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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 29, 2011 5 comments
One of the things I admire most about the folks at Music Matters Jazz—the audiophile house that reissues classic Blue Note albums at 45rpm, the tracks spreads out on two slabs of 180gm virgin vinyl, tucked inside handsome gatefold covers—is that they focus on the label's later avant-garde titles as well as on its earlier hard-bop chestnuts. Highlights in that realm to date: Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, and Jackie McLean's Destination Out.

Now add to this list of treasures Sam Rivers' Fuchsia Swing Song. All four of those albums were . . .

Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 11, 2011 0 comments
In my review of Krell's FBI integrated amplifier in the July 2007 issue, I noted that $16,500 (it now costs $18,000) seemed an astonishing chunk of change to spend on a product category generally associated with "budget" gear. Now, the 2011 edition of the Stereophile Buyer's Guide lists no fewer than 19 companies selling integrated amps for five figures—one goes for $100,000!—which perhaps suggests that economic slumps prod even the well-heeled to alter their habits. There are, after all, advantages to cramming a preamplifier and a power amplifier into a single box: you need one less pair of interconnects, one less power socket, one less cabinet shelf. And if the integrated contains state-of-the-art parts, elegant circuitry, and a hefty power supply, what's the problem?

And so we have Simaudio Ltd., the veteran Canadian high-end electronics firm, leaping into this realm after 30 years of business with the Moon 700i, priced at $12,000—only two-thirds the price of the Krell, but aimed at the same downsizing but still toney demographic.

Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 22, 2015 3 comments
Transparency is a trait we all value in a hi-fi rig, and it's a concept I've long thought I understood. A system that tosses up the illusion of a clear, spacious soundstage, on which you can hear—almost see—all of the singers and/or instruments, from side to side and, especially, from front to way, way back: that's the ticket. Still, although such transparency is a sign that you've entered the realm of fine sound, it's not an absolute requirement. Tonal accuracy, dynamic range, a certain thereness that conveys the emotional heft or delicacy of music—those things come first. Without them, the most precisely delineated soundstage is like an architect's sketch of an oil painting.
Fred Kaplan Posted: Jul 30, 2015 7 comments
In the May 2015 issue, I fairly raved about Simaudio's Moon Evolution 740P line-stage preamplifier, and now here I am confronting its Moon Evolution 860A power amp. The two are companion models of sorts, with prices of $9500 for the 740P, $15,000 for the 860A—and for much of the time I spent listening to the 740P it was hooked up to the 860A, so some of the descriptions of sound in this review will seem familiar. The two components are both products of the same design shop—Simaudio, Ltd., of Quebec, which has been a prominent brand in high-end audio for 35 years—and are often marketed as a pair, so it should be no surprise if they have a common sound.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Dec 19, 2014 1 comments
With so few "major record labels" left standing, the music-loving audiophile stands alert for new venture—indies by the measure of indies—that offer very good music, excellent sound, and (is it too much to ask?) the occasional slab of vinyl. As first reported by Robert Baird in Stereophile's August 2014 issue, there is another worthy prospect worth celebrating: Smoke Sessions Records, the creation of Paul Stache, proprietor of Smoke Jazz Club on upper Broadway in NYC, where most of his discs are recorded live, with Stache himself at the controls.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 01, 2013 1 comments
I would never have placed Marc Cary and Matthew Shipp in the same category of jazz pianists, but their superb new solo discs—Cary’s For the Love of Abbey (Motema) and Shipp’s Piano Sutras (Thirsty Ear)—find them converging toward close points from different angles.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Aug 31, 2011 6 comments
Photo: Mosaic Images

Sonny's Crib, by Sonny Clark, one of the most tragic and still-underrated pianists in jazz, is one of the greatest blowing sessions on a label—Blue Note—that specialized in blowing sessions, especially in the mid-to-late '50s, when this was laid down.

September 1, 1957 was the recording date, and that's not a gratuitous factoid. First, 1957 marked a pinnacle in Clark's brief career; he recorded 18 albums that year, most of them Blue Notes, as either leader or sideman. (He would die from a heroin overdose in 1963, at the age of 31, and the only surprise was that it didn't happen much earlier.)

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Aug 06, 2008 1 comments
Sonny Rollins played at Central Park tonight, as part of the Summer Stage series, and what can I say. A month shy of 78 years old, the man is still a titan, a force of nature. Of course, nature has its cycles, and typically, Rollins in concert takes some time to crank up—you can almost see the gears grinding, then sliding, then grinding, then finally whizzing and swirling with jaw-dropping speed, effortlessly, pulling spins and loop-de-loops as they go. Tonight he hit one such peak in the second song, “Valse Hot,” where he shifted into sheets-of-sound, a la early-‘60s Coltrane. Amazing. Then the concert coasted for a while, sinking into occasional longueurs, the latter due (as usual) to his band, which simply isn’t in his league. It would be fine if they just comped along—kept up the beat, laid down the chords, plucked out the bass line—while Rollins soared to the stars and back. But he’s a very generous man, so he gives them way too much to do. Sometimes they get by (trombonist Clifton Anderson played really well), sometimes they don’t. Twice he traded bars with a bandmate—once with the drummer (who, when his turns came, played the same thing each time), once with the percussionist (who, puzzlingly, played nothing at all). A drag. But then an hour into the concert, the earth moved, as it often does at least once or twice at these events, which is why we keep going to see Sonny Rollins whenever we can. During his solo on “Sonny Please,” he locked into the rhythms of the cosmos and rode them in a dozen directions—a bop cadenza for a couple dozen bars, then an Aylerian wail, then intervals that sounded like something out of Berg (if Berg could do jazz), then something like the brushstrokes of a de Kooning action painting if de Kooning had played the tenor sax instead of the paintbrush, and on it went for 10 or 15 minutes, never repeating a phrase—except when he returned to blow the theme for a couple of bars every now and then, just to keep the rocket in orbit—all the while never losing his grip on the essentials: beauty, wit, swing, and the blues. There’s nothing like him.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Sep 23, 2007 5 comments
I reviewed Sonny Rollins’ Carnegie Hall concert last Tuesday for the New York Times. Short version: The first half, when Rollins played in trio with drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Christian McBride, was wondrous; the second half, with his usual sextet, had its moments but was comparatively a drag. I only hinted at this in the review, but the concert typified the puzzle that is Rollins’ career: why, in the past 40 of its 50-plus years, has this titan of the tenor saxophone—the most inventive living improviser in jazz—chosen to play so often with musicians so clearly beneath him?
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Aug 01, 2011 6 comments
Newk's Time was the third of four albums that Sonny Rollins recorded for Blue Note, and it's the second reissued by Music Matters Jazz, the audiophile house that does up the Blue Note classics right, each title mastered at 45rpm and spread out across two extremely quiet slabs of vinyl. MMJ has already released Sonny Rollins, Vol. 1. That leaves Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 and Night at the Village Vanguard (itself a 2-volume album). I hope they put them out too at some point. If they do (does this need to be said?), get them all.

Rollins was signed to Blue Note in 1956–57, one of several transitional periods and an almost absurdly prolific one. He recorded not only the four Blue Notes but also Saxophone Colossus and Freedom Suite for Prestige, Way Out West for Contemporary, and over a dozen sessions as sideman, for various labels, with Miles Davis, Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Dorham, and Abbey Lincoln. Listening to all these albums (for the most part, a riveting experience), you can hear the subtle-then-transformative changes in Rollins' sound—and thus in modern jazz itself.

Newk's Time is particularly revealing in this sense. . .


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