Albums of The Year 2021 (new and reissued)

•November 25, 2021 • Leave a Comment

It is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with end of year lists. Although it is really easy to locate and play new recordings, it is harder and harder to identify the ones one might enjoy. By necessity – my list, below, includes albums by artists I already like – and very few new ones. No I am not including the new albums by Adele, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay or ABBA – this is purely a representation of my personal taste. It has not been a vintage year – but those days are over. Noteworthy albums by Wolf Alice, Biffy Clyro, Villagers and the Felice Brothers show how these are surely some of the best bands of the past decade. In addition, David Crosby’s late career renaissance continues to roll on. No distinct jazz offerings this year – there were just not enough to pique my interest, but the Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders recording is fabulous – best listened to in the background. I also discovered Evan Parker (how did I miss him?) – surely one of the greatest living avant garde saxophone musicians. Best new artist – no question Arlo Parks. Best compilation – “The Highlights” by the Weeknd (now available on vinyl).

I’m sure that there are tons of records that I have missed due to disinterest/hubris/distraction – no doubt I will excavate a few once the various magazines publish their end of year lists [I’m sure these will include St. Vincent, Paul Weller, Jean Weaver, Low (loved them until they went all experimental), War on Drugs, Nick Cave etc. but – well – meh). Suggestions always welcome.

BEST NEW ALBUMS 2021

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend

The Felice Brothers – From Dreams to Dust        

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

Israel Nash – Topaz

Villagers – Fever Dreams

Charles Lloyd & The Marvels – Tone Poem

Biffy Clyro – The Myth Of The Happily Ever After

Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams

David Crosby – For Free (NOVY – not out on vinyl yet)

The Killers – Pressure Machine

Tedeschi Trucks Band Featuring Trey Anastasio – Layla Revisited (Live At Lockn’)

Natural Information Society with Evan Parker – Descension (Out Of Our Constrictions)

Howlin Rain – The Dharma Wheel

Sturgill Simpson – The Ballad Of Dood & Juanita (NOVY)

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raise The Roof

Stephen Fretwell – Busy Guy

The Weather Station – Ignorance

Sault – Nine

I really enjoyed, but was not overwhelmed by the recordings below –

Jazz

Evan Parker – Saxophone Solos (jazz)

Pat Metheny – Road To The Sun (jazz)

Stefano Di Battista – Morricone Stories (jazz)

Emma-Jean Thakray – Yellow (jazz)

Sons Of Kemet – Black To The Future (jazz)

Dougie Stu – Familiar Future (jazz)

Joe Lovano, Trio Tapestry, Marilyn Crispell, Carmen Castaldi – Garden Of Expression (jazz)

Original Albums

Elbow – Flying Dream

Gary Louris – Jump For Joy

Modest Mouse – The Golden Chest

Royal Blood – Typhoons

The Black Keys – Delta Kream

Steven Wilson – The Future Bites

Parquet Courts – Sympathy For Life

Gruff Rhys – Seeking New Gods

The Chills – Scatterbrain

Molly Burch – Romantic Images

Matthew E. White – K Bay

Field Music – Flat White Moon

Teenage Fanclub – Endless Arcade

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club

Matthew Sweet – Catspaw

The Vaccines – Back In Love City

Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders – Atoms And Energy

John Grant – Boy From Michigan

Lindsey Buckingham – Lindsey Buckingham

Lord Huron – Long Lost

Darkside – Psychic

Black Country, New Road – For The First Time

Novelty / Retromania

Jason Isbell & The 400 unit – Georgia Blue (Tribute to Georgia)

Lucinda Williams – Runnin’ Down A Dream (A Tribute To Tom Petty)

Steely Dan – Northeast Corridor: Steely Dan Live!

Donald Fagen – Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly Live

Joe Penice – It Could Be Magic (Barry Manilow tribute album)

BEST REISSUES 20212

It has been an unbelievable year for reissues (obviously 1971 and 1991 were landmark years for recordings), box sets and audiophile vinyl. There has been an abundance of Blue Note reissues (Tone Poet and Blue Note 80) – all of which have been worthwhile. In addition, Analogue Productions have continued their Acoustic Sounds Impulse/Verve series. I subscribed to Vinyl Me Please for a year or so and seem to be knee deep in audiophile pressings of mediocre records that I would not have ordinarily have bought. But there have been some great recordings in there (some of which are on the list). There were colossal box sets from the Beatles (Let it Be) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass), and the inevitable anniversary reissues of Nevermind and Achtung Baby. In any case, here is my list of the best reissues of the year – some single albums, some box sets etc.

VINYL BOX SETS

Laura NyroAmerican Dreamer

Mark KnopflerThe Studio Albums 1996-2007

Lee MorganThe Complete Live At The Lighthouse (Hermosa Beach, California)

Sun RaLanquidity

Tubby HayesThe Complete Fontana Albums (1961-1969)

Keith JarrettSun Bear Concerts

Primal Scream – The Screamadelica 12″ Singles

VINYL with / or CD + BluRay surround BOX sets

The BeatlesLet It Be

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (50th)

The Beach Boys – Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surfs Up Sessions 1969-’71

Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungDéjà Vu

Various – Journeys in Modern Jazz (Decca) (Decca – 2xLP or 2xCD)

Pink FloydA Momentary Lapse Of Reason (Remixed & Updated)

NEW OLD STUFF (vinyl and CD)

Neil YoungCarnegie Hall 1970

Tom Petty And The HeartbreakersAngel Dream (Songs And Music From The Motion Picture “She’s The One”)

Bill Evans TrioOn A Friday Evening

Primal ScreamRiot City Blues Sessions

Charles LloydManhattan Stories

GrandaddyThe Sophtware Slump .​.​.​.​. On A Wooden Piano

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle

ALBUM REISSUES ON VINYL

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (LP and 2 x CD)

Abbey LincolnAbbey Is Blue (Craft)

Curtis Amy & Dupree BoltonKatanga! (Tone Poet)

Miles DavisKind Of Blue (Analogue Productions)

Ian CarrBelladonna

Caitlin RoseOwn Side Now

Steely DanTwo Against Nature

The Incredible Jimmy SmithBack At The Chicken Shack (BN 80)

Oliver NelsonThe Blues And The Abstract Truth (Acoustic Sounds)

The RootsDo You Want More?!!!??!

Charles MingusMingus at Carnegie Hall

Gábor SzabóDreams (VMP)

Don Rendell QuintetSpace Walk (Decca)

Super Furry AnimalsRings Around The World

Charles MingusMingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (Acoustic Sounds)

Tina BrooksThe Waiting Game (Tone Poet)

George Russell And His OrchestraNew York, N.Y. (Acoustic Sounds)

Peggy LeeBlack Coffee (Acoustic Sounds)

Aretha FranklinYoung, Gifted And Black (VMP)

Art Blakey & The Jazz MessengersMoanin’ (BN 80)

Dexter GordonOne Flight Up (Tone Poet)

Ray CharlesGenius + Soul = Jazz (Acoustic Sounds)

DarksidePsychic (VMP)

Radiohead – Kid A Mnesia (where’s my superdeluxe copy? – so far only a download)

World PartyGoodbye Jumbo

Freddie KingMy Feeling For The Blues (VMP)

My Bloody ValentineLoveless

My Bloody ValentineIsn’t Anything

CD BOX SETS

Emerson, Lake & PalmerFanfare 1970 – 1997

Nucleus  & Ian CarrTorrid Zone (The Vertigo Recordings 1970 – 1975)

Mercury RevSnowflake Midnight

Neil Young – Archives Volume II

Bob Dylan – Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series Vol.16 (1980-1985) (don’t buy the 2xLP set it is a rip off)

Aztec CameraBackwards And Forwards (The WEA Recordings 1984-1995)

DeAgostini Jazz Vinyl Series

•November 18, 2021 • Leave a Comment
Jazz at 33

DeAgostini is a European publishing conglomerate that releases part work items every couple of weeks in various European countries. These items include everything from model cars, to star wars space ships to Marvel figurines to construct your own Robocop. They have also run a series of vinyl record campaigns in various countries – they are currently releasing Heavy Metal albums in Italy, and Blues albums in Spain. Previously they released a well received Beatles series in the UK & Ireland. The idea is that you buy an album for €20 (or £15) every 2 weeks, and, after a year or so – you have a pretty good collection. A coloured booklet is included with lots of (basic) information about the recording and the musicians (not of the same standard as vinyl me please). They throw in a few goodies – T shirts, vinyl cleaning solutions etc. as a way of enticing you to subscribe to the series, and provide a back issue service on the internet. The subscription service always seems to be a disaster – late or incorrect records arrive, but – as the titles gradually vanish from high street newsagents – it may be your only way of getting the record.

