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Thursday, March 8, 2018


Chosen by Claude Lemaire

"This is a journey into sound. A journey which along the way will bring to you new colour, new dimension, new value..."

For selections #1 to 50, please click here:

51- MFSB – Love Is the Message. Philadelphia International Records – KZ 32707 (1973), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Philly soul, disco, smooth jazz

After nearly 45 years–wherein the world holds its breath under the genuine threat of eroding freedoms, and escalating nuclear war–MFSB's message still rings true and maybe more than ever, resonates all over the globe. Bart Forbes' cover illustration under the art direction of Ed Lee perfectly paints the sombre scenery of the cold war colliding with the 1960s civil rights movements, with KKK hoods, and Nazi propaganda intertwined; strangely a scenario not unlike more recent, and present times. With the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 announcing the return of US troops from Vietnam, it seems at first glance somewhat odd that producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff should stick with such a dire LP cover–exposing the worst of the past instead of promoting a more positive portrait of the burgeoning (me)decade–perhaps reminding us that the mistakes of the past may resurface at any giving time. After a so-so self-titled debut earlier that same year, comprising mostly instrumental covers, this was MFSB's–Mother Father Sister Brother–second, and best album, both musically and sonically, with Universal Love [Philadelphia International KZ 33158], their third LP from 1975, coming in a close second. Although the Gamble-Huff duo had previously scored soulful success with such songs as "Expressway to Your Heart", "Only the Strong Survive", "Love Train"; "I'll Always Love My Mama", and "The Love I Lost"; it took MFSB's Love Is the Message to solidify "The Sound of Philadelphia' through its title track and especially its show-stopper hit "T.S.O.P.", serving weekly as Don Cornelius' Soul Train theme. With Earl Young's pioneering hi-hat shuffling, accompanied by Ron Baker on bass, Norman Harris and Bobby Eli on guitar, Don Renaldo and his Strings and Horns, and Bobby Martin's magnificent arrangements–just to name a few of the key players–this latter track really epitomized the confluence of Philly soul with the emerging disco beat, while the title track became a 'classic anthem' for the gay community, and one of the most defining tracks spinning at David Mancuso's legendary 'Loft' in NYC–the original architect of "Love Saves the Day" and precursor to the 'love message' Philly philosophy. Superbly recorded and mixed by Sigma Sound Studios' owner Joe Tarsia, and mastered and cut at Frankford/Wayne Recording Labs–both anchored in Philadelphia, PA–it is one of the most balanced and well executed of the Philly releases. The 23 second intro "Zack's Fanfare", serves as a short show demo-worthy instrumental track with crisp and punchy big band sound–a perfect tune to get ones attention.

52- MFSB – Universal Love. Philadelphia International Records – KZ 33158 promo copy (1975), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Philly soul, disco, smooth jazz

As mentioned above, this is the group's third and last LP worth owning, their subsequent albums not living up to the standards of this List nor to their best efforts. Contrary to the previous release that comprised two superb tracks plus a short interesting intro, Universal Love counts five great tracks–including the album opener "Sexy", a fine cover of The Nite Liters' 1971 hit "K-Jee" which grew in popularity two years later when included in the Saturday Night Fever movie soundtrack; and my favorite of the LP: "T.L.C (Tender Lovin' Care)" with its big band stylistic influences, and stunning sax solo intro by Zach Zachary and Tony Williams; "Love Has No Time or Place" though not a hit, is also one of the interesting pieces. Predominantly instrumental like the preceding one, it veers slightly more towards the disco vibe as compared to Love Is the Message, yet still retains the famous Philly soul 'house band' sound. The personnel and production team, pretty much remains unchanged. Once again, engineers Joe Tarsia recorded the sessions at Sigma Sound Studios, and Nimitr Sarikananda at Frankford/Wayne Recording Labs mastered and cut the lacquers in Philadelphia, PA. The sound quality does not quite reach the high level of the previous release: with a bit of compression creeping in, a touch less crispness in the brass, a slight lack of weight in the bottom end, and less upfront or defined in the overall drumset–thus placing this MFSB LP second in sonics. I compared my normal US original pressing–also cut by NS–to my white-label promo, preferring the latter by a small degree, especially in the upper bass 'punch' region. As for Ed Lee's gatefold cover design, and photography; it is the exact opposite of the previous illustration, resembling more a pastel painting printed on a soothing 'get well card'–a sign of the times that people were past dwelling on the problems of the world, hungry for happier times.

53- Santana – Santana. Columbia – CS 9781 (1969), MoFi – MFSL 2-45012 (2015), (2x45 rpm). Genre: Afro-Cuban, latin rock, latin jazz, psychedelic, heavy blues rock, latin soul

Discovered at Woodstock, stealing Saturday's spotlight show with their stunning "Soul Sacrifice" spectacle, the San Francisco's sextet conquered the stage 'with a little help' from LSD's 'mind-expanding' friends, consequently catapulting them to fame, just a few days prior to the release of their first LP. Santana's self-titled debut is a magnificent melting pot of musical styles, second only in sonics to their 1970 follow up Abraxas. Song compositions as well as arrangements, and performances are up there with the best, easily competing with the aforementioned album. Produced by Brent Dangerfield, and the band, there are no dull moments along the journey, with one track reprising, while actually improving upon, Willie Bobo's boogaloo jazz hit "Evil Ways"–a precursor to early discothèque's latin soul-funk-flavored favorites such as War's "Spill the Wine", hitting the charts the following year. Their 'heavier' version of Babatunde Olatunji's "Jingo" would soon leave its mark on Titanic's 1970 single "Sultana" as well as Cerrone's first French group Kongas from the early-1970s, and Black Soul's mid-1970s afrobeat-disco musical hybrid. Also noteworthy is the delicate piano playing found in the intro, and finale of "Treat" that seems to have inspired Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky" from DSOTM. Likewise it is obvious how "Soul Sacrifice" had a profound influence on The Disco Sound of André Gagnon's first single "Wow", six years later. Recorded and mixed at Pacific Recording Studios in San Mateo, CA, by engineers Bob "Deputy Dog" Breault, and Eric "Gentle Ben" Prestidge; according to the credits, it was originally mastered and I guess cut at Customatrix–a division of Columbia in charge of the metal parts right up to the stampers. I did not have an original 1969 US pressing to compare with but do own a Canadian '360 Sound' first press that always sounded poor, with no bass, nor highs, but mostly mids–and quite inferior to my old Canadian '360 Sound' Abraxas pressing–that I would rate no more than a 5. Mofi came out with a first half-speed remastering in 2007 that I found disappointingly soft and veiled in the treble, leading to a lack of articulation, and definition, but nevertheless was a bit better than my Can. copy, leading me to give it around a 6.5. By contrast this 2015 double 45 version mastered by Krieg Wunderlich and assisted by Shawn R. Britton is way ahead of any pressing I have heard in sound quality, and I'd rate it a strong 9.5. Although there is still some slight dryness and lack of extension in the very top octave, apparent mostly as 'sandy' cymbal textures, the rest of the spectrum is spectacularly good, with solid powerful lows and mids, providing forceful driving drumstrokes akin to real live music. The organ feels organically raw, rich, and colorfully 'crunchy'. Percussive instruments such as timbales and congas conquer the deep, and wide panoramic stage. Palpable, and timbrally realistic for sure, they do not attain the top transparency detail found on Abraxas [MoFi UD1S 2-001], though the latter's 'one-step' procedure provides it with a small unfair advantage over this conventional 'three-step' double 45 MoFi edition. Overall, the sound is big and thick but less airy and 'hyper-detailed' than their one-step release–which is to be expected given the difference in price, and procedure, yet still remains tonally right on my system.

