Tag Archives: Jazz

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

Absent Without Leave

We Ignore the Diminishing Value of Interactional Music Performance at Our Peril

With the democratization of music performance, we are all music inventors now. Anybody with a laptop and the ability to whistle a tune may invent the next musical genre without ever finding her way to a rehearsal room. For centuries, however, the music eco-system has entertained the notion of the dedicated performer. This individual plays one or more instruments (including the voice), with the benefit of some training or none. Before the digital world arrived, you were Liszt or Liberace, Satriani or Santana, Hendrix or Holiday, Marley or Madonna, violinist, bassist, or saxophonist, or you aspired to being one of those, or assisted one of them in your role as a skilled support instrumentalist. Now that facsimiles of all these people are in our laptops, are we still making fresh ones? Are they an endangered species? Do we have enough already? Why do we need more?  In brief, why do we need instrumental performers?

Danger Up Ahead

Performance skills seem to be little valued at the point of origin of a track or song (notwithstanding that those skills may acquire more value at the point of its public reproduction), being apparently easily emulated through music technology. Instrumental popular music performance, as evidenced by the laying on of hands to wood, gut, skin, and silicone in real-time collaboration with others, appears to be at something of a digital-age split in the road. One signpost points to ossification and redundancy, the other to re-evaluation and creative utility.

To master a musical instrument to a level that affords minimal creative options is seen as literally unaffordable because it takes too long. A cyclical reduction of skills (fewer are needed so fewer are provided so fewer are needed) condemns the limited performer to the constant repetition of the handful of gestures necessary to invoke the three chords and a backbeat paradigm. Most drummers, for example, are obliged to perform much the same thing most of the time. This is both a wasted resource and an unnecessary reduction to which they have acceded because they both underestimate and are unwilling to assert their cultural importance as catalysts for musical action. 

Drummers are well placed to resuscitate, to breathe life, to bring life to collective performance, but they remain too ready to abandon training, instinct and intuition at a moment’s notice, to accommodate another’s worldview. They tinker away in the engine room of the music to little effect—an abandonment of their traditional area of influence that borders upon a dereliction of duty. Such dereliction cedes power to others (client/producer/programmer) and eliminates the participatory discrepancies that make a performance unique. It halts the interactional scrabbling for the song-specific component that transforms the mechanical into the magical, the uncreative into the creative. To follow that road for a few more years will rightly consign the drummer to oblivion and do a calamitous disservice to popular music. Current practice, thus reduced, is susceptible to imitation by computer. Future value lies in the production of artefacts the computer cannot produce. What can the performer do that the computer cannot? 

It’s About Interaction, Stupid

Reversal is possible, however, given awareness of the situation. Research among expert drummers suggests that the answer lies in their specialist knowledge of rhythmic matters combined with sophisticated collaborative interactional skills that brings life to the music, preserving it from the dead hand of the oscilloscope. To communicate effectively, music needs interaction, be it intra-human, or human-computer. Music that includes interactive performance seems to be more affective than that generated from a technological alternative. Thinking around rhythm and drums has almost completely ossified in “mainstream” drumming, notwithstanding the fact that a thin top slice of expert players embody and exemplify the full range of creative expression possible across all genres.

High-level interactive abilities render performance outcomes effectively irreplaceable and irreducible, less prone to reproduction. I do this because you did that, or are continuing to do this. I may have misinterpreted your intention, but now we’ve both got something that previously did not exist in our imaginations or fact. I never much liked the first thing anyway. I think it’s good; you think it’s hopeless. How to resolve the problem? Let’s agree to disagree, put it on one side and start afresh with the lyric. Why are you stammering about m-m-m-My Generation? Great idea! Why a bass solo break? Because the man has an amazing sound with the Rickenbacker round wire strings. We could use that. From the employer’s point of view she never thought of doing it that way.

Alive to the Situation

Music education can help here. If creativity such as this is to be part of learning, a greater appreciation of what it means and feels like to collaborate creatively should be inculcated within popular music education: too heavily geared to the acquisition of technical ability as a creative tool, too little geared to the socio-cultural framework within which music creativity is typically enacted and distributed. A re-balancing would stimulate a reconsideration of the core purpose and value of performance such as continues to be found at the highest levels in popular music, but whose benefits are not being communicated further down the food-chain.

As digital-age music inventors move further from pre-digital notions of performance, there seems to be an uncomfortable and unspoken feeling that things were somehow “better” in the “old days,” that the analog 8-track Who and the Kinks rocked harder than their over-dubbed and down-loaded contemporary counterparts, and maybe there really was something about this business of playing music together with others that we dispensed with at our peril. Music students might be better introduced to the subtleties of human musical co-operation, that transformation of knowledge that takes place in the rehearsal room that gives life to the artefact at hand. In my mind, that’s what music performance is about.

