2015 Records to Die For Page 4


The Spencer Davis Group: The Best of the Spencer Davis Group
EMI America CDP 7 46598 2 (CD). 1987. AAD? TT: 34:06

If you've had your fill of Auto-Tuned and/or Pro Tooled tunes and crave musical authenticity, travel back to mid-'60s British R&B—specifically, to this collection. It may have been guitarist Spencer Davis's group, but it was Steve Winwood's singing and keyboards that put the band over the top with two Stateside megahits, "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man." The formula for all 12 tracks here is simple enough: The group pours heavy doses of truth and soul into each tune, and Winwood puts it over the top. That's all, folks!

Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems
Columbia 88875014292 (CD). 2014. Patrick Leonard, prod.; Jesse E. String, eng. DDD. TT: 36:00

Leonard Cohen recently turned 80, but this latest collection of tunes is easily his best since The Future, and that one came out 22 years ago! The Voice is deeper than ever, and while the backing tracks feel slick and a tad hollow, he's having fun, the pulse is strong, the observations keen, and the old man's still confessing long-held sins. When Cohen turns off the synths and is accompanied by flesh-and-blood musicians for "You Got Me Singing" and "Samson in New Orleans," he sounds decades younger. Methinks Cohen has a lot more great tunes left to write.


Shpongle: Museum of Consciousness
Twisted TWSCD45 (CD or 24-bit download). 2013. Raja Ram, prod.; Simon Posford, prod., eng., mix. DDD. TT: 61:15

Entheogenic: Enthymesis
Universal Symbiosis (download). 2014. Piers Oak-Rhind, prod.; Glenn Schick, mastering. DDD. TT: 77:29

If the latest Pink Floyd isn't doing it for you (me neither), there are plenty of new artists who've decided that we need modern space music that also shows off our hi-fi rigs. I've picked two for this year's R2D4, the simple reason being that these albums are wonderful music, and a blast to listen to on a good stereo or headphones with the lights off—just like the old days.

Both releases are primarily instrumental, blending acoustic instruments and samples with computer-music programming, bucketsful of special effects, and expert editing. The senses of soundstage depth, width, height, and movement in these recordings is phenomenal, creating immersive experiences that should push most audio systems beyond the walls. Subwoofers will definitely help.

Any and every recording by Shpongle is recommended; I've picked Museum of Consciousness only because it's the latest. If Jimi Hendrix had been born 30 years later and played the computer, not the guitar, it might sound something like Shpongle: shifting rhythms, complex electronic textures, and creative sonics galore.

Next is Enthymesis, the most recent album from Entheogenic, available as a download. More spacey and fluid than Shpongle, these works are still packed with impressive audio architecture that draws from DSOTM-era Floyd, global textures, and beyond. Picture waves of blissed-out hippie kids undulating on a beach in southwestern India at sunset and you're halfway there.


Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Masterpieces by Ellington
Duke Ellington, piano; and big band
Columbia Masterworks/Analogue Productions ML 4418 (180gm mono LP). 1950/2014. George Avakian, prod.; Fred Plaut, eng.; Ryan Smith, remastering. AAA. TT: 46:59

I chose the CD reissue of this album as one of my R2D4s for 2012, but now from Chad Kassem's Analogue Productions comes this QRP LP, and it's an occasion for popping corks. Released in 1950, this was Ellington's first LP, and he used the new medium to stretch out four of his biggest hits. The arrangements are jaw-droppingly gorgeous and the sound just slightly less so. Recorded by Fred Plaut, who later miked Kind of Blue and other Columbia classics, it has the dynamics, depth, and in-your-face tonal realism of a modern (mono) audiophile thumper. Among the best jazz albums ever. How about a 45rpm pressing, Chad? (XXVII-9, XXXV-2)

Dial Records: The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions
Charlie Parker, alto saxophone; Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, piano; Max Roach, drums; many more
Mosaic 260 (9 CDs). 1946–47/2014. Ross Russell, prod.; Michael Cuscuna, reissue prod.; Steve Marlowe, remastering. ADD. TT: ca 10:12:00
Available only from www.mosaicrecords.com.

