Sunday, August 25, 2013
When I attended the debut for the Rega RP8 turntable last year (which you can read about here), we were told by Rega's Paul Darwin that the RP10, which would be priced more closely to the now-discontinued flagship P9, would be released within the year. When asked about the RP10, Mr. Darwin confirmed that the RP10's design would be very close to the RP8's, but it would sport the very expensive ceramic platter from the old P9.
Well, a year had passed, and pics of the RP10 have started making the rounds on the Internet. I found these on the website av2day.com, accompanied by a story about how audio writer Chris Martens and photographer Alan Sircom were able to visit Rega founder Roy Gandy in his home and get these photographs. I'm just passing these along.
This second turntable, however, is the Naiad, the legendary and rumoured SuperRega that Roy Gandy supposedly used in his reference system at home. Supposedly Mr. Gandy built the Naiad as an exercise to see how far he could take his turntable designs. He took what he learned from the Naiad and used it to create most of the models in the new RP line. While he built only one--apparently the one in this photo--there have been runors for years that Rega was seriously considering introducing it as a statement 'table.
What's so surprising is how small and minimalist the Naiad is, especially considering how much it will probably cost to produce. (Again, those rumours have been anywhere from $10K to $25-30K.) These are still gorgeous 'tables, and I will listen to them as soon as I get the chance and report back to you. The RP8, I felt, was a stunning 'table for the money (just $2995 with arm and without cartridge), so a $25,000 Rega will probably blow my mind.
You can read the entire av2day.com article here.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
I mentioned a few days ago that I received a nice little package from the band George Glass. Besides the fun 45rpm single of Sunshine I just reviewed, I also received the vinyl copy of their new album Welcome Home (which I reviewed here in July). Finally, the band included their eponymous debut EP, which was released in October 2011...just a few months after Sunshine.
I won't spend a lot of time comparing the CD and LP versions of Welcome Home--because I can't find my CD copy! I know I was listening to it in the car as we moved from Texas to Colorado, but now it's nowhere to be found. I will say that the vinyl pressings of all three releases are clean and pristine and sound wonderful and contain plenty of extras such as MP3 downloads, mini-posters and more liner notes than I got with the little silver disc. Hearing this on glorious vinyl only reminds me of the strengths I recognized in the original review--the easy slips between genres, the earnestness and an unusually sunny disposition.
Listening to the 2011 EP, however, was a small revelation. George Glass is more about guts than versatility, with almost all of the songs representing the straightforward rock that makes up about a third of Welcome Home. There's a greater sense of cohesion between the tunes, and more of a live feel. Welcome Home is more of a studio creation, more clever and filled with risks--and there's also all those gorgeous songs that have been laced with feel of Americana, which I feel is their direction for the future. This earlier release sounds more like it was captured on a stage in a single take. It sounds more immediate and exciting, and a little more road-worn.
Here's another way to describe it: go back to my original review and find my comments on the song "Patchwork Girl." This older album definitely has more of that loose, unbridled feel.
In other words, George Glass is a band that's already maturing and branching out. And like a thousand other bands, there'll be fans who like the real early stuff best. I like it all so far. You can check out the George Glass collection as well by visiting their bandcamp site.
Monday, August 19, 2013
When it comes to Facebook, I'm not a big "sharer," but this one was too good not to pass along. The website 22 Words figured out that a 45rpm recording of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" is quite a different song when played back at 33rpm. In fact, it's a lot better. First of all, Dolly totally sounds like a male singer at 33rpm, and a damned good one at that.
Check it out here: http://twentytwowords.com/2013/08/16/dolly-partons-original-recording-of-jolene-slowed-down-by-25-is-surprisingly-awesome/
Sunday, August 18, 2013
I just received a nice little thank you from the band George Glass after reviewing their excellent new album Welcome Home...vinyl! First up is this fantastic little 45 single, 2011's Sunshine, pressed in clear vinyl. While I have quite a few 45rpm singles in my collection, this one is novel because the clear vinyl looks amazingly cool sitting on the clear acrylic platter of my Unison Research Giro turntable. In addition, it's also probably the only 45rpm single I own that includes an MP3 download!
