Earl “Fatha” Hines – Plays Hits He Missed (M&K Records)

June 2, 2010

We, music listeners and collectors, love to dig out there searching for good records. Sometimes we find a record that is much more than a good record, and this is the case of the work I present to you here.
Earl Hines, was a brilliant American pianist that started his career on the 20’s and had a strong left hand delivering a lot of energy to the music. He is almost an unknown guy nowadays and I hope to contribute to keep his name alive through this review.
When you listen to music recorded here you feel all the energy that Earl was capable of on the piano. In the solo track “Humoresque”, you can listen him playing like for fun (and it makes sense since it is a real time recording, commented in the following lines). The track “Birdland” is a classic standard from Zawinul, known by Weather Report and Jaco Pastorius fans and starts with a perfectly recorded Tuba in the center of the speakers, followed by Bill Douglas drums a Earl Hines keys.
This is a typical album that I don’t get satisfied with having only one version. In the above picture, you see the original cover of the LP from M&K Realtime records.
I owned a unit some years ago. I was looking for some records in the used music stores in my big city and I found a funny guy smiling to me. I was about to ignore it when the word “direct to disc” almost said: “yes, you want me”. I didn’t concern about the music quality (since it was my first contact with this musician) because I knew that there was (and is) high quality inside. When I put it to play in my Thorens turntable with ortofon MC cartridge, I got totally amazed with the quality of the music and also the so important quality recording.
Direct To Disc, in LP, is the technique to capture a live recording, usually inside a studio, and use the direct signal to cut a master disc. It is a totally unprocessed and lossless signal, with extremely high and natural quality.
Earl Hines, when started to record it, was a bit confused about this kind of recording technique. He had to play each side of the record without a break, like if he was in a live show. That’s one of the additional features of this work. You can really feel the liveliness of the session.
After I sold my Thorens turntable, I sold it also for a friend collector, but I started to search out for CD versions, and I found a compilation of 2 M&K Records: For Duke and Earl “Fatha” Hines

This is a very interesting remaster of the original LP version. It was done by the M&K owner Ken Kreisel. This is a very clean reissue and very important since joined two great records in only one.
In my opinion, this is not the best CD version. There is another one, released by Drive Archive:

The former CD here (gold) is very nice and has an incredible sound, but it seems that a filter was applied to minimize some noise from the original master disc and, then, make a more clear sound. For me it also removed some magic and some analog taste from the original issue, that are fully present in the latter CD version I presented (Drive Archive), which is my favorite.
Don’t worry. These differences between the CDs are subtle and you will have true state of the art recording of a great musician playing great musics.

Thank you
Leonardo

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Lee Ritenour – Wes Bound (GRP)

May 18, 2010

I was influenced by Smoke and Mirrors, which is a great album and, after listening some samples, I ordered one copy of Lee Ritenour’s Wes Bound.
I always listen to all the internet samples before deciding to order a CD. The samples of Wes Bound promised that it would be a very good item for my collection.
It is dedicated to jazz-guitar legend Wes Montgomery, one of the Lee Ritenour’s influences. He plays some Wes tracks and also own music, including “New Day” which is, for me, the best song in this work.
In my opinion, one of the best Lee Ritenour’s albums. Great music in a very good GRP recording quality.

The Anthony Wilson Trio – Jack of Hearts (Groove Note)

May 10, 2010

This is my second Anthony’s album. The other is Our Gang, which was already commented here and which I like a lot. They are both extremes of Anthony Wilson presence at Groove Note.
When I listened a sample of this work in CD Universe, I listened only the first track Mezcal. This track has an interesting joy rithm and made me order one copy of Jack Of Hearts CD.
I was expecting something similar do Our Gang and, it is oddly very similar and quite different, at the same time.
One similarity is that we have a guitar-drum-organ trio. Guitar (Anthony Wilson), Drums (Jeff Hamilton and Jim Keltner) and Organ (Larry Goldings). This organist adds a very intense and seasoned timbre to the album. I enjoyed a lot his work here.

The main difference between Jack of Hearts and Our Gang is the music style. Our Gang is more bebop oriented, which is absolutely not the case in this new record. Jack of Hearts has a post-bop atmosphere. More ongoing rhythms, sometimes bluesy sometimes psychedelic. There was a real change in the 8 years between the two records.
Another similarity is the recording quality. Groove Note is already a safe hifi quality label for me. Very nice drum pickup and extremely well tonal balance.
There are other 2 Groove Notes releases: Savivity and Power of Nine, already in my wish-list and hope to get them soon.

thank you
Leonardo

Geral Veasley – Velvet (Heads Up)

May 1, 2010

Geral Veasley is an excellent American bassist influenced by Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke.
In the early 90’s he signed with Heads Up International and released good records so far. Velvet is one of them.
As the name itself suggests, Velvet is a work with smooth and soft musics. With a funky-jazz-soul style he shows a very solid creativity. He is able to create original forms, always with the bass in evidence.
My favorite tracks are Put your Sunday clothes, Bread Puddin’ and Home.
The recording quality of the Heads Up releases are always very good. Velvet is not different. A very safe HiFi album.