This, too, is sort of a repeat—I cited a boxed set of much of this material in the 2009 R2D4—and another cause for celebration. Charlie Parker cut some of his best tracks in the studio for Dial Records in 1947. They're marvels of technique and improvisation, like no music made before or since. They've been reissued many times, from 78rpm shellacs. But this restoration, made using Bit Density Processing, removes the hiss, pops, and whoosh without removing any music. It's not audiophile quality, but it sounds way clearer; there's more bass, piano, drums, and the horns are more vivid than ever. A historic release.


Art Tatum: The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Volume Eight
Art Tatum, piano; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Red Callender, bass; Bill Douglass, drums
Pablo PACD-2405-431-2 (CD). 1956/1990. Norman Granz, prod.; Val Valentin, eng. ADD. TT: 58:00

Art Tatum: The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Volume Six
Art Tatum, piano; Red Callender, bass; Jo Jones, drums
Pablo PACD-2405-429-2 (CD). 1956/1990. Norman Granz, prod.; Val Valentin, eng. ADD. TT: 46:00

Art Tatum's versions of Gershwin tunes irked their lyricist, who said the jazz pianist should be ticketed for speeding. Ira Gershwin may have resented the fact that such rapid-fire renditions left no room for words. Or maybe he felt—some did—that the intricate musical lace only Tatum could loop, twist, and braid veiled the heart of a song: its melody.

Most listeners, though, loved Tatum's breathtaking technique and rococo style. His fingers raced like thoroughbreds, Triple Crown winners whipped around the keyboard by a mind every bit as quick. Fellow pianists of every stripe were fans, from the composing Gershwin brother, George, to the classical master Vladimir Horowitz. "God is in the house," Fats Waller announced one night, as Tatum entered a club where Waller was performing.

In the mid-1950s, not long before kidney failure killed him at age 47, two-thirds of the pianists surveyed by one major critic said they admired Tatum more than any other player. Three decades after his death, he topped a similar poll.

Producer Norman Granz taped two Tatum collections for his Pablo label in the 1950s, The Solo Masterpieces and The Group Masterpieces. Because I favor small-ensemble playing, and because tenor saxophonist Ben Webster brings consummate lyricism and a big, lush tone to the Group session preserved on Volume Eight, I'm partial to that set of standards. Volume Six stands out because Tatum performs with only a two-man rhythm section and occupies the spotlight throughout.


Jimmy Scott: All the Way
Jimmy Scott, vocals; David "Fathead" Newman, tenor saxophone; John Pisano, guitar; Kenny Barron, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Grady Tate, drums
Blue Horizon/Sire/Warner Bros. 26955-2 (CD, 24/192 download). 1992/2011. Tommy LiPuma, prod.; David Reitzas, eng.; Al Schmitt, eng., mix; Doug Sax, mastering. ADD? TT: 47:03

Jimmy Scott passed away in June 2014, but in 1992, All the Way was his comeback album. Scott came back from neglect, the record industry's apathy toward his music, and general bad luck. All the Way is a triumph, a vocal tour de force—if you're not moved by Scott's ways with such classic ballads as "Every Time We Say Goodbye," "Angel Eyes," and "My Foolish Heart," you should sell your stereo and start over. (XVI-1, XX-2)

Scott Walker + Sunn O))): Soused
4AD EAD3428A (24/96 download). 2014. Scott Walker, Peter Walsh, prods. DDD? TT: 48:32

If Jimmy Scott's voice is angelic, then Scott Walker's could be described as demonic. This meeting of Walker with Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson, of drone-metal band Sunn O))), provides the perfect background/foreground to Walker's twisted tales and crazy crooning. "When you first go into the room it's like entering a furnace . . . a furnace of sound," says Walker of working with Sunn O))). Perfect. Get Soused, strap yourself in, and turn it up to 11.

dalethorn's picture

Some nifty selections here - Molly Drake no less! And some new ones to look up.

