Tag Archives: Audiophile

The Story Of Herbie Hancock, Vinyl Me Please Boxed Set Part 4: The Piano and 1+1

Today in my listening report to the new Vinyl Me, Please box set called The Story Of Herbie Hancock we’ll explore two very different side of this influential artist’s career.  If you missed the first portions of this review series, please click here and here and here for Parts 1 & 2 & 3 respectively.  

The Piano

One of the enlightening things about exploring this boxed set is the discovery that Herbie had many albums released only in Japan. The Piano, from 1979, is one of them and artistically I can’t understand why this album was put out in the United States back in the day. 

I mean, sure it was a far cry from the jazz-fueled funk of Head Hunters and Man Child, but I would think that some of Herbie’s fans would’ve loved this, his first and only solo acoustic piano recording.  

The good news is that we can re-discover this wonderful album today here in the states. According to his website, a “‘Direct-to-Disc’ recording technique was employed, meaning that Hancock had to consecutively play three to four songs live in one take, making sure not to exceed the maximum recording time of 16 minutes. For most musicians, the conditions would be an impediment, but Hancock seized these severe limitations as a challenge and opportunity to focus his creativity.”

The title of The Piano tells you exactly what to expect: Herbie Hancock playing solo in all his glory. Here he tackles many favorite standards including: “My Funny Valentine,” “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.”  Side two is filled with four equally intimate and mesmerizing originals including “Sonrisa” which later appeared on the 1+1 collection, and “Harvest Time” (which was recorded by Flora Purim’s sister Yana in the late 1980s).

The fidelity on this recording is quite fantastic. I inquired about the source used in making this disc and found out from the Vinyl Me Please folks that while The Piano was indeed recorded direct to disc, a safety tape copy was made back in the day. That original tape copy was transferred to a new tape for the purposes of creating this set and from which Bernie Grundman cut new lacquers for this release. Purists will thus be happy to know this is still an analog recording and while it is arguably a generation down from the master disc, it is still fantastic sounding plus we get the benefit of Mr. Grundman’s mastering expertise to bring out the most from this music. Someday I’ll be curious to hear an original Japanese pressing of this to compare and contrast.

Happily, the album is well centered and dead quiet which is essential for music like this. At risk of sounding like a broken record, I still find it a wonder that this album didn’t get any sort of release in the United States back in the day (especially given that he put out an acoustic piano duets album with Chick Corea around that time). 

1+1

This is there all digital recording in The Story Of Herbie Hancock boxed set and it is notable for several things. First and foremost, it doesn’t sound or even feel remotely digital. Proof that with proper recording techniques and good mastering digital recordings can sound real good (sorry analog purists!).  Secondly, as far as I can tell this marks the first time this 1997 album of duets by Hancock with longtime friend and bandmate Wayne Shorter has appeared on vinyl.  

As with the other releases in the set, the quality on this release is very high, pressed on thick dark 180-gram vinyl that is well centered. I can’t emphasize this enough because with music like this where you have pure saxophone and acoustic piano playing, with long held notes and such, any imperfection would ruin the music, causing it to sway in and out of tune.  

The performances are exemplary of course, with the two artists playing off one another, inspiring melodic development and even taking some chances which mostly work really well. I’m especially fond of Wayne Shorter’s Satie-esque “Aug San Suu Kyi” but this is one of those albums that is best experienced as a whole… many musical riches will emerge with each listen. 

And, that is really the essence of Herbie Hancock’s music, in a way. Timeless, challenging and beautiful sounds that give you rich rewards for the price of your attention.  You should listen…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Why Are The Violent Femmes An Important American Music Band?

I remember trying to explain to a friend in college why he needed to listen to a band called The Violent Femmes.

“They’re fun,” I said.

My friend, who had not fully embraced punk and new wave by that point gave me that dubious questioning look to which I replied something like: ‘Really… they are like a punk folk rock trio.’

Then I played him a track from their first album and I think my friend was immediately into it. 

