• SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • 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)

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.

Jazzed Media JM9004
Format: DVD

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

Stan Kenton“Kenton was very severe about what he did,” percussionist Jack Costanzo says near the beginning of Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm. “He was gonna do it no matter what.” Kenton would have been 100 this year, and Graham Carter’s documentary, produced in association with the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, celebrates a musician who pursued his singular ideas in jazz despite the opinions of critics. Musicians from his long career appear throughout the film to extol Kenton’s virtues as a leader, mentor, and educator. Costanzo, Eddie Bert, and Howard Rumsey are among the players who recount stories from the early years, while Mike Vax and Joel Kaye share later recollections. Ken Poston of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute puts the various phases of Kenton’s career in perspective, with some help along the way from venerable DJ and critic Herb Wong. Jazz arranger Bill Holman talks about his work with Kenton, especially on Contemporary Concepts, an album even his detractor’s praise. Kenton himself is present in voiceovers describing his music and influences and in footage from performances and jazz clinics.

Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm is presented in standard definition, and the sound is predominantly mono. Some of the performance footage, even the later films from the ‘70s, is in poor shape. But Kenton fans will ignore those limitations and find the DVD to be essential viewing.

Self released
Format: CD

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

David LaFleurDavid LaFleur is a singer-songwriter whose music is mostly in the folk genre, and his self-released, professionally produced new album, Them Bones . . ., is comfortable and appealing. LaFleur sings and plays traditional favorites such as “Rovin’ Gambler,” “Darlin’ Corey,” and “Oh Freedom,” as well as seven of his own compositions. These range from highly personal tracks like “The Quilt Song,” which likens the patchwork in the quilts his mother wove to pieces of her soul, to the very funny “Shepherd’s Pie Revisited,” in which the singer is warned not to eat the shepherd’s pie at Mom’s Place but forgets a year later and orders it, much to his regret.

LaFleur handles lyrical ballads and humor with equal aptitude, and his clever asides on the funny tracks could become his signature. Though he usually performs solo, he’s assembled a group of fine musicians for this disc, which features accompaniment from bass, drums, mandolin, cello, organ, and piano. There are even backing vocals, most notably on the title song, which is the most fun track I’ve heard in a long time. LaFleur’s own guitar and Dobro playing is sure and accomplished, and he’s particularly skilled at slide guitar, which gets a good workout in his arrangement of “Double Down or Fold.”

Since Them Bones . . . is self released, you aren’t likely to find it in stores. Go to CD Baby or LaFleur’s site to pick up a copy.

Rounder Records 1161-2215-2
Format: CD

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

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

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

Jazzheads JH 1184
Format: CD

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

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

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

Geoff Berner Victory PartyIf you’ve read any of my previous columns, you probably know that my musical tastes aren’t easily categorized. I try to stay abreast of popular artists to keep culturally current, but I’m usually unimpressed with mainstream music and I find the "alternative" classification a farce. It’s the underground, unknown, oft-overlooked releases from small, independent labels or self-issued artists that excite me most. This month I’ve found four such gems, and I urge you to have a listen. While you may not read about them in Rolling Stone or hear them on a major radio station, these bands play with a passion and exuberance that comes with the territory of being brilliant, unimpeded, under-the-radar artists. I for one revel in such rawness.

I’m still undecided as to whether Geoff Berner’s Victory Party or Chopteeth’s Live disc is more frenetic, as both are dizzying in their energy and delivery. Victory Party (CD, MRD-132) gives klezmer a real kick in the pants. The Vancouver-based Berner is an accordion player with a punk-rock heart, and his backing band is a misfit mix of two New Yorkers on bass and clarinet, a female pair of classically trained violinists, and a percussionist and pianist. The songs are witty, cynical, and brash, taking aim at religious authority, politicians, pimps, and hipsters. There’s a haunting old-world sound at the root of their music, but it all comes crashing gladly into the here and now thanks to Berner’s satirical singing and the swirling soundscapes imagined by his band mates. I’m ready to join the victory party, comrades, and I’ve officially added punk-klezmer to my list of adored genres.

Jeff BeckEagle Vision DV303409
Format: DVD

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

 

Jeff Beck is eight tunes into his Les Paul tribute set at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York for this DVD before he and singer Imelda May kick into "How High the Moon," which Les Paul and Mary Ford took to the top of the charts in 1951. May, who performed the tune with Beck during last year’s Grammy Awards, sings lead over her own multi-tracked backing vocals, and Beck gets Paul’s slap-back reverb, echo, and quick flurries of melody down solid on a gorgeous red sunburst Les Paul Standard, one of many guitars he picks up during the performance.