Music and Recording Features

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Ken Micallef  |  Oct 04, 2018  |  5 comments
Even as hypergentrification runs rampant, enriching financial opportunities for some and crushing small-business dreams for others, New York City remains ground zero for jazz and for the small clubs it thrives in. The New York Times may not cover jazz unless someone of the stature of Wynton Marsalis is on the bill, but the music moves ahead undeterred, taking up residence at such iconic venues as the Blue Note, Cornelia Street Café, Fat Cat, 55 Bar, Jazz Gallery, Mezzrow, Smalls, Smoke, the Village Vanguard, and Zinc Bar.
Jim Austin  |  Sep 18, 2018  |  70 comments
I attend at least a couple of dozen classical-music performances each year. I also read reviews of recordings and live performances, and have even dabbled in writing them. Why, then, do I find classical music reviews so frequently annoying?

It's the vocabulary. In these reviews I often see words that I rarely see used elsewhere: scintillating, irresistible, delightful. One venerable reviewer for Gramophone magazine has used the word "beguiling" 100 times in some 900 reviews. When I read such words, I envision the poor music critic writhing in his (occasionally her) listening chair, approaching an involuntary state of aesthetic ecstasy. It isn't a pretty image.

Sasha Matson  |  Sep 04, 2018  |  3 comments
There are the Grammys, and then there's the supermarket. Both are marks of achievement and permanence in popular recorded music. Having just begun writing this piece, I walked into the Price Chopper Supermarket in Cooperstown, New York, and what do I hear? Rita Coolidge, and the refrain from her 1977 recording of "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher." Now that's a hook—a high mark on the tree of pop.
John Atkinson  |  Aug 21, 2018  |  19 comments
The dingy green-and-ochre poster on the subway-station wall, advertising events at Queens's Forest Hills Stadium, didn't draw attention to itself. But what else is there to do on a subway platform but look at posters? I looked at it. There, near the bottom of the left column, I read: "SEPT 12: VAN MORRISON AND WILLIE NELSON & FAMILY."

Van Morrison. In concert. In Queens.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 31, 2018  |  2 comments
We who love recordings of massed voices have learned the hard way that some succeed in blending vocal clarity with acoustic resonance, while others deliver echo-muddied jumbles. Happily, some very fine choral recordings have come my way in the last six months. Along with John Atkinson's acoustically stunning engineering of recordings by the vocally gifted Portland State Chamber Choir and the all-male ensemble Cantus, these aural documents do composers proud.
John Atkinson  |  Jul 03, 2018  |  First Published: May 01, 1981  |  40 comments
The author demonstrating stereo microphone techniques at an English audio show in 1981.

For most people the terms hi-fi and stereo are synonymous, and yet it is clear that there is still a great deal of confusion over what the word "stereo" actually means. There isn't even a consensus of opinion amongst producers of records, designers of hi-fi equipment, audio critics and music lovers as to the purpose of stereo, and considering that the arguments show no sign of diminishing in intensity, it is instructive to realise that 1981 sees both the 100th anniversary of Clement Ader's first stereo experiments and the 50th anniversary of Alan Blumlein's classic patent on stereo.

Ken Micallef  |  Jun 27, 2018  |  36 comments
A stunning jazz discovery presented at a historic citadel of recording technology. That event took place June 11, when the new John Coltrane recording, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, which will be released June 29, was unveiled at Van Gelder Studio, the fabled location where the celebrated engineer recorded many jazz masterpieces.
Jim Austin  |  Jun 19, 2018  |  45 comments
Photos: Jim Austin

I'm sitting in a rented Nissan just off Highway 61—yes, that Highway 61—looking out at a Shell station through the bug-stained windshield and across a litter-strewn, not-yet-planted cotton field. It's late March, and I've just left Clarksdale, Mississippi, on my way to Memphis. Leaving Clarksdale made me thoughtful, so I've pulled over to jot down a few notes.

Robert Baird  |  May 29, 2018  |  10 comments
Notoriously opinionated and obstinate Steve Albini, a guy ever vigilant and vocal about the wicked ways of the music business, showing up in Austin, Texas, at the annual South by Southwest festival? This I had to see. After a near-miss at his Austin hotel, we spoke the next morning on the phone.

"It was unspeakable on all levels, as bad as I imagined, and in some ways worse."

Any notion that he'd somehow softened, somehow accepted the music biz as it—

Wait. What the hell am I thinking?

Robert Baird  |  May 08, 2018  |  1 comments
Saturday night in hipster Brooklyn . . . yet there could have been actual sawdust on the floor. Inside National Sawdust, a youngish crowd, many clearly ready to party, were shuffling, some were full-blown jitterbugging, while onstage the Lost Bayou Ramblers, a progressive young Cajun band who'd at first seemed a bit awed by their futuristic surroundings, were slugging beers, sawing a fiddle, squeezing an accordion, and generally finding their groove.
Sasha Matson  |  Apr 09, 2018  |  8 comments
There I was, at my son Peter's thirtieth birthday party at Black Flamingo in Brooklyn, staring at a large. floorstanding speaker cabinet. Then it hit me—young people are gathering in groups to listen and dance to high-quality music playback. Just like we used to do!
Robert Baird  |  Mar 27, 2018  |  14 comments
The loudness wars are over. The valiant but hopelessly outnumbered forces that stood against squashing the dynamics and life out of recordings, all in the name of almighty loudness, have been vanquished. Scattered across the smoking battlefield are the lifeless bodies of thousands of disappointed listeners, many so young they will never now know what it's like to hear a natural, uncompressed recording.
Robert Baird  |  Mar 06, 2018  |  4 comments
In her wild ride of a memoir, A Woman Like Me (2012), eclectic soul and R&B singer Bettye LaVette spoke of being hung over a 20th-floor balcony of a Manhattan skyscraper by her pimp boyfriend. She revealed that she'd slept with Ben E. King and Otis Redding, and had even spent a minute dabbling in prostitution. She had dropped acid with George Clinton. Finally, she had her moment of satisfaction when she delivered a knockout performance of the Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me" at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors. In the audience, all agog, were Beyoncé, Barbra Streisand, and Aretha Franklin, all more successful than she.
David Lander  |  Feb 27, 2018  |  0 comments
Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan
By Elaine M. Hayes. 419 pp. Ecco/HarperCollins, 2017. Hardbound: $27.99. Available in eBook and digital audiobook formats.

This is the second biography of Sarah Vaughan (1924–1990), whose towering vocal talents took her to the top rung of the jazz ladder, beside Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. The author, trained as a classical musician, puts far more emphasis on the singer's recordings than Leslie Gourse did in Sassy, her 1993 Vaughan biography. Hayes's grasp of music, and her definitions of the musical terms she uses, make this the better account.

Jonathan Scull  |  Feb 08, 2018  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1999  |  2 comments
Tom Jung of DMP (Digital Music Products) is known as one of digital's early adopters. He's also an outspoken proponent of Sony's Super Audio CD over DVD-Audio. As I was intending to review Sony's first SACD player, the SCD-1, I invited Tom to Kathleen's and my Manhattan loft to investigate further. Tom and son Paul, who's responsible for DMP's sales and marketing, arrived with a passel of big drives, a DSD computer controller, and electronics designed by Ed Meitner.

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