At that moment, it would have been handy if I could have given him a “greatest hits” album but in 1983 those hits hadn’t really happened yet. There was just that first album. But what a debut it is with instant classics like “Kiss Off,” “Blister In The Sun” and “Gone Daddy Gone.”  But there was much more to come…

Fast forward five albums and twice as many years later and the band issued a nifty compilation called Add It Up (1981-1993). I thought this was only on CD by then.  Apparently, it did get a vinyl release somewhere (I only see copies from Greece on Discogs!) but it must have been pretty limited as I never saw a copy anywhere. Now, celebrating the band’s 40th Anniversary, this indeed handy hits-and-more album has been issued in vinyl and I couldn’t be happier.

As an end-to-end listening experience, Add It Up (1981-1993)is remarkably coherent given it was made from a variety of sources including demos, spoken word “interstitials,” phone messages, live recordings and outtakes as well as fan favorites.  

The vinyl is dark, thick and well centered  so all those check marks tick off just fine. Craft Recordings did a nice job on the packaging as well. Perhaps my only complaint is that the inner-sleeves seem a bit tight on the records and sounded a little grainy pulling them out, so I worried about possible scratching (easily resolved by putting each disc in their own new sleeves, but be aware of this if you decide to get the album). 

At the end of the day comes the music and here the watch word is, indeed, fun! 

If you like The Violent Femmes, you should definitely get Add It Up (1981-1993). If you are just getting into the band, this is actually not a bad place to expand your horizons after getting the first album. One of the best debuts ever, it remains an essential of ‘80s rock. This music holds up and feels timeless, relevant and delivering an alternative life viewpoint that is important to at least understand if not embrace. I get all that from a three minute pop song?  You bet!  

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Record Store Day Triple Vinyl Treat: Chicago/The Blues/Today!

I’ve long known about (and been a fan of) the Harry Smith Anthology Of Folk Music from the early 1950s which is highly regarded as a major influence on thousands of musicians in the 1960s. Much of the music in that fabulous set was connective tissue pulling together musicians who emerged in the psychedelic movement — from The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver to  Janis Joplin and many others.

What I somehow missed was that in 1966 Vanguard Records put out a kind of equivalent series of albums covering the Chicago electric blues scene, called Chicago/The Blues/Today! The original album series of three individual LPs have become sought after collectors items commanding significant dollars on websites like Discogs and Popsike. For Record Store Day, these individual albums have been neatly compiled into a handy triple-gatefold package.

The set was curated by musician, author, historian and producer Samuel Charters who brought numerous notable Midwestern blues artists together to record short sets showcasing the then-modern electric Chicago blues sound. The result was a batch of sizzling recordings including by Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Homesick James, Walter Horton, Otis Spann, Jimmy (aka James) Cotton and Willie Dixon. 

The album may have helped turn late-1960s and ‘70s stars onto these sounds but more importantly it likely helped bring some much needed notoriety to established American blues musicians who were being overshadowed by rising stars. 

Certainly, the British blues movement was already afoot by that time this album was released. The Rolling Stones recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago in 1964 and 1965 and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were already making waves with its shining star Eric Clapton that year as well.  The Lovin’ Spoonful was exploring its electrified jug-band folk-blues-rock out of New York and by 1965 The Butterfield Blues Band was already making waves with their first release on Elektra Records. 

So it is great that Vanguard issued this set bringing much deserved attention the music and these musicians. This is kind of an audio encyclopedia of blues form including now-classics such as “It Hurts Me Too,” “All Night Long,” “Rocket 88,” “Dust My Broom,” “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and many others. I’m still wrapping my head around all this music so no deep favorites have emerged although I really liked Otis Rush’s “Everything Going To Turn Out Alright” which feels pretty much like an instrumental version of “I Think Its Gonna Work Out Fine” (the first Grammy nominated hit by Ike & Tina Turner, later covered by Bruce Springsteen in concert in the 1970s)

This new edition features all-analog mastering from the original stereo tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, pressed on 180-gram black vinyl at MPO in Europe. The sound is terrific and the pressings are well centered and quiet.  The album includes the original album liner notes and cover designs of the original issue — each inner sleeve is effectively a reproduction of the original LP cover — and there is an updated essay from the 1999 CD edition. 

