")
It's the grain elevators that break the monotony of driving across the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle. As you pass one, another one appears on the horizon. Thus you know you're making progress, despite the fact that the landscape remains unchanged.
As I sit down to write a year's-end musical retrospective, I feel that the old column-writing joke between Stereophile editor John Atkinson and myself about first needing a subject and, second, needing it to make sense, will not be a problem this time out. For me, the music and almost everything else about 2001 have been dwarfed in importance by the mayhem wreaked on New York on September 11.
From the days of Les Paul's chum Mary Ford, through Amanda McBroom and Jennifer Warnes, right up to Patricia Barber, audiophiles have been fascinated, and sometimes obsessed, with female vocals. I nominate to membership in that select sorority another Patricia, in this case O'Callaghan, whose third CD has just been released worldwide by her new label, Teldec.
Even though she calls her new band, 4x4, a "small" group, it's a big band—almost too big for the stage of the Knitting Factory on the night of October 11, 2000, as it makes its first American appearance. Bley's piano is so far to stage left, she has to lean against the wall and stoop under a hanging monitor speaker to address the audience. Four music stands dominate the rest of the apron—her front line of tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, trumpet, and trombone stand shoulder to shoulder, blocking the audience's view of Larry Goldings and his Hammond B3, drummer Billy Drummond, and bassist Steve Swallow, who stands 15' back and on a riser. If she'd showed up with her 17-piece band, they'd have had to have hung the horn sections from the rafters, like the sound system.
Who the heck is this guy? Is he David Johansen, the lipstick-wearing front man of the seminal glam-rock, proto-punk New York Dolls? Is he Buster Poindexter, the pompadoured and tuxedoed "Hot, Hot, Hot" soca stylist? Is he a lounge singer? A Latin artist? Johansen is all of the above, having achieved success in each incarnation.
Art and commerce are butting heads once again, now that England's popular Brit Awards include a category for classical music. Last month's inaugural nominees included some highbrow names (Rachmaninoff, Bryn Terfel), but leaned heavily on such "crossover" artists as Paul McCartney for his orchestral forays, and classical violinist Kennedy (formerly known as Nigel Kennedy) for The Kennedy Experience, his CD inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Classical sales are still down, and record companies, one suspects, are latching onto quasi-classical popular works to boost the sector's profile. For traditionalists, of course, this shows that classical music is falling further into the cultural black hole of all things Madonna, Spice Girls, and McDonald's. They're pissed—in the American sense, that is.
"Here's somebody who just loves to sing." Over the telephone, Peter Guralnick sounds sad, incredulous. "But he's unable at the end of his life to force himself into the recording studio—the fear of completion, fear of exposing your untrammeled idea to execution. What a terrible thing to lose that ability, that faith in yourself."