Analog vs Digital — The Great Audio Debate   

One of the most hotly contested debates in modern-day hifi is one of source and substance: analog or digital. The preferential rift isn’t as clear-cut as one would think. Thanks to the recent resurgence of vinyl (and even reel–to-reel, which is increasingly seen at hifi shows), one’s inclination towards LPs or CDs, tapes or WAV files, can’t be determined by the decade one was born in.  There are benefits and deficiencies to both formats to be sure, and that is exactly what we are exploring here…

 

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Argument for Analog

Aside from the obvious nostalgia, there are several reasons why discerning music lovers would opt for analog over digital sources. To many, vinyl recordings have a more authentic, natural quality than their digital counterparts (which critics often describe as cold and uninviting). Some may argue that analog bandwidth is superior, especially when compared to the dumbed-down results of compressed recordings (although those recordings are getting better with time, thanks to modernized digital files). Bandwidth aside, the REAL allure of analog is its raw charm, which has the power to elicit an emotional response from listeners. The term that is typically associated with this emotional response is “analog warmth”. It is interesting to note that this distinctive warmth is in fact a side-effect of technical imperfections in the analog recording process. Whether it is speed-stability issues of magnetic recording tape, or harmonic distortions created by transformers, each of these flaws leads to an enhancement of the mood, character, and enjoyment that comes with analog reproduction. And that enjoyment is only amplified when you add the ceremonial aspects to LP listening. No skipping around tracks—just you, the music, and the liner notes and artwork provided on your canvas-like cover.

 

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Digital Defense

Where analog may sweep with the nostalgia and feel-good factors, digital sources win out in terms of precision and convenience. We have advocated for “analog warmth”. However, let’s not forget that a lot of that warmth is the direct result of distortion—and some of that distortion is not so welcome. In general, digital recordings have a greater SNR (signal to noise ratio), and in many cases, that leads to a more enjoyable listening experience. Of course there are some wonderful pressings of vinyl available, but those LPs come with a high price tag. Unfortunately, the majority of affordable records are noisy, warped and distorted. Furthermore, while the ritual of getting out an album and listening to it play out in full may stand the test of time, the album (or tape) itself does not. The grooves and tapes of analog recordings can only withstand so much play time—digital files, on the other hand, can be listened to ad infinitum without any negative repercussions to their sonic integrity. Even at “first play”, you may be better off going with digital, since even standard CDs have significant dynamic advantages over vinyl. Lastly, consider the convenience of digital storage and the variety of digital streaming. Thanks to new technology and ever-improving files, audiophiles can keep their entire music catalog at their fingertips and explore artists and genres that they never would have been exposed to otherwise, with the click of a button.

 

The debate of analog vs digital could go on and on without a concrete, impartial conclusion. For the most part, the correct answer is highly individualized and preferential. It is a testament to our industry that we have so many great options on which to experience high fidelity recordings. But a debate is a debate, so we ask you: How do you like to have your music delivered to you?

Nelson Brill On New Audiophile Quality Recordings From Troubadours Spinning Tales From Americana

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound. In this blog, Brill focuses his attention on three wonderful folk acts — Charlie Parr, John McEuen, and Sherman Holmes.  


 

NEW AUDIOPHILE QUALITY RECORDINGS FROM TROUBADOURS SPINNING TALES FROM AMERICANA

By Nelson Brill

NOVEMBER 3, 2017

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First up, a recent movie tip: the 2016 biopic, Maudie [Screen Door Productions/Sony Pictures Classics] is a stellar film that portrays the life of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis [1903-1970] who overcame many obstacles, including being orphaned at a young age; suffering a lifetime of disease and abuse from her husband and society at large, to blossom as an artist. In this moving film, the actress Sally Hawkins plays Lewis and captures all of her fragility, sense of humor and resilience with passion and quiet dignity. Ethan Hawke is also superb as Lewis’ abusive and reclusive spouse.

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Lewis’ paintings capture her love of the landscape of her native Nova Scotia, (dancing flowers, bleak wintry scenes, birds in flight, workers in the fields), and is a testament to the power of folk art grounded in a particular place and time.

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Folk art, in the musical context, can also work a mesmerizing hold on the human need to tell stories of a certain place and time, accompanied by an irresistible back beat. One such master of this musical form is Minnesota native Charlie Parr, (www.charlieparr.com) who performed an intimate solo concert within the warm pine-paneled walls of the Atwoods Tavern in Cambridge, MA. (www.atwoodstavern.com) on October 2nd. Parr’s inventive yarns glowed with the glory and heartbreak of people living within his landscape of rural Minnesota and beyond, sung in a voice that rose in spiky, maverick expression.

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Parr’s show at the Atwood, (resembling a house concert with the capacity young crowd swaying to Parr’s fleet guitar and thunderous foot-stomping) was ignited by Parr singing a number of originals from his 2015 audiophile gem, Stumpjumper [Red House Records; www.redhouserecords.com).

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Highlights included a lilting “Remember Me If I Forget” (with swirling slide guitar accents quick and agile) and the contemplative “Over The Red Cedar”, a revolving beauty that tells the tale of a neighborhood kid growing into a man and realizing the passage of time. Parr also took a raucous detour into “Falcon”, (another highlight from Stumpjumper), that rocked furiously on a spinning tale of a wisecracking “north of the Red River” character surviving as best he can. On “Falcon,” Parr’s pumping acoustic guitar and heavy foot stomps sounded like baseball cards flipping in bicycle spokes: revolving in crisp colors with great vocal bravado, string heat and fleet guitar propulsion.

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Parr also plunged with scrappy heat into several numbers taken from his new recording, Dog [Red House Records] where his lyrics shone like little powerful firecrackers, bursting with life. He sang meditatively about a tale of sons following in the footsteps of their fathers (“Hobo”); about our comic rituals surrounding death (“I Ain’t Dead Yet”) (with Parr’s slide working its greased magic) and finishing with a blistering version of the classic murder tale, “Stagger Lee,” belting his vocals and tumultuous guitar strums to the height of expressive power. Parr also paid tribute to his friend and fellow traveler, the incomparable Spider John Koerner, playing a version of one of Koerner’s comic tales (that features Buffalo Bill and Koerner’s contemplation of Free Will) in an effervescent tumble of Parr’s sharp guitar lines and playful majesty. Parr left the stage to the raucous ovations of the audience who hung on every one of his craggy lyrics and the crackling sound of his spinning, incisive guitar licks.

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Returning from Parr’s intimate and soulful performance, I was reminded of a new recording by another superb folk art master who also takes his inspiration from the likes of Spider John Koerner, Jerry Jeff Walker, Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon to create his own stew of rollicking folk music joy. Roots Music Made in Brooklyn [Chesky Records; www.chesky.com] is a new recording by singer, songwriter and string master John McEuen. For this recording, McEuen assembled a sterling group of musicians at the Hirsch Center in Brooklyn, New York for an informal jam session that delivers a bountiful feast of acoustic gifts. The audio quality of this Chesky “binaural recording” (utilizing their “3D and Applied Acoustics” recording technics) is superb in its tactile and dynamic presence; its natural tones and colors and, (as always with the Chesky label), a beautiful capturing of instruments and voices illuminating the natural space and air of the particular recording venue.  [For another vivid dose of the Chesky label’s new sonic gifts, listen to the amazing 2016 Chesky recording Stripped that ensnares the craggy vocals of Macy Gray (with her stellar band) in a performance that shimmers and soars in airy delights].

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On McEuen’s disc, instrumental compositions “Acoustic Traveler”, “Brooklyn Crossing” and “Miner’s Night Out” are all shining, carefree explorations of Americana melodies with garlands of beautiful solos from this swanking ensemble.

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These include sweet clarinet solos from Andy Goessling; sparkling fiddle from Jay Ungar; deft guitar solos from David Bromberg and McEuen and pumping acoustic bass from Skip Ward. McEuen’s canvas encompasses the swanking gospel of “I Rose Up” (with layered background vocalists rising and falling around banjo pricks and fiddle sways), to the rough and tumble sounds of  New Orleans in “Travelin Mood,” (with David Bromberg firing up his acoustic guitar flowing into David Amram’s soaring penny whistle solo).