54- The Poll Winners – The Poll Winners. Contemporary – C 3535 (mono) (1957) – Stereo Records S7010 (1958), Analogue Productions – AJAZ 7535 (2011) (2x45 rpm). Genre: West Coast jazz

If ever there was such a thing as a symbiotic cool jazz trio up for election, The Poll Winners would win my vote hands down. Composed of Barney Kessel on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums, these West Coast Contemporary 'cats' sound as if they had been playing together for decades on end, when in reality Kessel had sidelined with Manne on a few previous albums, and once shared the stage at Carnegie Hall with Brown–at one of Norman Granz' Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts–but this LP represents their first recording gig as a trio. As a unit they are tightly locked together, yet remain relaxed, supple and sweet. Consisting mainly of traditional jazz, and popular standards, both sides can work wonders spinning as background music, but the agile performances between players commands complete attention from us for true serious music appreciation. Contrary to today's misguided desire to dominate the other by sheer loudness level, these musicians mastered the art of listening amongst themselves, at times showing great restraint, along with subtlety, speed, and delicate dexterity on demand. Needless to say, when combined with Contemporary's 'genious-in-residence' Roy DuNann manning the mics, and minimal controls in Los Angeles back in March 1957, how could it not turn out 'deliciously' great. Mainly dry sounding, and intimate, all three instruments–guitar in one channel with the two others sharing the opposite–are so easy to follow, with timbrally realistic portrayals: Brown's bass has the perfect equilibrium of pitch articulation, and resonant roundness, spectrally complementing Manne's trebly rhytmic brushstrokes circling the snare skin, while Kessel's Gibson guitar sweetly shines with just the right mixture of warm tone with subtle sustain. Unfortunately, I do not have an original 1958 Stereo Records in my collection but based on my 1984 OJC copy–which are typically fine sounding (thin) pressings but not the equal of more expensive remasterings–I can absolutely attest to the incredible session sound that DuNann captures on tape, and can confidently guesstimate–based on past close comparisons–the uptick one would get with a NM original or perhaps greater still with Analogue Productions' double-45 rpm, remastered, and cut by Hoffman and Gray at AcousTech Mastering–which I will report on in the near future when it arrives.

55- The Poll Winners – Ride Again!. Stereo Records S7020 (1958), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: West Coast jazz

Recorded 17 months later by Roy DuNann, and produced by Lester Koenig in August 1958, this is the trio's follow up to their debut. Again, mostly filled with traditional standards, there are a few more originals by Kessel, and Brown on this one. It would be pointless to waste time, and space repeating the exact same comments as described above, for it is on par in music, and sound quality, making it interchangeable on all aspects. So if you love one, you'll no doubt love the other equally. In this case, I was lucky enough to find a NM original Stereo Records, and can confirm that it is of true reference calibre, almost to the point of wondering if a double-45 rpm remastering could really surpass it.

56- Borodin – Symphony no.2 / Rimsky-Korsakoff – Capriccio Espagnole. The London Symphony Orchestra, Jean Martinon RCA Victor Red Seal – LSC-2298 (1959), Classic Records – LSC-2298 (1996?), 180g, Living Stereo series, Genre: classical, orchestral, romantic

Tightly led and influenced by Mily Balakirev, Alexander Borodin–the eldest of 'The Five'–along with Cesar Cui, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov were also identified as The Mighty Handful; a small group of young self-trained amateurs-composers from 1856 to 1870–highly responsible for influencing the course of Russian music. Borodin's best known large-scale work–his four part symphony–sets the stage with ambitious aplomb, alternating between major and minor thirds throughout the score. Monumental, 'military-esque', and majestic in grandeur, the piece was written between 1869 and 1876, with a final orchestral revision in 1879, the latter premiered by Russian counterpart Rimsky-Korsakov that same year. Originally released in 1959 on the Red Seal label, the captured sound of Kingsway Hall, recorded by Decca engineer Alan Reeve, and later remastered, and cut by Bernie Grundman is immensely impressive: bold, brawny, brassy, and solid are all adjectives that come to mind upon my many listening impressions. Tonal balance is spot on with realistic string, and woodwind timbres–in particular the brass fortes cut through with fiery force, no doubt due in part to Martinon's exciting direction of The London Symphony Orchestra. The dynamic as well as the frequency range are both huge, making this particular pressing quite challenging, all the way from source to speakers. Soundstage scale–width, height, and depth–is also up there with the very best on record, confirming once more that with certain Living Stereo's, Grundman and Classic Records really got it right. Side two opens with Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnole which is equally captivating musically, and sonically.

57- Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick. Chrysalis – CHR 1003 [Island Records] (UK) (1972), MoFi – MFSL 1-187 (1985), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: progressive rock

Progressive's peak period of creativity, and popularity–if ever one could conjure up such a scenario–is arguably around the years 1971 to 1973, producing many masterful gems such as: Genesis' Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound; Yes' The Yes Album and Fragile; King Crimson's Lark's Tongues in Aspic; ELP's Tarkus; Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells; and the all-time biggest selling–if one stretches a bit the genre's definition–Pink Floyd's DSOTM. Inspired by Monty Python satire, Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick is just another jewel in the crown of the mighty British Empire that ruled the artistically-inclined airwaves, roughly covering the decade from 1967 with Sgt. Pepper' right up to the uprising of the anti-establishment punk movement circa 1976–wherein the original pioneering progressives were starting to sound stale. Following the thunderous success of Aqualung, the band led by Ian Anderson, which by now had carved out a subgenre niche for itself–melding a triad of art, hard, and folk rock–were preparing to push further the more progressive elements from their musical recipe into a full-fledged concept album comprising only one composition divided in two lengthy parts. Combining medieval and renaissance folk, jazz, rock, and odd time signatures within classical musical structures, the complex composition confirmed the proficiency of the band through tight rapid dynamic shifts. The resulting release in March of 1972 was not only a musical high point of their career but fortunately for us audiophiles, a solid sonic success as well, making it their best sounding album by far–a situation not unlike Rush with 2112, whereby a gifted rock band with progressive inclinations broadly suffers from badly mixed, and mastered productions. Superbly recorded by engineer Robin Black at Morgan Studios in London England–home to such sonic wonders as Led Zep II, Tea for the Tillerman, Meddle, America, etc.–on a 24-track Ampex, my original UK 'Pecko Porky' pressing cut by George Peckham has everything going for it: great tonal balance, wide frequency range, warm yet precise in rhythmic precision when called upon. I don't have the 1985 MoFi, but I had compared it some years ago from a friend's collection with both my UK original, and my first press Can. [Reprise MS 2072]–which is also quite good and pleasant–and the MoFi sounded equally excellent with a hint more warmth than the UK, the latter having a bit more mid presence, making them both equal winners, and worthy, while the first press Can. copy came out close behind the two others.