The Call to Arms

Much of the above has focussed on drumming and the drummer, but is applicable to any instrumental performer. We need these people, and we need them to stand up and be counted. We need them to dive deep into their instruments to mine glistening new sounds and mint fresh possibilities for them. We need them to make a performance both unique and greater than the sum of its parts. We need them like the oyster needs her grit, the irritant that gives access to the previously unimaginable. I doubt Liszt could have imagined Hendrix, nor Mozart Stockhausen. The steps connecting each to the other were rough-hewn in part from the intervening decades of instrumental performance. We need performers to do what the computer cannot. Currently, computers aren’t great at interactional skills, but even that window may shut soon. Notwithstanding all the computer power at our fingertips, it’s hard to imagine four machines producing the Who’s My Generation or Miles’ Bitches Brew. Above all, we need instrumental performers to interact with each other, the producer, the listener, and the world.

Some say a society gets the music it pays for; others that it gets the music that it deserves. I think it gets the music it can imagine. The music inventor needs collaboration with instrumentalists. That way he may be confronted with ways of doing things he’s never imagined before. 

Without such interaction, the music outcome is a lesser thing, bereft of its staff of life. Society ignores the value of interactional music performance at its peril. Video gaming is now replacing music as the most important aspect of youth culture: we musicians have practically invited it to do so. Music can use all the help it can get. Bold, breath-taking, imaginative, and skillful instrumental performance can offer a lot. Come on players, your country needs you. Let’s get to it. 

Bill Bruford, Ph.D., has an international profile as a bandleader, composer and drummer across multiple popular music ensembles over four decades. Retiring from public performance in 2009, he acquired his doctorate from the University of Surrey, UK, in 2016. He has written on the topic of music performance and creativity, and lectured extensively at European and North American institutions. billbruford.com.

The post Absent Without Leave appeared first on The Absolute Sound.

Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

Fiona Boyes: Blues in My Heart – 20th Anniversary Edition

In 2000, Australian singer, songwriter, and blues guitarist Fiona Boyes recorded Blues in My Heart, a collection of acoustic fingerpicked ragtime blues, including ten originals and a half-dozen covers by Rev. Gary Davis, J.B. Lenoir, and Leadbelly, among others. Boyes has since garnered a boxful of awards and shared the stage with such legends as Bob Margolin, Hubert Sumlin, and Pinetop Perkins, to name a few. Now, Grammy-nominated engineer Joseph Carra has remastered her auspicious debut. Boyes lends a loose, sassy flair to these songs—check out the defiant attitude she bestows upon Kid Bailey’s “Rowdy Blues.” Boyes’ vocals and picking are the driving force here, and her big Matan dreadnaught is close-miked to accentuate the foot stomps, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and string bends. And she is supported by occasional bandmates Kaz Dalla Rosa (harmonica), Paula Dowse (drums and percussion), and Gina Woods (piano). I found the sparse percussion distracting, especially the tambourine and snare on the cover of Rod Hodges’ “Angel.” But Boyes’ technique is so solid and her playing so darned bluesy that the distraction is a minor complaint, and this dynamic remaster, available on CD, bristles with detail to produce an intimate, energetic experience.

The post Fiona Boyes: Blues in My Heart – 20th Anniversary Edition appeared first on The Absolute Sound.

Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

Patricia Barber on Clique, Her New Record | INTERVIEW

Highly acclaimed jazz pianist, composer and singer Patricia Barber will be launching a new collection of jazz standards entitled Clique, on August 6th. In the meanwhile you can listen to the lead single “This Town” [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

A Renaissance for Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio

Legendary albums like John Coltrane’s 'A Love Supreme,' Lee Morgan’s 'The Sidewinder' and Horace Silver’s 'Song for My Father.'
Legendary albums like John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme,’ Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’ and Horace Silver’s ‘Song for My Father.’

Englewood Cliffs, NJ (June 7, 2021)—Van Gelder Studio—the legendary facility of renowned recording and mastering engineer Rudy Van Gelder—is starting a new lease on life following a recent renovation. The Englewood Cliffs, NJ facility was once described by DownBeat magazine as “a chapel-like space with a 39-foot-high ceiling made of cedar with arches of laminated Douglas fir, which created a natural reverb.”

“All the rooms where important records were made—Columbia’s 30th Street, Media Sound, RCA, A&R—are all gone,” says Perry Margouleff. A studio owner as well as a producer, engineer, songwriter, guitar collector and classic car restorer, Margouleff has been helping owner and engineer Maureen Sickler revamp the venerated facility.

The building was designed by architect David Henken—a Frank Lloyd Wright acolyte—and Van Gelder, opening in 1959 with a single, large live room. (Previously, Van Gelder worked out of his parents’ house, which was custom-built to accommodate his record projects.) In the 1970s, Van Gelder added four iso rooms to better suit the sonic signature of Creed Taylor’s CTI label, which he worked for often.

