Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Radio Music SocietyHeads Up HUI 33626-00
Format: CD

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

 

Esperanza Spalding’s command of multiple musical idioms is evident in "Radio Song," the first track of her new disc, Radio Music Society. She injects a hint of jazz vocalise after a couple of verses of nicely developed funk inspired by Earth, Wind & Fire. It’s not only that she’s brash enough to throw jazz into the mix, it’s also the ease with which she makes the transition -- you hardly notice until it’s there. Radio Music Society is more groove-heavy than Spalding’s three previous discs, and jazz purists will probably see it as a bid for commercial success. But her inspirations are the sophisticated soul of Stevie Wonder and EW&F, and jazz fans should find her harmonic flights beautiful and daring.

Ahmad JamalJazz Village SP9570001
Format: CD

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

 

I lost count of the number of albums listed in the discography on Ahmad Jamal’s website, but his newest, Blue Moon: The New York Session, brings his recordings as leader to over 50. Jamal will be 82 in July, and he’s still bursting with ideas. Early in his career he was unfairly accused of commercialism, a charge that Miles Davis, for one, dismissed out of hand. Jamal’s use of space and economy of notes was a strong influence on Davis, who encouraged Red Garland, the pianist in his 1950s quintet, to play like Jamal.

Leonard Cohen - Old IdeasColumbia 88697986712
Format: CD

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

 

Leonard Cohen is a poet, novelist, painter, and singer-songwriter, and a figure of such sartorial grace that he makes even Bryan Ferry look a bit shabby. He’s a Companion of the Order of Canada (one of several honors he’s received there), and in 2008 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His standing as a poet in music puts him in the same category as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, both of whom are better known but no more widely respected. Cohen, born in Montreal in 1934, has seven years on both of those singer-songwriters, and, like them, is writing about mortality, romance, spirituality, and the mysteries of aging.

Wish You Were HereEMI/Analogue Productions 5099952243325
Format: Multichannel SACD/CD

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

 

Two years after their phenomenally successful 1973 LP, Dark Side of the Moon,Pink Floyd followed up with another very popular album, Wish You Were Here.That record’s chief themes are the exploitive nature of the music business, the effect of fame on a band’s camaraderie, and the loss of a friend -- specifically, the loss of the band’s leader and guitarist, Syd Barrett, to mental illness and drug abuse.

Stop and GoSonic Zen Records SZ110908
Format: CD

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

 

One of the first things I noticed about Jeff Campbell’s Stop and Go is that the acoustic guitars sound like acoustic guitars. My guess is that Charlie Wilson, the engineer at Sonic Zen Studios, recorded them by placing a microphone near the sound hole. Electric acoustic guitars or acoustics with a pickup recorded through an amp sound less open and, well, woody.Wilson has an ear for how an instrument should sound, and it’s that kind of detail that gives me confidence in a recording.

Miles DavisEagle Vision EV303669
Format: DVD

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

 

When Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs asked Miles Davis to appear at the festival in 1973, the great trumpeter’s reply was typically acerbic: "Your offer is an insult to my color and talent." When Nobs finally convinced him, Davis demanded a Ferrari, then complained when it was red instead of silver. Working with Davis took a lot of patience, but the results over a long career were worth the effort. Miles! Live at Montreux: The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991 -- over 18 hours of music on ten DVDs from his appearances at Montreux -- is a testament to the brilliant, sometimes difficult music Davis was making in the last third of his life. Nobs produced the 20-CD, 19-hour set of Davis’s Montreux performances for Columbia/Legacy in 2002, and much of that music is included here.

Eagle Vision/Reelin’ in the Years Productions EV303859
Format: DVD

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

Ray CharlesWhen Ray Charles appeared at the Antibes Jazz Festival in July 1961 during his first European tour, he’d just finished a great run of recordings with Atlantic Records and was well on his way to international stardom. The main events on this DVD are two complete sets from July 18 and 22, with selections from the July 19 and 21 sets filling out the program to just over 110 minutes.

Along with his four backup singers, Charles took seven instrumentalists with him to Europe, and they open each set with two jazz instrumentals that let the players, including David "Fathead" Newman, Hank Crawford, and Charles himself, show off. The rest of each set comprises many of Charles’s best-known tunes, including "Let the Good Times Roll," "Georgia on My Mind," and "What’d I Say." The musicians sound tentative in spots on the first set, but by the last day of the festival they’re relaxed and swinging. A comparison of the same songs in three of these sets shows how, within a fixed arrangement, Charles left room for improvisation and chance.