Edit: I buy almost any kind of music, if I get a hot tip on something good that I can sample first. Most of what I buy based on Stereophile features is classical. I have a lot of jazz genre recordings, but rarely buy anything based on a Stereophile review. Jimmy Scott was featured just after he died at the age of 88. Many times people say that it's the music that matters - not so much the sound quality. But when the recording people put out a remastered album like Jimmy Scott's with attention to getting the best possible sound from it, that's where it really counts.

volvic's picture

- Sam described the Schubert "as one of the finest performances ever released of the Sonata for Arpeggione," - Really? Even better than the Rostropovich/Britten recordings from 1968? Will have to take you up on that and purchase the Meneses/Pires CD.

Great selection, concur on the Peter Grimes a great recording, thought the Britten/Pears was the standard but loved this recording with Sir Colin Davis after recently finding it......I miss Sir Colin Davis.

JDDisantis's picture

Its not that I have a problem with it but I am a little suprised that nothing really out there was listed, like Flying Lotus's You're Dead! Its a very good mix of fusion jazz, electronic, and rap and I thought it was to die for, not just because the album is titled You're Dead. I would've liked to see some more out there stuff, some fresh new "hip" stuff for the younger audience, even Aphex Twin. Just my opinion.

Jon Iverson's picture
Do my Shpongle or Entheogenic picks count?
JDDisantis's picture

Haven't heard of them but i will definitley give them a try

michaelavorgna's picture

I enjoy the Flying Lotus album and if I had heard it in time, I would have included D'Angelo's "Black Messiah".

JDDisantis's picture

Heard of Thundercat? If you like vocals that have R&B elements and such but also enjoy fantastic bass playing and an occaisional trip in a beat production from Flying Lotus, give Stephen Bruner (Thundercat) a listen. His Apocolypse album is one of my all time favorites and his last song "A Message For Austin//Praise The Lord//Enter The Void" is an amazing live peice set made to memorialize the passing of one of his best friends, Austin Peralta.

michaelavorgna's picture

But I will check him out, thanks.

Alan Tomlinson's picture

Who Are You(which is a damn fine album) was the last Who album with Keith Moon drumming, not Who By Numbers.


Alan Tomlinson

Littlefire 1974's picture

Hey Alan, thank you, I stand corrected, sort of. Keith passed away 9/7/1978 and Who Are You debuted on the Billboard LPs chart dated 9/9/78 (two days later). But it was released on August 18, so in fact Who By Numbers wasn't the last to be released before Keith's death. But I didn't mean to imply that WBN was the last album with Keith drumming. The great Mr. Moon is obviously all over Who Are You.

carlosgallardo's picture

In the internet era, why you don't put a sample of the records to listen to ?
I really trust your words, but I trust my ears more.

John Atkinson's picture
carlosgallardo wrote:
In the internet era, why you don't put a sample of the records to listen to ?

Copyright issues make hosting samples problematic. We have thought of providing Spotify or Tidal links. Maybe next time.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
If you go to the Stereophile Facebook Page - www.facebook.com/stereophilemag - David Solomon of Tidal has listed Tidal links to all the recordings we recommend.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anon2's picture

Thanks for the insightful recommendations. A recent Stereophile review of new recordings led to a very rewarding SACD purchase a couple of months ago.

I can vouch for the CSO Scheherazade recording. It is among the very best recordings of this work. For those who are CD/SACD purchasers, you can get this recording of Scheherazade along with the fascinating and rare recording of the Song of the Nightingale by Stravinsky.

Other great recordings of Scheherazade include the 1990 recording on Telarc with Sir Charles Mackerras. The 1960s BPO recording on DG with Herbert von Karajan has the most riveting first 2 minutes of the 3rd movement I have heard. If you can find it (either on LP or CD) there is a superb Scheherazade with Leopold Stokowski directing the RPO, also on RCA.

DG, on its Virtuoso series, re-released a very strong rendering of this work with the Orchestre de l'Opera Bastille, directed by Myung-Whun Chung. This issue has an excellent Firebird Suite to round out the CD.

This article's recommended recording of Scheherazade is a stand-out. It is among the best recordings of the work. It is also among the best recordings and performances we have from the grand epoch of RCA Living Stereo, Fritz Reiner and the CSO.