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The crisp interplay between these spirited musicians also propels McEuen’s free-flowing versions of Warren Zevon’s comic, sardonic treats: “Excitable Boy” (with Bromberg’s vocals taking a turn next to swaying mandolin, fiddle and chorus) and “My Dirty Life And Times,” taken at a bluesy pace (led by Steve Martin’s scrappy banjo) with mandolin, dobro and fiddle accents swirling around McEuen’s vocals. Delectable blue-grass is also here on “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” and “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” where McEuen’s solo fiddle and spoken words pay tribute to another folk hero, Vasser Clements. McEuen’s words and instrumental radiance reverberate off the walls of the recording space in spare elegance on this twisting tale.

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The crowning glory to this recording is McEuen and his band’s version of Jerry Jeff Walker’s folk classic, “Mr. Bojangles.” This swaying beauty brews on the expressive vocals of David Bromberg, John Cowan and others, reveling in this expressive tale all curled up with acoustic accompaniments plied and strummed with quiet passion.

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A final, glorious dip into new musical folk art recordings takes us to Christchurch, Virginia into the deep blues, gospel and tumultuous rock flowing in the blood of Sherman Holmes, bassist and vocalist for the venerable Holmes Brothers Band. Since the death of his two brothers, Holmes has soldiered on to now produce a glowing new recording with his Sherman Holmes Project, The Richmond Sessions [M.C. Records; www.mc-records.com] in which his voice, bass and keyboard presides in a gathering of musicians and gospel singers who make these folk, gospel and rock tunes shimmer and shake.

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The recording quality is superb. This is no surprise because Mark Carpentieri’s M.C. Records is well known for producing recordings with great presence, dynamic energy and natural, life-like image dimensionality. (Take a listen to M.C. Records’ 1999 recording of Odetta, in her Blues Everywhere I Go for a reference blues recording of knockout beauty and passion).

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A crackling presence of pumping guitars, propulsive bass and vivid vocals sears this new M.C. Records recording of the Sherman Holmes Project from start to finish. Holmes and his swanking band glow in their gospel righteousness on such gut-thumping traditionals as “Wide River”, “I Want Jesus” and “Rock of Ages.” All of these tunes are laced with the deep spirited vocals of Homes and the surging power of his background vocal group, “The Ingramettes,” three female vocalists who bring supremely assured vocal prowess and soaring power to the mix.

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The band extends their gospel and soul roots into exuberant, rocking versions of Ben Harper’s “Homeless Child”, John Fogerty’s “Green River”; Holland, Dozier’s “Don’t Do It” (made famous by The Band’s rollicking version) and a roguish “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home”.  In each of these volcanic gems, the musicianship is superb, with sparkling solos from Rob Ickes’ spindly and inventive dobro and David Van Deventer’s crafty fiddle.  Jim Lauderdale’s “Lonesome Pines” brings us home, with its slow cyclical expressive vocals, spinning banjo and ebullient hits from Ickes’ dobro. Here is power and soul; instrumental glitter and intoxicating singing that all take the Sherman Holmes Project’s folk portrait to a foot-stomping earthy place within the rich and diverse soil of Americana.

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If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.


Nelson Brill Attends the 2017 Lowell Folk Festival

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound. In this blog, Brill attends the oldest running folk festival in the United States to hear music from “the streets of  Zimbabwe, Morocco and Cuba to the blues alleys of Chicago.”


FOLK MUSIC FLOURISHES AT THE 2017 LOWELL FOLK FESTIVAL AND IN A GLOWING JAZZ PARTNERSHIP

By Nelson Brill

AUGUST, 2017

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The unbounded nature of folk music, with its global reach and its rich stories of love, struggle and glory, continues to astound. The vitality of folk music was heard in all its myriad forms at this year’s 31st edition of the venerable Lowell, MA. Folk Festival (“Festival”) the oldest running folk festival in the United States. This year’s edition, running from July 28-30th, was lit up with music that careened from the streets of  Zimbabwe, Morocco and Cuba to the blues alleys of Chicago.

UnknownArriving at the Festival’s “Dutton Street Pavilion,” C.J. Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band were performing under a huge tent rocking the classic tunes “Caldonia” and “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)” with infectious zydeco sway. Chenier’s accordion churned out flowing chords while his muscular partner on his “Frottoir” (a version of a washboard worn with a shoulder strap – first designed by C.J.’s father, Clifton Chenier, in 1946 Louisiana) provided the intense zing of a backbeat. Chenier sang with a rotund voice (containing ardor and grit) that punctuated the swirling music of his band. The capacity audience danced and swayed to the joyous grooves while Chenier’s accordion swept them along with his swashbuckling accordion.

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Over at the Festival’s “Boarding House Park” stage, Toronzo Cannon and his quartet delivered a scorch of another variety: searing electric Chicago blues. Cannon utilized a rolling guitar style in which he slid his fingers seamlessly from one fret to another or hit hard a cluster of repeating notes in a circular, rapid-fire pattern.

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His rousing voice accompanied his guitar swagger and his songs of lost love and “bad contracts” – all delivered with gut-thumping heat. The classic Elmore James’ tune, “Look Over Yonder’s Wall [Hand Me Down My Walk’in Cane]”, was a pile-driving romp with the band’s young keyboardist battening down the hatches with his percussive, two-fisted barrelhouse runs.

In contrast to the molten heat from Cannon’s guitar, the guitarist fronting the band Mokoomba, (a band hailing from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe), delivered the lightest of dancing notes and stutter-stepping phrases on his instrument. Mokoomba’s music combined expressive calls and vocals with the resonant pulse of congas and hand-held percussion to create undulating light grooves upon which members of the band surfed with their great high-stepping dance moves.

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Congas (and a variety of other indigenous drums) were also the resonant foundation underlying singer Betsayda Machado’s spirited performance of Cuban and Venezuelan folk music with the band, “La Parranda El Clavo”.

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Machado possessed a radiant voice (with a beautiful mix of expressive full power and tonal delicacy) and she joined with several other singers in performing Spanish songs and Yoruba chants that floated over the many drum calls below (accentuated by the whirling steps of dancers onstage).

At the Festival’s “Saint Anne’s Churchyard” stage, Americana folk and blues were nestled in the bows of the band Shadowgrass, who drove their bluegrass hard and fleet. These four young musicians took the capacity audience by storm with their sparkling banjo soars, acoustic guitar flourishes and a nimble, thumping bass that rode it all to glory.

The Festival would not complete, however, without hearing some of that sweet driving Memphis soul delivered hot and fresh by the Stax Music Academy Alumni Band.

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These young musicians tore up classic hits like “Rock Steady” and “I’ll Take You There” with soaring vocals (from their two powerhouse female vocalists and their male vocalist with a baritone as smooth as honey) propelled by a backing band of churning brass, guitar and drums. As the sun went down, the Stax Alumni Band took the Festival home with their deft vocal harmonies and their horns strutting in sharp, playful majesty.

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The rich veins of Americana folk and blues were also explored in another recent performance by two consummate Boston area musicians who create their own sweet and pungent stew from the griddle of folk roots music, poured creatively into their vessel of jazz improvisation. On July 22nd, vocalist Dominique Eade and pianist Ran Blake (both colleagues and educators at New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation Department, www.necmusic.edu), took to the welcoming stage of Thelonious Monkfish, (“Monkfish”) and delivered a sparkling recital before a transfixed capacity audience.

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Monkfish (www.theloniousmonkfish.com) is a delectable restaurant and music venue run by its amicable, music-loving proprietor Jamme Chantler and his musical coordinator, Scott Goulding, himself an accomplished jazz drummer with bands such as the dynamic Yoko Miwa Trio that frequently appears at Monkfish. (Pianist Yoko Miwa and her Trio have a new album out this summer entitled Pathways and it is a stellar outing with great melodic beauty and creative artistry to explore [See www.yokomiwa.com]).