58- Gentle Giant – In a Glass House. WWA Records – WWA 002 (UK) (1973), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: progressive, experimental rock

Another giant step that would constitute a worthy addition to the previous prog citations above is Gentle Giant's fifth album In a Glass House, also released during the aforementioned apex, in September 1973. Created by three brothers–Phil, Derek, and Ray Schulman–in 1970, and accompanied by a few other talented musicians along the way, the band cultivated a small but serious following, reaching their peak period between 1972's Octopus and The Power and the Glory two years later. At the time, conservative Columbia corporate chiefs considered the album–In a Glass House–too 'uncommercial' for the North American market, thus dropping the band from their roster, resulting in the necessity for retailers, and fans alike to import the LP from Mother England–insuring us audiophiles to end up with a better chance of finding an original UK pressing with superior sound most probably. Admittedly a tad more experimental than their British counterparts; rather than following the 1970s prog prototype 'formula', the five multi-instrumentalists challenge us–as well as themselves–by combining complex musical structures utilising an array of unorthodox instruments within the realm of rock as well as vocal polyphony, and polymeters more in line with medieval classical forms. Self-produced, it was engineered by Gary Martin in July 1973 at Advision Studios, while mastered and cut–at Trident I suppose–by Ray Staff, both situated in London, England. The instrument mixdown is finely executed with the rapidly sharp 'snappy' kick, and remaining drumkit, particularly standing out, well defined dynamically, and rhythmically. Multi-layered vocals plus myriad percussive timbres are also well served. Tonal balance is excellent, leaning more towards a quick, clean, neutral, 'solid state' signature, than the typical tube warmth we tend to associate with the early-1970s, and not unlike a good direct-to-disc sonic footprint featuring stellar dynamics for the genre. The sole caveat is a slight lack or lightness in the bottom end lows, in order to give it more weight, majesty, and authority. Pretty much on the same level playing field as Octopus at least for my acquired taste.

59- Voivod – Nothingface. MCA, Mechanic Records – MCA-6326 (1989), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: prog metal

It is well known–at least to those working in the music milieu–that the Canadian province of Québec is distinctively, and historically recognized as having a deep appreciation for two musically-challenging genres–progressive, and heavy metal–as well as Montréal serving as a metropolis for the disco scene during the 1970s, followed closely by the underground punk-hardcore-alternative crowd found in such places as the famous Foufounes Electriques. Having set foot a few times in 'Foufs' in the mid-1980s to early 1990s, I can attest to its importance in supporting the scene, as well as discovering burgeoning various-metal bands playing exciting live sets such as Groovy Aardvark, Dead Brain Cells (DBC), and most importantly Voivod. After debuting in 1984, followed by a couple of subsequent albums, in the noisier thrash metal subgenre, the Jonquière-based quartet conquered the territoire with its 1989 metal masterpiece Nothingface, producing a perfect blend of prog and metal–with subtle elements reflecting Rush's precision, King Crimson's dissonant chords of triads, and tritones along with a captivating cover version of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" taken from their 1967 psychedelic debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn [Columbia SCX 6157]–adding of course their own original 'trash touch'. There is no weak track on this LP; every one is a stunner from start to finish in creative compositions, dissonant arrangements, and powerful performances. Furthermore, producer Glen Robinson, assisted by engineers Benoit Lavallée, and Rob Sutton did a fantastic job with the sound which was recorded digitally at Victor Studio in Montréal, and mixed digitally at Powerplay Studio in Long Island City, NY. Contrary to the subgenre's norm, and music period, the tonal balance is spot on, linear, and lowly compressed with non-fatiguing sound, and surprisingly–for digital–clean extended cymbals. In fact the whole drumkit–kick, snare, toms–is articulate, with timbrally realistic, struck 'snappy' skins, under the batons of "Away" aka Michel Langevin's impressive playing. Guitarist "Piggy" aka Denis D'Amour along with vocalist "Snake" aka Denis Bélanger, bring forth their unique dissonant stylistic signature to the foray. Bernie Grundman did a fine cutting, minimizing inner-groove distortion. Probably one of my top 5 to top 10 metal albums, and surely my all-time favorite prog metal LP.

60- Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones. Warner Brothers – BSK 3296 (1979), MoFi – MFSL 1-392 (2013), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: 'jazzy' 'folky' 'bohemian' pop

We all have a record that we remember fondly, the first time we heard hifi highly surpass our expectations–RLJ for me falls firmly into that category. Spinning on an Oracle Delphi with Koetsu cart, C-J tube electronics, and B&W 801 speakers at my local shop–i.e. your typical mid-80s high end gear way back in the day–I listened attentively as our young bohemian artist "flipped a dime", its sparkling decay floating over Red Callender's cool double bass walking... My gear taste may have evolved a little over time, but my appreciation for Jones' cozy poetic vocals remains sunk in to this day. In similar fashion to two iconic singer-songwriters–Joni Mitchell, and Carole King–Jones penned all of the eleven songs on her self-titled debut album, plus sharing two co-writes. Joined by a bevy of first-rate musicians such as Dr. John, Michael McDonald, Randy Newman, Steve Gadd, and Jeff Porcaro, it was produced by Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman, with assistance by Penny Ringwood. Engineered, mixed, and mastered by Lee Herschberg with additional engineering by Lloyd Clifft, Roger Nichols, and Tom Knox; the original 1979 release shared some 'audiophile angles' without being overtly created as such, nor succumbing to any emotional blandness as we have often encountered in situations where sonics presided over creative content. Returning to my original US 'Jacksonville' pressing on my present custom system, it is evident that though the general sound is quite good, with decent dynamics, and tonal balance for pop-oriented material, the single 33 1/3 rpm 2013 MoFi reissue, remastered and cut by Krieg Wunderlich, is clearly superior in every manner, with better high frequency extension, detail, and airiness–most apparent in the delicate triangle, cymbals, and numerous percs in general, showing the former's slight veil. Vocals, finger snaps, mandolin, guitars, and bass strings have better articulation, and harmonics. The dynamics are much improved over the original; the kick drum in particular is quite tighter, sharper, and steadfast, solidifying the pace from the get-go with "Chuck E.'s in Love" all through to the end. Finally the soundstage slightly gains proportions, though this recording remains rather intimate than 'extra-large-scale'. I do not have the first MoFi half-speed remastering back in 1983 [MFSL 1-089], nor the UK Nimbus Supercut by Gerald Reynolds, nor the 2013 double-45 rpm edition by MoFi [MFSL 2-45010], but suspect the latter should better this present one a notch or two further when given the typical meticulous MoFi care but cannot confirm without a true listening.