All in all, I really like Chicago/The Blues/Today!  If you missed it on Record Store Day, do try to pick up a copy as its a great addition to any basic blues collection.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

How Do You Explain Our Hobby to A Non-Audiophile?

Noted humorist Mark Twain once said, “we are all ignorant, just about different things.” I have also heard a variation that goes – “we are all ignorant about something.” It seems to make sense that while any of us are knowledgeable about some, maybe even many things, we are not experts on everything. High performance audio included.

When we look at the number of audiophiles who spend ever increasing sums of money on a musical playback system and compare that to everyday, plain ole music lovers, we easily find a schism in the numbers. How many audiophiles there are compared to how many music lovers there are makes our hobby indiscernibly small. “i” somethings or other sell in the tens of millions, maybe even more. Most all play music. Yes, not great music but music none the less. How many, by comparison, world class, best of the best amps sell each year? 

For most listeners, taking a smart phone and connecting it to some type of Bluetooth device is wonderful. A magical feeling usually ensues. Better still is connecting that smart device to a home network allowing listeners to enjoy music stored on their “i whatever” – all over the house. And of course, there are devices that play music on demand – “Alexa, play some jazz” and poof, jazz plays. 

If this is the extent of real world, practical experience an ordinary, everyday music aficionado uses to play a song, and little is known about better playback methods, how does an audiophile explain the hobby to one who could care less about dynamics and standing waves? Try doing so may enact a deer in the headlights look, and an internal question that resembles “what is he talking about?” 

How then do we, as music lovers, as listeners who want something better and are prepared to pay to have it, even as audiophiles, explain our hobby to someone who feels an iPhone is all the musical excellence one should ever req uire? How do you explain the driving experience of a Ferrari to a person who feels a scooter is all one needs to get around? 

Over the years, I’ve had any number of non-audiophiles in my audio room. I try to explain what they first see, most notably the acoustical panels on the walls. In all honesty, the correct answer to “what do all these things hanging on the walls do?” is steeped in physics. Providing an accurate answer relies on discussing the conversion of sonic energy to heat and the resultant reduction of harmful reflected sound waves. 

When asked that particular question, however, I usually stumble around with some sort of answer like “oh, they help make music sound better.” No one, not one single person has ever asked me “how?” I seriously doubt anyone is substantively interested in the laws of thermal dynamics and using kinetic energy to convert sound energy to heat, thus nulling reflected sound and improving sonics. 

Less still do non audiophiles seem to be even remotely informed about the various components in my audio rack. “What is that thing with the blue light?” When I answer “that’s a DAC” I typically see an eyebrow bending and quizzical look on their face. “What on Earth is a DAC?” comes the reply. I sometimes feel compelled to answer, “why not ask Alexa?” 

Most people who find their way to my audio room are polite enough to not ask the daring question about how much things cost. Because in the real world, revealing to a non-audiophile the cost of our hobby can be markedly overwhelming. When a big box system may be bought for somewhere around a thousand dollars, and Alexa and a music subscription may be purchased for less than a $100.00, an audio system investment of five or six figures, let alone more, will usually impart an attitude best summed up by “seriously?” “Just to play a song?” 

A dealer friend of mine has a neighbor who loves golf. Adores it. Plays nearly every weekend and during the week if possible. He has thousands of dollars invested in the latest technology in woods (which is a misnomer as drivers, 3 and 5 woods are seldom made from wood anymore), irons, putters, bags and shoes. Who knows how much he has invested in golf clubs. A Scotty Cameron putter is about $400.00 or thereabouts. Add in the rest of the bag and thousands of dollars is very realistic. 

My dealer friend’s neighbor does not stop there, however. He takes trips to world class golf venues, stays in magnificent resorts and spends incredible amounts of money sufficing the effort of hitting a ball into a hole in the ground. Now don’t misunderstand me, I love golf. I don’t play anymore, but I have visited, and played some of the most hallowed golf venues in the country. I am not criticizing golf by any stretch. I am merely using it as an example of how any of us can choose to use our spare time – and the resultant cost in the effort. Should it be different for an audio system? 