The sound at Monkfish is very good and at the Eade/Blake recital, another NEC alumnus, Jeremy Sarna, manned the sound controls to produce a sound that captured the partnership of Eade and Blake in soaring flight. The sound had excellent tactile detail, a natural balance to piano and voice and offered a clear window to hear every crisp isolated note and thunderous resonant cloud in Blake’s intrepid piano explorations.

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At their Monkfish performance, Eade and Blake celebrated their new duet recording Town and Country [Sunnyside; www.sunnysiderecords.com), an audiophile gem which is particularly noteworthy in its sound quality for its capturing of ambient space: an empty NEC Jordan Hall with all of its splendor of flowing air and deep resonance.

Their Monkfish recital roved from every corner of this recording’s expansive folk and blues territory. The concert opened with William Schumann’s “Pretty Fly and Lullaby,” with Eade perched on the most gentle of free-flowing high notes and runs, (with some creative bird call-like sounds whispered into her mix). “Winter in Madrid” was another garland of high fleeting vocal gifts from Eade: her voice here resembled a young tern learning to fly at an ocean’s edge. Her voice dove, swerved and dipped to express the beauty and depth of her songs with creative and unpredictable zest. Blake’s piano was like the partnering wind to her wings: his spontaneous bellows of chord colors, pedal holds or prickly jumping notes always sent Eade flying in a new vocal direction or swoop.

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The rich folk, gospel and blues songs from their Town and Country recording sometimes rang out with thunder in Blake’s prodigious keyboard crashes or, at other times, were drenched in the lightness (like nourishing, falling rain) from Eade’s slippery bebop scat. “Moon River” glowed with Eade’s voice lustrous and strong (tethered to Blake’s bluesy chords). “Elijah Rock” also glowed with gospel fervor on Eade’s sassy and brazen vocals that concluded with her retreating from her microphone to echo the phrase “Lord, Lord” in cascading light calls. On Dylan’s “Its Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, Eade turned her voice into a talking, penetrating slipstream of words that rang with condemnation, sarcasm and knife-sharp edges as Blake responded with arresting stop and start keyboard quips that rang out like shotgun blasts.

The music on Town and Country seeps into every emotional crevice of Americana roots music: it can be prickly; it can be warmly inviting or it can be blistering in its condemnation of human suffering. Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love To Rose” (a moving ballad on the human cost of imprisonment) and “The Easter Tree” (an old English protest song against racist violence with the stark imagery of a lynching at its core) lurched on Blake’s spare piano notes and Eade’s pouncing vocals. (Eade concluded “Easter Tree” by holding the last word- “Stone” – for several seconds to deliver a wallop of vocal power and intensity). “Memphis,” Blake’s short instrumental composition for Martin Luther King, shuddered with thunderous clouds of ominous chords contrasted with the lightest of piano touches- as if to portent the spark of new possibilities.

In contrast to these penetrating numbers, Eade and Blake also performed a light and glittering “Moonlight In Vermont” (a highlight of gentle sway and lilting creativity) and Eade performed a riveting scat solo piece in which she played an imaginary wind instrument (with her fingers outstretched before her) concocting percussive sounds up and down her nimble register.

The recital came to a close on the meditative theme of a beautiful spoken word/singing tribute to another Americana folk hero: the sage activist Henry David Thoreau (whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year). In this unfurling poetic moment, spoken text and vocals curled around Blake’s floating clouds of soft velvety piano colors until they disappeared in a final wisp of Eade’s fragile held soar.

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If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.


 

Nordost Playlist – September 2017

Nordost is lucky to have a wonderful team of representatives and product trainers who travel around the world educating and demonstrating the effects of Nordost’s products. As part of these demonstrations, it is our job to find an interesting and diverse selection of music to showcase our cables, power devices, sort system and accessories. Whether at shows, visiting our dealers and distributors or even in our own listening room in our headquarters in Holliston, we are constantly getting asked what music we are playing (or if our audience is not so bold to ask, we can see their Shazams working overtime). So we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share our favorite songs of the moment. Some may be classics, some may be brand new, some may not even be to your taste, but one thing is for sure …it’s all great music.

Here are some of the songs that we will have on rotation this September.

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  1. Personal Jesus – Remastered Version—Depeche Mode—The Best Of Depeche Mode Volume 1
  2. Cocaine Cool – Extended Vol2—Laid Back—Cosyland
  3. Coffee—Grace—FMA
  4. Lover—Tree Theater, Emily C. Browning—Lover
  5. Nalésonko—Ballaké Sissoko—At Peace
  6. Portraits of Langston: V. Jazz Band in a Parisian Cabaret—Langston Hughes, Valerie Coleman, McGill/McHale Trio—Portraits: Work for Flute, Clarinet & Piano
  7. Gold – Nikitch Remix—Andreya Triana, Nikitch—Gold
  8. Heart’s On Fire—Passenger—Whispers (Deluxe)
  9. Stranger—Paul Simon, Nico Segal—Stranger
  10. Appointments—Julien Baker—Appointments

We’ll be updating our “Nordost Monthly Playlist” on Spotify every month, and you can visit our profile to find all our selections in one place!


 

Nelson Brill Reviews Two Bass-Centric Acts in Cambridge

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound. In this blog, Brill covers two bass-centric performances at the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA, featuring veteran bassist, Ron Carter, and newcomer to the scene, Linda May Han Oh .


 

TWO BASS-CENTRIC JAZZ BANDS SWING WITH PLAYFUL PURPOSE

By Nelson Brill

MAY 29, 2017

Unknown-1-1 The power of an acoustic or electric bass is limitless. It can, in the hands of an eminent string master, power a walking blues romp or, in the hands of a young bassist taking her first turn as a band leader, it can serve up a stew of gut-thumping colors propelling her original compositions.

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As for an eminent master of the acoustic bass, there is no one like the impeccable Ron Carter, who celebrated his 80th birthday with his artful trio (Donald Vega on piano and Russell Malone on guitar) in a sparkling performance on April 28th at the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA. (www.regattabarjazz.com). Sporting a dapper suit (accented with a purple pocket square), the lanky, joyous 80 year-old immediately alighted on his bass with delectable bounce and rhythmic splendor. His nimble fingers tenderly flirted with his strings, creating buoyant and soulful song lines. The intimate setting of the Regattabar (and the superb sound that house engineer W.J. Edward Emerson was able to concoct from Carter’s small amplifier elevated on a stand) allowed for the capacity audience to lean in and hear every soft purr, fleshy pluck and pungent roll from Carter’s bass.

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Carter and his sympathetic band mates swung heartily into music that paid tribute to some of Carter’s departed past colleagues: bassist Oscar Pettiford, guitarist Jim Hall and trumpeter Miles Davis. Their tribute to Hall, entitled “Brazilian Opus No. 5”, was highlighted by Carter’s extended solo in which he ensnared all the warmth of this slow-brewing bossa nova with nimble dexterity. He located notes down low (with gentle plucks and lingering harmonic holds) and then effortlessly slipped up to his highest register (with an elastic “portimento” or huge slide) grabbing a cluster of notes with his outstretched fingers. “Brazilian Opus” concluded with Carter’s trademark touch: a rigorous singular bass note struck on just the right note and pitch to sum up the arc of the band’s creative excursion.

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Cushioned within all this alluring bass drama was Vega’s subtly eloquent piano. Throughout the concert, Vega displayed a plush keyboard attack that relied on understatement in his creative feel for the backbone of each melody. He twisted each strand of melody into creative braids of fleeting piano lines that always fell into satisfying patterns of light tension and release.

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The Trio’s version of Pettiford’s “La Verne Walk” was a slippery, sliding delight that had all three musicians crackling with collective energy and virtuoso solo moments. All the sunshine in this tune was captured in Carter’s cavort: he pulled strings to bend them in elastic deep rumbles; he slid and slurped in playful bluesy holds and chased the melody with buoyant touches and spidery licks.

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Carter’s ineffable bounce led the way into Malone’s gleeful solo in which Malone first created the delectable sound of a washboard by rapidly strumming his strings and lightly tapping his hollow body guitar to create a wooden percussive rush. He then found a perch on one note, repeating it for several seconds, only to flow into a rapid, funky descent that ended on the same one note perch. The crowd roared in approval as a smiling Carter took up this same one-note on his bass and threw it into his quiver of colorful declarations to send Pettiford’ swinging piece homeward.

