• 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)

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.

Jovino Santos NetoAdventure Music AM1063 2
Format: CD

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

 

The Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto, who has lived and worked in the US since 1993, has recorded duet CDs with Weber Iago (Live at Caramoor, 2008) and label mate Mike Marshall (Serenata, 2003). Veja O Som pairs the pianist with 20 musicians, including Marshall, for this two-disc collection, with one disc recorded in Brazil and the other in the US. Santos Neto and Richard Zirinsky Jr., the executive producer of the disc and owner of Adventure Music, each chose the musicians who appear here. The idea for the set was Zirinsky’s because, as he told Santos Neto, “what the world needed at that stage of extreme global uncertainty was the reassurance of one-on-one human warmth and interaction.”

Zoho Records ZM201101
Format: CD

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

O'Farril BrothersThe O’Farrill Brothers are Adam, who plays trumpet and writes most of the music, and Zack, who plays drums. If their last name is familiar, it’s no doubt due to their father, Arturo, who’s well known as a jazz educator and performer. This is such a good debut disc, however, that the brothers will likely be known in their own right before long. The O’Farrill Brothers’ quintet is completed by Livio Almeida on saxophone, Zaccai Curtis on piano, and Michael Sacks on bass. Though the young men are all in their early 20s and have the energy and enthusiasm to prove it, the group collectively projects a singular maturity. The tight ensemble is a toe-tapping joy to hear, and each player distinguishes himself with virtuoso solo stretches that are most impressive. The O’Farrill group has no set formula for each chart, and that spontaneity makes for a refreshing playlist. A track might start with the whole group, or it may begin with a rhythmic bass ostinato that both anchors and drives the composition, as in Almeida’s “Face It!” The young players certainly show influences, such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Freddie Hubbard, but the O’Farrill Brothers have established their own pulsing style. The sound is warm and clean, though it slights the bass.

Gibex Recordings Gibex 006
Format: CD

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

Michael William GilbertElectronica, ambient music, techno, or whatever name it chooses to go by is probably something of an acquired taste. For me, the best of it, such as the Bombay Dub Orchestra or Banco de Gaia, embraces music from other cultures and creates an enticing blend that draws you in. Michael William Gilbert’s I Can See From Here joins that company with an enjoyable disc that, despite its technical savvy, still has a big heart. Ambient music can be somnambulant, but Gilbert is a rocker at heart and the energy level on I Can See From Here remains high. “Amerikan Dream” is anthem enough for any Pink Floyd lover, and the shimmering guitars on “Over the Next Rise” will appeal to young rock fans. The keyboard washes and other electronic trills throughout the disc are typical of this genre, but Gilbert also likes rhythm, so the conga drums, shakers, and other percussion instruments ensure a human element. Peter Kaukonen is the guest guitarist on “Amerikan Dream,” but the rest is Gilbert, who also recorded and mixed the disc. A mastering engineer would have ensured more consistency in the sound, but Gilbert uses space well and most of the tracks will give your stereo a workout.

MDG 910 1625-6
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

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

201102_flyingsaxcircusWe all like what we like when we like it, but we should always be open to those off-the-beaten-track titles that, given a chance, can provide unexpected pleasure. It’s hard to imagine anything more unusual than a band comprising a dozen saxophone players (one sopranino, two soprano, three alto, three tenor, two baritone, and one bass), but it sounds a lot more familiar than you might think. The scores for three of Antonin Dvořák’s Slavic Dances have the ensemble sounding a bit like a huge, sonorous accordion. The “Lyric Waltz” from the jazzy Shostakovich Jazz Suite No.2 sounds like wistful film music to accompany a pair of lovers strolling by the Seine (or perhaps the Volga!). A suite of Gershwin songs played in a nostalgic “club” style finds the ensemble sounding totally idiomatic, and though “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “Liza,” and “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” sound pert and frothy, the soulful arrangement of “Summertime” plumbs greater depths. If you’re an audio buff in the know, it’s enough to say that the sound is MDG at its best, with excellent stereo tracks and multichannel ones that impart a greater sense of three-dimensional realism.