And for some reason I cannot seem to fathom or understand, other hobbies costing considerable disposable income seem perfectly acceptable to most folks. Audio, on the other hand, yields quizzical looks with that “what” expression on their face. If I have six figures in my audio system, how is that worse than a guy who spends an equal amount of money on a sports car – and then drives it only when the weather is nice and never to a destination, just out of the garage, around for a while and back? 

Admit it, we audiophiles face a difficult road in trying to make those who have yet to drink the Kool Aid understand. We have these machines to play a song that cost a fortune, need all these ancillary things to help them out, demand precise adjustment, and are owned by seldom satisfied people who are always looking for something better. 

In the end, we may best find a workaround by inviting that non-audiophile to sit in the listening chair, play a brilliantly well recorded song and allow the listener to hear a previously unknown experience. Proofs in the pudding. And in this case, listening is all the explanation one should ever need. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Record Store Day Preview: Jazz Dispensary’s Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2

I’ve written about the fine Jazz Dispensary sampler series from Craft Recordings in the past. These are thoughtfully curated collections of rare funky soul-jazz sides culled from the label archives of parent company Concord Music which controls the catalogs of Fantasy, Prestige, Milestone, Fania and many other labels. 

Why do you need to own these collections? Well as a budding collector of soul-jazz and groove jazz titles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s I can attest to several things:  

  1. These albums are often hard to find and if you do they can be pricey in decent condition
  2. If you do find them used, they are often in “well loved” to downright beat up and abused condition. These records were great party albums often played on average to low quality automatic record changers of the day, so people grooving and dancing to the tunes didn’t much think about taking care of their vinyl.  and… 
  3. Many of these albums are good but usually have one or two standout tracks which is what DJs tend to zero in on, those grooves with the killer beats and drum breaks and a combination of strong songs and good production vibes. 

So, the concept underlying Jazz Dispensary’s series is useful. It gives you the intrepid soul-jazz collector a chance to hear some of these great grooves in a form that makes for a fun party album in its own right, without breaking your bank for pricey rarities.  On this latest edition, guest curator Doyle Davis (of Grimey’s, a used records and books store in Nashville) offers up a second dose of his Dank D-Funk Blend

While the first edition focused on the Prestige Records vaults, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 taps into other labels in the company’s roster.

You’ll hear the Afro-Cuban beats of Ray Barretto’s peace love plea “Together,” Charles Earland’s fiery “Letha” and Leon Spencer groovy take on Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.” Esther Marrow breaks out a funky “Things Ain’t Right.”

I really loved the title track of Pleasure’s 1977 LP Joyous, one of those groups I’ve never heard of before or even seen out in the wilds of crate digging.  Cal Tjader surprisingly good cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” gives way to  Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers 1968 smoker “Heat!” 

There is even a solid Johnny “Guitar” Watson tune here from 1973 — “You’ve Got a Hard Head” — before he descended into the the disappointing DJM Records disco era.

All tracks on The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 are reportedly mastered from their original analog tapes. The only one of these I already had in my collection is the Pucho track which sounds very comparable to my original pressing, with perhaps a bit more crisp detail on the high end. It is also mastered a bit more quietly than my original pressing so I had to turn up my amp a bit after switching albums. 

The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is pressed on surprisingly quiet and — happily —well centered orange-red swirl, fire-colored vinyl which was made at Memphis Record Pressing.  A limited edition of 3800 copies, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is packaged in a quite stunning jacked featuring embossed artwork by Argentinian artist Mariano Peccinetti, who designed the previous volume’s cover.  

