• 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)

Eagle Vision EV302939
Format: DVD

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

201010_tompetty“It’s just the normal noises in here,” an unidentified female voice says just before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tear into “Only the Losers” on their third record, Damn the Torpedoes (1979). The normal noises meant guitars, drums, bass, and traditional keyboards -- no synthesizers. Producer Jimmy Iovine, with a lot of help from ace engineer Shelly Yakus, took those elements and gave Petty his first top-ten album. This entry in the Classic Albums series shows how much hard work goes into making a hit record. Benmont Tensch, the band’s keyboard player, points out that Yakus and drummer Stan Lynch took three or four days just to get a drum sound. Yakus went so far as to take Lynch shopping for new drums. Iovine, Yakus, Petty, and guitarist Mike Campbell sit at a mixing board and adjust the levels throughout the video to show how very tiny details, such as the shaker in “Refugee,” ultimately sell a song. The bonus material is almost as good as the main program. Iovine and Petty talk about the mix for “Refugee,” Shelly Yakus explains how he panned guitars and added delay on “What Are You Doing in My Life” to create a wall of sound, and Tensch describes how he achieved some of his keyboard effects. Archival footage of the band in performance and in music videos helps give the story background and context.

Zoho ZM 201009
Format: CD

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

201010_auctionprojectDavid Bixler teaches jazz studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and has made several excellent albums that have already been released. This one, however, is different. Working with piano player Arturo O’Farrill and his wife, violinist Heather Martin Bixler, he’s combined Latin American roots with Celtic folk music to create a sound that’s fresh and original. Variety abounds on this disc, even within a style. “Spanish Misfortune” starts off as an Irish romp, only to veer off into more conventional jazz territory before Heather Martin Bixler brings it back into Celtic line. “She Moves Through the Fair” starts with the solitary fiddle keening the melancholic tune, but as other instruments enter and dissonances pile up, the piece takes on an even more tragic nature. “Green Target,” “Worth Dying For,” and “Heptagonesque” are the tunes without Celtic overtones, and they feature Bixler’s poignant alto sax. The overall recorded sound is clean and clear, but the drums of Vince Cherico could have better definition. In sum, the album is a fresh, creative effort that’s well worth hearing.

Analogue Productions CAP8456 SA
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

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

201010_milesdavisTaped over three days in 1961, Someday My Prince Will Come is one of Miles Davis’ most mellow sets. It still features the solid-as-a-rock rhythm section of Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. The sax players fluctuate. John Coltrane was no longer playing regularly but came back to the studio to guest on the title track and “I Thought About You.” The rest of the tenor tracks are handled by Hank Mobley, who had only been with the group for a short time. It shows a little in his playing, which is more reserved than that of Coltrane but has a lighter, neat, and simple beauty of its own. There are some miraculous moments throughout this set, and not always in the big sections. Listen to that great rhythm section in “Prancing” when Chambers has a bass solo, yet Kelly and Cobb continue to accompany him with awesome subtlety. There’s never a throwaway note with those three guys. Davis is at 100 percent and plays with great beauty and depth on every track.

The recording deserves mention. Most people think of surround when they think of SACD and multichannel, but many analog masters were produced with only three tracks: left, right, and center. Someday My Prince Will Come is one of these, and the SACD format allows us to hear it exactly as it was mastered. The piano is in the left channel, drums in the right, and Miles and the bass in the middle. Though it’s still a bit exaggerated in the separation of channels, the impression of three-track mono is lessened by bleeding a tiny bit of the drums and piano into the left and right channels without bleeding any of Miles’s center-channel solos back. The overall results define the old “clean as a whistle” saying, and the disc’s sound clearly reveals every nuance from each player.