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The Trio ended their set on a version of Benny Goodman’s “Soft Winds” that showcased the Trio’s ability to hit prankish hard, with the lightest of touches. Vega’s piano solo was filled with undulant waves of blues chords rising from his depths to his highest registers; Malone dove in with his sly funk and crisp strumming and Carter added his penetrating undertow of walking bass lines. This thunderous action receded when Carter’s bass veered into the lightest of purrs and touches, sending Vega and Malone into peaceful curls of their own, high and sweet on their instruments. The final note (which Carter held serenely) sung out with regal force punctuating this great musical companionship.

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Carter has been involved in more than 2,000 recording sessions. A few of his most recent recordings are recommended for their audiophile quality and their beautiful ensnaring of Carter’s spirited versatility.

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One of my older favorites is Carter’s 2003 Entre Amigos SACD/CD recording on the (always reliable) audiophile quality label, Chesky (www.chesky.com). On this superb recording (suffused with the warmth and air of the recording venue), Carter’s bass softly entwines (from a layered rear position) with the expressive vocals of Rosa Passos and the acoustic glory of several other virtuoso musicians to mine the unfolding grooves of some classic Brazilian tunes. The relaxed feel of this session is fantastic with Passos’ lithe and expressive vocals crisply captured up front, meandering in and out of Carter’s probing bass.

51sGdieCeEL._SS500-300x300 Carter also showcases his versatility on his most recent recordings: he joins in a warm and simmering duet with saxophonist Houston Person on Chemistry [HighNote Records] and then joins forces with a boisterous band led by trombonist/composer Steve Turre on Colors For The Masters [Smoke Sessions Records]. Chemistry is a stellar recording and one of the last produced by the recently departed recording master, Rudy Van Gelder, at his legendary New Jersey studio. Although I would have liked more upbeat numbers from this swashbuckling duet, (slow ballads predominant), the session is a beautiful example of two masters conversing on an intimate scale where every curling breath of Person’s soulful sax is tactilely felt and where every one of Carter’s pungent touches is heard nimble and radiant.

71WAxVld6L._SX425_-300x270In contrast to Chemistry’s intimate session, Colors For The Masters takes off on the boundless energy of a stellar band in flight. The band is supremely assured with glittering pianist Kenny Barron, master drummer Jimmy Cobb and Carter leading the rhythmic charge in accompanying Turre’s resolute trombone and Javon Jackson’s brawny tenor sax. This vital recording packs a soulful punch as it veers from the raucous to the voluptuousness, delivering animated keyboard grooves, glowing horns and, underlying them all, Carter’s bracing bass lines.

Another bassist, (who may take a thing or two herself from the Carter playbook) is the intrepid young bassist, Linda May Han Oh, who brought her venturesome band (pianist Fabian Almazon; guitarist Matthew Stevens; saxophonist Greg Ward and drummer Rudy Royston) to the Regattabar’s intimate stage on April 15th to celebrate the release of their latest recording, Walk Against Wind [www.lindamayhanoh.com].

allaboutjazz.com

allaboutjazz.com

The band’s performance featured many of Oh’s original compositions from Walk Against Wind (her first recording as a band leader) and several of these pieces were commenced with Oh taking an extended solo on her acoustic bass. Her bass playing has this special quality of a wide-open, adventurous feel, where anything is possible. She combines long trailing runs (effortlessly spun up and down her flexible register) with angular, jostling isolated notes. She can stop on a dime; pluck big and resonant and then fall silent for a few seconds, mixing up her tempos with impeccable touch and a natural feel for the groove.

allaboutjazz.com

allaboutjazz.com

Her style fully complements the overall feel of her creative compositions: the slow bluesy feel of “Lucid Lullaby” (with her bass plush and swelling with resonant plucks and evolving colors) or the buoyancy of her Brazilian tinged “Fire Dancer” (where she combines dancing light notes and plucks to sashay with Royston’s delicate cymbal and wood rim hits).

jazzafterhours.com

jazzafterhours.com

The musical synergy  that was exchanged between Oh and her simpatico band mates at this concert was a delight. Royston, a propulsive engine of delectable lightness and  passion on his drum kit, always kept his eyes on Oh. He accented her every spontaneous string dip and soar (or surprising pause) with his own interwoven percussive glory – sometimes silvery and sometimes volcanic.

allaboutjazz.com

allaboutjazz.com

The Cuban-born Almazon, (who I have written glowing about in these pages before), also kept his eyes glued on Oh, ready to send his restless piano lines into the fray. On “Walk Against The Wind,” Almazon grabbed the heartbeat of the song and took off on a breathless piano solo. His exploration melded funk, blues and Afro-Cuban influences into a swirling crisp dance that was as unpredictable as it was radiant.

51T7kXwtGEL._SS500-300x300 Take note that Oh, Almazan and Royston can be heard in all their triple threat glory on a recent recording that they made with alto saxophonist Jim Snidero entitled  Main Street [Savant Records]. This recording delivers great presence and up-front vitality to all instrumental timbres and textures. One highlight- “The Streets of Laredo” – delivers a full dose of what Oh, Almazan and Royston can do both individually (on each of their searing and elastic solos) and in collective presence with Snidero’s reedy, sharp explorations.Towards the end of the performance at the Regattabar, Oh took up her electric bass and she and her band hurled out some full throttle funk on Oh’s original “Perpluzzle”. The highlights here were Stevens on his searing guitar solo, (sending out some heady angular and off-kilter note bends and power chords) and saxophonist Ward pile driving the funk with his soaring sax holds. Oh smiled from behind her electric bass, content to pressurize the proceedings with the raw vitality of her playful bass lines.

vanityfair.com

vanityfair.com

 


If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.


Nordost Playlist – April 2017

Nordost is lucky to have a wonderful team of representatives and product trainers who travel around the world educating and demonstrating the effects of Nordost’s products. As part of these demonstrations, it is our job to find an interesting and diverse selection of music to showcase our cables, power devices, sort system and accessories. Whether at shows, visiting our dealers and distributors or even in our own listening room in our headquarters in Holliston, we are constantly getting asked what music we are playing (or if our audience is not so bold to ask, we can see their Shazams working overtime). So we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share our favorite songs of the moment. Some may be classics, some may be brand new, some may not even be to your taste, but one thing is for sure …it’s all great music.

Here are some of the songs that we will have on rotation this April.

playlist_April_17

  1. A Sunday Kind Of Love—Etta James—At Last
  2. Just Like You—Bosley—Honey Pig
  3. Red-Eyed And Blue—Wilco—Being There
  4. A Rose For Emily—The Zombies—Odyssey And Oracle
  5. Blind Ambition—Sophia Bastian—Blind Ambition
  6. Freedom Is Free—Chicano Batman—Freedom is Free
  7. Baldamore—Hadouk Trio—Utopies
  8. Feel It Still—Portugal. The Man—Feel It Still
  9. Chanel—Frank Ocean—Chanel
  10. Saturnz Barz—Gorillaz—Humanz

Nelson Brill Reviews The Wood Brothers at The Somerville Theatre

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound.

In this blog, Brill heads to The Somerville Theatre to see The Wood Brothers perform their carousing vaudeville and fiery rock n’ roll” set. 


CONCERT GLIMPSE: THE WOOD BROTHERS- PRIMED FOR ADVENTURE

By Nelson Brill

FEBRUARY 12, 2017

The Somerville Theatre (located in the heart of Davis Square in Somerville, MA.) opened its doors on May 11, 1914 and the first acts that graced its stage that night were a vaudeville act; a “singing skit” and a “comedy playlet”. (www.somervilletheatre.com). One hundred years later, the Somerville Theatre is still going strong.

somervilletheatre.com

On February 8 and 9th, The Wood Brothers (www.thewoodbros.com) came into town to deliver their own version of carousing vaudeville and fiery rock n’ roll on the Somerville Theatre’s historic stage to the delight of their rollicking, dancing audiences.

