Revinylization #2: Frog Pad Records, Electric Recording Company, Blue Note Tone Poet

Next to Christmas carols, Sousa marches, and the collected works of Bobby "Boris" Pickett, there's no more seasonal music than bluegrass, which comes to life at the 30 or so major outdoor festivals and scores of smaller events that take place every summer throughout the US. As I write this, on the day after Thanksgiving, 2019's bluegrass season is only a memory, and the 2020 season is more than a half a year away.

So I'm cheered to have a bluegrass reissue to recommend this month: the 20th anniversary LP release of Yonder Mountain String Band's first album, Elevation (2LPs, Frog Pad Records, no catalog number). Recorded when the band members were in their 20s, and produced by Dobro ace Sally Van Meter, who also plays on the album's "40 Miles from Denver," Elevation is an auspicious debut: four very talented pickers who brought to the genre their own brand of songwriting, with unusual chord sequences and engaging lyrics that went well beyond the "My little darlin' brings me corn in a jar" norm. The recording quality on the new LP version of Elevation is very good, if lacking the last word in top-end extension, and the pressing is clean and noise-free. This is a great starting place for listeners who are new to the band.

The years between the original release of Elevation and this reissue were bookended by tragedies. The recording was made at Rancho DeVille, the studio that was founded by Hot Rize's beloved guitarist Charles Sawtelle, who died of leukemia just months before the band started recording. And not long before this reissue, YMSB's founding mandolinist, Jeff Austin, passed away, aged 45. But the band endures, now with the amazing fiddler/ singer Allie Kral (Green Mountain Grass) as a permanent member.

The first release by the Electric Recording Company, which went on sale at the end of 2012, was a reissue of the exceedingly rare seven-LP monaural set Mozart à Paris (Pathé Marconi DTX 191–197), cut from the original master tapes with an all-tube remastering chain including a rebuilt mono cutting head. Not content to offer such a painstakingly remastered set in slapdash packaging, ERC founder Pete Hutchison devoted months to recreating the original release's box and booklet, an effort that included haunting Savile Row for the precisely correct silk twist (the Tailor of Gloucester kind, not the Chubby Checker kind).

ERC's latest reissue posed a similar challenge: It's a recording of Bach's six Sonatas for Violin and Clavier, played by violinist Michèle Auclair, accompanied by Marie-Claire Alain—on organ, rather than the far more common harpsichord or piano (Les Discophiles Français, DF 209–210). The original 1957 release of this two-LP mono set came packaged in a gatefold sleeve bound in dark red cloth, with gold lettering on the outside. Hutchison secured the precisely correct cloth from a bookbinder in Italy, and all 99 copies of this limited-edition reissue are assembled by hand in London. The price is steep at £900—but as one can see at and other such sites for record collectors, original copies, on the rare occasion they become available, sell for a great deal more.


Auclair and Alain's Bach is intense and deliberate, with sound to match. When I first played this exquisitely packaged set, my impression was that the recording, which I'd never before heard, sounded similar to the famous (and famously melancholy) recordings of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas made in the 1950s by Johanna Martzy: a violin sound with exceptional body and a dramatically faithful (but not antiseptically stark) portrayal of the player's considerable technique. (Just listen to how Auclair sneaks up on her note attacks in the largo of Sonata No.5 in F minor: The effect is almost chilling—at least it would be if the music weren't so faith-affirming.) Add to that Alain's understated approach to the organ obbligato, captured with thick tonal colors and extraordinary texture, as in the voicing used in the adagio of Sonata No.3 in E major.

Also captured in the grooves is a room sound that, for reasons I'm unable to describe, contributes to the music's emotional weight, especially when listening late at night. The information in the groove is physical, colorful, musically convincing, and altogether hypnotic; the spaces between the notes and all of the lead-in and lead-out grooves are deathly silent.

This may be ERC's most beautiful record, and that's saying something.

The final selection on Sam Rivers' Contours (Blue Note ST-84206), which was reissued not long ago as part of Blue Note's Tone Poet series, is called "Mellifluous Cacophony," and I can't think of a better description of the sound produced by the quintet that made it: Rivers on flute and tenor and soprano saxes; Freddie Hubbard on trumpet; Herbie Hancock on piano; Ron Carter on bass; and Joe Chambers on drums.


The music is at times challenging—sonic wallpaper this ain't—but always edge-of-your-seat exciting. And in this expert remastering, the grooves are so quiet that the opening numbers on both sides seldom fail to startle me, and the recording quality is exceptional. Rivers' soprano sax solo in "Point of Many Returns," with its double-harmonic scale colorings, sounds and feels like it's in the room. Likewise, Ron Carter's colorful/physical accompaniment to Freddie Hubbard's extended trumpet solo in "Dance of the Tripedal." And the sheer beauty of the sound of Herbie Hancock's piano chording disputes the accepted wisdom that engineer Rudy Van Gelder tended to shortchange that instrument. As a bonus—as with all of the reissues in the Tone Poet series—Contours is packaged in a gatefold sleeve, illustrated with in-the-studio photos of the five musicians, most of whom look as impossibly young as this music sounds.

A final recommendation for this month: When deciding what music I'd like to hear from one moment to the next, I seldom choose recordings for their ability to let my hi-fi sound its best. But were I to do so, and in deference to my high-efficiency, tube-and-horn–enhanced system's ability to sound physical when called for, I would choose without hesitation the recent reissue, from Speakers Corner, of The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan (Atlantic/Speakers Corner 1435). This 1964 collection of compositions by Hasaan Ibn Ali, a peerlessly adventurous pianist whose only commercial recordings are contained in these grooves, was recorded by Tom Dowd with remarkably vivid sound and without the treble edge that mars some of that engineer's work. Roach's drumming was captured with uncanny impact, and when the trio hits its stride, as in the album opener "Three-Four vs. Six-Eight Four-Four Ways," the music and sound are unignorable. The all-analog remastering and noiseless pressing are up to Speakers Corner's usual high standards. You need this record!

mmole's picture

Luckily this set is sold out. I really wanted it but to be truthful, I really can't afford &3153;900.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

AD can wait for CD box set :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... use the time to verify that his Sony PlayStation 1 is still functional.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

AD is currently using the PlayStation to play 'Final Fantasy' and 'The Last of Us' :-) .........

funambulistic's picture

I would be willing to shell out @7749\63# for such a gem!

funambulistic's picture

- now the price is fixed and we look like idiots!

mmole's picture

...for me!