Waylon Jennings: "Analog Pearls Vol. 1"

July 2014

Analog Pearls Vol. 1A New Series of Analog Recordings from an Unexpected Source

Stockfisch SFR 57.4891.2
Format: Hybrid Stereo SACD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Waylon Jennings had a long performance history fraught with many recording-label changes. He did a stint with A&M Records in the '60s, and that's where the tracks for this Stockfisch album derive. As near as I can tell, these tracks were recorded in 1964 but released mostly as singles, until in 1970 (long after Jennings had jumped over to the RCA label) when A&M released most of them in a compilation album called Don't Think Twice. There are some differences: the A&M album contains two Bob Dylan songs, the title track and "I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)," whereas the Stockfisch set just contains "Don't Think Twice It's All Right." Only the A&M set contains "The Race Is On," and only the Stockfisch disc contains "Sing the Girls a Song, Bill," "Sally Was a Good Ole Girl," and "Charlie Lay Down the Gun." Otherwise the content is identical.

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Winchester Cathedral Choir, Martin Neary: "Starring: Christmas"

November 2013

Starring: ChristmasA Lovely Christmas Album Can Now Be Heard As Originally Intended

PentaTone PTC 5186 198
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

For some, the holiday season is a time to hear choral music, with or without organ or orchestral accompaniment. This year PentaTone has obliged by releasing a recording that has been waiting in the wings for 40 years in order to be heard properly. And heard that way, it is an undeniable gem, a warm and glowing tribute to Christmas.

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London Symphony; London Voices; Richard Kaufman, Conductor: "The Greatest Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin"

August 2012

Dmitri TiomkinLSO Live Launches Film Score Series with Music of Dmitri Tiomkin

LSO Live LSO0720
Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I used to have a friend I always hauled along to the movies with me. We’d come out afterward and I'd say, "What a great music score!" "There was music?" he’d reply. I guess not everyone notices it, surely not the dreck we're hearing today. Try this test: whistle the theme from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Got it? Now whistle the theme from The Dark Knight Rises. There was music?

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Jazz’N’Spirit: "Secundo"

April 2012

SecundoBack-to-the-Future Jazz

Berthold Records Audiomax 912 1724-6
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

Bach and jazz are no strangers. Many albums throughout the history of audio have mixed jazz and serious music. The one that jumps instantly to mind is the Modern Jazz Quartet's Blues on Bach. But Secundo marks the first time I've heard composers like Heinrich Schütz, Orlando di Lasso, and Hans Hassler, in addition to Bach, receive the jazz treatment. A few pieces are from folk music, and there's one by a 20th-century composer.

Jazz'N'Spirit (Dirk Piezunka, soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, and percussion; Martin Flindt, concert and western guitar; and Jens Piezunka, double bass and vocals) don't pick Baroque or Renaissance pieces that have spiky rhythms. Rather, they choose music such as chorales that have long, flowing melodies, and then in their arrangements they provide the rhythm, plus some very complex variations. The style ranges all the way from easy jazz through jazz ballad to a little bop, with the method being linear more often than harmonic.

The moods range widely. The arrangement of Felicitas Kukuck's "Es führt über den Main" has a spiritual quality, and the closing "Nun sich der Tag geendet hat" by Adam Krieger offers an aching, lyrical sound that's so beautiful it defies earthbound description. But the group isn't all about serenity and lofty messages. Schütz's "Psalm 150" is treated to a "western style" interpretation that sounds like a recently unearthed Ennio Morricone score for a spaghetti western!

The MDG crew did the engineering, as that audiophile label seems to be parent to Berthold Records. Seeing Nicholas Bild, Werner Dabringhaus, and Reimund Grimm listed as producers is a guarantee that good sound is in the offing. Recording in the Marienmünster Abbey and eschewing any sort of spot microphones for each instrument, the crew has obtained a very natural sense of the space with three musicians in it. Excellent presence and superb warmth coexist comfortably with fine detail. The recording is mixed into MDG's 2+2+2 format (two front speakers, two rear speakers, and two front height speakers), but this system is compatible with the 5.1 systems that most of us have.