In 2016 I saw the first issue of Jazz at 33 1/3 in my local newsagent – Kind of Blue for £7.99 (or €10), bought it an I was hooked. Every couple of weeks, I raced into the newsagent to get my latest issues and accrue my collection. All of the records are pressed at MPO in France, with really well reconstructed covers, though the provenance of the records is not known and not declared. The run out grooves of all of the Jazz releases is stamped rather than etched, and it is almost certain that these albums come from digital sources. Be that as it may, every record that I bought sounded at least as good as, and in some cases better than, the CD releases. I bought records by artists that I would never have considered – Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Shirley Horn etc. The titles were well selected and the quality of pressing – silent, flat with perfect label reproductions – excellent. For a novice, the great advantage of the Jazz at 33 was the quality of the product – there were no bad pressings, bad copyright free recordings, sloppy covers or sources. The series finished after 72 releases, most of which I bought (excepting titles that I had already bought in Audiophile form). Then I discovered that there was an Italian series (5 years earlier) – Jazz 33 giri – that stretched to 100 releases and contained a bunch of albums that were not included in the UK & Ireland versions: Waltz for Debby, Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge, and titles by Bud Powell, Chet Baker and Stephane Grapelli. Then I discovered that DeAgostini released a similar, but not identical series in France and Spain. At this stage I have mopped up just over 100 of the titles (listed below). They can be located easily on Discogs or Ebay or in your local charity shop (if you live in any of the countries that released these records). The albums sound better than old crackily scratched versions pressed in the 1970s, and have a much more authentic feel (and sound) than the WaxTime, JazzWax and other copyright free versions that you might encounter (all are licenced and be identified by the DeAgostini line at the bottom of the back cover).

A final comment. DeAgostini released an 80 anniversary Blue Note series in Spain and Portugal – under the inappropriate title of “The Label that Invented Jazz” – which it clearly did not. So far, there have been 54 titles released – with some significant overlap with the Blue Note 80 and Blue Note 75 releases. I obtained a few of these – specifically Paul Chambers, Thad Jones, Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Monk etc. I was quite excited to see that a couple of titles (Thad Jones and Jay Jay Johnson) had listed, on the back cover “Mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio.” But, when I inspected the dead wax, there was no KG@CA inscription – the etched label was the same as on all of the others (I can’t identify it) – so I suspect that KG has prepared a bunch of lacquers for Blue Note that have not yet been released and the artwork was sent to DeAgostini. Unfortunately, the vinyl source was likely digital files sent to whomever does the mastering for them who then sent the lacquers to MPO. This is my theory. The records sound great, nevertheless (but don’t expect Tone Poet standard) – packaged 180g in standard cardboard covers in poly-lined inner sleeves. There are some tasty offerings on the list from Tony Williams, Don Cherry, Clifford Jordan and Cecil Taylor – so I hope that BN reissues all of these titles AAA via the BN 80 route.

The releases below are in first name alphabetical order, and to my knowledge are the full list of titles from the seriese in the various countries. Obviously, many titles were used in multiple countries (Kind of Blue, Blue Train etc) – some titles were released in only one country.

FULL LIST OF DEAGOSTINI JAZZ AT 33 TITLES FROM UK&IRELAND, SPAIN, FRANCE AND ITALY

1Abbey LincolnAbbey Is Blue
2Ahmad Jamal TrioAhmad Jamal At The Pershing
3Albert AylerIn Greenwich Village
4Archie SheppOn This Night
5Art Blakey And The Jazz MessengersDrum Suite
6Art Blakey And The Jazz MessengersMoanin’
7Art PepperMeets The Rhythm Section
8Art Tatum / Ben WebsterThe Tatum Group Masterpieces
9Ben WebsterBen Webster And Associates
10Ben Webster / Oscar PetersonBen Webster Meets Oscar Peterson
11Benny Carter And His OrchestraFurther Definitions
12Benny GoodmanThe Benny Goodman Story ‎
13Betty CarterThe Modern Sound Of Betty Carter
14Bill EvansTrio 64
15Bill EvansWaltz For Debby
16Bill EvansPortrait In Jazz
17Bill EvansSunday At The Village Vanguard
18Bill Evans / Jim HallIntermodulation
19Billie HolidayLady Sings The Blues
20Billie HolidayAll Or Nothing At All
21Billie HolidayLady In Satin
22Bud PowellThe Genius Of Bud Powell
23Cannonball AdderleySomethin’ Else
24Charles MingusMingus Ah Um
25Charles MingusMingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
26Charles MingusThe Black Saint And The Sinner Lady
27Charles MingusTijuana Moods
28Charlie HadenLiberation Music Orchestra
29Charlie ParkerNow’s The Time
30Charlie Parker / Dizzy GillespieBird And Diz
31Chet BakerChet Baker Sings
32Chet BakerIt Could Happen To You
33Chick Corea And Return To ForeverLight As A Feather
34Clifford Brown And Max RoachStudy In Brown
35Coleman HawkinsWrapped Tight
36Coleman HawkinsThe Essential Coleman Hawkins
37Coleman Hawkins With Eddie “Lockjaw” DavisNight Hawk
38Count BasieCount Basie At Newport
39Count BasieBasie
40Dave BrubeckTime Out
41Dinah WashingtonIn The Land Of Hi-Fi
42Dizzy GillespieThe Greatest Of Dizzy Gillespie
43Django ReinhardtThe Unforgettable
44Duke EllingtonEllington ’55
45Duke EllingtonEllington At Newport
46Duke Ellington & Charlie Mingus &Max RoachMoney Jungle
47Duke Ellington & Coleman HawkinsDuke Ellingtons Meets Coleman Hawkins
48Duke Ellington And Ray BrownThis One’s For Blanton
49Earl HinesOnce Upon A Time
50Ella FitzgeraldElla In Rome – The Birthday Concert
51Ella FitzgeraldMack The Knife/Ella In Berlin
52Ella Fitzgerald And Louis ArmstrongElla And Louis
53Eric DolphyOut To Lunch!
54Erroll GarnerPlays Misty
55Etta JonesDon’t Go To Strangers
56Frank SinatraIn The Wee Small Hours
57Freddie HubbardReady For Freddie
58Gene AmmonsThe Soulful Moods Of Gene Ammons
59Gene KrupaDrummer Man
60Gerry MulliganThe Concert Jazz Band
61Gerry MulliganWhat Is There To Say?
62Gil Evans OrchestraOut Of The Cool
63Grant GreenIdle Moments
64Grant GreenStreet Of Dreams
65Hank MobleySoul Station
66Herb Ellis & Jimmy GiuffreHerb Ellis Meets Jimmy Giuffre
67Herbie HancockMaiden Voyage
68Horace SilverSong For My Father
69Ike QuebecBlue & Sentimental
70J.J. Johnson & Kai WindingThe Great Kai & J. J.
71Jaco PastoriusJaco Pastorius
72Jimmy GiuffreThe Easy Way
73Jimmy SmithHouse Party
74Jimmy SmithThe Sermon!
75Joe HendersonPage One
76Joe PassFor Django
77John ColtraneBlue Train
78John ColtraneA Love Supreme
79John PattonAlong Came John
80Johnny GriffinThe Congregation
81Julie LondonAround Midnight
82Keith JarrettStandards, Vol. 1
83Kenny BurrellVol. 2
84Kenny BurrellKenny Burrell
85Kenny BurrellMidnight Blue
86Lambert, Hendricks & RossSing A Song Of Basie
87Lee KonitzMotion
88Lee KonitzThe Lee Konitz Duets
89Lee MorganIndeed!
90Lee MorganThe Sidewinder
91Lester Young & Teddy WilsonPres And Teddy
92Lester Young, Roy Eldridge And Harry EdisonLaughin’ To Keep From Cryin’
93Lionel HamptonThe Lionel Hampton Quintet
94Louis ArmstrongLouis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy
95Louis ArmstrongLouis And The Good Book
96Max RoachDeeds, Not Words
97Max RoachQuiet As It’s Kept
98McCoy TynerThe Real McCoy
99Miles DavisKind Of Blue
100Miles DavisSketches Of Spain
101Miles DavisMilestones 
102Miles DavisBirth Of The Cool
103Modern Jazz QuartetDjango
104Nina SimoneNina At The Village Gate
105Oliver NelsonThe Blues And The Abstract Truth*
106Ornette ColemanNew York Is Now!
107Ornette ColemanCrisis
108Ornette ColemanSomething Else!!!!
109Oscar PetersonThe Sound Of The Trio
110Oscar PetersonNight Train
111Pat MethenyBright Size Life
112Paul DesmondTake Ten
113Peggy LeeIf You Go
114Ray Brown / Milt JacksonMuch In Common
115Roland KirkWe Free Kings
116Sarah VaughanSarah Vaughan
117Shelly ManneModern Jazz Performances Of Songs From My Fair Lady
118Shirley HornTravelin’ Light
119Sonny ClarkCool Struttin’
120Sonny RollinsThe Bridge
121Sonny RollinsSaxophone Colossus
122Sonny Rollins & Oliver NelsonAlfie
123Sonny StittBlows The Blues
124Stan Getz & João GilbertoGetz / Gilberto
125Stéphane GrappelliAfternoon In Paris
126Tal FarlowThe Guitar Artistry Of Tal Farlow
127The QuintetJazz At Massey Hall
128Thelonious MonkMisterioso
129Thelonious MonkBrilliant Corners
130Thelonious MonkUnderground
131Thelonious Monk / Sonny RollinsThelonious Monk / Sonny Rollins
132Wayne ShorterSpeak No Evil
133Wayne ShorterThe Soothsayer
134Weather ReportHeavy Weather
135Wes MontgomeryThe Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery
136Woody HermanThe 3 Herds
137Wynton Kelly/ Wes MontgomerySmokin’ At The Half Note

*There are some unusual releases in this series. For example “The Blues and the Abstract Truth” was released in Mono in Spain, but in stereo in UK and Italy. It certainly sounds different – more compact and, in some ways more engaging that the recent Acoustic Sounds reissue. What is interesting about this reissue is that it appears to be the only Mono reissue in there original cover since 1961, and the source “files” are unclear (I have not encountered a mono CD).