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-332
Format: LP

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

201010_sinatraSinatra at the Sands was the singer’s third recording with the Count Basie Orchestra, and as on the previous two, Quincy Jones arranged and conducted that great band. Mobile Fidelity’s reissue of the two-LP live set from 1966 captures the ambiance of the Copa Room at the Sands and the timbral qualities of the instruments. The drums on my Reprise pressing, probably from the early ‘70s, are more forward and snappy, but here they’re integrated into the sound of the band and back a bit further on the stage. The mastering, by Rob LoVerde, keeps Sinatra’s voice razor sharp and center stage, but removes the small bit of graininess that exists on the Reprise pressing. Freddie Green’s guitar is clearer on “I've Got a Crush on You,” the sections of the band are more distinct on “The Shadow of Your Smile,” and the audience applause and other reactions have a depth that puts you in the room with them. You can hear more clearly that the laughter at one point in “I’ve Got a Crush on You” was spliced in, but it was already audible in the original. I have an early-generation CD that actually sounds less compressed than the LP, but the prize for detail, sense of space, and dimensionality goes to this pressing. It’s essential for any Sinatra fan with a turntable. 

Stax Records STX-325025-02
Format: CD

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

201008_midnightflyerBetween them, Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere have many years’ experience playing soul music, but Nudge It Up a Notch, their 2008 contribution to the resurrected Stax Records, was their first collaboration. Though the songs were strong, they were marred by too much compression in the mastering. Tom Hambridge helped produce Midnight Flyer, and the sound is a vast improvement, if perhaps a touch bland.

The songs aren’t quite as consistent as those on the duo’s debut, but there’s still plenty to like. Cavaliere is in great voice, and his performances on "I Can’t Stand It" (a duet with his daughter Aria) and "I Can’t Stand the Rain" are seminars in how to sing a soul tune. Steve Cropper’s solos are models of elegant understatement and feeling, and his rhythm guitar playing is the pulse that keeps things moving. The old-style backing vocals help ground the music in tradition, but on many tunes I found myself wishing Cavaliere had used traditional keyboards. "Early Morning Riser" and "I Can’t Stand It" derive a lot of their energy from his Hammond organ playing. The songs on Midnight Flyer take a few listens to grab you, but they’re well constructed by two old-time craftsmen, with assistance from Hambridge. How about a horn section next time?

NLQ/Whitehouse Records
Format: CD

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

201008_quarterThe Japanese have had a passion for American jazz since the 1950s, culminating in the erection of the New Latin Quarter club in Tokyo. Boasting 100 "hostesses," 40 employees, and 80 tables (300 patrons), the establishment became a crown jewel in the East, both for hearing jazz and, according to the program notes, for espionage and spying. One envisions a scene where a mobster is contracted to deliver illicit cargo while listening to Julie London. The artists who’ve played there constitute a who’s who of jazz, and their performances have been preserved. In 2007, 47 reel-to-reel tapes were discovered, and they’ll now be available on CD.

Rather than duplicating any particular evening, the CDs present excerpts from various sets. Volume 1 gets off to a relaxed, swinging start as Nat "King" Cole (1963) sings an impeccable, suave, and swinging version of "The Way You Look Tonight," followed by Nancy Wilson (1970) definitively vamping "The Man Who Got Away." Performances by Keely Smith, Chubby Checker, Louis Armstrong, Patti Page, Julie London, Bobby Troup, Sammy Davis Jr., The Mills Brothers, and the Harry James Orchestra fill out the disc. Page’s "What Is This Thing Called Love" (1962) is a revelation. I’d never thought of the "singing rage" as a jazz performer, but here’s proof that she could be just that. The disc finishes with Louis Armstrong doing a rousing version of "When the Saints Go Marchin’ In" (1961).

All of the cuts present previously unavailable recordings by music legends in their prime, and the recorded sound is mono and better than you might expect. We can look forward to additional volumes in a series that delivers real treasures for the jazz lover.