61- Pixies – Surfer Rosa. 4AD – 803 (UK) (1988), MoFi – MFSL 1-296 (2009), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: alternative, garage rock, noise pop, punk

The words garage, punk, and noise rarely go hand in hand with audiophile, and yet this second release by the Bostonian band encompasses exactly that–a true melting pot of the above, thanks in large part to audacious musicians, a rarebreed producer-engineer named Steve Albini chosing to take the 'hands-off' approach, and a bold reissue label known for its rich creative catalogue. Coming off the heels of their debut mini-LP Come On Pilgrim [4AD MAD 709], Surfer Rosa recorded in November 1987, and released the following March represented a big leap in artistic, and sonic maturity for the quartet. It remains one of their two best albums along with the following 'slicker' release Doolittle. Here the sound is raw, primal, powerful, super dynamic–as far as rock recordings go–with abrasive dissonant guitars, 'gutsy' electric bass, deep drum impact that room-reverberates, screechy vocals, and a general fearless spunk attitude. There is no doubt Albini's direct-to-tape sound signature plus direction permeates the album, which as usual is closer to the real thing than any other 'normal' rock production can claim to be–lovely, and spectacular perhaps, but so afar from reality. Having heard many of his engineering-productions with his own band–Shellac–and others recorded in his Chicago studio, I can confidently say this present Pixies LP strikes the best balance between them all. I did not have the original 4AD UK or US pressing to compare with, but MoFi's Shawn R. Britton did an outstanding remastering, and cutting job, and up there with the best 33 1/3 rpm cut MoFi's. For a more in-depth evaluation, you can go HERE: 

62- Pixies – Doolittle. 4AD – 905 (UK France) (1989), MoFi – MFSL 1-296 (2009), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: alternative, garage rock, noise pop

For any artist or band to successfully follow up a superb album is no easy task. The probability of disappointing music critics or your loyal fan base–for those who care about such things–by either repeating the same winning formula or doing a complete 180, is quite high. Fortunately for the Pixies, neither of these scenarios occurred. In fact, on the contrary, Doolittle did do a lot... in sales, chart positions, and received critical raves as much, if not more so than Surfer Rosa. Both releases remain highly original, and quintessentially influential in the alternative, noise pop, grunge scenes, especially so with Nirvana. Gil Norton replaced Albini as producer and engineer with assistance from Dave Snider, and Matt Lane at Downtown Recorders in Boston, and mixing was done by Steve Haigler at Carriage House Studios in Stamford CT. The overall sound is generally well balanced from top to bottom, with a few song structures exploiting the loud-quiet dynamic shift within, that again would distill down a few years later to Cobain's singing style along with the band's hard-soft, chorus-verse musical contrasts. Contrary to Surfer Rosa, and Albini's approach, here the textures are less raw, more polished, and adhere more to a good 'conventional' multitrack studio sound presentation. The original UK 4AD MPO (French) pressed LP cut by Jack Adams is generally quite good while MoFi engineer Rob LoVerde's remastering, and cutting, edges the original in certain specific areas or on certain tracks while with others it is almost a toss-up in personal taste. Both pressings are worth having. I would stay away from the US Elektra version for it is a DMM cutting instead of the typical warmer lacquer-cut. For a more in-depth evaluation, you can go HERE:

63- Art Pepper – Art Pepper + Eleven. – Modern Jazz Classics Contemporary Records S 7568 (1959), Analogue Productions – AJAZ 7568 (2003) (2x45 rpm). Genre: jazz, big band, bop, west coast, cool jazz

Pepper's Plus Eleven is the second of five LP's released–between 1957, and 1960–on Lester Koenig's Contemporary jazz label, smack in the middle of the 'golden age' of jazz, and sound. Contrary to what the title might suggest, there are not eleven musicians accompanying him but rather fifteen listed in the credits, so I'm guessing +11 simply signified an 'over the top' performance a la Spinal Tap! At any rate, this small 'big band' conducted by Marty Paich, and recorded expertly by Roy DuNann, and Howard Holzer in March, and May 1959 remains my favorite of the five releases for many reasons: because of the chosen 'classic' compositions–many from Dizzy, and Charlie–Pepper's performance, and Paich's exquisite arrangements, perfectly showcasing, as well as blending, the brass' blattiness with a lightning fast rhythm section. The dynamic expressiveness of the many musicians is outstanding on both the faster boppish material, and the slower sweeping cooler ballads, beautifully breathing air down their reeds. I did not have an original 1959 Contemporary pressing to compare with but do have the first Analogue Prod. version remastered, and cut by Doug Sax in 1995 [APJ 017] which was quite excellent sounding, and leaning on the warm side with bloomy low mids, but also a micro-veil towards the top treble. The 2003 double-45 rpm cut by AcousTech's mastering team of Hoffman and Gray, not surprisingly addresses the latter point, providing an airier top end, better bite and crunch to the trumpets and saxes, serving a livelier, subjectively faster, more energetic, dynamic snap with refined realism, at a tiny expense of losing a tad in 'tubey' 'romance', well worth the trade-off.

64- The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??!. Geffen Records – GEF 24708 (EU) (1994), (2x33 1/3 rpm). Geffen Records UMe – B00229918-01 (2015) (2x33 1/3 rpm), clear blue vinyl. Genre: hip hop, conscious, jazz rap, neo jazz

Most of mainstream America only discovered the group in 2009 and have been enjoying them ever since in their living rooms on a nightly basis, but Fallon's famous 'house band' has its Roots reaching back to 1993 with the 17 track independent release Organix. As its interrogative title suggest, Do You Want More?!!!??! is their–major label debut–follow up album, which explains why the track sequencing starts out at number '18' instead of the usual numerical '1'. Originally released in 1994 as a double-LP Euro import, and as a shorter-duration US promo [DGC PRO-A2-4693] for radio and deejays–with fewer tracks, and clean edits–it was not until 2015 that Geffen through Universal Music Enterprises decided to give it a proper 180g 'noise-free' reissue. In concert with disco, funk, and metal; hip hop has not garnered much attention or praise in the audiophile press, perhaps due in part to some 'bad apples', ripe with extreme EQ or compression, contaminating the minds or leaving a 'bad taste' within many heads of sound departments. Admittedly a lack of quality remasterings in those musical genres as opposed to the steady diet of jazz, classical, and common rock we normally get fed, equally enters the equation. What sets apart The Roots from many of their peers is that they are a full-fledge funky acoustic band–rather than a few guys rapping over some pre-recorded material–capable of jazzing things up as well as rocking it up live when called upon. Saxophonist Steve Coleman lends his lips on six tracks. Produced by Grand Negaz, it was recorded by David Ivory, Vince Kershner and Gordon Rice at Sigma Sound Studios plus Otto Capobianco at Nebula Sounds, both situated in Philadelphia, PA. Drummer and co-founder Ahmir-Kalib Thomson aka Questlove mixed the band, along with Bob Power, Tim Latham, Richard Nichols, A.J. Shine and Jim "Jiff" Hinger at either Sigma Sound or Studio 4 in Philly PA, as well as Battery Studios in NYC. Tom Coyne at The Hit Factory in New York did a great mastering job. The in room drumkit predominates throughout, sounding mostly natural if a little fatter yet fun, including fine snare textures. The total mix features plenty of punch in the lows, with nice bounce to the bass–acoustic and electric–plus clean non-agressive highs. Tarik "Black Thought" Trotter's panned rapping-vocal arrangements, add originality to the table. Despite its cohesion, there is just enough of mild sonic variety explored amongst songs to keep it refreshing, and counterbalance the somewhat minimalist repetitive tempos, and percussive patterns within the grooves. Lastly, the very low compression, contributes to a totally non-fatiguing listening pleasure.