Why is modern pop music so morose?

•November 18, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I blame Deep Purple. Back in 1967 they decided to cover “Help” and upbeat tune by the Beatles and turn it into a slow dirge. A good one, but slow and morose nonetheless. Fifty something years later, every time I turn on the radio or television there is a modern band “covering” and old classic at such a slow and miserable tempo that the drummer could fall asleep between beats. “New arrangement” seems to be taking a perfectly good tune, designed to get folks up and dancing, and adjust the pace that they will lie down in a slumber.

Perhaps it is the fact that the world has been locked down for an interminable periods due to Covid 19, but it seems that the ban on public dancing has translated into pedestrian paced blandness. The cover mount CD in each months’ Uncut magazine could well be the cure for insomnia. Honestly, one could pogo dance to a Nick Cave album after listening to most modern artists (and boy is the newish Nick Cave/Warren Ellis album “Carnageslow).

I watched the Hyundai Mercury awards a a month or two ago (when I actually wrote this article!) – won deservedly by Arlo Parks (who actually sings in her own lovely voice)– and it was one slow assed song after another – capped by Mogwai performing a five minute tune that felt like twenty minute drone. Wolf Alice, who I love, were practically a dance band in this company.

Many critics blame the relaxed tempo of rap and hip-hop tunes for the moroseness of modern popular music. I think that they are wrong. We know that pop music slowed down by about 25% in the 2010s (from about 115 beats per minute to 90) – Adele and Ed Sheeran and other “smooth” musicians have also been blamed. Music is at such a walking place now that sing/talking seems to be all the rage. For example, David Balfe’s “For those I love” should be re-titled “for those I drugged.” Black Country New Road (“For the first time”) sounds like Slint with extended guitar noodling and wordy talk lyrics. I rather like it – but the album will have very limited shelf life. I actually fell asleep listening to Steven Wilson’s newish album yesterday.

I’m afraid to listen to modern albums while driving across the country, in case I find myself waking up upside down in a field. Everything seem interminably slow. But why? I believe that the real fault (if that is the correct term – perhaps it is a good thing) lies with Lana Del Rey, and the hegemony of female pop stars. And it started with “Video Games.”

Scroll back 65 years and you have the blue-print for the pop music that followed. A three minute song: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus. Four to the floor (4/4) beat, that just screamed “try not to dance to this.” The best songs contained “hooks” that became “ear worms” that you couldn’t get out of your head. Songs were about love and sex, or, on occasion, both. Ok, occasionally they sang about cars, but that was a prelude to sex. Sometimes downtempo tunes or ballads were released and became pop hits, but that was for slow dancing and snogging. Sometimes tunes sped up – punk, new wave and disco, or slowed down with a pulsing beat (reggae). On occasion, as singer songwriter such as Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen or even Crosby, Stills and Nash (& Neil Young), came along – providing music for groups of teens to sit around and drink and take drugs and then have sex. The 1970s brought us funk and disco and ABBA – morphing into synth pop in the 1980s and everyone kept dancing. If they couldn’t dance, they did the pogo or just jumped around. In the late 1980s Stock, Aitken and Waterman industrialized dance-pop music, a process that Swedish producers have globalized since. And everyone kept dancing, or nodding their heads or tapping their feet. Slower songs with rousing choruses became football ground love-in chants (“You’ll never walk alone,” “Sailing,” and myriad others). So, popular music could be summed up with songs that you could dance to and songs that you could sing in the shower, or, in-advisably, do both. Nobody ever questioned what “Brown girl in the ring” (or “brown log in the bog”) meant, or what Sally would be waiting for, or why anyone would want to be spun “right round (round, round, round) like a record baby.” It was, and always has been, irrelevant.

When popular singers/musicians developed delusions of artistry the decided that they were “rock” and before (they were signed) and after (they were dropped from) major labels, they became “indie.” When nobody knew or understood what rockers were actually doing, it was called “Prog” (progressive rock) which is characterized by 1. Indecipherable lyrics that nobody can sing, 2. No reference ever to sex. Most progressive rock was consumed while drunk or stoned or both. It still is. But Prog is not pop music and no self respecting prog rocker would ever have the bad manners to try and sell their wares on the pop market. Rather, like Yes (“Owner of a Lonely Heart”) and Genesis (after 1980) they became pop-rock bands, upped the tempo, added choruses and bridges and sang about sex.

Following a period of a few glorious years when various grass roots threads came together in the early 1990s to give us grunge, brit pop, indie rock, hip hop, electronica etc., the pop industrial complex reasserted itself to give us N’Sync, Take That, Brittney Spears and myriad other manufactured pop acts that brought back four to the floor songs containing hook after hook about sex.

And then along came Lana Del Rey. Slow songs. Limited range. Complex subject matter. Superstar. She did not and does not fit the formula. In a parallel universe, Lana is slugging it out with Ron Sexsmith, Matthew E. White, Bon Iver and Everything Everything rather than mixing it up with Ariana Grande and Beyonce. But there she is: pop royalty. I love her records but wonder if she has, single handedly, killed off traditional pop music. Normally I would congratulate anyone who undermines the “hit factory” but what has happened is the emergence of self indulgent, whiny and, at times, boring acts whose lyrics (delivered principally by female singers) cover a universe of indignation, resentments, and “whatabouts?” Take, for example, the hubris of Lorde, who released an empty CD box, priced €18 with an upskirt photo on the cover, that, if taken by a random guy, would lead to banishment from all social platforms, resulting in a bum covering sticker on the album. The album is plod along boring (her song “Royals” was one of the best pop tunes of the past decade). 

I was perusing a bunch of new recordings in a record shop in September when Olivia Rodrigo’s album started playing – very good I though, beautiful enunciation, lovely arrangements – interesting subject matter. Strangely, after each song played, the album seemed to have a visceral impact on me – my mood darkened and I started to fantasize about shooting myself up with heroin, sniffing glue or having electro convulsive therapy. Christ was it depressing. I begged the sales clerk to take it off and put on something – anything else. There should be a sticker on the cover stating “Prolonged listening to this recording may result in the need for psychotherapy referral.” Janis Ian and Carole King this is not.

I don’t want to be over critical of the current generation of pop stars – Laura Mvula’s 1980s retromania album Pink Noise is very entertaining and the Weeknd is a genius. Taylor Swift continues to dazzle, by combining her new indie music with F**CK you music industry re-recordings of her successful albums. Many independent artists releases seem to be set in some weird time distortion field in which clocks don’t actually advance. At least none of them has resorted to the ignorant anti-vax cognitive dissonance of Van Morisson and Eric Clapton that is currently hugely undermining their reputations and back catalogue value (if I have to hear one more gobshite telling me that “I have done my own research” (i.e. on Facebook) for their stupid selfish reasons for not getting vaccinated prior to infecting their grandmothers with COVID – who subsequently died….but that rant is for another time).

Lana – two albums in one year: seriously?

The Blues and the Audiophile Truth

•September 16, 2021 • Leave a Comment

The Blues and the Abstract Truth

Oliver Nelson, Impulse! Records 1962

Imagine that you were a journeyman sax player in the early 1960s and, having release a couple of good though unremarkable sides for Prestige, you get a call from Creed Taylor – the boss of the fledgling (but major label backed) Impulse! Records to put together a session. He has noted your excellent reputation for composition, arrangement and inventive use of tonal balance (using baritone in the high register and tenor and alto in the low register) and general enthusiasm . Your name is Oliver Nelson – and you will lead a Galacticos group (Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy, Paul Chambers, Roy Haynes (and a guy called George Barrow who played baritone), recorded by Van Gelder, in the production of one of the greatest albums of all time: “The Blues and the Abstract Truth (BAAT).” An excellent review of the album can be read here.