I have already written in other posts that bass players, when decides for a solo career, usually do the right thing. The bass, which is a rhythmic instrument (since it depends closely on the drums), when is the main spot of an album, shall reveal exactly that: rhythm. Probably that’s the reason why it is important that the bassist show up more. Have you ever wondered how the modern jazz would be without guys like Jaco, Stanley Clarke and others?

Best wishes
Leonardo

Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio – Diz (Blue Note)

April 19, 2010

Splendid! This is the first word that came to my mind when I started listening (after some years) again to this great Gonzalo Rubalcaba work. The cover is a bit sad, probably in memory of Dizzy Gillespie.
Gonzalo was born in Havana, Cuba and had a very intense musical life and was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie in 1986. Diz… the title of this albums, but, only 4 (of 9 tracks) are related to Dizzy. We can conclude that it is dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie, despite that.
Right after the first second of the first track, I realized that I was going to listen a real dense jazz work. I really heard that. Ron Carter at the bass started the first notes with a very precise and present walking. I have not comments about him and this name says everything by itself. At the drums, Julio Barreto doing everything you can imagine. Gonzalo has a very peculiar style in this album. He re-wrote completely all the standards and some tracks are unrecognizable, but still pretty. He is a true piano genius.
The recording quality is astonishing. The stage is very deep and airy. All the instruments are very well captured and have a perfect tonal balance. The piano timbre is very smooth at the left position. The bass at the center and the drums through the entire stage. It was recoded at McClear Pathé, Toronto 1993.

As a curious person, I decided to search information about this studio on Internet and found this web site: http://www.mcclear.com. The information I got is that it was closed in 2005 and this is a memorial site. That’s really also sad. The pictures show a very nice place with very nice people that produced very nice recordings.
I would like to dedicate this post to this great place and I hope everyone from McClear can continue working with the same quality as they did in the Diz album.

best regards
Leonardo

Igor Stravinsky (Chesky Records)

April 12, 2010

Petrouchka
Royal Philarmonic Orchestra
Oscar Danon, Conductor

Le Sacre Du Printemps
London Festival Orchestra
René Leibowitz, Conductor

It is not possible to write about this record without writing some lines about the composition and also Igor Stravinsky (and about my personal views, of course).
Petrushka and The Rite of Spring were composed sequentially and it’s good that this record present them in this order (The Firebird precedes them and should also be considered).
The main concern of the composers, at least before 20th century, was to build harmonies and melodies and arrange them in a format (like Symphony) that forms a great piece of art. In my view, this was, generally, the base of the 700 years of classical music since the medieval times. We have Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and many other Genius that keeps the very pleasant music immortal, but there are others that break the usual concepts and build totally new music formats. That’s what attracts me and makes me listen Stravinsky main pieces (Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring).
Imagine a music that has no melody and has no harmony. The music has form, rithm, figures and textures. Maybe it’s hard to explain in words. Hearing is much more understandable. The creativity required to reach such kind of form is not for everyone, that’s the reason why Stravisnky became also immortal. The Petrushka is yet more colorful than The Rite. The latter is more quiet and with more violent passages, representing pagan rites. It seems that Stravisnky wanted to do the extreme of its modern vision after Petrushka.
This is a real rupture of classic music and didn’t have a good acceptance in the first performance of The Rite of Spring, in Paris, 1913. A lot of confusion and rage. The world was not ready for that, despite its placed in recent history. Only 10 years later, or more, it stared to be accepted and acclaimed by its genius.
This is a Chesky record and I can save many words about its quality. It was remastered from original 60’s tapes and was in high quality form, what made possible to preserve all the performance details. It is one of the best orchestra recording I’ve ever heard in my stereo hi-fi system.

Best Regards,
Leonardo

Jessica Williams – Gratitude (Candid Records)

April 2, 2010

It is late at the night. I have just finalized a full listening session of this record. I don’t want to wait one or more days to write my impressions about it. It is fresh in my ears and this woman and this record deserves much more than the time I’ll spend here.
Jessica Williams is essentially a solo pianist. The reasons for that are explained in this album’s liner notes (by herself) and I suggest you to take a look on it. She is a true musician a has all my respect.
This record was in my wish list for some years and I confess that I didn’t expect so much. Someone told me in the past that J.William’s records plays very nice in our special stereo systems and I decided to try this one. What happened is that I knew a great musician that, for our luck, has many well recorded albums.
What impressed my here is the way Jessica explores the piano. From bass notes to treble, she keeps swinging. Very creative always doing new variations, new patterns and rhythms track by track. Each song has something new and you will be amazed with the dynamics she imposes to the keys. In music Justice she plays the harmony with the right hand and the solo with the left hand (she has inverted the conventional way, I was just wondering if she inverted the hands too).
This is a near-piano recording. It means that the piano seems to be near you and not far, like a big concert hall. The bass notes are in the left side (not at the left speaker) and goes to the right as the scales are increasing. It means that you have a complete piano keyboard in front of you, from left to right. You can follow each note, each harmonic in its own physical position. This recording is great to test how you stereo system manage the left hand piano, that should be extremely clear and separate, never mixing. The piano percussion dynamics are also great, mainly at the lower notes. Jessica uses a lot of harmony in the low register of the piano. It can lead to a lack of intelligibility, both live and at your home stereo, but that’s not the case here, absolutely.

