• SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - PSB's M4U 4 Earphones (April 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - GoldenEar Technology's Triton Two+ and Three+ Loudspeakers (March 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- KEF's LS50 (February 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio's Platinum II Series (January 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Pryma 0|1 Headphones (December 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF's Blade Two Loudspeaker (November 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF and the Uni-Q (October 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio Acoustics & Aesthetics (August 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- PSB's Imagine T3 Loudspeaker (June 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Hegel's H160 Integrated Amplifier-DAC (April 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- MartinLogan's Neolith Loudspeaker (February 2015)

Elvis CostelloVideo Service Corp. TRI 1769
Format: DVD

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

 

A talk show with Elvis Costello interviewing other musicians could have been unbearably precious, but Costello is such a formidable songwriter, and so obviously bright and quick, that he keeps his equilibrium even with three of rock’s biggest stars: Bruce Springsteen, and U2’s Bono and The Edge. The highlight of the second season of Spectacle: Elvis Costello with . . . is doubtless the two shows with Springsteen. In the first, Costello reaches back to the songwriter’s first two records, prompting the Boss to remember his early days, when he and his band hustled for work in bars along the Jersey shore. Nils Lofgren and Roy Bittan join Springsteen onstage for "Wild Billy’s Circus Story," a song from his second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.

Terri Lyne CarringtonSummer is here, and my soundtrack is as varied as the temperature, which dips (to my relief) and rises (with a vengeance) by night and day. To get you through the dog days in style, I recommend a little jazz, a little rock, and some sweet Southern blues.

Drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington’s new album, The Mosaic Project (CD, Concord Jazz, released July 19), brings together some of the finest women in contemporary jazz for a potent 14-song set of artistic collaboration. The cross-cultural, cross-generational mix features established legends like Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, and Shelia E. alongside such up-and-coming players as bassist Esperanza Spalding and vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and showcases some of the greatest musicians in modern jazz. Classics and standards are given renewed vigor -- like the very first track, "Transformation," a jazzed-up rearrangement of Nona Hendryx’s song, which Hendryx performs with soulful flair. Carrington is the skilled chauffeur behind the wheel of this album: her drumming, supersharp and tasteful, steers the momentum and vibe throughout. Poetry, politics, and love comprise the themes of the tracks with vocals, which are sung equally impressively with sultry smoothness (Wilson’s "Simply Beautiful") or octave-bending improvisation (Parlato on "Crayola"). The balanced recording showcases the subtle nuances of each musician’s playing; the resulting mosaic is a rich, multifaceted masterpiece.

Hiromi: VoiceTelarc TEL-32819-02
Format: CD

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

 

A few years back, when I reviewed Hiromi’s debut disc, Another Mind, I was impressed by her technique but found her execution and ideas to be tiring over an entire disc. My opinion was decidedly in the minority -- the pianist garnered positive reviews for that album and the three that followed. While I disliked Hiromi’s emphasis on ’70s-era jazz fusion on Another Mind,here she uses fusion’s techniques -- speed, dexterity and, to some extent, volume -- in new and interesting ways.

Eagle Records ER202072
Format: CD

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

Ben WatersIn Life, his autobiography, Keith Richards writes "I don’t think the Stones would have actually coagulated without Ian Stewart pulling it together." Keith, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones played with Stewart, a great blues and boogie-woogie pianist, before they ever played with Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. Andrew Loog Oldham felt Stewart didn’t fit the Rolling Stones’ image, so Stewart served as the band’s road manager and played on nearly all their recordings until his death in 1985. Ben Waters, a 35-year-old British pianist, put together this tribute to Stewart, enlisting the help of some of his blues- and jazz-playing kinsmen, among them Watts (who plays on six tracks), Wyman, Richards, and Ronnie Wood. Jagger joins them, along with a great horn section, for a swinging version of Dylan’s "Watching the River Flow." The high point of the disc is a live performance of "Bring It on Home to Me" from 1984 by Stewart and his band at Montreux. Stewart displays an ease in his playing that Waters hasn’t quite achieved, but Waters is game and he plays with great feeling. The whole disc is easy and unforced, and another highlight is Richards and Wood trading vocals on "Worried Life Blues." The sessions were warmly recorded at Jools Holland’s studio, and expertly mixed by Glyn Johns. Proceeds benefit the British Heart Foundation.