The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is a fun jam. Put it on your Record Store Day list and be sure to grab a copy if you can. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Record Store Day Preview: Van Dyke Parks & Veronica Valerio Rediscover America On Culture-Bridging New Vinyl EP, CD & Stream

When I first read that there would be a new Van Dyke Parks (VDP) collaboration recording coming out I got excited. When I learned the cover art was being created by Klaus Voormann, I started buzzing. Then, when I first heard the advance CD, I was mesmerized both by Veronica Valerio’s voice, the strong melodies within and how VDP wove wonderfully unconventional yet somehow traditional, haunting orchestral arrangements in and around it all.   

I have since played Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America many times and realize that what is especially exciting about this music is that it bridges cultures with one foot in the past and another in the future. While it sounds very much like VDP, because of the collaboration it all feels fresh.

It is important to recognize that this album was crafted during the pandemic, making its creation extra special, not only breaking down cultural barriers but also breaking down the walls of isolation. In VDP’s words: “This is a shared vision of what America is all about. I’m trying to learn how to cross the aisles in my work and I’m exploring with the freedom that Verónica has allowed me.”

Verónica Valerio is a singer, songwriter and harpist born in Veracruz, Mexico. There she studied music and later in New York. She has lectured at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. She has performed her music around the world, anchored in the son jarocho musical style.  According to the Wiki this: “represents a fusion of Spanish (Andalusian and Canary Islander) and African musical elements, reflecting the population which evolved in the region from Spanish colonial times.”

This is all really important as Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America sounds quite unlike any Spanish language recording I’ve heard before, yet it sounds familiar at the same time. It has elements of styles I have heard but ultimately there is a distinctive ebb and flow, perhaps due to to Valerio’s vocal phrasing and harp playing which VDP responded to in collaboration. From the press materials, again we gain some insight to their approach from VDP:

“We got this record done with a fabulous group of string players — all long-distance. In quarantine! In isolation! She would send me a voice and a harp. Or maybe voice, harp and percussionist or violinist. And I would surround that with a chamber orchestra — seven strings, five woodwinds, so forth. Amazing adventure for me.”

And it is this adventuresome spirit where VDP’s arrangements lift off into the stratosphere, making this music at times sound like a soundtrack to an alternate universe version of Disney’s Coco. I mean that in the best possible way (I loved Coco!)

“Cielito Lindo,”with its periodic hip hop-esque beat-drops could be a dance track in a perfect world.  “The Flight Of The Guacamaya” has a lovely lilt and the hook on “Camino A Casa” could be a hit. While opening track “Veracruz” felt to me like a love letter to Ary Barrosa’s classic “Brazil,” it was actually written years earlier by Agustín Lara (I learned something new today!) 

VDP has explored this creative approach over the years, no doubt, but this collaboration is even more outside the box than others I’ve heard (a good thing!).  For those of you who know VDP’s albums, imagine if Spanish-leaning songs like “Palm Desert” and “Public Domain” (from 1967’s Song Cycle) went on a deep cruise along the coast of Mexico.  

You can also hear hints of this on his 2019 collaboration with Gaby Moreno called Spangled! but even that feels a bit reigned in, tied to time and space. Tracks like “Wedding In Madagascar” and “Money Is King” from 2013’s fabulous Songs Cycled pre-echo this direction where the vocals dance around the time signatures like a jazz musician improvising around the song’s changes (click here for my review of that fine album). 

This music on Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America  is at times even more whimsical and percolating, sweeping you along like if Thelonious Monk was bounding down a rapids in Rio Bravo del Norte in a tire tube while playing along to Charlie Parker With Strings.

Indeed, (in the words of their press release) Parks “plays” an orchestra in his role as arranger.”  As someone who studied under Aaron Copland, collaborated with Brian Wilson and arranged for no less than  Harry Nilsson, Little Feat, Ry Cooder and Joanna Newsom, Van Dyke Parks has few peers in this universe.  He has scored and acted in numerous film and TV projects and even conducted The Kronos Quartet in a live performance of the acclaimed Big Star’s Third concert tour. 

Parks own recordings are a template for this always-expect-the-unexpected musical mindset — his music is gloriously melodic, ever-surprising structurally and always compelling lyrically.  

And it is at this crossroads of highly individualistic orchestral composition and internationally grounded pop song craft that makes Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America such a joy.  And, if these two artists can create four songs of such beauty working together remotely, just imagine what may happen if they hopefully get together in person to flesh out a full album experience.

Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America is being released this week by BMG/Modern Recordings and will be available as a 10-inch vinyl EP as well as digitally.  My copy of the EP came perfectly centered, dead quiet and spinning at 45 RPM so it sounds quite lovely. You can also hear this music up on Qobuz streaming in 24-bit, 48-kHz HiRes format (click here) and on Tidal in MQA format (click here).

Finally, here is some sweet icing on the cake. As I mentioned earlier, Klaus Voormann designed the cover art. Yes, this is the same Klaus Voorman who designed The Beatles’ Revolver album cover — for which he won a Grammy that year! — and played on numerous solo Beatles releases!  I didn’t realize until now that he also designed the cover for VDP’s 2019 collaboration with Gaby Moreno, ¡Spangled! .

To some of you this may not seem like a big deal, but as a fan of both artists who come from different sides of the planet and the music world — Voormann initially emerging into public view from the Beatle-verse (if you will) and VDP from the West Coast/Beach Boys scene — it is pretty fantastic when you learn that they are friends.  And that sort of connectivity kind of fits perfectly in the global village within this album. (Note: special thanks to VDP for providing Audiophile Review with this wonderful photo of the two artists together!)

You should get Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America.  Scroll down for some samples of their music.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Core Power Ground Zero

Got hum in your system that you just can’t get rid of? Is it driving you nuts? Have you tried power conditioners, cheater plugs, etc.? Still there? Still mad?

Chances are, there’s some residual DC in your power. It happens. For those of you that think “well, I’ve got clean power where I live,” you don’t. Because even if you live in the middle of nowhere, chances are, there’s something in your house dumping RFI or something back into your power line, and it’s causing havoc with your system. This can be of particular annoyance if you love vintage gear or SET amps and high sensitivity speakers.

Yes, yes, and yes. When the folks at Core Power asked us to review the new Ground Zero, I knew I had a handful of problems that could put this device straight to the test. First stop, my vintage Marantz 2220B receiver. This baby is a humasaurus. It’s always fine listening to the radio, but the minute I plug in a turntable or CD player, the hum begins. The only other thing that worked was plugging the receiver into a dedicated Goal Zero (different company) 2000-watt battery supply. And that’s not going to be convenient or cost effective for everyone. We just tried it because it was here and we were at the end of our rope.

As you can see from the picture, the Ground Zero has one outlet, and a 500-watt maximum capacity. Our past experience with all power products is to keep it a little below max capacity so you don’t stress things out and limit dynamics.

Plug the Ground Zero into your outlet, and your device into the Ground Zero. Listen to your system with the volume control all the way down and adjust that control knob on the Ground Zero for minimum hum. Hopefully, it will get you all the way down to no hum. The Core Power folks have some great measurements and graphs demonstrating this performance, and if you’d like, you can see it here:

https://www.underwoodhifi.com/products/ground-zero

Seriously, in less time than it will take you to hook up a scope, you’ll be able to hear what the Ground Zero does. If you need more current capacity, Core Power’s Deep Core 1800 may be the droid you need, but if you’re current and device requirements are minimal, the Ground Zero will get you sorted.

Next stop, vintage tube amp. The Dynaco Stereo 70 to be exact. This is another perfect example of an amplifier that’s been lovingly restored, but still has some residual hum going on. When plugged into our Pure Audio Project speakers, or Zu Dirty Weekends, it becomes bothersome. Quickly installing the Ground Zero offers the same fix. A little twist of the control, and the hum is no more.

Finally, the Line Magnetic LM-805IA integrated. This 48 wpc SET is lovely, but even after carefully adjusting the amplifiers’ hum controls for both channels, some hum still remains. Once you know you can dial it out, you want it gone all the time, right? This worked similarly well, however at maximum volume, when the VU meters were peaking, the slightest bit of compression and flattening started to happen. As Line Magnetic does not list current draw anywhere for this amplifier, I suspect at peak power, I was approaching the limit of what the Ground Zero could handle. At modest volumes, it was just fine, and for those of you with 2A3 or 300B amps, it should be all you need. We will have to get a Deep Core in to investigate with a few bigger tube amps.