I’m not sure when I first heard this album – it certainly was in the early to mid 1990s – and the first recording that I owned was on CD (probably this one I just can’t locate it right now). I thought that the sound was amazing and developed a bit of an “orange spine” obsession that blossomed when I read Ashley Kahn’s book “The House That ‘Trane Built” (2006) [which really should be the house that Creed Taylor built and Bob Thiel furnished]. Impulse! records were released on heavy duty vinyl in gorgeous glossy gatefold sleeves that screamed quality. BAAT was no different – the cover looked like a work of abstract art that positively gleamed but curiously listed Oliver Nelson below Bill Evans on the cover.

Speakers’ Corner left, Acoustic Sounds right

Sometime, around 2009, I ordered a copy of this wonderful album from Speakers’ Corner records – and, when it arrived, I was devastated to discover that it had the wrong cover! Horror of horrors! In this version Oliver Nelson is top billed and there is a picture of him on the front. In fact this was the “revised” cover, released first in 1961 for the repress of the mono version. Indeed, the “revised” version became the main cover in the US for many years – up to the CD edition; and rightly so, it is Nelson’s album. I have wondered since if the original cover was record label sleight of hand – a bit like attributing a Cecil Taylor album to John Coltrane or a Mal Waldron album to Eric Dolphy (both were sidemen). I’m sure in 1962, people saw the cover and assumed that it was a Bill Evans record.

Analogue productions released a 2 x 45 rpm and SACD of BAAT in 2009 and 2010: both mastered by Kevin Grey (I have not heard either). I strongly suspect that Grey was behind the Speakers Corner version (2003) – but there is no easy way to confirm this.

Finding a mono version of BAAT is difficult there is a Spanish DeAgostini magazine version from 2010 that would be worth hearing, but that’s it.

In 2015 BAAT was released as a high resolution download (24/96) (I bought this from Qobuz) that sounded pretty much the same as the CD from the mid 1990s (by which I mean really excellent).

More recently, Analogue Productions, in the guise of Acoustic Sounds (AS) released BAAT as part of their Impulse! reissue programme – AAA, and, of course, I had to buy a copy. Note that AS used the “original” cover.

I must make a confession, here and now: the first time I played the album, I though I was listening to the CD – such was the crispness of the tones and width of the soundstage. Disappointed? Maybe. Was it better than the Speakers’ Corner LP that I had, or even the HiRes digital files? To find out, I conducted a series of listening tests on the three “audiophile versions” that I have.

Version: Speakers’ Corner

Released year 2003 (listed on Discogs – bought in 2009)

Mastered by: Unknown (? Kevin Grey), AAA (presumably original master tapes)

Pressed at: Pallas

Cover: revised original, gatefold, poly-lined inner

Version: Acoustic Sounds

Mastered by: Ryan Smith (Sterling Sounds), AAA, presumably original master tapes (after the fire)

Pressed at: QRP

Cover: Stoughton, plastic (unattributed) inner sleeve.

Version: High Res 24/96

Released: 2013

Source: HD Tracks / Qobuz ? Prostudio masters etc.

Mastered by: Unknown, 24/96 (digitally remastered – there is also a DSD/SACD version from 2009), presumably original master tapes (after the fire)

Equipment: Clearaudio Concept>Maestro Cartridge>Clearaudio Basic V2>Benchmark Dac2HGC (preamp)>Croft Series 7 (tube) power amp>Nordost cables>B&W CM7 (I re-listened to the different versions with the Benchmark AHB2 poweramp, which renders extraordinary detail to digital files – but the scores did not change).

 VersionSpeakers’ Corner 2003Acoustic Sounds 2020  24-96 High Res Version 2014
Cover89
Packaging88
Silence101010
Treble899
Mid787
Bass978
Clarity(muddiness)789
Soundstage899
Engagement987
Music101010
Total (out of 80)696969

Bizarrely, this turned out to be a draw. I really did not expect this, and assumed that the vinyl versions would win easily. Each version had different positive and negative attributes. The Acoustic Sounds version would win on packaging, the HiRes version on convenience. I don’t believe that there was a pdf booklet with the HiRes files and Verve used the original cover art on the files (which I replaced with the “Oliver” version).

The AS and HiRes versions have terrific clarity – the precision of instruments is better on the digital version, but the timing and timbre is better on AS record. They are so similar that, if I did not know better, I would have suspected that the AS version was sourced from the HiRes files (it is AAA). Nevertheless, the mastering is distinctly 21st century – designed to wow the listener with Cinemascopic width such that one can pick out every instrument clearly in 3 dimensional space. It is slightly less authentic as a result. While the huge soundstage must sound amazing if you are sitting in a big room with huge speakers, my speakers are 2 or 3 meters from the couch and the feeling is not dissimilar to watching a movie from the front row of the cinema. A bit overwhelming and less engaging. Strangely, you feel yourself wishing for a narrower soundstage or a “mono” button on the preamp. If you want a bright wide precise sounding recording, with a full midrange and treble, but slightly disappointing bass, the AS (or if you are a digo-phile the HiRes) is the version for you.

The Speakers Corner LP is more bass heavy, with a little less instrument clarity. Mid range and instrument separation are inferior to the High-Res digital version and the AS LP. However, the narrower soundstage sucks the listener into the music and is highly engaging. I found myself transfixed and stuck to my seat with this version, not wishing to get up to change record for comparison.

I have lots of early 1960s and late 1950s first pressings of Jazz albums in both mono and stereo – and they sound punchy and narrow like the Speakers’ Corner version (because that’s what happens when multiple instruments share the same space). Indeed, were you to be present in the studio, in Englewood Cliffs, or if you were to hear it played live in a jazz club, the album would sound more like the SC version.

Summary

Both the HiRes and AS version were clearly mastered for modern hifi systems (and expensive headphones) – and sound delightfully audiophile – but wholly artificial as instruments come at you from distinct locations in the wide stereo space (unlike at a concert or jazz club).

So, if I was to pick out a copy of BAAT today for casual listening, which one? The Speakers’ Corner – not because it sounds better, but because I find it more engaging. And I prefer the cover. If I were too lazy to spin a record, it would be the 1990s CD or HiRes, streamed from network drive or Qobuz.

Finally, as I mentioned before with the AS Coltrane records: if you don’t already have a copy, the AS is the last copy you will likely ever need (the AS version is still available, unlike the SC record). It will impress you friends as a demo record, particularly if you can EQ up the bass a little or if you have a slightly warmer set up. If you don’t have a turntable, honestly, there isn’t a huge gap between the CD/lossless streaming and the audiophile versions.

I hope this is helpful to somebody, sometime.

(I will update this topic in the future if and when I get my hands on the mono and AP-DSD versions listed above).

Kind of Blue Super-test

•September 14, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Early in the summer I managed to obtain the new Analogue Productions clarity vinyl super audiophile (super expensive) version of “Kind of Blue (Miles Davis 1959).” I have many digital and analogue versions and I thought it would be worthwhile to do a group comparison test to see if this version is really as good as billed. My colleague, Leo, agreed to do an independent assessment, which was helpful as he had a copy of the 2015 Mobile Fidelity (MoFi) release.

Clockwise from left: Mono, 40th, AP, MOFI, DeAgostini,

Pretty much anyone with a record collection has a copy (or three) of this seminal album – and I have never heard a bad version of “Kind of Blue (KOB),” either digital or analogue. So the bar is set fairly high.

First, some background on the actual source tapes for KOB.

We know that during the original recording the engineers ran 3 track tape recorders – a primary one and a safety, that recorded two reels – one for each session, and that these were used to produce the original stereo masters. There may have been another set of tape recorders to produce the “mono” mix. The mono release would have been the principle version of the recording that was sent out to record shops in 1959-60; the stereo version (really 3 mono tracks folded down to “stereo”) would have received minimal attention. As stereo became the de-facto standard in the mid 1960s, the mono tapes were forgotten or jettisoned – and have not been seen for, perhaps, fifty years. KOB has been re-issued hundreds of times, and, until 1992, the principle source was the original stereo (3:2) master tape that was spliced together from the master reels, stuck together with scotch tape. We know that the primary 3 track recorder ran slowly – so there was a speed issue in all stereo versions of KOB until Mark Wilder discovered the anomaly in 1992. Nobody seems to have noticed, including Miles Davis, that the primary master reel was off pitch for 33 years.

When Mark Wilder and colleagues went to the Columbia vault in 1992 (as part of a Miles Davis reissue project) they found 5 tapes: the original session tapes (two of them), the mix-down stereo master (in poor condition) and the two safety tapes of the original sessions (3 track). No mono master tape. The safety tapes had been untouched from 1959 until 1992. Wilder used the safety to create the “speed corrected” 20 bit mastered gold CD released in 1994.

