Spyro Gyra, Good To Go-Go, Heads Up International, 2007, SACD
So, you have had a long week of work-related issues that should be a violation of international law. You need a break from it all, and some time to decompress. Good to Go-Go is a wonderful way to spend a bit over an hour listening to well recorded, upbeat, happy modern jazz.
Pour your favorite adult beverage, lean back, and let yourself be immersed with music that isn’t trying to make you cry, nor angry, nor anything but glad that you have a terrific sound system, home, and life. Bonnie B’s percussion will have you tapping your toes without even realizing it. Scott Ambush might have you playing “air bass guitar.” Jay’s Sax work is perfection, and it’s pretty safe to say that the band has been one of the best performers of jazz fusion for over 40 years.
The recording itself is first-rate, and you may just find your blood pressure has normalized after a listening session.
Murray Perahia, Murray Perahia Plays Mozart – The Piano Concertos, Sony Classical, 2012, 12 CDs
One of the more enjoyable ways to experience a composer’s evolution is to listen to a single type of work from their catalog. The piano concertos of Mozart are a great example. Though his career was tragically short, his output was prodigious. Beginning with a set of piano etudes written at the age of five and ending with his unfinished Requiem, the Köchel catalog lists 626 works that include 27 piano concertos. They span his entire career starting with K.37 and ending with K.595. If you ever wanted to imagine what he would have accomplished had he lived another 30 years, this is a great way to do it.
To experience these works for myself, I recently added Murray Perahia’s complete set to my library. Recorded between 1976 and 1991 in a variety of venues, they are all with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the soloist. Despite the different performance spaces, the timbre is very similar thanks to some thoughtful audio engineering. Fidelity is superb with a great sense of depth and a wide sound stage. The orchestra and piano are well balanced with neither becoming dominant. The solo comes out when appropriate and the orchestra and its soloists are allowed to shine as well.
When listening to them, it’s easy to remember that Mozart was himself a piano virtuoso. He composed these works for himself and his extreme abilities. Other pianists of the era, and even musicians of today, find them difficult to master. Mozart was thinking of his own performances and crafted the concertos for specific concerts or series. It’s interesting to note that numbers 7 and 10 are written for three and two pianos respectively. Mr. Perahia performs these with Radu Lupu using Mozart’s two-piano reduction for number 7.
As I journeyed through them, I was amazed at how each one sounded better developed and refined than the last. At the beginning of the cycle, it wouldn’t be hard to think one was listening to Haydn. Counterpoint and harmony are much more basic than what’s heard in later works. By the time you get to the midway point, Mozart’s genius has completely emerged. Perahia and the orchestra capture this clearly and neatly.
If you’re looking for a complete and consistent set of Mozart’s masterful piano concertos, this 12-disc compilation from Sony Classical is a great choice.
Abbey Lincoln, Abbey is Blue, Craft Recordings 2021 (originally Riverside 1959), 180G LP, Stereo
I’ve always liked jazz in the general sense. It’s always been a genre of music that I’ve appreciated ever since I first watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as a kid on TV and got hooked on Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack. And while I’ve seen my share of live shows and purchased a selection of modern jazz favorites on CD and SACD, I’ve never really started to explore classic jazz very much until my father-in-law gifted me his pristine LP collection about 5 years ago (Thank You Dad!). I set about purchasing a decent turntable, cartridge, and phono preamp and soon began going through his meticulously kept stash of vinyl one at a time. This process opened up a whole new experience for me in listening to and appreciating classic music from, Stan Getz, Bill Evans, Nancy Wilson, Peggy Lee, Al Hirt, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, and so many more. I have since been unearthing more classic jewels of jazz goodness through recommendations from others and as the opportunities present themselves. Roon is also a clever helper on that front.
I’d never heard of Abbey Lincoln when the chance came to sample the Craft Recordings re-issue of what is considered her breakthrough album “Abbey is Blue”, originally released on Riverside Records in 1959. After I got through listening to the first side of the LP, I couldn’t help feeling that I’d been living under a rock for the better part of my adult listening life. Why had I not found this album earlier? The lyrics are poignant and tinged with various stages of sorrow, understandable when framed in the context of the time it was recorded. Her phrasing and tempo when delivering each song are unique and totally her own. Her take on “Afro Blue” is decidedly offbeat and different from any other interpretation I’ve come across. She is accompanied by a tight and talented set of pros like Kenny Dorham, Wynton Kelly, Philly Joe Jones, Stanley Turrentine, and Max Roach. I’m not any sort of jazz historian so I can’t delve into the deeper meaning and significance of each one of the album tracks. However, taken as a whole, listening to “Abbey is Blue” is a supremely satisfying and moving musical experience. I will most definitely be seeking out more of Abbey’s work in the future.