When operated within its operational limit, the Ground Zero brings no compromise to the musical signal. Like a good doctor, we want power products to do no harm to the audio waveform. Running through a long playlist of both dynamic rock and classical music, along with a number of delicate acoustic pieces, it’s clear that neither dynamics nor tonality are affected by inserting the Ground Zero.

The Ground Zero works as promised, solves the problems it was designed to address, and is reasonably priced. Right now, Underwood HiFi is offering an intro price of $399 – even better. There’s no point in buying exotic four and five figure power conditioning products for an $800 vintage component, or a budget tube amplifier. For that, we are happy to award the Ground Zero one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2021. If you’re having this problem, you need one.

As they say at the end of the classic tune, “Hot Rod Lincoln,” that’s all there is and their ain’t no more.

$599 (intro priced at $399)

www.underwoodhifi.com

Original article: Core Power Ground Zero

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Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE

Record Store Day Vinyl Preview: Harold Land’s Westward Bound!

Westward Bound! is a new release on the Reel-to-Real label being issued for Record Store Day later this week. The limited edition two-record set features under-appreciated saxophonist Harold Land leading a series of smoking jazz combos in live performances originally broadcast on KING-FM during the 1960’s in Seattle, Washington. 

Listening closely to the fire and intention on these recordings — made between 1962 and 1965 — you realize these weren’t just pick up groups behind Mr. Land. He had pulled together special assemblages which included the great Hampton Hawes on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums as well as Monk and Buddy Montgomery (Wes’ brothers!). 

Still, I suspect some of you might be asking: Just who is this Harold Land?  From the official press release we learn:

“Born in Houston and raised in San Diego, Harold Land established himself as a jazz star with four EmArcy albums in the tenor chair of trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach’s celebrated ‘50s quintet. Based in Los Angeles from the mid-‘50s on, he worked fruitfully as a leader, recorded regularly with big band leader-arranger Gerald Wilson, and played behind such giants as Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk, Les McCann, and Hampton Hawes. In later years he forged fruitful alliances with trumpeter Blue Mitchell, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and the Timeless All Stars.”

If that is not enough then consider what Sonny Rollins – who replaced Land in the Brown-Roach combo – has to say about him (also from that news release): “Harold Land was one of the premier saxophonists of the time. He was one of the best… He was a great player, one of my favorites.”  

Going back to that fire I mentioned, I hear echoes of classic be bop forms here on Westward Bound!, with tastes of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker melded with that cool-West Coasting vibe ala Gerry Mulligan and Shorty Rogers. 

The title of Westward Bound! isn’t totally lost on me as Land had an album out in 1960 called Eastward Ho! featuring sessions in New York. These performances were recorded for broadcast on the radio live from the opposite coast at Seattle’s legendary Penthouse

Thankfully, the original tapes have been preserved nicely over the years and this new special edition was mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio. These monaural recordings are remarkably full bodied with a nice balance to all the instruments yet also a good sense of room ambiance and three dimensionality. 

The vinyl pressings are excellent, dark, thick 180-gram vinyl, well centered and dead quiet which is important for a recording like this where there are moments of hushed quiet. There is a certain ambiance of the venue apparent on the recording which the LP captures nicely.  It is unsettling how small the crowd is there in the venue but the band plays its heart out, probably knowing they were being broadcast to a broader audience on the radio. 

You get one shot to make an impression when it comes to radio!

Some of my favorite tracks on Westward Bound! are the perky “Beepdurple” (form 1962) and the beautiful take on “My Romance.” I especially like the interplay of pianist Hampton Hawes and bassist Monk Montgomery in this 1964 performance. The song builds up from a hushed start of just piano and bass but escalating to quite a swinging epic with Land soaring over it all. Yet they bring it back down with Hawes gently supporting Montgomery’s soloing. There is a nice sense of group dynamics going on here. 