All pre 1990s versions (vinyl, cassette, 8 track, reel-to-reel, CD, including the originals – although, presumably, not the mono originals if, indeed they used 4 tape recorders) were mixed down from the original 3 track tapes (2 different reels) to mono and stereo masters. All of those primary tapes (3 of the 5) either no longer exist or are too badly damaged to use. That leaves us with the “safety” clones of the master reels.

Wilder and Steve Berkowitz remixed and remastered the 3 track safety tape in 1997 to produce the modern two track MASTER. This master is on TAPE (it is analogue and you can read about it here). The new master was used in 1997 for that CD edition. This was used again with a different playback deck for the 2008 “remaster” (the 40th anniversary edition) – for both vinyl (Greg Calbi) and digital releases. It is also the source of the SACD releases. If you read this article, it would appear that Berkowitz (producer) and Wilder (engineer) went back to the 3-track reels in 2013 and digitalized them at 24/192 before folding them back in to a mono or stereo mix. The safety reels were also used to produce the mono vinyl version (AAA) in 2013.

In summary – all Columbia records releases of KOB during the past 30 derive from work done by Mark Wilder on the safety reels.

In 1994 Bernie Grundman did a “live” mixdown of (I believe) the original 3 track tapes to create lacquers for the Classic Records (CR) version (released in 1995). Grundman did not use the 1997 “new” master tape. The original stereo master by then had been “retired” – hence the Wilder version. Grundman used the Wilder CD to correct the pitch on the first side (this was not needed for the 1997 master as the safety was used) and compared the sound to a mint first pressing of the album. If Grundman had to correct the pitch, he must have been working from the original reels (not the safety). It was a flat transfer with no EQ. The lacquers generated a mother from which stampers were made.

The album was released at 33rpm in 1995 and subsequently at 45rpm in 1999.

As Analogue Productions (AP) now own Classic Records, they possess the metal work (the mother) from the Grundman master. This is as good as having the original master tape – and straight clones of the Classic records (CR) releases can be released ad infinitum (until the mother wears out). The CR/AP (!) version is one generation earlier in the chain than the Wilder analogue master (but at the same level as the digital remaster). Hence, this version should be truer to the original master tape because it is derived directly from the multitrack masters (i.e. there was no stereo master tape involved). The CR version was a double album that included speed corrected and speed not corrected side 1. The current AP version is 33rpm, pitch corrected. I am certain that AP will release a 45rpm version when they have sold all 25,000 33rpm copies.

Here are the versions involved in the evaluations, below.

Version: Analogue Productions 2021

Source: 3-track original multitrack (3 track) masters

Mastered by: Bernie Grundman (1995 for Classic Records, original metal parts). Classic records was sold many years ago to Acoustic Sounds (Analogue Productions).

Format: Stouton Tip-On jacket, 1 x 33rpm Clarity Vinyl. Flat profile (normal records are bi-concave– the needle goes downhill for the first half and uphill for the remainder).

AAA

Version: Mobile Fidelity 2015

Source: Original master tapes (1997 Wilder remaster) – this came from the Wilder sessions for the 40th anniversary edition.

Mastered by: MFSL

Battery Studios’ Mark Wilder’s 1997 three-to-two-track mix down to analog tape produced playing back the three track tape on a pristine all tube Presto deck and using a GML custom line mixer and producing a flat transfer at 15IPS using Dolby SR onto an Ampex ATR 102.

Greg Calbi used that mix to produce the lacquers for the 50th Anniversary blue vinyl version and that is what Mobile Fidelity used here.

Deluxe packaging, 2 x 45rpm

AAA

Version: Music On Vinyl 2013 Mono (numbered record store day version)

Source: “Original master tapes” (Wilder 2-track master)

Mastered by:

ADA (likely – the US Columbia version was AAA – but I suspect that this is a 24/96 digital file sourced version)

The US version was re-mastered at Sterling Sound and pressed at RTI (click here for version)

Numbered limited edition with poly lined inner sleeve and correct cover (wider angle) for the mono version.

Version: 40th Anniversary Collection 2009

Source: “original master tapes” – Wilder from 2-track 1997 fold down master.

Mastered by Greg Calbi

Format: blue vinyl in a nicely packaged box set. Vinyl is notorious for complaints about the pressing quality.

AAA from the 1997 remix remaster: this version was subsequently used in the MOFI reissue.

A digitalized version of this release came out on MOV as a 2LP set in 2010 was well regarded

Version: DeAgostini version 2016

Source: unknown

This was the first issue of the wonderful “Jazz at 33” series, released originally in Italy in 2011 and subsequently in the UK and Ireland in 2015. As far as I remember, the sticker price for the first issue was £4.99 (translating to about €10 with all of the ridiculous markups). It came with a nice, although not detailed magazine, a poly-lined sleeve and some mistakes on the cover. Wynton Kelly is credited as Winton Kelly, Adderley is correctly spelled (unlike the original). My hunch is that the DeAgostini version is the same as the 40th Anniversary version.

Listening Tests

We used Benchmark pre and power amps due to their extreme transparency.

Technics SL-1200>Ortofon 2M black>Graham Slee phono preamp>Benchmark Dac1 pre>Benchamark AHB2>Nordost Cables>Magnaplane LRS

Clearaudio Concept>CA Maestro>Clearaudio Basic V2> Benchmark DAC2 HGC>Benchmark AHB2 (or Croft 7)> Nordost Cables > B&W CM7

 Analogue
Productions
MOFI 45RPM40th
Anniversary
MOV MONODeAgostini
Music1010101010
Cover & Packaging98877
Silence (background)98788
Treble98888
Mid887.57.57.5
Bass87666.5
Clarity(muddiness)9.57.5887
Soundstage8.5986.58
Engagement987.57.58
Total (out of 80)7165.56261.563

We conducted a 2 person listening test of all 5 versions, independently. Both sides of each record.  Where there was disagreement on scores – the half way point is listed above. In the totals listed above, we did not include the cover and packaging in the final calculations due to the huge price differential between the audiophile/box set and the standalone MOV and magazine copy. Unquestionably, the best cover is in the most expensive Analogue Productions version (i.e. the record cover not the annoyingly large plastic box – that basically contains a magazine quality liner book and a few useless inserts). The MoFi version came in a box highly reminiscent of Mosaic Records box sets, and was rather attractive. The 40th anniversary had 2 CDs and a DVD tucked inside the gatefold and an excellent hard backed book – one of the rare ones that come with deluxe editions that I have read “cover to cover.”

Clockwise from left: AP ,mono (MOV), DeAgostini, Mofi, 40th

Result

The new/old Classic Records/Analogue Productions version was a clear winner,* but both of us noted that we could live with any of these versions (although the mono was the least liked). We both considered the DeAgostini (£4.99 in the magazine) version to be audiophile sounding, and very similar to the 40th Anniversary, but pressed on better vinyl: absolute bargain if you can find it.

Next time- The Blues and the Abstract Truth

*there are a couple of loud pops on the album – they may come out with a good cleaning (I will update at some stage).

The allure of the great album performed “LIVE”

•July 29, 2021 • 2 Comments

Over the past decade or two, bands, on the nostalgia circuit, have been performing fan favourite albums in their entirety, and it has been wildly popular. I believe that this started with Pink Floyd performing the “Dark Side of the Moon (DSOM)” – as part of their “Division Bell Tour” – from which the live album “Pulse” (with flicking LED) was released. Not to be outdone by his former colleagues, Roger Waters toured DSOM in the mid 00s and then toured “The Wall” for several years to massive arena audiences. Indeed, Waters has long discovered that there is a major payoff playing his own Pink Floyd material versus his solo work. Again, Waters released his live version of “The Wall” in multiple audio and video formats. I dare say that, before he retires, there will be a visit to “Wish You Were Here” and “Animals.”

Since about 2005 virtually all heritage artists have gotten in on the live album performance scene. Everyone from the Cure (“Trilogy”) to Suede to Cowboy Junkies to Ocean Colour Scene have been trotting around performing their best albums. In many cases the fans’ enthusiasm for recent releases was low or, in many cases, the had been no recent releases. In fairness to Suede, when they toured “Night Thoughts” and “The Blue Hour” – the album was played in full for the first half of the gig, followed by a greatest hits package in part 2. One summer I paid huge money to see Springsteen playing “The River” and U2 playing “The Joshua Tree.” In each of these cases, the artists in question were still recording high quality original albums – and could easily fill stadiums – so the motivation to do the nostalgia circuit was curious.

Is the whole album performed live a cynical exploitative exercise? No, it is business. I spent years looking for bootlegs of concert performances around the time of a favorite album release – to enjoy the fresh sound of the record and crowd response. Then the record companies started releasing those recordings as part of “Deluxe Edition” packages. It is astonishing how the music industry did not appreciate the treasure trove of live material earlier.

