• SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - PSB's M4U 4 Earphones (April 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - GoldenEar Technology's Triton Two+ and Three+ Loudspeakers (March 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- KEF's LS50 (February 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio's Platinum II Series (January 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Pryma 0|1 Headphones (December 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF's Blade Two Loudspeaker (November 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF and the Uni-Q (October 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio Acoustics & Aesthetics (August 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- PSB's Imagine T3 Loudspeaker (June 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Hegel's H160 Integrated Amplifier-DAC (April 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- MartinLogan's Neolith Loudspeaker (February 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Prestige Series (December 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Vivid Audio's Giya Series (October 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Totem Acoustic's Torrent Technology (August 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Axiom Audio's M100 v4 Loudspeaker (May 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Muraudio's Domain Omni Series (March 2014)

Rounder Records 1161-2215-2
Format: CD

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

Greg AllmanThe Allman Brothers Band has always been at its best when it stayed close to the blues, primarily because of Gregg Allman’s dark, soulful voice. Low Country Blues is his first solo album since 1997’s Searching for Simplicity, and it’s his best. He wrote one track, “Just Another Rider,” with Warren Haynes, but the remaining 11 are traditional blues songs by other writers.

Allman and producer T Bone Burnett dig deep into the genre’s past for gems like Sleepy John Estes’s “Floating Bridge” and Skip James’s “Devil Got My Woman,” but they also pull in urban blues tunes made popular by Little Milton and Magic Sam. The acoustic country blues “Devil Got My Woman” is a simple arrangement focused on Colin Linden’s Dobro guitar and Allman’s voice, while “Blind Man” remains close to Little Milton’s original horn-driven arrangement. Magic Sam’s “Checking on My Baby” is Chicago blues that gets a kick from a Raelettes-style vocal quartet, and Dr. John gets the piano just right on Amos Milburn’s “Tears, Tears, Tears.” Guitarist Doyle Bramhall II is consistently brilliant in a variety of blues styles, but all the musicians on Low Country Blues know this music cold. Burnett’s production sounds like vacuum-tube technology on every step from the guitar amps to the mastering console.

Jazzheads JH 1184
Format: CD

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

Tito PuenteTito Puente’s name is legendary. He performed from 1937 to 2000 and made over 100 albums, becoming almost synonymous with mambo and salsa, and he’s largely responsible for bringing Afro-Cuban music into the mainstream, so much so that people thought he was Cuban when in fact he was Puerto Rican. Bobby Sanabria, a drummer, composer, arranger, and Grammy-nominated recording artist, has taken up Puente’s torch, as well as a position at the Manhattan School of Music since 1999.

Puente was known as much for his sizzling arrangements as his original music, so it makes sense that Sanabria and his talented conservatory band created a concert using Puente’s fiery charts in either original or reconstructed guise. The exciting and authoritative readings from this live event are nothing short of perfection. Puente originals such as “Ran Kan Kan,” “Mambo Adonis,” and “Mambo Buddha” share time with “Autumn Leaves,” “Bohemia (Birdland) After Dark,” and “Ritual Fire Dance.” The band is outstanding at all times, and its soloists sound thoroughly professional, especially lead trumpet Paul Stodolka and vibes player Norman Edwards. The sound is big, bold, and brassy, which is just what this music needs.

Zoho Records ZM201101
Format: CD

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

O'Farril BrothersThe O’Farrill Brothers are Adam, who plays trumpet and writes most of the music, and Zack, who plays drums. If their last name is familiar, it’s no doubt due to their father, Arturo, who’s well known as a jazz educator and performer. This is such a good debut disc, however, that the brothers will likely be known in their own right before long. The O’Farrill Brothers’ quintet is completed by Livio Almeida on saxophone, Zaccai Curtis on piano, and Michael Sacks on bass. Though the young men are all in their early 20s and have the energy and enthusiasm to prove it, the group collectively projects a singular maturity. The tight ensemble is a toe-tapping joy to hear, and each player distinguishes himself with virtuoso solo stretches that are most impressive. The O’Farrill group has no set formula for each chart, and that spontaneity makes for a refreshing playlist. A track might start with the whole group, or it may begin with a rhythmic bass ostinato that both anchors and drives the composition, as in Almeida’s “Face It!” The young players certainly show influences, such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Freddie Hubbard, but the O’Farrill Brothers have established their own pulsing style. The sound is warm and clean, though it slights the bass.