Land’s own “Trippin’ The Groove” is a fun swinging blues that launches off a zippy little sax run hook. The band manages to be playful without (no pun intended) tripping one another up on the signature change ups. 

Westward Bound!will be available at most independent record shops that carry jazz on Record Store Day.  This is a good one if you like Land’s playing and enjoy live recordings from that period. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

The Story Of Herbie Hancock, Vinyl Me Please Boxed Set Part 3: Future Shock and Live Under The Sky

In today’s installment of my listening report on the new Vinyl Me, Please box set called The Story Of Herbie Hancock we’ll explore two very different sides of this influential artist’s career.  If you missed the first portions of this review series, please click here and here for Parts 1 & 2 respectively. I’ve never owned either of these albums previously so I’m relishing the joy of discovery — part of what this set is about!

Future Shock

This album was a big big hit back in the day with its MTV breakout smash “Rockit,” a platinum bestseller. Future Shock was an early hybrid which helped to signal a sea change of mainstream respectability for the then-new forms of music which were still emerging: Hip Hop and Rap.

The thing I didn’t realize back in the day was that this album was co-created with the influential New York underground group called Material which included now legendary bassist and producer Bill Laswell. Listening in 2020 hindsight Future Shock totally fits in with the aesthetic of Laswell’s early Material albums including the classic from 1982, One Down.

Not surprisingly Future Shock has a very distinct period vibe revolving around early drum machines and Fairlight sequencer synthesizer sounds. So, don’t expect to hear an ‘80s version of Head Hunters because this album is about as different as night and day. That said there are still some really cool things on it such as “Autodrive“ and “Earth Beat.” 

For all its computer-driven essence, happily Future Shock sounds remarkably warm all things considered. It was recorded on analog tape so there’s a certain vibe here that disappeared as later digital workstations and computer-based programming became the norm. 

While it is still not my favorite Herbie Hancock record, I can see why it was included in the set. From a historical perspective, it is important to understand Future Shock. And “Rockit” is still a fun track — the video actually holds up quite well after all this time (see below)

Live Under The Sky

As live albums go, Live Under The Sky sounds wonderful and is mastered beautifully, with a rich presence for all the instruments. It is sourced from master digital audio according to the VMP website. The band is on fire from the start and you can feel the connectivity between these musicians. 

Amazingly, the 1979 concert was recorded at the out-of-doors Denen Coliseum and the band played through a heavy downpour.  Judging by fan response during tracks like ”Domo,” they could care less about the weather! It was all about the music and the band rose to the occasion. 

The recording quality and performance are excellent. The only thing I don’t quite understand is the track listing — this is one of those rare moments in the boxed set that seems to be bit incomplete and even confusing.  

One new song was apparently added to the set list which I assume is “Eye Of The Hurricane” (which originally appeared on Maiden Voyage) — looking online I see that it was not on the original release of Live Under The Sky. The official website says that the song was not recorded at the time! 

So, perhaps a tape was found or maybe it was somehow damaged at the time and later was repaired digitally. I’m just guessing here. But, in adding that one track they also seem to have deleted the closing medley of “Stella By Starlight / On Green Dolphin Street” found on the original CD.

So while Live Under The Sky is great, it is also technically incomplete; deep fans will probably want to pick up the CD as well just to have everything. The album was apparently released on vinyl in the U.S. with a very different cover design, so if you have that version you have the original closing tracks. 

There is also a two CD version of Live Under The Sky out with 11 previously unreleased tracks! That version seems fairly complete so, again, hardcore fans will want to seek that out (if they don’t have it already!).

One odd little detail on the cover art for this release which was recorded by Sony and issued on the CBS / Sony Records label.  Yet, in the lower right hand corner of the album is a Verve Records logo. Not sure if this is a printing error or a reproduction of a Japanese edition. Whatever it is, it makes this VMP’s The Story Of Herbie Hancock that much more distinctive. 

In the upcoming final installation of this review series I’ll wrap things up exploring he final two releases this set: The Piano and 1+1.  See you next week!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review