“Cover Albums” are an interesting curiosity. For example, Ben Gibbard, of Death Cab for Cutie, loved “Bandswagoesque” by Teenage Fanclub so much that he recorded the album himself. Mercury Rev covered “The Delta Sweetie” (Bobbie Gentry) in its entirety. Both albums are fun but not compelling. Similarly, for years Mojo and Uncut magazines featured promotional CDs of cover albums – each track covered by a different artist or band. These have included “Harvest” “Abbey Road” “Let it Be (released on vinyl)” “The Wall” “The Dark Side AND WYWH” “Rumours” “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” “Pet Sounds” “Blond on Blond” “Highway 61” and “Something Else” (my favourite Kinks record). A few years ago, while moving house, I discovered that I have boxes and boxes of cover mount CDs, going back a couple of decades – and really they had to go in a dumpster/skip. Which ones did I keep? The “cover” albums of course– all of which I enjoyed and supposed that, someday, they may have some value.

Fifteen years ago I went to see the “Donald Fagen Band” in the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia. This was the “Morph the Cat” tour – but only 3 songs from the album (and this was probably appropriate) were played. The crowd wanted to hear “The Nightfly” – and yes – that included me. I must confess, I didn’t care if Fagen played anything else. And, delightfully, most of the songs from that album were played. About a year later I went to see “Steely Dan” at the same venue with what appeared to me to be the same band, this time including Walter Becker. When Becker died, any pretence that Steely Dan and the Donald Fagen band were anything different became ridiculous. But, strangely, there are a lot of people who just love “The Nightfly” – who don’t own any Steely Dan albums (and probably don’t know that Fagen is Steely Dan!). It is a more accessible record than any of the Steely Dan albums – and one never grows tired listening to it. In 2017 the “Fagen Band” toured and played, mostly, Steely Dan songs.

Nightfly Live – what a disappointing cover!

All of this leads to the rather strange phenomena of the SAME group releasing TWO live albums simultaneously this year – under two different names. From the steelydan.com website: “Steely Dan’s NORTHEAST CORRIDOR: STEELY DAN LIVE! and a live version of the acclaimed solo album by Donald Fagen – THE NIGHTFLY LIVE – will both be released on CD & Digital on September 24, 2021.”

The Steely Dan album contains a fairly predictable set of songs culled from various performances in the northeast – as some stage (presumably the autumn of 2019). It looks like a single CD – so not even a full performance – a bit like “Alive in America” from the mid 90s (not recommended). Considering that there are myriad live soundboard bootlegs of this band around, I would feel a bit short-changed by this offering. In fact, the cover is so bad that it could be mistaken for a bootleg (I’m sure I have a better photo on my phone from the last time I saw them live). I’ll buy it, of course.

Then there is “The Nightfly,” live. As far as I can make out, this must be from a single performance at the Ophreum theatre Boston in October 2019. Bizarrely, this was a “Steely Dan” concert. In fact, the Dan did a 5 night residency in 2019 during which time they performed “Aja” “The Royal Scam” “Gaucho” “The Nightfly” and then a Greatest Hits performance. All of this was professionally recorded (“Northeast Corridor”) – and Gosh – what an opportunity there was for a 10 CD “Steely Dan” live box set. Audience tapes of these concerts have been circulating for some time.

Nevertheless, the Nightfly part of the concert is being released on vinyl and CD – and of course I will buy it (having 5 or 6 other version/copies, plus SACD, DVD-A, CD and cassette).

I must confess that I am generally ambivalent about modern concert performances on vinyl. Most concerts these days are 2 to 2.5 hours long (perfect for 2 CDs) which means up to 4 slabs of plastic.

By their nature, concerts would appear to be the ideal scenario for all analogue recording – the soundboard (if it is analogue) could be plugged into a multi-track analogue recorder – but this happens approximately NEVER. Rather, the concert is multi-tracked straight into Pro Tools. And why not – most live albums are not “live”* – they are tweaked to within an inch of inauthenticity by producers and engineers after the fact. Frequently entire guitar or vocal passages are overdubbed.

As the concert is digitally recorded, there is much greater pleasure in listening to the album streamed in a lossless format or viewed on video (preferably UHD Blu-Ray) in 5.1 surround or better (there seems to be ever diminishing numbers of concert films released on video formats these days). Realistically, the “vinyl” concert album is a souvenir – something you are unlikely to listen to twice (Nick Mason at the Roundhouse, Roger Waters Wall Soundtrack etc).

Knowing and believing all of this I slapped down €60 on a pre-order for an 3 LP “live” album on which the band admitted to “many months of careful listening and mixing” – a euphemism for tweaking and overdubbing. Moreover, the said album can be streamed now in high resolution free on Qobuz – the vinyl won’t arrive for many months. So what is this magnificent artifact? It is the Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) plus Trey Anastasio performing “Layla and Assorted Love Songs” in its entirety at Lockn’. Do I need this album – absolutely not – it cannot possibly be as good as the original (but it is very good nonetheless), the stream is probably better than the CD and the vinyl – and they don’t seem to be releasing a video version (although there are professional clips available). My need for this record is likely related to that old psychology gem: the consistency principle. Moreover, I enjoy listening to the TTB – they are (arguably) the world’s foremost jam band – but I have never before felt compelled to buy one of their records. Releasing this album is an act of genius: once you have bought one album by TTB – you are much more likely to buy their next one. I bought Nick Cave’s “Kicking against the pricks” back in 1987 – it was a covers album that I loved, and ended up with all of his other records – and am still unsure how many of them I actually like. Likewise when Marcus Miller covered Miles Davis’ “Tutu” in 2011 – it introduced me to Christian Scott – whose music I have been enjoying for the past decade.

Suede are touring again next year – this time they are playing “Coming Up” – the album in full.

*A lot of concerts are not necessarily live either – pop acts are practically karaoke sessions (as in the Eurovision Song Contest) and rock concerts are frequently played over backing tracks with time coded visuals. Add this to the drunken dancing (always directly in front of you), the out of time clapping, the singalongers who can’t sing, the sticky floor from spilt soda, the relentless talking by the couple behind you, the limited view due to the staggering distance that you have to stand or sit from the stage – resulting in you effectively watching the concert on TV, the delay getting out of the parking lot and the astronomical cost of tickets – there’s a lot to be said for live-streaming the concert at home or watching the disc.

Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs – Comparison

•July 15, 2021 • 1 Comment

I suddenly seem to have a bunch of duplicate records to go with all of the duplicate CDs that I already had. One of the great marketing tricks that target “collectors” or enthusiasts is to find some way to get them to buy products that they already own. The CD was the original “upgrade” – but once we had bought the CD – the music industry managed to persuade us to part with our cash for the “remastered” CD, the “Deluxe” edition, the “Mono” edition, the “Superdeluxe” edition and the “Box Set.” Once the vinyl renaissance happened, it was inevitable that the music industry would follow the same strategy. And suckers we are – hence my four vinyl versions of “The Nightfly,” 2 DVDAs, an SACD, a cassette version and a couple of CDs. Honestly, I still think that (aside from the MOFI 1-step – a ludicrous luxury) the original vinyl version sounds the best.# When reissues or remasters appear, very few reviewers seem to go to the trouble of comparing previous re-issues in some quantifiable way. I hope that the approach here is of some use to you.

Several months ago I came across an offer on Amazon to buy the most recent Derek & the Dominos Layla Boxset at a knock down price. Never mind that I already owned several versions of this record. This was the 2020 Miles Showell 1/2 speed Abbey Road remaster with some bonus material that had not been previously released on vinyl – for which I would have paid the £40 or whatever. I have many digital versions of the album also – from a 1980s CD, to the various remasters, the 20th anniversary box set (this was a remix), deluxe, super deluxe, SACD, BD audio etc. For what it is worth, they all sound very good, if a little bit “muddy.” My go to version has been the 2003 SACD for some years, but all of the remastered and high resolution versions sound great – and the Super Deluxe DVD surround version is very good indeed (but lossy). If you don’t have the album, just buy the latest CD version. But what of the vinyl versions? Please note, I have never heard an original pressing of this album in mint condition on audiophile equipment for comparison.

I have 5 vinyl versions of the Layla album: the first was a 2008 reissue, the second was the 2011 superdeluxe edition that was subsequently released as “Back on Black” (yellow label), the third was the 2017 Mobile Fidelity audiophile reissue, the fourth was the 2016 version in the “Studio Albums” box. Finally the fifth was the Showell Abbey Road version from 2020. I sat down one afternoon, during lockdown, and listened to the first song on all four sides of the album – five times for five albums. Strangely, I went into the process completely unbiased – as, frankly, I still sort of prefer the digital versions.