65- Cypress Hill – III (Temples of Boom). Columbia, Ruffhouse Records – C2 66991 (1995), (2x33 1/3 rpm). Genre: hip hop, gangsta, latin hip hop

Released within a year of the above Roots selection, Cypress Hill's third LP celebrates the darker side of hip hop, hence the gangsta subgenre qualifier. Though the themes, and lyrics may seem harder, bleaker, and even exploitative, the overall musical tracks do not differ that much from other contemporary rap genres, with the exception of skipping over any jazzy arrangements, and horn-based instrumentation. What makes this double-LP particularly interesting is the infusion of Indian influences in certain tracks with subtle psychedelic sounds, sending the listener into a dreamy state over hyp-hop-notic grooves, graced sometimes with syncopated sarcastic rapping. The tonal balance is mostly spot on with just the right amount of 'snap, crackle, and hop' to enhance the experience, including tight punchy kick, appropriately detailed highs, a few sustained sub-territory explorations, and generally low compression.

66- Babe Ruth – First Base. Harvest, EMI – SHSP 4022 (UK) (1972), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: hard rock, heavy prog artistic rock, funky-based grooves, Spanish overtones

Named after America's most famous baseball player, British band Babe Ruth reaped its biggest success in Canada–particularly in Québec–with "The Mexican", melding Spanish chords to hard rock, even interpolating Italian composer Ennio Morricone's movie theme from For a Few Dollars More; talk about crossing the cultural divide decades before its time. In fact, not only did the track do the latter, it helped bridge the dancefloor divisions among the 'freaks', 'rockers', and 'mods'–as we used to sub-categorize ourselves unfairly or not back in the day. Legend has it that famed deejay Robert Ouimet was the first to break it to his patrons when it came out while he spinned at a club called Love in Montreal just prior to making his mark at the legendary Lime Light on Stanley Street starting in September 1973. Steve D'Acquisto who deejay-alternated with Ouimet got in on it, and soon played it to David Mancuso at The Loft, which then quickly spread to New York's burgeoning club scene. It also got a renewed life in 1984 when deejay-producer John Benitez aka Jellybean recorded a cover version, and excited a new generation of fans fixated on breakdance, and electro-hip hop beats who saw a connection with the original's fat bouncy back beat–note that The Bombers had their own interesting disco cover back in 1978 but did not draw much attention beyond the discothèque milieu. It is that rare track that you cannot find a direct or even indirect song source influence, nor a subsequent style offspring; not to mention having a flamenco-flavoured intro followed by a fast fade-in of the main backtrack, hence complicating song segue selections. Despite this, it remains a favorite among deejays and my personal all-timer top track for feeling, uniqueness, great 'grooveability', and superb sound, and will be all the more rewarding on a big club-style system, think Klipschorns or JBL 4520 'double scoops'! Four of the five remaining tracks are also excellent musically and sonically thanks to Tony Clark, and Kete Go's great engineering at EMI's Abbey Road studio along with band member lead guitarist Alan Schacklock who arranged, and co-produced the album with Nick Mobbs. The tonal balance is slightly warm, dry, and intimate–typical of the early-1970s–with excellent frequency extension in both directions, and appropriate dynamics. Dick Powell's drums-percussion along with Dave Hewitt's bass are locked in symbiosis while Dave Punshon's keyboards in unison with the lead guitar, come out energetically crisp. 'Wild child' singer Jenny Haan brings a certain Joplinesque attitude to the mix with impressive vocal power, delivery, and modulation. Recorded between June and September 1972, First Base, the band's debut, remains their best work, and a must for any rock or early-disco enthusiast.

67- Gerry Mulligan - Paul Desmond Quartet – Blues in Time. Verve Records – MGV-8246 (mono) (1957), MoFi – MFSL 1-241, ANADISQ 200 (1995), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: cool jazz

Produced by Norman Granz for his own Verve label, and recorded in August 1957 at Capitol Studios in L.A. with the exception of one track at Fine Sound Studio in New York, Blues in Time–as it was re-titled in 1962, and has been known ever since–is one of the better sounding selections from MoFi's prior Anadisq 200 series along with the Mulligan-Webster entry below. Each album released two years apart represents the epitome in cool refined jazz with Mulligan of course on baritone, and for this date, Desmond on alto, sounding clean, lean, and almost 'baroque' in delivery, while at certain times giving us a 'preview' of his soon-to-be timeless performance on Brubeck's Time Out [Classic Records CS8192-45QPC]. Bass, and drums are well balanced to support the two perfectly-blending protagonist without drawing too much attention onto themselves. I did not have an original Verve pressing to compare with but MoFi's Stan Ricker did a fine half-speed remastering and cutting with just enough treble detail to prevent things not to get too soft or veiled as is sometimes the case with original Verve records. Keep in mind MoFi kept it in mono like the original 1957 release.

68- Gerry Mulligan, Ben Webster – Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster. Verve Records – MG VS-68343 (1959), MoFi – MFSL 1-234, ANADISQ 200 (1995), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: cool jazz

Just about everything I wrote above applies to this sax pairing with the exception of this release being in stereo instead of mono as well as Gerry's guest on this gig is now on tenor instead of alto. Both players are fully panned against each other, and closely captured by the mics providing a very intimate, and warm sound that I appreciate a lot. Recorded in November, and December 1959 at Radio Recorders in L.A., it opens with Billy Strayhorn's sultry standard, the classic "Chelsea Bridge"–interestingly first interpreted by Webster with the Duke Ellington orchestra back in December 1941. Right from the first notes we can easily hear their respective vibrating reeds making it feel all the more real; once again a beautiful blend of both of their tones together. For these sessions, Leroy Vinnegar is on bass with Mel Lewis on drums delivering smooth support throughout the tracks. Tonal balance seems just right thanks in part to Stan Ricker's remastering and half-speed cutting. Not having an original 1959 Verve to compare with but based on experience with original Verve pressings, I doubt the latter would better or even reach this refinement level we have here. Neither did I have the 2010 double-45 rpm on ORG [013] remastered, and cut by Bernie Grundman which should offer some theoretical advantages over a single 33 rpm but there are many other factors in play such as sonic tastes, EQ choices, equipment, etc., before presuming any clear outcome.

69- T-Connection – "Do What You Wanna Do"/"Got to See My Lady". T.K. Disco – 24 (1977), 45 rpm. Genre: funky disco

Hailing from Nassau, Bahamas, the sextet soon signed to Henry Stone's funky disco Miami-based T.K. Records, one of the three most important independent disco labels along with Salsoul, and Casablanca. The instrumental "Disco Magic"–their first release, and the second to appear on T.K.'s 12-inch single format–mostly fell under the radar of regular radio playlists. It was not until "Do What You Wanna Do" a few months later, which caught the attention of most deejays mainly due to the song's extensive, exciting conga percussive break that placed them high in the charts. It was one of the first disco tracks to incorporate such a lengthy break, though Vicki Sue Robinson's pioneering "Turn the Beat Around" [RCA Victor PC 1029, PD 11029] a year earlier, had started the trend through more of a latin salsa stylistic flavor. T-Connection's Kirkwood Coakley's funky eighth-note bass riff really defines this track, borrowing from a speedier version of Silver Convention's "Fly Robin Fly" intro played on 'steroids', and can be reflected in echoes in Celi Bee & The Buzzy Bunch's "Superman" [T.K. Disco 37] as well as in Giorgio's original sequencer pattern for Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" [Casablanca NBD 20104]. Produced by Alex Sadkin and Cory Wade, the general sound is punchy, and displays drive, groove, grunt, and tremendous energetic force with the only criticism of gradually losing treble detail, and compressing towards the end as engineer Al Brown at Frankford Wayne in New York chose to cut the groove area quite close to the label where the record's radius diminishes a lot. The B-side–given its much shorter duration–does not suffer the same fate, and sounds a bit warmer, less forward, and more extended in the bottom and top.