The performances were originally filmed for French television and edited to be broadcast as highlights from the festival. The producers of this release tracked down 105 minutes of film, along with radio recordings of the full sets. They’ve done a heroic job of reconstructing and syncing the film and filling in the gaps with footage of the audience. The 16mm film quality is very good, while the mono sound is lively if not of audiophile quality. Despite that slight reservation, Live in France 1961 is an essential document for Ray Charles fans and students and lovers of American music.

Parlophone 87553
Format: CD

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

ColdplaySustained success is not a common story in the music industry, and for each multi-platinum artist there are scores of performers who achieve brief notoriety before resuming their places in obscurity. The British band Coldplay is decidedly in the former category, and their fifth studio album, Mylo Xyloto, was something I’d been looking forward to all year. While the album’s character remains classic Coldplay, showcasing Chris Martin’s singular voice, the rest is filtered through the lens of Brian Eno, producer of the band’s last album, several U2 albums, and an artist in his own right whose list of ambient electronic works begins in the 1970s. Eno brings that background in ambient music to bear here, with almost every song playfully exploring different types of sound and space. This lends the disc a lingering, ethereal quality that sets it apart from other contemporary music.

"Paradise" and "Princess of China," the latter featuring Rihanna, are replete with radio-friendly lyrical repetition that makes for easy foot tapping without ever really challenging convention. "Hurts Like Heaven" and "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" both adopt a quick tempo and an upbeat demeanor that are pleasing to the ear, while "Don’t Let It Break Your Heart" highlights Eno’s production presence in a song that would sound suspiciously at home on a U2 record. Mylo Xyloto deviates from the mainstream without straying so far as to break new ground. But despite the lack of creative initiative present, Martin’s trademark voice continues to impart an infectious joy that ensures that most fans won’t be disappointed with Coldplay’s latest effort.

Eagle Vision/Reelin’ in the Years Productions EV303769
Format: DVD

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

The HolliesLook Through Any Window 1963-1975 gave me a chance to reassess a group I’ve always liked but, it turns out, didn’t really know. The Hollies had a good ear for songs to cover before they wrote their own series of great songs in the 1960s and sang them in beautiful harmonies. Allan Clarke and Graham Nash blended their voices in the manner of two of their heroes, the Everly Brothers, but when guitarist Tony Hicks added his voice, the group soared. After watching the DVD, I realized that the Hollies were also very strong instrumentalists, especially Hicks, who wove his complex guitar parts into the fabric of the songs. This documentary follows the group’s history, musical development, and changes, and includes some revealing footage of the band as it records "On a Carousel" in Abbey Road Studios in 1967. Nash, Clarke, Hicks, and Bobby Elliott tell their stories engagingly, and along the way there are performances from throughout their career, including some pioneering music videos. The sound quality varies -- some of the TV footage goes back to 1963 -- but none of the recordings is unlistenable, and some are quite good. The DVD gives you the option to watch all the performances without the interviews, and the accompanying booklet contains informative notes by Ben Fong-Torres. This DVD is a worthy addition to Reelin’ in the Years’ excellent DVD series on the British Invasion.

GotMusic GMR 002
Format: CD

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

Doug Munro and La Pompe AttackDoug Munro is a New York-based guitarist who has made 11 albums as leader and 60 as a sideman. For this holiday outing he chose to re-create one of his favorite sounds: that of Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France. His coconspirators on all tracks are guitarist Ernie Pugliese and bassist Michael Goetz. Guests on various tracks are Cyrille-Aimée Daudel, vocals; Ken Peplowski, clarinet; and Howie Bujese, violin. The group swings its way, Reinhardt style, through 15 popular and religious tracks. Hewing to the style, they swing "We Three Kings" just as much as they do Leroy Anderson’s "Sleigh Ride." Though all the performances are enjoyable, the bar rises when Peplowski is featured. Just listen to his effortless improvising in "Sleigh Ride" or "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." The style comes to him as if he were born to it. Bujese’s violin is a little rough and ready, though always in tune and on the beat, while Daudel’s adroit singing adds color. The sound seems sort of flat, with a lack of soundstage depth -- sort of like movie-theater sonics -- but you’ll get so caught up in the swing of things that you probably won’t mind too much.