Rainbow Quartz Records TT 167
Format: CD

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

201008_gripweedsThe Grip Weeds have finally released their fifth disc, and it’s cause for celebration. Strange Change Machine roars to life on "Speed of Life" with an explosion of drum rolls by Kurt Reil, solidifying his standing as one of rock’s great timekeepers. The song’s Mellotron, throbbing guitar delays, ringing major seventh chords, and soaring harmonies are proof once again that the Grip Weeds belong in rock’s pantheon. Kristin Pinell and Rick Reil are a formidable two-guitar lineup, and the disc demonstrates that old-school guitar effects, real keyboards, and analog recording are the keys to great rock'n'roll.

Strange Change Machine contains more than 80 minutes of music over two discs, and there isn’t a dead moment on it, although I might have enjoyed a less obvious Todd Rundgren cover than "Hello, It’s Me." The amazing thing about the Grip Weeds is that the band can play such tough, no-holds-barred rock'n'roll, and still be subtle, elegant, and melodic. Strange Change Machine is also available as a two-LP set. I need to catch this band live.

On the Air 9654
Format: CD

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

201008_leboLawrence Lebo is a disarming singer from California who defies categorization. Essentially a jazz vocalist, she incorporates elements of blues, western swing, and folk for a result that’s better identified with her own name than any particular genre. Much of the time Lebo partners with just one instrument, the double bass of Denny Croy, who some readers might know as a bassist for the Brian Setzer Orchestra. The two play and sing hand in glove, with impeccable pitch and undeniable nuance. I liked every song on this CD, but the blues tracks, including "Lawrence’s Working Girl Blues," "It’s Not the First Time," and a superb version of "Walking the Back Streets," got to me the most. In the jazz vein, I’d pick the anguished "I Should Care," again a duet with Croy, and to represent western swing, there’s "A Promise I Can Keep," a Lebo original that uses the largest group of instruments, including vibes and violin.

The recorded sound is honest and clean with good frequency and dynamic response. The bass is especially well recorded, and the balance between bass and voice in the duets couldn’t be better. So "Don’t Call Her Larry." Instead, call Lebo brilliant and refreshing.

Stockfisch SFR 357.4058.2
Format: Hybrid Stereo SACD

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

201006_parisMany musicians have paid tribute to Paris, among them composers as disparate as Frederick Delius, George Gershwin, and Michel Legrand. Now German pianist Sebastian Sternal has added his two cents to the mix with a seven-track album inspired by different neighborhoods in the French capital. He has with him the other two members of his virtuoso trio, Sebastian Klose on upright bass and Axel Pape on drums and percussion, and for authenticity he's added French singer Anne-Marie Jean on three of the cuts. Thanks in no small part to splendid recorded sound, the shimmering, slightly dreamy rambling all goes down easily, but I didn't find it memorable five hours later. The lucid sound is a bit different from most piano-trio recordings in the way the instruments are placed in the sound field. The piano, usually in the center, is to the right; the drums are to the left; and the bass anchors the center, as does the vocalist on her numbers. But in the hands of master producer Günther Pahler, it works well.

Concord Records CRE-32026
Format: CD

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

201006_sinatra"I haven't sung this soft since I had the laryngitis," Frank Sinatra joked after his first session with Antonio Carlos Jobim. Sinatra's choice to do bossa nova was in contrast to what Stan Coryn, in his liner notes to Sinatra/Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings, calls "the kapow style of Sinatra up at The Sands." Jobim played guitar and brought Dom Um Romão to play percussion, while Sinatra supplied his own musicians, including guitarist Al Viola, and conductor Claus Olgerman. Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim was one of the singer's most popular albums of the 1960s, and he sounds completely at ease in Olgerman's settings. Two years later Sinatra and Jobim teamed up with Eumir Deodato for another run at bossa nova, but Sinatra was less satisfied with the results. Seven of the songs made their way to Sinatra & Company in 1971, but three have never been released until now. Sinatra may have been right about the three unreleased tracks. He sounds less than confident on them, and he and Jobim don't click on "Off Key (Desafinado)." But most of the tracks are prime Sinatra, and fans will want the three new ones. The mastering is quite good, and Coryn's liner notes are entertaining. I have Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim on vinyl in mono and stereo, and I'm very pleased to add this disc to my collection.