Analogue Productions CAPP 782 SA
Format: Hybrid SACD

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

Nat "King" ColeAnalogue Productions continues its SACD traversal of Nat "King" Cole’s Capitol recordings by issuing After Midnight, which presents Cole with his stellar trio, adding a musical guest on each track. Today, Cole is remembered by the general public as one of the greatest pop music balladeers in history. But Cole got his start as a jazz piano player and leader of a jazz trio. This recording, made in 1956 and released in 1957, finds Cole enjoying the best of both worlds. Cole’s voice floats effortlessly over the sounds of the small instrumental group, and it has a clarity often partially obscured in his later recordings with large string sections. His trio consists of John Collins on guitar, Charlie Harris on bass, and Lee (Leonidas) Young on drums. The guest roster includes Willie Smith (alto saxophone), Harry Edison (trumpet), Stuff Smith (violin), and Juan Tizol (trombone). The song list mixes the tried and true ("Sometimes I’m Happy," "It’s Only a Paper Moon," "Caravan," "Route 66") with the less familiar ("Lonely One," "Don’t Let It Go to Your Head"). Virtuoso musicianship runs high for these sessions, but the overall mood is mellow and close. The sound is mono, but it’s so clean, clear, and balanced that it might strike you, like it did me, as absolutely wonderful. The copious notes include an enthusiastic essay by Ralph J. Gleason. This was one of those rare studio recordings where everything went right, and the careful mastering from Analogue Productions lets you hear that everything with absolute accuracy.

Hear Music/Concord Music Group HRM-32814-02
Format: CD

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

Paul SimonWith a long career full of accolades and awards (and sales), Paul Simon could be forgiven if he decided to coast for a while. He’d just rather not. He brought Brian Eno in to co-produce his last disc, Surprise (2006), and while the result showed a playful interest in Eno’s use of soundscapes and studio effects, the songs and the vision were unmistakably Simon’s. So Beautiful or So What continues some of that sonic experimentation. "Getting Ready for Christmas" includes a sample from the 1941 sermon of the same title by Rev. J. M. Gates, and Simon uses bits from the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet in "Love and Blessings" and Sonny Terry in "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light." So Beautiful or So What takes mortality and spirituality -- or, more specifically, the afterlife -- as its themes, but Simon’s gentle touch, humor, and humanism ensure that his observations are never merely cynical. Aural delights abound, whether it’s the Indian percussion from Karaikudi R. Mani and his associates on "Dazzling Blue," the kora, a West African string instrument, on "Rewrite," or Vincent Nguini’s guitar playing. All those instruments would sound even more delightful were it not for the compressed sound, which cries out for audiophile mastering.

Concord Picante CPI 32761-02
Format: CD

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

Eliane EliasBrazilian born Eliane Elias is no stranger to recordings, having produced over 20 albums in a wide variety of styles. In addition to her jazz pedigree as a respected keyboard player, singer, and arranger, Elias also has a classical music background and composes original music. Light My Fire contains four of her originals and several lightly swinging laid-back bossa nova tunes. What’s likely to attract the most attention are the remarkable covers of the title song and Paul Desmond’s "Take Five." "Light My Fire" is re-imagined as a sexy samba, and whereas Jim Morrison’s original performance demands and pleads, Elias slyly cajoles and invites. "Take Five" features wordless vocals and a new development section that Elias created. Often, her vocal line is doubled by Randy Brecker’s trumpet. The recording clearly places Brecker behind Elias, and the unanimity of phrasing makes for a somewhat eerie, ghostly impression. I was hearing this sound in my head long after I’d shelved the disc. The balances on the rest of the tracks are exemplary and satisfying, with tight bass and warm upper frequencies. All in all, this is an appealing CD that would be a perfect summertime companion.