70- T-Connection – "At Midnight"/"Playin' Games". T.K. Disco – 121 (1978), 45 rpm, promo. Genre: disco/funky rock

Their 1978 hit "At Midnight" [T.K. Disco 121] is also worth seeking, especially if you like long 'loop-based' conga intros and breaks of metronomic, and hypnotic effect, making it the most disco-ish of the three T-Connection selections chosen here. Engineered by Gary Vandy, while mixed, and produced by Cory Wade, the A-side sounds fine from the mids up through the highs, but with a mild lack of bass power causing it to sound slightly light weight without a small dose of EQ to even things out–which a good deejay will normally do before blending it in with the 'dancefloor track'. Panned percussive elements in the mix keep it exciting though there is some repetitive pattern to the instrumental 'break' that shows some lack of compositional creativity, and nearing ten minutes long, could have benefited from some form of editing to keep the momentum more exciting. On the other hand, the lesser known B-side clocking in just under four minutes is quite tidy, and a touch of lead electric guitar brings in strong funky rock influences more so than traditional disco. For this second side, the sound is superb, sporting solid serious punch in the 'meaty' mid to upper bass range, plus some 'crunchy' synth presence.

71- T-Connection – "Saturday Night". T.K. Disco – 134 (1979), 45 rpm. Genre: funky disco

This is the group's final big hit single worth getting. The musical style fits well within the typical T.K. 'Sunshine Sound', and veers more towards the clean funky disco side of the spectrum than the 'dirtier' "Do What You Wanna Do" disco-funk hybrid cited higher up. The sound per say is also different where in this instance it is quite a bit more detailed in the upper mids and treble, right up to the top octave with rapid 'dynamic burst' making it come alive as well as having a fun club-style upper bass that 'kicks butt', but with less grunt and bottom foundation than the aforementioned track. Panned percussive elements in the mix keep it exciting though here also there is some repetitive pattern to the "ooh-ooh" 'break' that gets boring after a while, and would have benefited from some editing or added arrangements. Cory Wade reprises his role with the production once again, and mastering was done at Sterling Sound in New York with no apparent top end 'dulling' on this cut as opposed to #69. The B-side is the identical same track which may disappoint some buyers but can be a bonus if ever one side gets damaged over time.

72- Franz Löffler, Pierre Favre – Swingin' Bach Guitar. Polydor – 237 642 (Ger.) (1964), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: classical, baroque, jazz

I had long forgotten about this baroque jazz hybrid that I had picked up for a few bucks way back when my vinyl vault was quite smaller, and somehow must have misplaced or perhaps sold it–both rare occurences I might add–for I still have not found it. Fortunately last month, while digging through a vinyl shop's weekend sale, I stumbled upon a second hand copy of the same record in VG+ condition for a mere 33 cents!–at Aux 33 Tours in Montreal. The title is pretty much self-explanatory: this is a collection of Bach's famous works arranged by Klaus Netzle, and Sam Spence, and reinterpreted through a swingin' sixties jazz lens that still sounds fresh today. Accompanied by Swiss drummer Pierre Favre, this was German guitarist Franz Löffler's first foray into a long list of either 'jazzed-up' classical or easy listening releases. On this debut, he plays between three to five different guitars–electric, bass, mandolin, etc.–overdubbed on each musical track, creating a mini pseudo-string ensemble. My original German Polydor pressing is sufficiently quiet to appreciate the extremely well recorded (studio-augmented) duo displaying near-perfect tonal balance, precise pinching, with impressive intimacy from the strings, and sweeping snare brushstrokes spread through the soundstage. There is mild compression but still remaining a fatigue-free delight for the ears, mind, and spirit.

73- The Stooges – The Stooges. Elektra – EKS-74051 (1969), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: garage rock, psychedelic-tinged hard rock, proto-punk, avant-rock

Clearly there must be something lurking in those waters but thankfully this has nothing to do with the tragedy that hit Flint in 2014. Michigan's music scene gave birth not only to the early years of techno, but reaching further into the past, to Detroit blues, Motown, the MC5, Alice Cooper, and The Stooges. Move over Larry, Moe, and Curly, and make way for Dave, Ron, Scott, and Iggy. And while the leader's stage name may be Pop, no one would dare ascribe that qualifier to the iconic quartet's self-titled debut. Recorded in April 1969, and released in August that same year, the landmark album was way ahead of its time for preceding the punk movement by roughly six-seven years yet it also clearly clings to its late 1960s surroundings, stirring psychedelic fuzzed solo leads with raw garage-hard rock–reminiscent no doubt of their Psychedelic Stooges forebears. Produced by John Cale–ex-member for Andy Warhol's venturous Velvet Underground–one can clearly hear through his electric viola playing on the long, and repetitive "We Will Fall", the VU's dark decadent ambiance particularly permeating this track. In fact, I would have favored shortening the latter in order to unleash the premature lead guitar fade-out on "I Wanna Be Your Dog"–where Cale pounds the piano riff all through its too brief three minute duration. On "Ann", one could be fooled that Jim Morrison entered the studio, and took over–not that far-fetched given both groups shared the same Elektra facilities. The recording quality is outstanding, and among the best in my book regarding this genre, and similar 'bare-bones' music styles. What sets it apart from the era–and much of rock in general–is how deep in the lows, and complementarily, how high in the top end that the tape captured so well, and Lee Hulko's mastering and cutting at Sterling Sound does a fantastic job letting it all through. The very dry studio sound lends itself perfectly for the band's raw power, giving the guitar a 'small basement' directness with edgy realism, as well as imparting Iggy's vocals with a crisp forcefulness delivery that sharpens lyrics' intelligibility. Drums and bass lend ample support to the other end of the scale. Unfortunately no recording nor mixing engineer is credited but it kinda resembles a mixture of two of my favorite rock engineers: Eddie Kramer, and Steve Albini–for which the latter recorded the reunited band in 2006 for their fourth album. That said, it shares more in common with Kramer's Led Zep II sound than any of Albini's Shellac releases which favor greater room sound contribution to the mix. My Columbia Pitman pressing is the second 'red Big E' copy with "The Stooges" stylized logo printed in the center whereas the original 1969 pressing completely omits the band's name from the label. Both share the same matrix/runout number so I'm guessing they should be extremely close in sound if not identical.