The Van Gelder Studio under construction in 1959.
The Van Gelder Studio under construction in 1959. Rudy Van Gelder

With the revitalization of the studio, a new generation of artists has an opportunity to record in the space that birthed such milestones of modern jazz as John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Horace Silver’s Song for My Father. “Jazz is really having a renaissance, and I think there’s a huge community of young people for whom the popular music that people manufacture is not appealing,” says Margouleff.

Sickler met Van Gelder in the early 1980s, when her musician and producer husband Don was working often at the studio. She became Van Gelder’s engineering assistant, working with him for over three decades, and inherited the building when he passed away in 2016, age 91. In recognition of his lifetime achievements, Van Gelder was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts (in 2009), the Recording Academy (2012) and the Audio Engineering Society (2013).

“Rudy always was on the side of the artist,” Sickler says, and was happy to go the extra mile even when record labels had limited budgets. “Many times, we mixed with an artist present but billed the session as if he wasn’t there. And many times, Rudy spent hours fixing, editing and refining tracks that he knew he wouldn’t be paid for, but knew needed to be done for artistic reasons.”

On one of her first sessions, she recalls, she complained about the volume from the four studio monitors. Van Gelder suggested she go and listen in the live room. “It was unbelievable out there, the volume; not like music but just noise. In the control room, it was controlled and beautiful. I learned an important lesson.”

Van Gelder was a pioneering adopter of technologies such as the Fairchild compressor, EMT plate reverb and Neumann microphones. Margouleff has brought the studio’s current complement of equipment, including vintage U 47 and KM 54 mics and a Neve 8024 desk, back to full working order. The 24-input inline 8024, launched in 1972, offers limited bussing but has a direct output from every channel.

“The desk is working perfectly and sounds really great. It’s just spectacular to put a mic up in that room and listen to it. The studio has the magic combination: the right desk, the right acoustics and a good complement of microphones,” says Margouleff.

Van Gelder fully embraced digital audio technology in his later years, recording to RADAR. To better match today’s client expectations, says Margouleff, “I installed a new Pro Tools rig with an Apogee Symphony Mk II [converter]. And I want to get a 24-track analog tape machine back in there.”

Margouleff, who worked with Weezer on its new Van Weezer, recorded the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s woodwinds, strings and brass for the album at Van Gelder’s studio last year. And in November 2020, the Sicklers, with producer Phil Coady and talent agent Sam Kaufman, launched Live from Van Gelder Studio. The live streaming series has presented jazz luminaries such as Ron Carter and Joey DeFrancesco.

Margouleff has also been helping the Sicklers to add the studio to the National Register of Historic Places. “What happened between those four walls was pivotal for the jazz community and Black America,” he says.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Do I Need To Be Collecting Original Pressings Of Old Records Anymore?

One of the reasons I first started collecting original pressings of LPs when I was but a wee lad in Junior High School was — believe it or not — audio quality. It was the mid 1970s and the oil crisis was on resulting in poorer quality vinyl for new releases. In retrospect, I suspect that the major labels were both growing and starting to feel the pinch of economic responsibility as they were evolving into corporate giants with profit incentives to meet.  So, corners were increasingly cut… at least so it seemed to many of us on the front lines buying records. 

Vinyl quality was often poor, records became thinner, warps more common, album graphics on older titles were compromised, sometimes with washed out printing and reduction of gatefold covers to single pocket budget line editions. 

I had grown quickly frustrated by the preponderance of cruddy quality LPs I was getting even at that early period In my life. Now, it’s not like I had a big fancy uber high end stereo system or anything folks… We had some decent gear around. My older brother had a Fisher 500 receiver and Smaller Advent speakers, for example.  My middle brother was busy experimenting fixing old amps he found on junk day. We also had this futuristic-looking Panasonic receiver with built in cassette recorder around for a while. Plus there was this great old idler drive Rek-o-Kut Rondine Jr. turntable he’d restored a bit (which I eventually used all through college, btw). Still, my ear was pretty keen and I could tell when something sounded good or didn’t sound right.

Add to that the thrill thrill of discovery of used record shops as well as thrift shops, garage sales and flea markets and soon I realized that I could stretch my nonexistent teenaged budget quite a bit. 

Then the 1980s happened and the compact disc came along (my first CD player was a Sony CDP 110). But, guess what:  I didn’t purge my vinyl!  One of the first CDs I bought was Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and I returned it the next day — it sounded awful!  A few other CD purchases made me realize we had a ways to go before the CD would truly deliver on its “perfect sound” promise — digital disc media later improved dramatically with 24-bit mastering, and expanded capacity disc formats like SACD, DVD Audio and Blu-ray). 