It is unfortunate, despite its very worthy CSO Resound series of recordings, that we no longer have the voluminous output of recordings from the CSO that this great ensemble churned out during the eras of such great conductors as Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Rafael Kubelick, Carlo Maria Giulini, Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Pierre Boulez.

Nonetheless, Bernard Haitink has produced some recent recordings on the CSO Resound series that will stand among the other monumental achievements of this ensemble's vast recorded legacy.

volvic's picture

Can't argue with those recommendations. Try also if you can find the Kondrashin on Philips as well as the MSO with Dutoit from the early 80's. I also have the Stokowski with the LSO which is also a fine performance and a few months ago editor Atkinson said he loved the Beecham version which I also have and forgot how lovely that performance is. Guess I have way too many versions. Great performances all.

Anon2's picture

Perhaps it's not on the official best-of-Scheherazade lists, but a surprise discovery was the recording made with the NYPO directed by Yuri Temirkanov. This is an early 1990s recording on RCA Red Seal.

While we are on the subject of Yuri Temirkanov, we should also mention the very excellent recording he made, also on RCA Red Seal, of the Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (recorded in Henry Wood Hall).

From the same early 1990s time frame, there was an equally excellent recording of Tchaikovsky's complete Nutcracker, directed by Yuri Temirkanov and the Royal Philharmonic. Again, the recording is was made by RCA Red Seal. This recording may only be available in the used market on amazon.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

So much retread, except ... Hal, by Yasmine Hamdan, on Ya Nass, is like sun breaking thru a wall of stale predictability.

RCA Scheherazade, Maiden Voyage and Best of Spencer Davis, really? How old are you people, 103? I never ever buy music based on a review, having been burned umpteen times -- reviewers are such constipated bugs. But, believe me, Ya Nass is new and original. The tune Hal is outstanding.

Hal by Yasmine Hamdan was the ONLY bright spot in Jim Jarmusch's latest, Only Lovers Left Alive (not recommended). She appeared on BBC's Later with Jools Holland (also not recommended -- what can one expect from Squeeze's keyboardist but pop pap?). Nevertheless, some people are noticing -- she's broken thru the wall of noise.

Have long ago moved away from "world music." But this is different. This is soul music, which, btw, is no longer made in the US, blacks having sold out and gotten rich, e.g., Nicki Manaj and Kanye West.

Some heartbreak here.

damir's picture

I am sorry to say this but you guys listen to some of the most boring, simpleton and pompous music I have ever listened to.

Thanks to Spotify I was able to listen to most of your recommended music. It was cringe worthy. Things you write about some of it... Are you guys all high when you do your reviews?

The music you listen to plain sucks and most of it would sound ok even on lowest quality HiFi equipment.

Leonard Cohen, Coldplay, Neil Young... and that's it. Then again, Coldplay?!

Everything else was... godawful.

People, do you even know there is so much more to music than those plain and boring old recordings?!

You need new blood, ASAP!

Those were not records to die for, those were records one would die of.

John Atkinson's picture
damir wrote:
Thanks to Spotify I was able to listen to most of your recommended music. It was cringe worthy. Things you write about some of it... Are you guys all high when you do your reviews?...The music you listen to plain sucks...

Perhaps your self-awareness needs tweaking, damir. Your taste in music is your taste, period, It is neither better nor worse than anyone else's.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dalethorn's picture

I don't often find something to purchase from the pop music reviews, or even jazz reviews in spite of my growing jazz collection. But the old mostly-forgotten reviews of interesting and lesser-known classical recordings have been a treasure trove. I'd bet there are others who've found the same, in those other genres as well.

damir's picture

I'm not talking abut music tastes.

I am talking about:

1. Quality of the production
2. Quality of musicianship
3. Literary merit
4. Level of induced emotional response
5. Level of induced rational response

Most of those songs have abysmal production quality, lyrics you could laugh at, provoke zero emotional response and for sure offer nothing that would make you think.

They are useless to evaluate HiFi equipment.

Comments like "Oh yes, this song sounds wonderfully layered" while listening to a recording of a pop song from 60's remind me of 10.000 USD network cable snake oil talk "Oh yes, those bits and bytes flow much nicer now, my music is wonderful!"