Thank you
Leonardo

The Ray Brown Trio – Soular Energy (Concord)

March 29, 2010

This work was originally released by Concord Records, in LP. The original Concord LPs are true relics and I already owned many of them, but ended up selling everything when I sold my Thorens turntable.
I really like this LP series released by Concord in 70-80’s. Whenever I found one in the used LP stores nearby I got it without asking for any discounts. They always played very well here. It is a company that always concern about the artists selection and, fortunately, about the way the music is presented: great recordings and masterings. When put to play in hi-fi stereo systems, they allow us to enjoy all the musicians performance, without losing any detail.
Ray Brown was a bass player that had a very intense Jazz life. He was married to Ella Fitzgerald, was member of Oscar Peterson band, was one of the L.A. Four, and others…
As I already wrote above, this recording follows the Concord quality standard, but I can say it is some steps above the expected, becoming a true piece of music (when art and recording are great, we got a true musical piece of art).
It was trio that knew how to choose the tracks. The Ray Brown bass is very well captured and we are able to listen all the notes and intentions perfectly. Therefore, the main highlight of this album is the great pianist Gene Harris.
The classic Take the “A” Train is played down-tempo, very different of its original pace. In Mistreated But Undefeated Blues track, the pianist used the left hand with pleasant energy (few audio systems can reveal that) and, finally, Sweet Georgia Brown, other great standard beautifully presented here, mostly by the bass notes of Ray Brown.

Best wishes
Leonardo

Spyro Gyra – Wrapped in a Dream (Heads Up)

March 25, 2010

I’ve been planning a review of this record in the last five days, after some listening sessions and some adjustments to my hifi stereo.
When I met Spyro Gyra for the first time, some years ago, I was listening to “Breakout” in a standard LP version, and I enjoyed it a lot. The band occupied a good place in my collection since then.
Something happened in the last times, while listening to “Modern Times” and “Original Cinema”. I realized that the band was a kind of modern jazz industry by itself. So many records and so many tracks, with many common aspects between them. Jay Beckenstein always soloing its alto sax, very perfect music, with very perfect melodies and compositions, always very smooth and well synchronized. What is that? Art or commercial music? I started to read about Spyro Gyra and found that this band is very criticized about being a commercial-focused band.

The fact is that Spyro Gyra has an extensive list of records and a maze of materials to explore. I just found that they have records from GRP, which is one of my favorite record labels and they sounds very nice in my sound system. For sure I’m aiming these and will start doing some research on them soon.
Wrapped in a Dream is a must-have album for those who like good modern jazz music with superb recording quality. This record has some features that makes it a bit different and innovative, at least comparing with other recent albums. Has some Spanish touches and the track “Impressions Of Madrid” and “Walkin’ Home” are my favorite.
Despite the critics, I have a lot of fun listening to this album, and that’s what matters.

Leonardo

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (Columbia-Legacy)

March 4, 2010

One of the best-selling jazz records ever made, enjoying platinum status.
Many jazzoids consider this album as a boundary of jazz style. From pure jazz to fusion jazz.

At a time when most of the Jazz players put the pure jazz in the main spot (and put the rock and funk aside), H.Hancock hesitated to mix jazz and funk in this work. He realized that he didn’t think like the others and decided to yes, let’s do it. And he did with the percussion, jazz, funk, rock and other different textures. That was the result, an excellent album that can be considered the birth of the fusion.

In tracks 1 and 3, there some weird solos that can be annoying, therefore, I highly recommend to take it, they are brief and, when concluded, give space to a really fine jazz with lots of groove. It seems to me that they were wittingly recorded that way. Imagine yourself climbing a mountain. It’s a bit difficult to get to the top. Once there, you can rest and enjoy the nice view.
I have a 1997 reissue CD and, thanks God, a great recording and re-mastering.
I was listening to this CD many years ago, when I had only a consumer-grade equipment when I felt then that I should have a decent gear to listen to my records. I ended up becoming very addicted to stereo sound art (aka hi-fi).
So, this work, “Head Hunters”, a milestone in the jazz history, is also a milestone in my own music history, some years later.

Thank you all for the support.
Leonardo