74- Ran Blake – Film Noir. Arista Novus – AN 3019 (1980), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Third Stream, contemporary jazz, free-form jazz, big band, film noir overtones

Even prior to 1957 when Gunther Schuller coined the term Third Stream to define the merging of 20th century classical music with improvised jazz, composers and band leaders–such as Duke Ellington, and Stan Kenton with his progressive jazz innovations–were exploring similar musical hybrid forms without enjoying significant sales success–nor huge critical acclaim for that matter–yet most of the public, perhaps unknowingly, appreciated it through what many would simply consider 'movie music'. As to why this musical marriage seemed so short lived? Some speculate on the close arrival on the scene of free jazz stealing the show, with a few favoring this fresher, harsher direction while most icons such as Miles, Dizzy, Sonny, et al preferred persuing alternative avenues altogether. American composer, and pianist Ran Blake met Schuller in 1959 and both have since collaborated through teaching at the New England Conservarory of Music. With a string of albums dating as far back as 1962, Film Noir represents his fourteenth album. Produced by Michael Cuscuna, and Greg Silberman, it was recorded in January 1980 at Dimension Sound in Jamaica Plain, mixed at The Mixing Lab in Newton, Mass., and mastered at Masterdisk in New York. Engineer John Nagy did an incredible job capturing every minute nuance from close to a dozen musicians, comprising drums, electric bass and guitar, oboe, flute, tenor, alto, soprano saxes, trombone, trumpet, percussion, and Blake on piano of course–all with uncanny realism, truthful timbres, and wide dynamic, full range sound. Travelling through Third stream, contemporary, big band, and free-form jazz, it is a sheer delight for the senses for those seeking non-traditional musical structures, still working within traditional acoustic, and/or electrified instrumentation.

75- Oliver Lake Quintet – Prophet. Black Saint – AN 3019 (Italy) (1981), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: contemporary jazz, free improvisation

If you are feeling even a bit more adventurous than the previous selection, and have a tolerance or better yet, an attraction to some dissonance in your musical diet, Prophet dishes out some serious sonorities. Co-produced by Marty Khan, and accompanied by a bevy of impressively tight musicianship of the highest caliber on drums, electric bass, piano, trumpet, and fugelhorn; American alto saxophonist Oliver Lake leads his quintet on an open-ended journey embracing free improvisation over six tracks, comprising half of his own with those of 1960's jazz avant-gardist Eric Dolphy. Engineer Vince Traina outdoes himself recording the quintet in August 1980 at Sound Heights Studios, in Brooklyn, NY for executive-producer Giovanni Bonandrini's Black Saint label–who took over from founder Giacomo Pellicciotti. Every instrument imparts a realism rarely heard on record. The piano in particular is to die for, easily competing in vividness, force, and resonance with Ran Blake's recording above. Electric bass hits the right mark between elasticity, palpability, and precision, whereas all manner of drums, and percussive details, display solid 'skin' impact with finesse when called for, not to mention metallic cymbal textures. The trumpet's timbre is also realistic but it is its dynamic, and powerful prowess that surprises–make that startles–us upon first listening of the odd, softer-level 'metronomic march' preceding the tempestuous unravelling 'free fall'. He blows it to the point of 'near-saturation' of the mic's diaphragm as well the cutter head's dynamic range. Indeed not only will Prophet challenge your musical, and auditory taste, but put to the test your precious hifi rig.

76- Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins – Sonny Meets Hawk!. RCA Victor – LSP-2712 (1963), Classic Records – LSP-2712 (1995?), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: jazz, bop, free jazz overtones

When you think about it, it is incredible that two of the greatest saxophone players of all time appeared only once together on record when "Hawk" was 58 while Sonny was a mere 33. The date was July 1963 in New York City at RCA Victor's Studio "B". Roy McCurdy is on drums while Bob Cranshaw and Henry Grimes share bass duties, with Paul Bley playing piano. Five of the six songs are well known jazz standards with the final track credited to Rollins. Mostly interpreted from slow to mid-tempo, it affords us the luxury of deeply getting swept away by these two tenor giants. Engineers Mickey Crofford, and Paul Goodman present us perfection on a platter. By juxtaposing both protagonist panned up-front in their respective left-right corners, while the drums, and bass solidify the central rear of the intimate stage, we are privy to our own private jazz club delivered directly to our dwellings. Each instrument sounds so real it rivals Rollins' own Way Out West–see selection #5–if not surpasses it in sonic realism; no mean feat considering that LP, as well as Roy DuNann's high esteem among audiophiles. While Hawkins was already ahead of the pack since his 'game-changer' rendition of "Body and Soul" back in 1939, I believe both sax masters on this date were near the pinnacle of their creative period. Every tiny squeal to intense bark, literally blows you over in soulfulness, dexterity, dynamics, ferocious 'rage', and plain pure power. We can even envision them standing right in front of us, so visceral is the imaging! Grimes' solo on "Summertime" is the most natural bass recording I've ever encountered on record, displaying the correct 'dryness', string tension, and wood resonance; he shows palpable presence but is never overblown in proportion with his fellow musicians. The drums sound scarily real also. I did not have an original RCA to compare with but my 180g Classic Records cut by Bernie Grundman is flawless, and I have trouble imagining where the original 1963 Dynagroove pressing might surpass it. In fact, I consider this mid-1990s reissue the best Classic Records release ever put out, as well as the best Bernie cut he is ever executed.

77- Rockets – "Atomic Control"/"Future Woman". Decca – 78.001 (France) (1977), 45 rpm. Genre: space disco, electro disco, new wave, space rock

Formed in France in the mid-1970s, (Les) Rockets were a pioneering glam-outfitted quintet that featured many different musicians throughout their lengthy lifespan. Combining a rare mixture of diverse musical subgenres slightly ahead of their time–such as synth-dominated disco, and rock, while 'knocking' on new wave's doorstep four years prior to the movement's tsunami's watershed–the band's first single, "Future Woman", made a small splash in Montreal's discotheques, and adventurous FM radio. It even preceded another similar French formation, that of Space's "Magic Fly", as well as Giorgio, and Donna Summer's landmark "I Feel Love" by nearly two years. In fact their only competing contemporaries were Germany's Kraftwerk who were the leading electronic innovators of the period minus though the disco, and rock-guitar influences found ici. The aforementioned Rockets track presented here on 12-inch format came out in early 1977, and is an extended, and better mix than the original 7-inch as well as the album version. The long instrumental intro is a delight not only for electro fans but for deejays who wish to overlap songs for many music measures. The original French Decca pressing is exquisitely punchy in the bass accompanied by just the right amount of treble detail, low compression, and overall great tonal balance. "Atomic Control" on side A, is another terriffic track that did not get as much airplay, but is equally interesting, and the sound is ever so slightly even more impressive than the B side, with stupendous dynamics for the genre, and what must be the most massive, solid pounding kick drum–and snare also–in my record collection; almost 'frightening' how a simple spiral groove can startle the senses! Produced by Claude Lemoine, the band would go on to release three other worthy club hits such as 1978's cover of Canned Heat's "On the Road Again", 1979's "Electric Delight", and 1980's "Galactica".