If you're looking for something in audiophile jazz that's a little off the beaten track and will lend itself to contemplative listening, look no further. Secundo can fill the bill.

Be sure to listen to: A bit into the last track, the vocal that Jens Piezunka sings while doubling the melodic line on his double bass is soft and sure, incredibly tangible and lovely.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Eric Bibb: "Blues, Ballads & Work Songs"

October 2011

Eric BibbBrilliant, Aristocratic Folk and Blues

Opus 3 CD 22111
Format: Hybrid Stereo SACD

Musical Performance
****1/2
Sound Quality
*****
Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Singer Eric Bibb has been in recording studios for almost three decades. While living in Sweden he recorded Rainbow People (1977) for the Opus 3 label, a recording that got him noticed (remastered twice by Opus 3 in SACD and vinyl editions). Bibb has since recorded for several labels, notably EarthBeat and Telarc, but he always seems to come back home to Opus 3. In 2005 it was for Just Like Love, and at 60 he's once again returned for the stellar Blues, Ballads & Work Songs.

In a preface to the album's notes, he writes that the songs he picked for the disc are mostly tunes that he heard as a child. Also in the notes are short introductions to each track that reveal which singers influenced his arrangements. For the last four cuts of the 14-track disc, Bibb turns to his own music. The first ten tracks feature just Bibb and his guitar, while the last four include other musicians.

Bibb is an aristocratic performer of folk music and blues -- don't expect to hear histrionics or drama in his singing or playing. He elevates folk and blues titles to the level of art song. That's not to say Bibb drains these songs of feeling or humor; it's just that he places expression inside a neat frame, allowing his listeners to focus on the lyrics and meaning of every tune. Many of the songs will be familiar in other guises -- "Stagger Lee," "John Henry," "Take This Hammer," "Cocaine Blues," "Candy Man," and "Frankie & Albert," with the latter having a happier ending than many give it. Well, for Frankie that is. Albert still gets shot dead. After all, "he was her man, done her wrong."

Of Bibb's own compositions, I was especially taken with "Sophisticated Shade," about a Panama hat found in Santa Fe: ". . . the finest hat that I ever did saw -- five thousand dollars of sophisticated shade." For this whimsical song, Bibb adds mandola and sousaphone to his own guitar and vocals.

The recording is awesome in its simplicity, with perfect engineering from Jan-Eric Persson, Opus 3's head honcho. It presents Bibb front and center, sounding perfectly natural and unexaggerated. Throughout the record he uses a number of guitars, which he denotes in each track's written introduction, and the recording is so clean that you can easily hear the differences between instruments.

This is an album to play when you're in a restful or contemplative mood, so you can appreciate its whimsy and refined folk singing. It streets on October 18, 2011, and since it's a hybrid SACD, it will play on all CD (or DVD) players. The record is worth buying just to hear "Sophisticated Shade."

Be sure to listen to: A rhythmic figuration drives "Goin' Down Slow," the sixth song on the disc. Sometimes it's barely audible, but it never loses its presence. The minimal, clean recording leaves no doubt that Bibb is responsible for the subtle dynamics.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Nat "King" Cole: "The Very Thought Of You"

September 2010

201010_natkingcoleNat "King" Cole Sounds Better Than Ever in Three-Track Sound

Analogue Productions CAPP 1084 SA
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance
****1/2
Sound Quality
****1/2
Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Nat “King” Cole enjoyed great success as a jazz piano player fronting his own trio, but in the late ’40s he began to focus more on singing. He eventually became one of a handful of superior singers of romantic ballads. 1957’s Love Is the Thing cemented Cole’s new persona with such massive hits as “When I Fall in Love” and “When Sunny Gets Blue.” Countless artists have recorded “When I Fall in Love,” but Cole’s version is always the first to come to mind. The orchestrations by Gordon Jenkins utilized strings, brushes, and bass. The album was recorded for Capitol Records, which had just installed stereo equipment in its studios, and Cole’s set became one of the first to be released under the banner “Capitol Stereo: The Full Spectrum of Sound.”