Esperanza SpaldingHeads Up International HUI-32454-01|
Format: LP

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

 

When Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, Justin Bieber’s fans became upset and edited her Wikipedia page for a little mischief. They should probably consider themselves lucky their boy lost. The Grammy Awards have a mixed track record when it comes to choosing musicians who will enjoy a long, prosperous career. Colin Hay of Men at Work (1983’s winner) called the award the "Best New Artist / Kiss of Death." Spalding will probably be around for a long time, but as a jazz musician whose main instrument is the bass, she’s an unlikely choice for mainstream stardom.

AgesandagesAll right, are you restless for something new? My suggestions for this round of "Select Sounds" should help you usher in the warmer months and keep you on your toes (dancing with delight, of course). Alright You Restless (CD, KNF 1105), the debut album from Portland’s AgesandAges, brings a welcome exuberance to the current alternative scene with their proliferation of jubilant vocal harmonies, background hand-clapping, and all-around musical gaiety. A thorough listen to this disc and you’ll feel the clouds lift; the dreary days are gone and it’s high time for a sing-along! The opener "No Nostalgia" sets the bar high for the fun that follows. "Tap on Your Windowpane" is delivered with almost theatrical extravagance, but it’s all in feel-good fun. The seven members of AgesandAges collaborate like a fine-tuned commune in which each individual brings his or her best to the mix for the good of the group. Acoustic guitar, sweeping strings, and tinkling piano are matched with a gleeful vocal troupe fit to rival the heartiest of revival choirs. But that’s not to suggest that the whole album is sickeningly sunny -- some moodier numbers are scattered throughout, but in general this band has no time for negativity. As for the naysayers, as one song asserts, "they’re just angry and wrong" and "[we’re] writing our own story." Sing it loud and sing it proud, happy people!

LumeriansPerhaps this all seems a little too "Kumbaya" for you? For those more inclined to the dark and dimensional, take a stab at Transmalinnia by Lumerians (CD, KFR 1104), where amplified effects, tripped-out riffs, and a spiraling galaxy of kaleidoscopic rock will surely soothe your twisted mind. Both AgesandAges and Lumerians are represented by the Brooklyn-based label Knitting Factory Records, but that’s where their similarities end. Journeying through the underbelly of experimental trance, Lumerians attempt to open some doors of the mind. Quite melodious beneath the beastly, heavy facade, this is, according to the band’s biography "the noise of the billions of switches in your brain shutting off and on in perfect harmony." The disc was recorded in a former church in Oakland, California, an appropriate acoustic setting for the echoing resonance of the band’s hollow vocals, fused-out guitars, and bass-heavy percussion. This band is heavy enough to appease the old-school rock’n’rollers (there’s a trace of Black Sabbath and definitely early Rolling Stones appeal), and while they identify their sound as trance-like, it’s not the never-ending epic space jam some may be familiar with. These songs all come in under the six-minute mark, and they pack a wallop. If you enjoy experimental, original, sensory-pleasing sounds, Transmalinnia is well worth the trip.

Gordon GoodwinTelarc TEL-32363-02
Format: CD

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

 

Gordon Goodwin’s music has appeared in a number of films, including National Treasure and Armageddon, but his best-known work is probably the music that plays behind the opening credits to The Incredibles. In addition to his film work, Goodwin is a bandleader whose Los Angeles-based Big Phat Band is an 18-piece ensemble of some of the city’s best jazz musicians. That’s How We Roll is his seventh outing with them, if you include a 2009 collaboration with organist Dave Siebels. Goodwin composes most of the band’s music and handles the arrangements, in addition to playing piano and the occasional tenor saxophone.