78- Bing Crosby, Buddy Bregman – Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings. Verve Records – MGV-2020 (mono) (1956), MoFi – MFSL 1-260, ANADISQ 200 (1996), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: traditional pop standards, swing, vocal jazz

Just for a moment, forget all those radio programs, movies, TV shows, variety specials, and keep in mind that it was Bing Crosby who exerted his strong influence at the time on the mighty broadcast networks, and got involved financially early on with the newly-formed Ampex company to manufacture their new reel-to-reel tape recorders first introduced to the market in 1948. This technical achievement–originally developed by the German's in the mid-1930s to the onset of the allied invasion ten years later–not only far surpassed pre-existing recording methods but opened up numerous posterior possibilities such as 'sound-on-sound', multitracking, editing, etc. Accompanied by a seventeen-piece big band, this present 1956 mono LP was Bing's first, and only release for Verve, the crooner being primarily represented up until then by Decca–and to a lesser degree by Brunswick–while later shuffling between labels a bit more. Faithful readers know by now that my two favorite male singers, situated on equal footing, are Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra, but Bing comes in a close second to the pair. No doubt inspired by the latter's Swing Easy! [Capitol H528] out two years earlier, and Songs for Swingin' Lovers! [Capitol W653] just a few months prior, Bing Sings... teeters towards the same swinging crowd. My original US red/yellow label pressing is generally excellent until you put on MoFi's 1996 remastered version where every aspect sounds quite superior–be that the brass, bass, drums, dynamics, and of course the smooth tone of Bing's voice, featuring nuances, and richness not heard on the original. Probably one of the best remasters among the Anadisq series.

79- Ted Heath and His Music – Shall We Dance. Decca – SKL 4046 (U.K.) (1959), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: big band, swing

Unlike America, where Basie, Benny, Harry, Dorsey, and Duke, were duking it out for the title 'King of Swing'; bandleader, and trombonist Ted Heath was Great Britain's answer to Glenn Miller, leading the most successful big band on British turf. Shall We Dance is his 28th album under the banner 'Ted Heath and His Music', all of which were released either on London or Decca dating back to 1951 on ten-inch. The Glenn influence is undeniable, as is those of trumpeter, and band leader Ray Anthony–who was part of Miller's orchestra–as well as the sweet sounds of The Dorsey Brothers. While Heath's big band 'swings', his style stirs more towards 'ballroom' dance than Basie blues. Within that context, this LP is best served when the mood calls for 'easy listening' over harder-edge material. My original UK Decca FFSS pressing presents the band in glorious full frequency dynamic sound, with an impressive sens of relief between the front intimate dryer soloist, and the accompanying musicians, with the rhythm section solidly centered within the large, and deep soundstage. The warm tonal balance is sweetly spot on, nicely defined yet never aggressive because of the very low compression, but it definitely sounds more 'magnetic tape' than typical 'direct-to-disc'.

80- Pantera – Coyboys from Hell. ATCO Records – 7567-91372-1 (Ger.) (1990), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: groove metal, thrash metal, power metal

Time really does fly! Hard to believe it's been roughly 28 years since I first spun this record deejaying in a small downtown club. Hailing from Arlington, Texas, Pantera pretty much took over the metal scene by storm at the turn of the decade, stealing the thunder from then heavyweights, Slayer and Metallica. Though the latter two had spearheaded the speed-thrash metal movement since the early-1980s, and advancing the genre's evolution at an alarming rate, one can also make the case that both players had probably 'topped their game' by 1990, and were headed more towards redundancy than fresh creativity–at a juncture when grunge was about to shift rock-metal into many directions. Meanwhile the cats from Texas had already four albums under their paws–the first dating back to 1983–but none of them had registered with an audience until the release of their 1990 breakthrough Coyboys from Hell. Among the twelve tracks we can detect traces of Anthrax, and early Metallica roaming within the faster songs but most importantly is the quartet introducing groove-based rhythms, riffs, and shuffling hi-hat to the thrash subgenre, making it more engaging for the dancefloor. Produced, and engineered by Terry Date, the recording took place at Pantego Sound Studio, in Pantego, Texas, whereas the mixing–accompanied by the band–was done at Carriage House, Stamford, Conneticut. Vinnie Paul's drums are really nice, and punchy, providing perfectly defined double-kick along with just the right amount of cymbals, and snare. Rex Brown's bass resonates with a cold metallic sound, making good contrast with Diamond Darrell's warmly distorted guitar work. Howie Weinberg did his part with an excellent well balanced 'non-fatiguing' mastering at Masterdisk in New York. My original Euro pressing was representative of that period when CD's had taken over the vinyl landscape, and most of the music industry had abandoned US pressing altogether, relying instead on Europe to 'keep the presses hot'. The rather-thin vinyl–typical for the era–was pressed at Record Sevice GmbH in Alsdorf, Germany. I have not heard the 2010 180g double-vinyl reissue, cut at The Mastering Lab by (most probably) Doug Sax, which all things being equal would give it a 'groove-spread' advantage over a single LP. Note that they mention: "pressed from the Original High Definition Masters"–the latter term hints at HD digital files rather than saying "cut directly from the Original Analog Tape" if such was the case in 1990, so it is hard to speculate on the sound even if Doug Sax has a 'good track record'.

81- Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power. ATCO Records – 7567-91758-1 (Ger.) (1992), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: groove metal, thrash metal, heavy metal

Released two years apart, Vulgar Display of Power is the follow up to the band's preceding LP, slightly surpassing it in sound, and musical mastery. Though minute thrash traces of Metallica keep resurfacing here, and there; this time hints of Slayer with soupçons of Voïvod add to what is in the end a more original, heavy and definitive statement from one of the most important metal bands of the first half of the 1990s. With this release produced by Terry Date, and drummer Vinnie Paul, the band somewhat reduces the tempo, and predominance of 'death-defying' lead guitar solos, relying more on simple 'catchy' riffs, odd-time signature rhythms, slight de-tuning (lower), and back-vocal 'call and response' patterns similar in style to New York's Agnostic Front. All of the above are well implemented in their 'signature song' "Walk". Philip Anselmo's singing displays a deeper, more aggressive 'guttural' vocal style, perfectly suited for the slower, heavier riffs. And while 'Coyboys' had many great songs, there were a few tracks that seemed to not fit so well with the core of their new style, 'breaking the mood' of the moment, whereas this album presents more a unified front, and 'wall of sound'–similar to Metallica's ...And Justice for All [Elektra 60812-1]. Once again the recording quality is up there among the very best metal LPs–a genre often overly-compressed unfortunately–and superiorly mixed, and tonally balanced than most Metallica, and Maiden releases just to name two of the 'biggest' sellers of the genre. Like the previous entry, it also was initially not pressed domestically, so my copy is the original Euro pressing done at WMME Alsdorf in Germany. If you limit yourself to only one Pantera LP, this is the one to get. Like the previous entry, I have not heard the 2010 180g double-vinyl reissue, cut at The Mastering Lab by Doug Sax, which all things being equal would give it a 'groove-spread' advantage over a single LP. Note that they mention: "pressed from the Original High Definition Masters"–the latter term hints at HD digital files rather than saying "cut directly from the Original Analog Tape" if such was the case in 1992, so it is hard to speculate on the sound even if Doug Sax has a 'good track record', and did excellent work on the Slayer box set compilation.
A final note:

Now don't go 'bonkers' if you have not found your favorite recording included in this List, just remember: we are still at the beginning of a long long journey...into sound.

1 comment:

  1. While Thick as a Brick and In a Glass House I know well, for some reason I overlooked Nothingface. I will give it a listen. As usual, thanks for the insights, Claude. - Rob Schryer