The Wood Brothers (“the Brothers”) love to harken back to the days of original vaudeville and folk acts. Midway through their performance on February 8th, the Brothers (Chris Wood on bass, vocals and harmonica; Oliver Wood on vocals and guitar and Jano Rix on keyboards, vocals and everything percussive) dimmed the Somerville Theatre house lights, turned off all stage microphones and gathered in a semi-circle around a single antique microphone (which they call their “Big Mic”). Basking in this autumnal glow, the Brothers performed the filigree title track from their 2013 recording, The Muse [Southern Ground Artists] and their classic, “Postcards From Hell,” (a tribute this evening to the late Levon Helm) in stately sweet harmonies.

The unkempt beauty of these stark ballads highlighted the down-home feel of this great band and their consummate musicianship. Each number combined far-ranging influences such as a brush with Calypso beats (in Chris Wood’s pumping bass solo) to Oliver Wood’s country vocal touches.

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Other sweetly grooving numbers at this concert included the opening “Two Places” and “Touch of Your Hand” (both taken from the Brother’s excellent 2015 recording, Paradise [Honey Jar Records]), with Oliver’s lithe and clear vocals shimmying alongside Chris’s pungent bass and Rix’s keyboard off-kilter splashes.

The Brothers’ common pulsing sway also highlighted their sardonic “American Heartache” with the rasp of Chris’ harmonica cutting deep into the trio’s soaring harmonies that combusted in thunderous drum and snarling electric guitar hits.

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Betwixt and between these grooving ballads and blues, The Brothers took off on a raucous ride through their arsenal of full tilt rock n’ roll sending their lyrics (both comic and cutting) soaring on ripped-up guitar chords and huge bass pelts. Leave it to The Brothers to come up with lyrics such as: “You put your lips in the wind and hope for some kisses back” or “He hails from the great state of confusion and he now pulls a push broom at the inconvenience store.” The latter lyric is taken from their soaring “Singing To Strangers” that crushed with gleeful guitar heat and was partnered with “Snake Eyes” (both numbers found in spirited versions on Paradise) that had Chris Wood dancing in playful revel: he pounded his exuberant bass strings into a frenzy and then, (holding onto the very tip of his huge acoustic bass) he shimmied across the stage to finally fall on his knees to the blasts of Rix’s gut-thumping drums.

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The frolic continued with blazing harp and bass propelling the boogie of “Honey Jar” as Oliver Wood sang in his wonderfully dry, expressive and thin-as-a-reed vocals. This careening number was partnered with the exuberant “One More Day,” a song that was first recorded on The Brothers 2006 recording, Ways Not To Lose [Blue Note]. (For audiophiles, I recommend Ways Not To Lose as The Brothers’ most natural sounding recording to date, because it records them in an intimate session with natural tones and textures to their beguiling instrumental and vocal interplay, with the spirited drummer Kenny Wollesen in the creative mix).

“One More Day” took on a furious pace and blistering heat at this concert as Oliver took up his electric slide guitar with fervent swipes of crushing and blurred high notes followed by Rix’s drum solo that was fit for a boisterous New Orleans “Second Line” parade. Appropriately, this heated jam ended with a spontaneous outburst of a warped version of “The Saints Go Marching In.”

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In the final moments of this raw funk fest, The Brothers came full circle to revisit the glory of The Band, (the Brothers’ upcoming release will be a performance recorded at Levon Helm’s Barn) and lifted the 100 year-old roof of the Somerville Theatre with a soaring version of The Band’s “Ophelia”. At the apex of this reveling version, Rix took a turn in Levon’s honorary seat by singing the chorus at his drum kit while his two partners caroused around him with effusive harmonies and their entwining brotherly love.

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If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.


Looking for the perfect gift for the music lover in your life? Nelson Brill has some suggestions!

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound.

In this blog, Brill offers some suggestions for the perfect gifts the audiophiles in your life would enjoy this holiday season.  


HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE FOR THE AUDIOPHILE UNDER YOUR MISTLETOE

DECEMBER 3, 2016
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Thinking about what your music maven/audiophile might like to find under her Christmas tree, Hanukkah bush or Kwanzaa candelabra? Here are some holiday gift suggestions from this year’s batch of audiophile quality recordings, equipment and accessories in heavy rotation here at bostonconcertreviews:



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For the vinyl lover, it is always a great gift suggestion to head over to support your local record store and peruse its record bins for a long-lost LP to gift to that special music fan. Maybe you’ll find a copy of vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s 1957 swinging Plenty, Plenty, Soul [Atlantic] or mine the pearlesque voice of Shelby Lynne on her steaming Just A Little Lovin’ [UMG Recordings] or the meditative strings of sarod master Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on his 1966 recording Morning and Evening Ragas [on the spectacular Connoisseur Society Label).  Or maybe you’ll unearth an original pressing of the knockout self-titled album by Taj Mahal [Columbia Records] plying his bluesy “Built For Comfort” or that swinging bluesman (hailing from Woonsocket, Rhode Island), the sizzling Duke Robillard on his jazzy 1987 recording, Swing [Rounder Records; www.rounder.com].



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Duke Robillard – youtube.comIn your search, always keep an eye out for an LP with a white “promo” label or “radio sticker”  (a great find that usually promises the best sonics because such “promo” copies were culled from early pressings of any given LP).If you do not have a record store to support nearby, then heading to one of the specialty audiophile stores online can be another great gift resource. You’ll find tons of great LP titles at www.acousticsounds.com a site that carries many audiophile quality labels and titles. One such label you will find there is Audio Fidelity (“AF”; www.audiofidelity.net), a company that I have highlighted often in these pages for their reliably quiet LP surfaces and their special way with producing remasters of old classic rock albums  that always succeed in capturing the elusive (dynamic!) sparkle of original performances.

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One of AF’s latest reissues is from the catalogue of singer/songwriter Jesse Colin Young, whose warm vibes (from his 70’s California roots) is a perfect uplift gift for this holiday season. AF’s re-mastering of Young’s 1973 classic, Song For Juli, is a cause for celebration. Its quiet surfaces contain many riches: the tactile nylon of Young’s burbling acoustic guitar (on his “Song For Juli”); the brass punches that carouse “Ridgetop” and “Country Home”; the playful deep bass and whip-sharp sax calls in the rollicking “Miss Hesitation” and the bluesy sway of Young’s version of the “T-Bone Shuffle” (that takes it all home with Young and his swanking band radiant and pumping). This superb AF LP captures Young and his band in all their creative flight: boisterous, contemplative and grooving. (Jesse Colin Young will play locally at the wonderful Narrows Center For The Arts in Fall River, MA. on March 4, 2017 – see www.narrowscenter.org).

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If your LP maven is a jazz lover, check into Newvelle Records (www.newvelle-records.com), another audiophile label that I have highlighted this year for its superb LPs and its unique business model that insures support for the artists through members-only  subscriptions. Now is the best time to purchase a membership at Newvelle’s website to gain access to their upcoming 2017 series of eclectic jazz performances recorded in intimate sessions at East Side Sound Studio in New York City. (You can also now purchase, while they are still available, the complete bundle of recordings from Newvelle’s 2016 season). I have been enjoying my latest Newvelle Records release entitled Quiet Revolution which captures all the intimacy and dynamism of a session with bassist Ben Allison, guitarist Ted Nash and saxophonist Steve Cardenas.

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Republicojazz.blogspot

A listen to this band’s version of Jimmy Giuffre’s “Pony Express” and his “The Train and the River” delivers crackling and symbiotic music making with Cardenas swirling on his clarinet or sax; Nash moving creatively on his sheets of sparkling acoustic guitar and Allison folding it all together with his pungent and funky bass lines. A Newvelle Records’ membership is a great gift to pass along to any jazz fan who would relish exploring such one-of-a-kind jazz sessions like this gem, ensnared on quiet LP pressings and accompanied by original artwork and poetry that highlight the tactile and visual treats of the vinyl experience.

To keep all this great vinyl sounding its best, another simple and affordable gift idea is to purchase some new accessories to keep your pal’s records sounding their best.