My scoring system weighs very heavily on the sound quality – and, I must confess that I value clarity: you may not. As you can see (in the tables below), and I was surprised by this, the best sounding version turned out to be the Mobile Fidelity release – one that I have found hard to love. The album is easily available from audiophile dealers and discogs – but quite expensive. However, the best buy version (and you need to be careful here) is probably the 2011 40th anniversary Yellow Sticker Back to Black version. This was remastered by Showell from the original (better condition but slightly different) London (UK) masters – I’m not sure if it is AAA (it should be) – but it is the same version that is in my Superdeluxe Box set. It will set you back about 50% of the price of the Mofi version. Neither the 2008 nor the 2015 versions sounded better to me than the CD. The 2015 version is particularly puzzling – the cover is so poor that it looks like a bootleg (the box set is nice and otherwise well packaged), and the record sounds very digital. I’m not sure why they didn’t use the 2011 version (both were mastered by Showell at Abbey Road – but the inscriptions on the run out groove are different).

As an aside, and I might include this in future reviews – one of the great things about vinyl albums, when you play them is “engagability” that is – you sit down an listen: you don’t want to go making coffee or browsing your phone or anything else. The music grabs and holds onto you. Although it didn’t score as highly as other versions for sound quality, if found the 2020 remaster strangely engaging – far more so than the MoFi version and, honestly, I am more likely to listen to that version despite it’s (apparently) inferior sound quality.
One final comment you might ask – 77% seems a little stingy for such a legendary album? If you look carefully, the music is a 10/10 – but it is unfortunately a Tom Dowd lumpy muddy production and does not meet 1970 audiophile standards (in my opinion). The surround remixes on on SACD and DVD (superdeluxe box) – sound better and more modern.

LAYLA VINYL VERSIONS 2011-2021

 20082011  201520172020  
Cover79697
Packaging7*9*7*98
Silence88899
Treble78779
Mid77797
Bass78896
Clarity (muddiness)68879
Soundstage78888
Music1010101010
Total6675697773

*sandpaper inner sleeve

2008 was the original Back to Black version

2011 was the Superdeluxe Box-Set and subsequently the Back to Black yellow sticker version

2015 Was the “Studio Albums” version

2017 was the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab version

2020 was the ½ speed Abbey Road version

SOURCE

EditionSourceMasteringPressing Plant
2008Unknown (digital)UnknownGZ
2011 SDE/B2B yellowOriginal London Masters (?AAA)Miles ShowellGZ
2015 EC BoxUnknown (?digital)Miles Showell (new remaster)GZ
2017 MOFIOriginal US master tapesKrieg WunderlichNA
2020 ½ speedHi Res DigitalMiles Showell (Abbey Road)GZ

#I think a similar comparison of versions of “The Nightfly” is in the offing.

I can hear clearly now

•July 1, 2021 • 3 Comments

Evening Star” by Judas Priest. 1979. I bought it for only one reason – clear vinyl. Such a novelty then. Many years later Donald Fagen released “Sunken Condos” on clear vinyl. I was astonished as, the conventional wisdom at the time was that colored or translucent records, like picture discs, were gimmicky and sounded worse. But Fagen – no gimmicks here!

Over the past decade, I have bought 30 or 40 records pressed up on clear vinyl – from the ELO (digitally sourced and not good sounding) reissues to “For their love” by Other Lives. A few weeks ago, I lined up outside my local record shop for the RSD drop – or whatever they are calling it – and it appeared that everything was being pressed up on super deluxe clear vinyl (Suede, Bernard Butler, The Creation, Echo & the Bunnymen, Ed Sheeran, Everything Everything, Jesus Jones, M. Ward, The Selecter, UFO, Ultravox etc). Clear appears to be the color of the month!

But clear vinyl is not just a fad – it is the natural color of the substance (PVC – although that is usually yellowish – so must be treated in some way to become clear) – every other color, including black, requires some impurity to be included in the mix. That must have an impact on sound. There is a widely held belief that black vinyl is superior – as the carbon, mixed in to make the record look black, strengthens the formula – and presumably improves the flatness and sound quality. Is this true? Who knows. None of my clear vinyl albums feel flimsy – and the audiophile ones sound exceptional. The SRX formula promoted by Music Matters and the MOFI Ultradiscs – are pressed on translucent grey plastic. Colored vinyl records have had a mixed reputation over the years – but, these days, all of those extraordinary Vinyl Me Please releases (and they usually sound great) appear to be pressed up on colored vinyl.

Recently, Analogue Productions have started shipping their ultra high quality (UHQR) version of “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis – 25,000 copies at $125. AP are calling the current super HQ formula “clarity vinyl” and – yes you guessed it – the records are clear. This is the spiel from the website: “By not adding carbon black to our Clarity Vinyl™, we eliminate the possibility of noise contamination due to carbon black particles. Instead, your stylus is allowed to effortlessly slide down a glossy and silky smooth groove wall.”

Clearly the world of polymers has changed greatly since PVC vinyl records were introduced more than 60 years ago. With UHQR releases from companies like Analogue Productions it appears that the future of audiophile vinyl may well be clear.

Chick Corea: A Legend Passes

•February 18, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Chick Corea died last week, of an undisclosed form of cancer, aged 79. Strangely, I had been listening to his most recent album “Chick Corea Plays,” as background music, for the past few weeks. I find these short piano tunes (recorded live), deftly played, quite therapeutic during these difficult times. Such was the versatility of this great performer, there is scarcely any mood or situation that couldn’t be filled with Chick Corea’s music.

Corea was an Italian American, from the Boston exurbs, whose father was a traditional jazz musician. He began playing piano at a young age – and was a formally trained classical musician. Jazz was his calling. Arriving in New York City in the early 1960s he found work as a sideman in jazz clubs contributing to the hard bop scene. He performed on a multitude of recordings by Blue Mitchell (“The Thing You Do” is a Blue Note classic), Herbie Mann, Dave Pike, Sonny Stitt and others. “Sweet Rain” with Stan Getz is a stone cold classic (he later played on “Captain Marvel”). Corea’s Blue Note debut – “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” was as one of the first Tone Poet reissues and it is fabulous – straight ahead jazz – bebop, post bop, hard bop – it is almost a preview of the 1980s in the 60s! But, before Corea could be pigeonholed into one style – he ventured off into the avant guard – and into a series of “groups” for which his long term reputation is derived.

On funked up electric piano, Chick Corea replaced Herbie Hancock in the Miles Davis group – and he performed on all of those seminal early jazz-rock fusion albums: “In a Silent Way,” “Bitches Brew,”” Jack Johnson,” “On the Corner” etc. He then joined up with Anthony Braxton, David Holland and Barry Altschul to form “Circle” a true free jazz fusion band. I spent a year once trying to source a copy of the (unbelievably powerful) “Paris Concert” – but had to settle for “Circulus” until ECM re-issued the former in 2017 (alongside Holland’s exceptional “Conference of the Birds“).
In 1972 – Corea went commercial – and recorded two albums “Return to Forever” (ECM released in 1975) and “Light as a Feather” (Polydor) – a latin tinged fusion-vocal album released, to rave reviews, in 1972. I must confess that I don’t particularly like either album – but they were important as the albums established (arguably) the most enduring partnership in jazz fusion history – between Corea and bassist Stanley Clarke – subsequently called the “Return to Forever (RTF)” band. Confusingly, there is a 1973 album called “Children of Forever” that, while under the leadership of Clarke, is essentially a RTF record, that included Lenny White.

Although jazz rock fusion has a mixed reputation these days (principally due to the hyper-retromania that tends to drag jazz back to the 1950s and early 1960s, that started with Wynton Marsalis in the 1980s), fusion was vastly more commercially successful than straight ahead jazz in the 1970s. It allowed versatile musicians like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea to earn a good living while keeping one foot in the electric world and one in the acoustic one. RTF released a bunch of commercially successful albums in the 1970s. The most popular album was “Romantic Warrior” – my favorite is “Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy.” The second soloist was initially Bill Connors, and then Al DiMeola. Clarke played on everything, and White on everything worth hearing. In general, I find these 1970s RTF albums a bit “dated” to listen to. Hence, the first port of call for a new listener should be the three RTF reconvened albums released between 2009 and 2012: “Returns,” “Forever” and “The Mothership Returns.” These are all live albums featuring Corea/Clark/White and a differing cast of support musicians. “Returns” featured Al Di Meola (this is available on DVD/Blu Ray and CD). “Forever” is a trio – mostly unplugged – and it is fantastic. “The Mothership Returns” is my favorite of all of the RTF albums: Di Meola was replaced by Frank Gambale (guitar) and Jean Luc Ponty (violin) for the 2012 tour and it really rocks. There is a gorgeous 3xLP + DVD set available.