The success of Love Is the Thing cried out for a sequel. So in 1958 Capitol released The Very Thought of You, once again with Jenkins and his string orchestra. And once again, the disc produced hits, including the title song, “Impossible,” as well as “Magnificent Obsession,” “For All We Know,” and “There Is No Greater Love.” Cole is arguably at his very best in these landmark sessions. His voice had lost the slight roughness of the previous album (and perhaps a little edge as well), and he was a long way from the damage of smoking that would claim his life in 1965 through lung cancer. (According to biographies, Cole smoked Kool cigarettes heavily and would always puff on a couple before recording sessions, as he believed they enhanced the sound of his voice). 

The Very Thought of You sessions were recorded in both mono and stereo, with a three-track master tape also being produced. Analogue Productions, usually quite thorough in its transfer of earlier recordings to SACD, has provided all three formats for a total of 32 indexed tracks. There have been a few compromises due to the space limitations of SACD (perhaps Analogue Productions will look into Blu-ray Disc for future releases). The CD layer offers only the stereo mixes, without any mono, and the SACD stereo layer presents those same stereo mixes plus the monaural ones. The multichannel layer offers the three-track masters. My player defaulted to these, and they ended up being my own personal default as well. With the strings arranged across a wide stage behind the singer and the center channel carrying Cole’s vocals and the brushed drums, with just enough bleed into the left and right to avoid the compartmentalized feeling of multitrack mono, these tracks offer ultimate clarity, and they best present Cole’s sumptuous vocals with all their subtleties. The multichannel tracks also have more bass, which is well focused and has appealing presence without ever becoming overbearing. The ultra-realistic strings set the stage for each song, and when Cole enters it’s almost like he walked into the room. You come away from hearing this disc with respect, not only for the great singer but also for the pioneering engineers who caught everything in transparent sound that has been equaled, but unsurpassed, to this day. 

Be sure to listen to: Track 12, “Cherchez la Femme.” After a gorgeous intro for the cellos, the song settles down to Cole, the bass, and the drums in the center. The upper strings add comments left and right. Catch the presence and clarity of the vocals, drums, and bass. This is tangible sound you can wrap your ears around. In short, it’s perfection. 

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Beat Kaestli: “Invitation”

April 2010

201004_beatkaestliA Swiss-Born Singer Brings Fresh Insight to the American Songbook 

Chesky SACD348
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance
****1/2
Sound Quality
****emptystar
Overall Enjoyment
****emptystar

I’d been discussing the lack of new male vocalists on the jazz scene with a colleague, and the very next day, as if in answer, the United States Postal Service delivered this appealing disc by Beat Kaestli, his first for the highly regarded Chesky label. Originally from Switzerland, he now makes his home in New York City, and he definitely fills the bill.

Kaestli is an intimate singer whose tenor is a cross between early Mel Tormé and Chet Baker. Just as the title of the disc implies, he "invites" you to listen, never going for the big-band dazzle of Harry Connick or Michael Bublé. I have nothing against big band, but it’s refreshing to find a male singer who successfully offers something different. For this album Kaestli has taken classics from the Great American Songbook and given them a different and intimate approach. He often does this by changing a song's usual tempo, as in "Day in Day Out," and at other times he sings with a very spare backing, without piano, guitar, or drums. "My Foolish Heart" and "Moonlight in Vermont" are duets between Kaestli and Jay Leonhart’s bass, with obbligato from saxophone (Joel Frahm) and trumpet (Kenny Rampton). The singer and his players have such a good sense of pitch that you can sense the chords even when they aren't there.

David Chesky has recorded this cozy album with clarity and warmth, using a single mike and his preferred 4.0 channel layout at his usual recording venue, St. Peter's Episcopal Church in New York. Considering the hushed nature of the performances, Chesky's uncluttered engineering makes you feel almost as though you're eavesdropping.

Be sure to listen to: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin," the final cut. Kaestli sings it at a third of the usual tempo, separating phrases and singing them over a drum ostinato courtesy of Billy Drummond, with lacelike guitar figurations from Paul Meyers. The unusual approach produces an eight-minute hypnotic experience where time seems to stand still.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com