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The most reliable record cleaning brush that I have encountered is the Hunt E.D.A. Mark 6 brush (available locally at Goodwins’ High End Audio of Waltham, MA. (www.goodwinshighend.com; or at online stores like www.musicdirect.com). All it takes is a few rotations with this brush to get records dust free and ready for stylus action. And, to clean that stylus after every record or two, the best stylus cleaner around is from Clearaudio, their “Diamond Cleaner” (also available locally at Goodwins’ or at online stores like www.needledoctor.com). Any of these accessories would make great stocking stuffers for the vinyl maven.

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Turning attention to some CD’s for gift ideas, there is another yearly subscription gift idea that will surely send plenty of joy to those who love to rock n’ roll. A yearly subscription to “Dave’s Picks” (available at www.dead.net) (which purchases four CD releases plus a special Bonus Disc) opens up uncharted worlds of the Grateful Dead (the “Greatest Band In The Land”-Bill Graham) in all their splendor – warts, curves and rousing glory intact. This past year’s subscription to Dave’s Picks delivered such delights as a roof-raising “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire On The Mountain” from the second set of the Dead’s powerful performance at the University of Boulder on 12/9/81 (Dave’s Picks Volume 20) to the filigree light of “Eyes of The World” from their 7/17/76 show at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco (with Garcia’s voice young and earnest next to his lithe guitar) (Dave’s Picks Volume 18).

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Ew.com

The crew behind Dave’sPicks deliver these new re-mastered recordings with a sonic immediacy and presence that invite the listener into the unfolding drama of the Dead’s 50 year journey- transporting us back to the thrill of those days when experimentation from chord to chord; from amp to amp; from ballad to soaring rock n’ roll was just another day at the splendid office for these roisters of musical glory.

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tubefilter.com

And, speaking of glory, holiday gift-giving would not be complete without a listen to the glorious creation from Tchaikovsky, his Nutcracker Suite, brought to sparkling life on XRCD24 (compatible with all CD players) from Hi-Q Records (distributed by Elusive Disc – www.elusivedisc.com). Hi-Q Records is one of my favorite audiophile labels for classical music because their re-mastering of classical performances deliver some of the most realistic orchestral colors, textures and volume/expanse of a real acoustic space that I have heard on CD.

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Hi-Q’s release of the Nutcracker [Hi-Q Records #51] with conductor Efrem Kurtz and the Philharmonia Orchestra (as well as their re-mastering and release of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake[Hi-Q Records #49] with these same artists) are taken from the original master tapes of the performances recorded at Abbey Road Studios in the 1950’s. Although there is some background tape noise from these old master tapes, (and cymbal crashes that will knock you out of your seat lose a bit of their natural decay and shimmer), this is as close as CD gets to vinyl’s great virtues for tactile details and capturing the natural acoustics of a recording venue.

When the chorus softly caresses from the far reaches of the stage (while flutes flutter high), the magic of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is revealed in all of its sparkling drama on this Hi-Q Record CD. Catch the dancing snowflakes (and the light tambourine at the rear of the stage) if you can!

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Balletnews.co.uk

If your holiday gifting is for someone who listens to their music primarily on a portable headphone system, then a great easy gift might be to purchase a new headphone cable to upgrade those favorite pair of “cans.” I have been thoroughly enjoying the immersive experience of listening to music through my pair of Sennheiser HD 650 headphones (www.sennheiser.com) recently upgraded with a Heimdall2 headphone cable from Nordost (www.nordost.com).

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Heimdall2 with Audeze LCD-3 headphones

Substituting the Heimdall2 cable for the Sennheiser stock headphone cable delivered a remarkable increase in all of the sonic areas that make headphone listening such an immersive experience: music crackled with new life and tactile details; vocals and instruments were more deeply layered and images were more solidly anchored in their natural acoustic space. You could more easily hear  to the rear walls of a given recording space on recordings that allowed for such ambient details to be explored. The Nordost Heimdall2 headphone cable is available from any Nordost dealership (see www.nordost.com) and can be easily configured to swap out any standard headphone cable with terminations compatible with any major player in the headphone market.

To feed that headphone system a steady diet of superb three dimensional sound, grab a few titles from the venerable audiophile label Chesky Records (www.chesky.com) and their “Binaural+” series of recordings. The “Binaural+ Series” sessions were recording on high resolution 192-kHz/24-bit sound with a special “Binaural Head” (a model human head with specialty calibrated microphones where the ears would be). These remarkable “Binaural” recordings (produced in association with Professor Edgar Choueiri of Princeton University’s 3D Audio and Applied Acoustics Lab) bring the headphone immersive experience to another level of enjoyment with performances that jump out between your ears with thrilling realism.

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One of my favorites from the Chesky Binaural+ Series is singer/songwriter/guitarist Melissa Menago’s Little Crimes [Chesky Binaural Series JD384; www.chesky.com). Menago is a young artist who delivers a gold mine of expressive songs on this superb recording, surrounded by the airy space of The Hirsch Center in Brooklyn, New York. Menago’s voice and guitar are expressive vehicles that deliver punchy verve (on her originals “If The Fire Goes Out;” “Airplane” and “Smoke Signs”) or bracing intimacy, such as on her dapper version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/Such Great Heights” or on her spritely “The Other Side of You”. The stellar imaging on this Chesky recording seats us right at the feet of Menago’s microphone and her voice and her tactile thumps of her guitar (or Keith Gill’s hand held percussion and shakers) are crisp and vital in the surrounding air. (The recording is so natural that at times, you can hear the rumble of a subway or what sounds like rain hitting the pavement outside the Hirsch Center in natural accompaniment to Menago’s spindly inflections). Menago takes us to another place, intimate and enveloping, in her stirring music. Her gorgeous slow rendition of Leonard Cohen’s stately and beautiful “Hallelujah” (the recently departed Cohen will be missed!) is delivered as a stark hymn by Menago: intense and powerful and glowing with Cohen’s contemplative mystery. A perfect “Hallelujah” to pass along in this holiday season.

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If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.

Nelson Brill Reviews The Tanglewood 2016 Contemporary Music Festival

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound.

In this blog, Brill takes us to Tanglewood, where he recounts the performances from the 2016 Contemporary Music Festival.


TANGLEWOOD 2016 CONTEMPORARY MUSIC FESTIVAL: MUSIC BORDERLESS AND BRACING

AUGUST 4, 2016 

Hilary Scott

bso.org

bso.org

This photograph, taken on a starry night in July, 1953, hangs in the entrance hall of the majestic Highwood Manor House at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s (“BSO”) bucolic summer home at the Tanglewood Music Center (www.tanglewood.org) in Lenox, MA. It shows then-BSO conductor Charles Munch holding hands in salute with a broad-smiling young violinist (Isaac Stern) and BSO principal violinist Joseph Pasquale as they acknowledged ovations for their performance of a Mozart Concerti under the canopy of the famed Koussevitzky Shed at Tanglewood. The magic of the Tanglewood Music Center (“TMC”) is that one can view these old photographs, linger on the same leafy grounds where these musical legends gathered to perform, teach and be inspired and then listen to a concert performed by today’s young artists in vivacious continuity with these past masters – whose influence still flows through everything that happens here like the constant breeze that wafts through the TMC’s stately lawns and overarching pines.

artspreview.net

artspreview.net

Grab a sandwich at the old timey Loeb’s market in nearby Lenox, MA. (their roast beef with horseradish mayo is dynamite!) and then head through the Leonard Bernstein Gate to the pastoral greenery of the TMC. Its grounds are dotted with one-room rustic cabins where students in the TMC’s Fellowship Program practice their art. Only at Tanglewood might you hear (on the float of the light breeze) a sudden plunge of a trombone growl from the undergrowth or a soaring aria (melding with the tenor calls of accompanying song sparrows). Nearby is Seiji Ozawa Hall (opened in 1994), a performance space like no other.

greatperformancetours.com

greatperformancetours.com

With its rear wall removed to expose the meadows, Berkshire Mountains and sky beyond, sound in Ozawa Hall is ravishing and lustrous: quicksilver in delivery with a crisp and natural acoustic capturing voices and instrumental textures in unflinching detail.