The album itself is said to be an all-analog mastering from the original tapes by Kevin Gray at Coherent Audio. The vinyl was flawless sounding and free from any clicks and pops or other types of noise. The sound quality in particular was warm yet detailed. The song arrangements all seem to be intentionally sparse or dialed back in order to let Ms. Lincoln’s vocals take the center of attention. The track “Let Up” really got my notice as a deep bluesy number. The band was significantly pushed back in space, but I was able to clearly hear the details of each instrument and the studio reverb lent an interesting sense of dimension to the take. Abby’s vocals were front and centered. Very detailed and plaintive in emotion. “Brother, Where Are You?” was another standout performance. Sweeter but no less fervent. Kudos to Craft for the outstanding mastering and pressing job. This one is an absolute keeper!
Kenny Dorham, Quiet Kenny, Craft Recordings 2021 (originally New Jazz 1959), 180G LP, Mono
Having had a chance to hear Kenny Dorham as part of Abbey Lincoln’s backing band in the previous album, I was eager to hear what he brought to the table in Craft’s re-issue of his debut solo album, “Quiet Kenny,” also originally from 1959. Kicking off with the decidedly up-tempo “Lotus Blossom,” Dorham’s trumpet playing is not flashy by any means. It is tasteful, well-judged, and wonderfully cool sounding. Sliding into “My Ideal” and “Blue Friday,” the cool mood continues. This is just sumptuous, chill music to listen to. Everything flows, almost too easily. Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Arthur Taylor on drums are all as tight and smooth sounding as their trumpet player. This is the kind of music you sit back and savor, preferably with a fine beverage as it takes you on a slow and winding journey late into the night. “Alone Together” is such a beautifully put together tune and Dorham and his band turn it into an almost living and breathing thing in this rendition.
Again, the same mixing and pressing recipe was used here as was with “Abbey Is Blue” and the results are equally as good. The fact that this is a mono pressing makes no difference. The vinyl is clean and quiet after repeated playing. Acoustic bass sounds full and punchy, just check out the solo on “Blue Spring Shuffle” to get a good taste of it. The cymbals have a nice sheen to their sound as well and the drum skins sound crisp with plenty of character and detail. Dorham’s trumpet is super smooth without a hint of harshness in it anywhere. Craft has done another excellent job with this re-issue, and it is certainly worth checking out if you are a jazz lover. I could listen to this album over and over again.
Patricia Barber, Clique, Impex Records, 2021, DSD256 files
I have a good deal of respect for Patricia Barber. Her musical stylings are incredibly unique and all of her albums that I’ve previously heard have been interesting to listen to and are impeccably recorded. They are recorded and produced so well that audiophiles have turned to using swaths of her back catalog to demo and assess their Hi-Fi rigs. If I’m going to be honest, while I’ve enjoyed listening to Ms. Barber’s previous works, I can’t say that I’ve fallen in love with any of her music, at least not enough that it’s been top of mind when I’ve had a hankering to listen to something on the jazz side of the spectrum. That’s no fault of hers, her skills as a player, singer and arranger are obvious to anyone. It’s just, for whatever reason, her past albums haven’t quite “clicked” with me. That has completely been upended with the advanced sampling of her latest work, titled “Clique”. No bones about it, I bloody well love this album! While it still has everything that makes a Patricia Barber album all her own, her singing style, piano playing, phrasing, and arranging, it has an undeniable sense of coolness and a consistent infectious groove that just grabs you and doesn’t let go. Yes, the songs are all recognizable standards, but Patricia Barber handily takes them and makes each her own while still keeping it all sounding appealing and approachable for an admitted jazz neophyte like myself. This album is right up my alley and I really dig it!
The production is expectedly flawless, recorded in high-resolution (DXD 24-bit/352.8 kHz), and to be officially released in several different formats, including multi-channel audio and vinyl on August 6th. The sound quality is superb with an excellent sense of body and detail that has been captured in her vocals along with the ringing and decay of her piano notes that sounds just right. Throughout the album, the acoustic bass sounds fantastic with a visceral impact to the notes and plenty of string detail in the plucks. But putting all the sound-geekery aside for a moment, just listening to “Clique” on any good-sounding system or pair of headphones is a really joyous experience. The music itself is absolutely top-shelf and I highly recommend checking it out. As for me? I’m looking forward to hearing this album in multi-channel on August 6th!
Zappa, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Deluxe, Zappa Records, 2020, 5 LP set
As would be appropriate for the perfectionist whose name is on the box, this might be the best sounding vinyl I’ve ever dropped a needle on. I do that pretty much every night so that’s a lot of vinyl! I grabbed this 5 LP deluxe box set from my local record store the moment I saw it. This release has heavyweight, black vinyl. The backgrounds are dead-quiet, and the mix is full and sounds like analog through and through. There is also a two-disc clear-vinyl version and CDs.
This is an anthology collection, covering the breadth of a long and incredibly prolific career so it may be rather unsatisfying if you find yourself in the mood for some Zappa (be that silly Zappa, or rockin’ Zappa, or classical). There is more of the early stuff than I would have preferred, especially since when this man shuts up and plays his guitar – oh lord. Only about 3 of the 10 sides of the box set fit this description for me.
The last disc is the original score for the film which is another bit that I haven’t even gotten to yet. If you’re into Frank Zappa, by all means, add this to your collection but if you’re new, I’d say start with Hot Rats for rock-n-roll (or.. or… too many to choose from), or The Yellow Shark for classical. Enjoy!