While all of the fusion stuff was going on, Corea had an independent solo career. Everything recorded on ECM and Concord Jazz is fantastic. The late 1980s “contemporary jazz” material on GNP – hmm – not so much. Alongside vibraphonist Gary Burton – Corea released a series of recordings “Crystal Silence” – between 1972 and 1979 on ECM and “New Crystal Silence” (2008) on Concord. Gorgeous straight ahead “modern” (in the ECM sense – “chamber” may be a better term) jazz. “Children’s Songs” from 1984 is a wonderful collection of simple piano tunes – that Corea revisited over and over. “Trio Music” from the same year paired him with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haines, another bombastic live album that showcased that modern European-American approach to modern jazz.
Chick Corea played with, literally, everybody: “Rendezvous in New York” (2003) included, amongst others, Bobby McFerrin and Joshua Redman. “Five Peace Band” was like a Bitches Brew reunion with John McLaughlin. “Further Explorations” was a Bill Evans tribute album – that included in the trio Paul Motion and Eddie Gomez. In “Orvieto” Corea plays piano duets with Stefan Bollani. In more recent years he released two sumptious “Trilogy” albums with Brian Blade and Christian McBride.
If you don’t like jazz or fusion – don’t worry there was Corea the classical musician – he released a bunch of records featuring his own compositions, Debussy, Mozart – then there are the latin influenced records……He even found time to record a Scientology tribute fusion record “The Vigil” with a whole group of younger musicians, in 2013. A very late career partial fusion album “Chinese Butterfly” with Steve Gadd, is worth a shout out.

Corea, Jarrett, Hancock – will we ever see their like again? Musicians who have transcended musical genres and have had a massive impact on modern music over the last 60 years. Now Corea has passed, Jarrett is out of action and Herbie appears to have retired, it is time for the baton to pass.

Tina Brooks – Tone Poet – ‘Bout Time

•February 11, 2021 • Leave a Comment

The history of 1950s and 1960s jazz is littered with horrible stories of gifted musicians whose lives were blighted by opioids and alcohol. Some lived to produce great artworks – Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Grant Green. Some made minor comebacks in the 1970s – Frank Morgan. Others vanished into the mirth. Tina Brooks was one such musician. A phenomenal tenor saxophonists – whose lyricism and light tone is instantly identifiable. He had many outings as a side man, easily melding into the leaders framework, complimenting rather than competing. Brooks suffered the indignity (and poverty) of having most of his recorded output shelved for decades and would have remained a footnote in jazz history were it not for Michael Cuscana.

Born in North Carolina in 1932 – Brooks (nicknamed Tina – for, presumably “Teeny” or “Tiny”) spent part of his adolescence in New York, but was badly bullied due to his nerdy and shy demeanor, so he went back to Fayetteville until 1949. As an adult, he returned to New York and started working as a professional musician. Like all saxophone players of the era, he would have been influenced by the deep bluesy tones of Lester Young and the lyricism of Coleman Hawkins. Brooks played R&B and jam sessions in jazz clubs developing a prototypical blues based hard bop sound. He eventually found work as a sideman for Blue Note – particularly on recordings by Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell – between 1957 and 1960, having been introduced to Alfred Lion by Benny Harris.

Brooks’ first Blue Note album, Minor Move, was recorded in 1958 and featured an all star cast – Lee Morgan, Sonny Clark, Doug Watkins and Art Blakey. It is a great record – that was mastered, sequenced, liner notes written, artwork produced and – shelved for decades. Why? Nobody seems to know.

Two years later, Brooks led another session – that featured Freddy Hubbard – then 22 and the bright young thing of Blue Note. The album “True Blue” was released – but does not seem to have been promoted to the same extent as the very well known “Open Sesame” session, recorded 7 days earlier, with Hubbard as the leader. Brooks provided solos and two of the seven compositions in that album. To my regret – I did not buy “True Blue” from Music Matters (although it is still available for $100). But, after hearing the 24/192 version on Qobuz, I rushed out and bought the 1984 Mosaic 4LP Tina Brooks box set (that contains all four of his Blue Note albums).

Brooks recorded two more albums for Blue Note: “Back to the Tracks” (recorded in 1960) and “The Waiting Game” (recorded in 1961). Both albums shelved and forgotten in the Blue Note vaults, until Michael Cuscana went digging in the the 1970s.

Few jazz musicians from the late 1950s and early 1960s got to record for Blue Note. “True Blue” could and should have made Tina Brooks a major league jazz musician. Had he been treated better by the company, perhaps – just perhaps – Brooks may have attained the legendary status of Joe Henderson or Dexter Gordon. But that was not to be, and the likely cause of his demise was heroin. It would be easy to imagine a movie made about Tina Brooks’ life – a tragedy of course – Tina, shuffling into the Blue Note offices – asking when his records would be released, trying to scrounge some money to eat or get a fix. For a musician – record releases are more than just a product, they are a reputation. To a club owner, having an album out from Blue Note would be an endorsement of quality, likely to ensure bookings. With two albums on the shelf including -the astonishingly named “Waiting Game” – well, that would have to wait until well after Brooks died, of renal failure and cachexia – in 1974: 13 years after his last recording.

Fortunately, the endlessly excellent Tone Poet series has now issued two of the four Tina Brooks albums – [Minor Move and The Waiting Game] really the first time that they have been widely issued on vinyl. And boy have Joe Harley, Kevin Gray et al outdone themselves. I am unlikely to ever own an original 1950s or 1960s pressing of a Blue Note album – but, in these cases, I have the “original:” the Mosaic box set. Now, it must be said, in 1984 these Mosaic boxes must have looked amazing – but today they are 140g records with ugly (non Blue Note) labels in a flimsy box. The sound, however, is excellent: true audiophile AAA pressings in relatively small batches (7500). I have often listened to all of the Brooks’ Mosaic records – they are well balanced, clear (without the digital edge) and pleasant to listen to. However, compared to the Cohearant versions – in gorgeous glossy covers – well it is no contest. The Tone Poet albums are louder brighter bigger – just – fabulous – deep and wide soundstaging, clear instrumental separation, just excellent. Every decibel of dynamic range has been squeezed from these (likely) pristine tapes (no wow and flutter). I really hope that “Back to the Tracks” gets a TP release and “True Blue” gets the 80th anniversary treatment.

The upcoming Tone Poet releases for 2021-22 are listed below. I am very excited about the Pacific Jazz releases (particularly Katanga by Curtis Amy – been trying to source a copy of this for years). Thankfully only one Art Blakey release. At last some Art Pepper – unfortunately it is Playboys/Pictures of Heath – which is great – but there is already a nice version available on Pure Pleasure.

March 12, 2021

  • Charles Lloyd & The Marvels – Tone Poem (Blue Note, 2021) warning – digitally mastered – no better than the ususal BN Charles Lloyd release but €20 more expensive.

May 7, 2021

June 4, 2021

  • Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – The Witch Doctor (Blue Note, 1961)
  • Curtis Amy & Dupree Bolton – Katanga! (Pacific Jazz, 1963)

July 9, 2021

  • Sonny Clark – My Conception (Blue Note, 1959)
  • McCoy Tyner – Expansions (Blue Note, 1968)

August 6, 2021

  • Lee Konitz & Gerry Mulligan – Lee Konitz Plays With The Gerry Mulligan Quartet (Pacific Jazz, 1953)
  • Wayne Shorter – The All Seeing Eye (Blue Note, 1965)

September 10, 2021

  • Joe Pass – For Django (Pacific Jazz, 1964)
  • Stanley Turrentine – Rough ‘N Tumble (Blue Note, 1966)

October 8, 2021

  • Sonny Red – Out of the Blue (Blue Note, 1959-60)
  • Grant Green – The Latin Bit (Blue Note, 1962)

November 5, 2021

  • Hank Mobley – Curtain Call (Blue Note, 1957)
  • Jackie McLean – Tippin’ The Scales (Blue Note, 1962)

December 3, 2021

  • Gerald Wilson – Moment of Truth (Pacific Jazz, 1962)
  • Freddie Hubbard – Breaking Point! (Blue Note, 1964)

January 7, 2022

  • Kenny Burrell – Kenny Burrell (Blue Note, 1956)
  • Grant Green – Feelin’ The Spirit (Blue Note, 1962)

February 4, 2022

  • Harold Vick – Steppin’ Out (Blue Note, 1963)
  • Bobby Hutcherson – Stick Up! (Blue Note, 1966)

March 4, 2022

  • Chet Baker & Art Pepper – Picture of Heath (Pacific Jazz, 1956)
  • Blue Mitchell – Bring It Home To Me (Blue Note, 1966)

April 1, 2022

  • Donald Byrd – At The Half Note Cafe, Vol. 1 (Blue Note, 1960)
  • ScoLoHoFo (Scofield-Lovano-Holland-Foster) – Oh! (Blue Note, 2002)