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flicker.com

Ozawa Hall has a camp hall feel, with its wooden vaulted high ceiling (composed of open sections for sound to penetrate), and irregular surfaces everywhere (including beautiful wrap-around wood latticework on its balconies) for a delivery of a lucid and glistening sound that has very little of that “golden glow” quality (as mentor Harry Pearson liked to describe it) heard in the acoustic space of its elder big brother- the incomparable Symphony Hall in Boston.

“Glistening” is a great word to describe not only the special quicksilver acoustic of Ozawa Hall but also to describe the blaze of new sounds and instrumental colors that were heard in concert at Ozawa Hall this past week during the TMC’s annual Festival of Contemporary Music (“Festival”). This year’s Festival held particular poignancy because its creator and curator, trailblazing composer and conductor Steven Stucky (who had been associated with Tanglewood and the Festival for many years), tragically passed away in February before he had the chance to attend this year’s Festival that he so cherished. However, (as is always the case at TMC) the loving continuity between this recently passed-on dynamic composer and the ear-tingling quality of new music heard at Ozawa Hall in this year’s Festival was palpable and inescapable.

latimes.com

latimes.com

In his own compositions, Stucky succeeded in combining vocal and instrumental music in fascinating and piquant combinations, always foraging for that contrasting, unpredictable crush of colors or portend silence in his pulsating works. Take a listen to his challenging and moving “music oratorio” (combining Stucky’s music with a libretto by Gene Scheer) entitledAugust 4, 1964 (from a 2012 CD recording with the Dallas Symphony and Chorus on the DSO’s own label).

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In this concert drama, instrumental and vocal sounds lurch up against each other with force and radiance behind the soaring vocals depicting this painful day in American history when President Johnson signed the Gulf of Tonkin agreement (to shamefully escalate the war in Vietnam) and, (on this same day), denounce the infamy of the racist killings of civil rights workers Goodwin, Chaney and Schwerner in Mississippi by white supremacists. The recording, (made in the spacious Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX. with a balcony perspective on all of the dramatic action), is filled with wonderfully layered vocal performances combined with Stucky’s masterful play of instrumentation utilizing chasing woodwinds, blares of brass holds and the clash of huge bass drum hits with light chimes – all  combined into a searing, dramatic performance of this political moment.

This quality for inventive sounds, colors and rhythms found in Stucky’s own music could also be heard glistening from strings and percussive hits during the performances of new music encountered at this year’s Festival at Ozawa Hall. On Friday, July 22nd, several gifted young musicians from the TMC Fellows and the New Fromm Players performed music that challenged the ear and mind. In the U.S. premier of composer Joseph Phibbs’ (b. 1974) String Quartet No. 1, Jordan Koransky (violin) Natsuki Kumagai (violin II), Mary Ferrillo (viola) and Francesca McNeely (cello), danced together in a piece that was filled with moments of elegiac eloquence. The piece combined hymn-like string holds and whispers of light pizzicatos with deep strums of cello and viola (heard luminescent in Ozawa) that concluded with a swell of string crescendo and salute (like fiery embers thrown into a night sky). This same group also performed Hans Abrahamsen’s (b. 1952) String Quartet No. 3 with its last movement (“Molto Tranquillo”) where the players all placed mutes on their strings and created the eeriest, softest whispers of mysterious runs and cross-accents pushing and pulling against each other.

Soprano Sophia Burgos (with her regal powerful vocal presence) joined the group to perform Sebastian Currier’s (b. 1959) Deep Sky Objects and, (along with pinpoints of light from Max Grafe’s spikey electronic accents) the group made bold and diaphanous work of this ghostly, yearning piece. The performance concluded with Donnacha Dennehy’s (b.1970) wondrous piece One Hundred Goodbyes, where the four string players waxed and waned with beautiful shimmer and flow to Dennehy’s music set to the sounds of recordings made from 1928-1931 in Ireland by folk archivists and linguists. Both spoken word and song fragments moved in and out of an arresting forest of sounds: the first violin held a highest staccato note that was then caught and passed around furiously by the other players; carnival sounds erupted from a rush of strings in descending comic slides and finally, a furious burbling of string voices was created when the players held one note with quick agitation (using only the shortest part of their bows in quick fury) melding and swaying to the  archived voices from the past in a celebration of fluttering sounds and soaring colors.

To experience a slice of the sonic excitement, drama and restless exploration that was heard in these glowing performances at Ozawa Hall, take a listen to a gem of a new recording from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, “BMOP”, (an orchestra in the vanguard of exploring the music of our time led by their intrepid artistic director Gil Rose) in a performance of the music of  composer Mason Bates (b. 1977) recorded at New England Conservatory’s (www.necmusic.edu) glorious Jordan Hall in Boston.

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Entitled Mothership [on the BMOP Sound label), this 2015 recording is astonishing in its landscape of sounds and colors; the virtuosity of its musicianship and in its delivery of the grandeur of Bates’ creative vision. The sweep of shape-shifting instrumental colors in Bates’ music is stunningly beautiful. Every electronic pizzazz, percussive swipe or clamoring string run is captured on this SACD recording (compatible with CD as well) in a beautiful layered soundstage of impressive presence and tactile vitality. Bates’ “Desert Transport” ebbs and flows on carousing strings with seesawing woodwinds and holds of deep brass, all alive in great swarming action. Chimes ring out clear and pelting, pushing the final horn blasts in majestic force. Likewise, Mothership brews with pounding electronic bass and cross hatches of brass and woodwinds, with FM Rhodes (played with frolic by NEC’s own Jason Moran) and the lyrical suppleness from Su Chang’s resonant guzheng (an ancient Chinese stringed instrument resembling a zither), adding dapper and soulful conversation. Bates’ “Attack Decay Sustain Release” is a soaring opening salvo of crisp bells, propulsive strings, woodwinds and horns cascading and whirling. The sparkling and wide-ranging virtuosity of the BMOP is eloquently put to the test on Bates’ “Rusty Air in Carolina”, in which a panoply of electronica, percussive ingenuity (to portray locusts flying on the wind) and orchestral colors are brought to bear to ignite a rollicking composition of skittish delights and pensive moments – all shifting and evolving as it sweeps along into new frontiers of sound and color. Playing this recording on a quality audio system is like having a front row seat to the Red Sox on opening day at Fenway: where youthful expectations and dreams of championships have no limit or boundary. Listening to the music of Bates or Stucky or those composers featured at the TMC Festival breaks every expectation and genre mold- boundless and bracing.

TANGLEWOOD UPDATE: This August is a great time to get thee to Tanglewood with performances ranging from a special evening to hear violinist Gil Shaham performing J.S. Bach Sonatas in the intimacy of Ozawa Hall to witnessing the grandeur of Verdi’s Aida Acts 1 and 2performed by the BSO and a host of great vocalists joined by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. For the full schedule at Tanglewood for the remainder of the 2016 summer season, see www.tanglewood.org. More reports from Tanglewood to come!

Hilary Scott: John Williams conducting the Boston Pops at Tanglewood On Parade 2016

Hilary Scott: John Williams conducting the Boston Pops at Tanglewood On Parade 2016

 


 

If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.

 

Nelson Brill Reviews Charlie Musselwhite and Walter Trout

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound.

In this blog, Brill gets a bit bluesy as he recounts the past two concerts he enjoyed at local concert hall, The Narrows, in Fall River, MA.


CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE AND WALTER TROUT: ROCKING THE BLUES THE RIGHTEOUS WAY

By Nelson Brill

APRIL 24, 2016

theseasonsyakima.com

The late great B.B. King (no doubt still cradling his beloved guitar Lucille in some heavenly nightclub) would have been mighty proud of two recent concerts by two master slingers of the genre – harmonica and vocalist Charlie Musselwhite and guitarist and vocalist Walter Trout- as each delivered superb shows before sold-out audiences at The Narrows Center For The Arts (the “Narrows”) in Fall River, MA.