Fast forward and here I am decades later still (happily) rooting around in thrift shops and used record stores. I am still collecting vinyl (and some CDs and surround sound Blu-rays when I can). I’m still enjoying the thrill of the hunt for the elusive rarity: from a Beatles “butcher cover” or some rare Blue Note jazz gem from J. R. Monterose (which I found at an estate sale for $2 just five years ago!).  

In the 1980s and ‘90s there was a great series from Fantasy Records called “Original Jazz Classics” (commonly known among collectors as “OJC”). And while those aren’t fancy packages like the new Tone Poet and Acoustic Sounds reissues, they do re-create the original artwork/ labels and tend to be of excellent quality even though they are on standard weight vinyl. From what I have heard from industry friends, much of that series was mastered in the analog realm so there is a genuinely warm and inviting sound there.

The OJC series was a great step in the right direction for creating high quality and affordably priced reissues. I still buy those periodically especially for titles that are difficult to find out in the wilds of record hunting. I recently picked up a mint used copy of a Teddy Charles & Shorty Rogers album from 1956 on an OJC reissue for $10. On all of Discogs there are exactly one original copies of that album available (and it is $200). The last one sold on Popsike went for $141. So, I think I am ok with my OJC edition which sounds terrific.

Especially in the jazz world, the quality of reissues from the major labels have proven to be generally very good in the past couple of years. Universal Music’s Acoustic Sounds and Tone Poet series are excellent as have been many of the reissues from Concord Music’s Craft Recordings series (Prestige, Fantasy, World Pacific catalogs). The latter’s recent Chet Baker reissue series was top notch.  I have been reviewing many of these here on Audiophile Review so do use our search feature to seek out those reviews if you are interested in learning more about them.

As owners of the catalogs of Verve Records, Impulse Records, Decca Records and many others, Universal has hired outside experts from the Acoustic Sounds and Tone Poet boutique reissue labels to curate the reissue series. Most of these are rare enough records that I couldn’t have even begun to even consider getting them in their original form unless I found them out in the wilds of collecting (garage sales, thrift shops, flea markets, etc.).  

These new reissues are often superior to the originals – – many are pressed on 180-gram vinyl, featuring laminated covers, gatefold packaging, original label artwork and most importantly high-quality mastering and pressing, etc.

At least a couple of these reissues have eclipsed originals in my collection in terms of fidelity and almost always in terms of condition. In some instances, I am getting rid of my originals because there is simply no need for it anymore. It is a case by case thing, really. I talk about that at the end of my review of the recent Ray Charles reissue on Impulse Records (click here to read that). I have already purged my “OG” copy of The Band’s Stage Fright because the new reissue is far far superior in every way (click here for my review of that new boxed set)

My Frank Zappa collection is very interesting because the new re-issues are generally excellent, some with expanded versions of the performances, high-quality remastering, great pressing quality and original cover art and so on. Perhaps the only anomaly is that they don’t use the original label designs because those are owned by another entity… I’m OK with that because I could (and probably will) hold onto my originals of those favorite albums. However, when it comes to regular play, some of those re-issues sound at least as good if not better than my originals and will be my go-tos for basic listening.

All this raises a conundrum for me (and perhaps some of you, Dear Readers), thus inspiring this little thought piece here today here at Audiophile Review.  That question is:  with the record labels finally understanding what collectors want and mostly delivering on those demands, do we need to keep searching for certain original editions? 

I probably couldn’t afford buying a whole a whole batch of Grant Green original Blue Notes but the reissues are certainly lovingly crafted. Each sells for about $25-$30 a piece which while not exactly “cheap” (like the $10-15 OJCs) it is also nowhere near as expensive as finding certain first pressings (especially those in great condition).

Whats a dedicated collector to do?

In this instance, I think it would be wise for all of us to be snapping up these great reissues while they last. Original pressings are elusive for a reason. Many from the 1950s especially were produced and/or sold small quantities. I suspect that distribution centered on major Jazz markets of the time (NY, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and some important secondary cities like New Orleans and Kansas City). 

Many of these records were played hard, often beat up on lower quality record players and automatic changers. Many were used in party situations — if some of those albums could talk, I bet they’d have some great stories to tell! 

It is really really hard to find any that are in even halfway decent shape that are fairly affordable. Now, I personally don’t mind a light scratch or two… a click here and there, a pop, crackle or occasional snap… I’ve even written about the joys of a Mono cartridge which can minimize the surface noise of certain pre-1958 Monaural records (click here for that article). 

But, if I can get a pristine reissue that looks and feels like the real thing and more or less sounds like the real thing if not better – – and in many cases they do sound technically better because they’re not compressed as much —  then why not just buy them, enjoy them and be done with it?  It makes good sense to me. 

That said, I look forward to seeing you out in your favorite record stores picking up those latest Blue Note Tone Poets, Verve Acoustic Sounds and Craft Recordings special editions.

Grab ‘em while you can!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review