You really should get some new blood. There is real, wonderful music out there, produced in 2015 that offers all you would need to really evaluate HiFi equipment. At the same time, you would connect with the potential customers that don't live in the past.

Spotify offers your customers to listen to the same songs your reviewers were using while evaluating equipment. I am not the only one that said "What in a world is he talking about? This song is rubbish, there is no production or art value in it to be able to discern anything meaningful."

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Go for it, damir. These crusty old snobs need a bit of shaking up. They prattle, for instance, about the wonderfulness of "old" music. Gee, how deep. I know the music of Thomas Luis de Victoria, Ellington of all eras, etc. I probably know more JS Bach than most here. Most reviewers and posters have nothing to teach me, or anyone else. They're smug and dull. Like I said, I never buy music on the basis of reviews, having been burned umpteen times. Instead, I look at lists like these merely out of curiosity and to learn about music which I'm not familiar with. Of course, pseudohip bugs always list obscure, worthless music, just so they can be one up over everyone else.

One thing I cannot stand are jazz snobs or classical snobs. I can''t stand snobs who put down George Jones or Patsy Cline.

Mindless pop drones outnumber all other forms of life on the planet, even cockroaches: Jackson Brown, really? Do we need to hear STILL more about the Who, possibly the most overexposed pop group, after the Beatles?

And why is there so little depth here in the blues (the real blues, not Keb Mo), the motherload of American music?

Personally, I don't give a flying rat's a$$ about sound quality. It's the music that matters, above all else. It's a mere incidental bonus if the sound is good. For instance, my favorite version of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is the one recorded by Tureck for Decca in the '60s, which has loud tape hiss. Schnabel's Beethoven Sonatas, recorded in the mid 1930s, is desert island music for me. By comparison, the highly lauded RCA's and Mercury's are mostly dreary pop classical.

Taste and discernment matter. Just watched the Grammys (DVR), to see what's up with commercial pop. You couldn't ask for a more blatant example of music in which taste and discernment DON'T matter.

PS. Don't see how you could sample all the music on Spotify, as you claim. Arvo Part, Fur Anna Maria, for example, is not available there.

PondWatcher's picture

Editors!!! Rejoice in the irony!!!!

Anon2's picture

Stereophile recently gave a review of a superb 21 year old pianist. There was also a review of a very youthful European guitarist. Another story featured a young manufacturer of string instruments.

There is no anti-youth bias in the greater body of Stereophile's music industry assessments and reports. There is equal weight given to the up-and-coming and to the established in its pages.

These young performers are but two examples of young performers--more youthful, I'd bet, than a couple of our "youth-oriented" commenters on this discussion thread--to be found if one would bother to delve deeper into Stereophile's website and magazine.

If these performers are playing 100-200 year old music, then that's simply a testament of the success of the genres and composers of the music that they perform. A perusal of the wider music industry press and recordings would demonstrate no shortage of young people devoting themselves to "old music." Asia, a youthful and up-and-coming continent writ-large, exemplifies these trends in music (Western and Eastern).

Meanwhile, I'll look for the fountain of youth, and keep reading Stereophile's superb assessments of MANY types of recordings. It's good that some of us are paying attention to Stereophile's overall track record, and not throwing some rhetorical bombs towards one review of very context-specific recordings.

Stereophile, keep up the good work with your music review. We'll take the "signal to noise ratio" in its appropriate measure on some of the less-enlightened comments found underneath your reports.

PredatorZ's picture

Arg, count me out if you think coldplay is worthy of recommendation, pure pop drivel, the writer lost all credibility for me at that point. To each his own obviously, and I am sure the boys in coldplay have some fans, but not me, no not ever. Almost worthy of my subscription cancellation, why support a magazine with views so opposite of my tastes. I only have a few bands I truly hate, and these gents are at the top of the dung heap for me. Give me some Patricia Barber or Lamb of God, Ill throw extra ducats they're way before I would torture myself with trifle pop. Sorry, had to vent.... a paying customer !