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The Narrows is a little gem of a concert venue worth checking out for live music. It boasts consistently great lineups (see www.narrowscenter.org) and a heartfelt community spirit. Its large space (located on the third floor of a former mill building overlooking Mt. Hope Bay) delivers great sound where vocals and instruments are heard with an alive and tactile quality while low bass and drum hits are resonant and full in its cavernous space. The volunteers who have run the Narrows since 1995 are music lovers who clearly adore their audiences. On April 15th, many of them gathered on stage to toast to the glory of the Narrow’s hosting of its 1,500th show (with plastic cups passed around to the audience for a rousing toast of champagne).

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And, speaking of “glory,” it’s a term that also best describes the raw delivery of heat, passion and grit that blues legend Charlie Musslewhite brings to his rollicking blues night after night. For a treat, take a listen to Musselwhite in his earlier performing years, joined by a brash big band on his 1978 recording Times Getting’ Tougher Than Tough [Crystal Clear Records]. This record will demonstrate the magic of vinyl: lighting up your listening room with a capacious and tactile soundstage in which Musselwhite and his cohorts serve up jump blues on a big, bold and soulful platter.

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At his Narrows show held on March 11th, Musslewhite arrived serenely, chatted with audience members and then pulled out his traveling suitcase (covered with Hells Angels and Clarksdale, MS. stickers) containing his assortment of harmonicas. Slowly and deftly, he pulled out the first chosen harmonica and began to wail on it, sounding like a propulsive steam locomotive pulling out of a station. After this first throb of harp, his young band (consisting of Matt Stubbs on guitar, June Core on drums and Steve Froberg on bass) hit the road running with their attack of roadhouse bluster that rambled into the high octane tune, “Long, Lean, Lanky Mama” taken from Musselwhite’s recently released live recording, I Ain’t Lying [CD Baby;charliemusselwhite.com].

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The show highlighted the deft chemistry between the legendary Musselwhite and his gifted young partners. Stubbs displayed swashbuckling guitar energy all night, combining smooth melodic rolls with biting string bends. On the tune “300 Miles”, (also from I Ain’t Lying), he and Musslewhite combined for a duet that stretched out to the horizon with Musslewhite’s cavorting harp calls and Stubbs utilizing a reverb sound on his guitar to create a hollow sound (to his heated holds and blistering runs) that brought the capacity crowd to its feet.

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Marilyn Stringer

Another highlight was the band’s brash rendition of the Elmore James number, “Done Somebody Wrong,” in which Musslewhite moved from the lowest registers of his harp to its highest pinched peaks. Stubbs obliged by taking an ardent guitar solo built upon repeated phrases and a rhythm guitar swagger – all ending in a huge crescendo of jagged chords and distortion. All of this great drama was propelled by the dynamic attack of bass and drums as Core and Froberg held down a tenacious boogie foundation underneath.

Musslewhite and his young compatriots not only brought swagger and sway, but they also could bring forth the tender and the breezy as well. These tunes highlighted how Musslewhite’s vocals still possess, (after many years of his performances on the road), an ardent and expressive quality. On the breezy sway and country feel of “Long Legged Woman,” Musselwhite’s vocals went deep and searching in duet with his harp as he brushed his lips softly against its shiny surface and breathed languidly to create a gentle wisp of soaring sounds.

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This same shimmy and breeze continued into a wild ride on “My Kinda Gal” (also taken from I Ain’t Lyin) that had Core furiously plying his wood rims. Against this clamor of wood hits, Musslewhite’s crisp harp dueled with Froberg’s bass in a slippery groove. The crowd stood and urged on this duel of two musicians at play (in the fields of the blues) until the last piquant squeal was sent soaring from Musselwhite’s expressive harp.

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theseasonsyakima.com

A few weeks later, on April 15th, another master (this time of the Telecaster) took to the stage at the Narrows and (before an ecstatic sold-out audience) delivered a concert of such protean magnitude that there was no doubt that he remains one of the most fiery, expressive and dynamic blues guitarists on the planet today. Walter Trout is a miracle: he has survived near-death from liver disease (he was only saved by an anonymous gift of a liver transplant after waiting seven months in a hospital – he urged everyone at his concert to register as organ donors at www.donatelife.net) and his guitar artistry is as hard-won, genuine and rocking as you will ever hear.

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I believe his tour de force is his 2013 tribute recording to another Master of the Blues, Luther Allison, entitled Luther’s Blues [Provogue Records; www.waltertrout.com]. This is a seminal recording and a masterpiece, from its blazing guitar rifts to its stunning emotional delivery. Trout takes inspiration from Luther Allison’s own genius (heard on such rocking and raw vinyl releases as Allison’s 1969 album, Love Me Mama on the legendary Chicago Delmark label)  and soars into blues and rock heaven on every cut.

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Just take a listen to “When Luther Played The Blues” or “Low Down and Dirty” (with Luther’s brother, Bernard Allison on spidery slide guitar) and you will be transported to a world of pure heartfelt soulfulness where Trout’s guitar and voice meld into one perfectly dignified blues rocker of volcanic power. Luther’s Blues is a recording for the ages and a must have for anyone’s vinyl or CD collection struck with the glorious blues fever.

At his April 15th show at the Narrows, Trout brought all of the volcanic power that he displays on Luther’s Blues to deliver a magnificent molten performance. Accompanied by his ardent trio (Michael Leisure on drums, Johnny Griparic on bass and Sammy Avila on Hammond B-3- aided at times by his two sons on guitar and vocals), Trout ripped into Allison’s “I’m Back” (a great salute to his own recovery) and “Move From The Hood” with a passion that was tenacious. He hit the stage pounding on his guitar, with his MESA/Boogie amplifier turned up to bone-rattling volume, pelting unfurled curls of high notes in blasting fun. There was simply no stopping Trout and the creative kinetically charged heat radiating from his guitar all night long.

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Trout sang with glee and fervor, his vocals gritty and soulful. His intense high calls on Allison’s “Cherry Red Wine” or the classic “Rock Me Baby” mixed with his resolute treble guitar holds in a full throttle assault that sent the capacity crowd into a frenzy of applause. He also ensnared slow blues in a dazzling display of creativity and soul. On Allison’s “Big City” his slow guitar work was ferocious and poignant. This searing indictment of poverty, racism and police violence took on a huge swath of energy in Trout’s Hendrix-like spread of long held guitar chords and big voluminous holds that spanned everything from violent shrieks to soulful wails. On another slow gem, “Cold, Cold, Ground” (taken from Trout’s latest release Battle Scars[Provogue Records], Trout focused his intoxicating guitar on two piercing repeating notes – one high and one low – seesawing between them to develop a combination of guitar sting and sway that was a consummate synthesis of hot and cold in this slow brewing ramble.

Trout’s companions also picked up on this glorious and ferocious energy and partnered with Trout step by step through the gnash and grit of his wondrous rocking world. Michael Leisure on the drum kit was a powerful presence throughout, marking his time with punctual huge cymbal and snare hits and waiting to erupt on his drum solos (when given the moment’s opportunity) with a locomotive piston-like ferociousness.

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Sammy Avila’s B-3 added beautiful sheets of color with his long held burbling organ chords interwoven with Trout’s riveting solos. On a tune announced by Trout to be simply an “A-minor blues tune” Avila took off on a scampering organ solo hurling out notes at a breakneck speed with big flourishes of pungent organ holds.

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If there was a pinnacle highlight of the night, it had to be Trout and his band’s tribute to B.B. King entitled “Say Goodbye To The King.” Before launching into this piece, Trout recounted how he had met King in a chance encounter at a store in New Jersey where Trout was working as a young man. As a result of this long conversation with King at this early time in his career, Trout was inspired to perfect his craft. In playing this tribute to the King at the Narrows, Trout wore his heart on his (guitar) sleeve. He commenced the piece as a slow brewing ballad with soft caresses in his guitar’s highest registers (next to the shifting lines of Johnny Griparic’s expressive bass). From this epicenter of low dusky vocals and slowly twisting guitar lines, Trout built to a crescendo of mammoth design with scorching high guitar notes and huge major chords held in a fury of positive energy (until the last note and drum whack was punctuated). In the end, Trout’s expression on his face showed that he was clearly overwhelmed with emotion in this final moment as he basked in the glow of his mentor’s inspiration and in the simple joy of being alive playing the blues he loves.

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bluesmagazine.com


If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.