Gibex Recordings Gibex 006
Format: CD

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

Michael William GilbertElectronica, ambient music, techno, or whatever name it chooses to go by is probably something of an acquired taste. For me, the best of it, such as the Bombay Dub Orchestra or Banco de Gaia, embraces music from other cultures and creates an enticing blend that draws you in. Michael William Gilbert’s I Can See From Here joins that company with an enjoyable disc that, despite its technical savvy, still has a big heart. Ambient music can be somnambulant, but Gilbert is a rocker at heart and the energy level on I Can See From Here remains high. “Amerikan Dream” is anthem enough for any Pink Floyd lover, and the shimmering guitars on “Over the Next Rise” will appeal to young rock fans. The keyboard washes and other electronic trills throughout the disc are typical of this genre, but Gilbert also likes rhythm, so the conga drums, shakers, and other percussion instruments ensure a human element. Peter Kaukonen is the guest guitarist on “Amerikan Dream,” but the rest is Gilbert, who also recorded and mixed the disc. A mastering engineer would have ensured more consistency in the sound, but Gilbert uses space well and most of the tracks will give your stereo a workout.

MDG 910 1625-6
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

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

201102_flyingsaxcircusWe all like what we like when we like it, but we should always be open to those off-the-beaten-track titles that, given a chance, can provide unexpected pleasure. It’s hard to imagine anything more unusual than a band comprising a dozen saxophone players (one sopranino, two soprano, three alto, three tenor, two baritone, and one bass), but it sounds a lot more familiar than you might think. The scores for three of Antonin Dvořák’s Slavic Dances have the ensemble sounding a bit like a huge, sonorous accordion. The “Lyric Waltz” from the jazzy Shostakovich Jazz Suite No.2 sounds like wistful film music to accompany a pair of lovers strolling by the Seine (or perhaps the Volga!). A suite of Gershwin songs played in a nostalgic “club” style finds the ensemble sounding totally idiomatic, and though “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “Liza,” and “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” sound pert and frothy, the soulful arrangement of “Summertime” plumbs greater depths. If you’re an audio buff in the know, it’s enough to say that the sound is MDG at its best, with excellent stereo tracks and multichannel ones that impart a greater sense of three-dimensional realism.

Black Warrior Records BW1005
Format: CD

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

201102_andyfarberAndy Farber and His Orchestra open their new disc, This Could Be the Start of Something Big, with a lively, jumping piece of Ellington-inspired swing. “Bombers” features lock-step ensemble playing from the full band and great solos by Farber (on alto), Harvey Tibbs (trombone), and Kenny Rampton (trumpet). Pianist Kenny Ascher plays a smart, swinging solo on Farber’s “Space Suit,” which also features a warm clarinet outing by Dan Block. Farber has arranged the sections of the band precisely, and engineer Chris Allen at Sears Sound has placed them cleanly and well in the soundstage. Coleman Hawkins owns “Body and Soul,” but Farber’s own feature on his band’s version is a warm tribute and not a mere rehash. The title track was jazz lover Steve Allen’s gift to the music, and guest Jon Hendricks, with whom Farber has appeared, grabs hold of it to show us he still has his chops at age 89. Another Farber tune, “It Is What It Is,” is full-on Basie style, and Ascher has the earlier pianist’s easy touch down pat. Block, on tenor this time, plays a warm, melodic solo that leads to another impressive ensemble demonstration by the band. This Could Be the Start of Something Big is the work of a band that loves big-band jazz, doesn’t treat it like a museum artifact, and swings it hard.

Self released
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

201012_lowfidelityCanadian soul and blues singer Treasa Levasseur sure knows how to write a hook. Her second self-released disc, Low Fidelity, contains eight prime examples of her song craft, which she and producer David Gavin Baxter (he also plays guitar on the disc) set to smart, witty arrangements. She also covers two tunes by other writers, "Help Me Over" by Corin Raymond and Sean Cotton and "Talk to Me, Babe" by Bob Snider. All ten tracks show a keen ear for how to arrange and present a song. Levasseur plays to her greatest strength: her strong, slightly raspy voice, which can belt out one moment and caress the next. When she growls out a line, it doesn’t sound forced, and she can let her voice rise to a shout without losing track of the melody. Baxter and Sean Cotton both have a good grasp of Southern soul guitar, and Paul Reddick’s funky harmonica spices things up on "Good Ones Never Share" and the title track. "Rest of the Ride" even shows a sure touch with country music. You’ll be humming almost every tune in the car after just one play, but Low Fidelity holds up to repeated listens, in part because the recording reveals subtle details over time.

HowsaboutNOW? Records
Format: CD

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

201012_believeSpin is a Philadelphia-based band that bills itself as "rock / power pop / alternative." Believe is the band’s first full-length disc, and it’s a very commercial bid for attention. The guitars are loud, the synths sound vintage, and the songs follow heavily trod paths. But that doesn’t mean Believe doesn’t occasionally click. The loopy synth lines on "Hurt by You" and the title track are charming and fun, and the songs often hit their marks. "Over and Over" is an effective anthem-like rocker with good, chunky guitar lines; "Wake Up Girl" takes you back to the MTV '80s; and "After All" and "Ava" hint at the unique songwriters the band could be if they really tried. The harmony vocals, buried in the mix, are a strong point, but the overdriven guitars too often overpower them. The band’s loud/soft dynamic is reminiscent of another Pennsylvania band, Live, but Spin shows the potential to be a group of better songwriters with more staying power. The band members handled all the recording chores, and next time they might clean things up a bit by hiring an outside engineer and putting more space around the backup vocals. Spin has been getting some good press on the East Coast, and another couple of discs may justify that buzz.

Eagle Rock EVBRD33369
Format: Blu-ray

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Picture Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

201012_thischristmas2This concert was part of the Sound Stage series, and it makes for a diverse and different holiday release. The playlist might fool you into thinking that a good portion of the event is given over to traditional holiday songs, but that’s not so. The songs might be traditional as far as titles go, but the music has been energetically reinvented. Not too surprisingly, considering McDonald’s presence, the selection of holiday songs is bookended by sets of tracks made popular by the Doobie Brothers. The concert gets rolling with "It Keeps You Runnin’," followed by "I Keep Forgettin’," and "Sweet Freedom." After these R&B/rock chestnuts, the holiday portion begins with "Every Time Christmas Comes Around." Along the way we’re given an R&B version of "Come, O Come Emanuel," a spirited Dixieland version of "I’ll Be Home for Christmas," and a foot-tapping "Cajun Christmas." After a medley of "White Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland," the concert closes with resounding versions of more Doobie Brothers anthems -- "Minute by Minute," "What a Fool Believes," and "Takin’ It to the Streets."

Throughout the concert, McDonald exhibits exceptional energy and expertise that strikes fire in the other musicians. The event was expertly filmed, and the transfer to Blu-ray is just short of exemplary. The disc offers three choices for sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and PCM 2.0. But forget the last two -- it’s the DTS tracks that have the most presence.

Hänssler Classic CD 98.609
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

201012_aboutchristmasWith their tight-knit harmonies and crooning style, the Berlin Voices (Esther Kaiser, Sarah Kaiser, Marc Secara, and Kristofer Benn) follow the tradition of the Singers Unlimited in presenting a holiday album that’s mostly jazz peppered with pop. Singing in German and English, they often weave musical lines in breathtaking counterpoint, and their impeccable intonation assures that no matter how complex the jazz sevenths become, they’re always in tune. The vocals are accompanied by a jazz trio of piano, bass, and drums, with saxophone, flute, cello, and bass clarinet added on certain cuts. The overall feeling is warm and lush, yet the repertory is surprisingly heavier on religious Christmas carols such as "Joy to the World," "Angels We Have Heard on High," and "Silent Night" than on pop holiday titles, which are represented only by "You Make It Feel Like Christmas" and "It’s Christmas Time All Over the World." The recording is close-up and personal and is impeccable in its own right. A jewel box seems an appropriate housing for this unusual and appealing gem.