The three songs contained on this 45rpm single are cool as well. The opening title track is a mini-suite of sorts and attempts to morph into every rock genre in the '70s...acid rock, prog, power pop and then back again, all without sacrificing the basic melody of the song. The B-side is no slouch, with a charming cover of Arthur Lee's "Gazing" and a crisp, catchy closer titles "Lil Wiz." All three songs are carefree and fun, just the thing I needed after listening to Swans' The Seer all the way through for the first time.
How about you? Are you still listening to 45rpm singles? Which are your favorites? Don't I sound like one of those audio mags or record stores trying to pump up the likes on their Facebook page? At any rate, it's a good question since most vinyl lovers I know still stick primarily to 12" LPs. 45s, however, are fun. Sure, you have to get up every three to five minutes to change the record--which was one of the original and somewhat dumb reasons for abandoning your record collection for CDs. Vinyl is exercise. It's good for you.
George Glass also sent me the vinyl LP version of Welcome Home, as promised, as well as their eponymous 2010 debut, also on vinyl. I'll report shortly on those. Suffice it to say that while I liked Welcome Home a lot when I first heard it and gave it a positive review, this band is really starting to grow on me. If you'd like to check them out, visit their Bandcamp site.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
This is more of a preview than a review; I don't make a habit of reviewing CDs that originally came out in 1997 and 2003 unless they're remasters or special editions. In fact, this is actually another musical recommendation from my good friend Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio, an introduction of sorts to his friend Todd Hunter. Dan has yet to steer me wrong when it comes to music--he's the one who turned me onto singer Halie Loren, who has quickly become my go-to girl whenever I need a great female voice recording that isn't one of the usual (i.e. predictable) suspects. Dan wanted me to familiarize myself with Todd's previous releases because he's getting ready to release a new recording later in the year. That's not something to be taken lightly, since it's been a decade since the last one. But it's not like Todd Hunter hasn't been busy. He has.
So who is Todd Hunter? He's a jazz pianist, of course, and a quite gifted one. His style reminds me a little of Bill Evans--fluid, lyrical and dense--although Hunter has a fondness for salsa and samba beats that can make this particular comparison tough to secure. (But the similarities are there, at least for me.) Todd has also been around, as they say in jazz, which means he's played with such folks as Nancy Wilson, Kenny Burrell, Les McCann, Billy Higgins, Buddy Collette, Ndugu Chancler, Ronny Laws and Diane Reeves. He's also spent quite a lot of time touring with pop and R&B superstars such as Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Night, Gloria Estefan and the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Oh, and Todd's father is Bill Hunter, another accomplished jazz pianist. Along with Todd's son William, who plays trumpet, there's a lot of jamming at the Casa Hunter. No wonder Todd's only releasing his third solo album in 16 years--like I said, he's been busy.
That's kind of a shame in a way, because 1997's Dig It and 2003's Have a Nice Trip are really, really good. Better than good. Amazing. Earlier in the year I talked to jazz saxophonist Daniel Louis White about the contemporary jazz scene, and if it still contains the kind of trailblazing talent that existed fifty or sixty years ago. Daniel wasn't sure...he's just staying true to himself and what's inside him. These two Todd Hunter CDs emerge as Exhibit B to Daniel's Exhibit A, that modern jazz is still full of musicians who straddle the razor's edge between keeping history alive and feeding the genre as if it's a living, breathing thing (which it is). Both Daniel and Todd have helped me to realize that I've spending too much time listening to jazz from the '50s and '60s. I've been like one of those Boomers who haunt the music forums and declare that modern jazz died when Miles released Bitches Brew. I need to play catch-up; there's so much good jazz still being played every day.
While these two CDs sound a bit different from one another--Dig It has a more intimate feel, and the brass sounds a bit softer and mellower, while Have a Nice Trip is a wilder, more rambunctious younger brother--Hunter firmly puts his signature sound and style up front in both recordings. First of all, he must love percussion. He employs quite a few drummers and percussionists on both CDs including Aaron Serfaty, Mike Gutierrez, Raymond Pounds (great name for a drummer!) and Cassio Duarte, and he always gives them plenty of space to run and create lots of excitement on stage. Second, he's a truly balanced pianist when it comes to sharing the stage. He never recedes into the background, plunking the odd key just to remind everyone he's still there. While he's extremely generous with his fellow musicians, his piano is also the beacon, and there's no doubt that the leader of this band is the guy sitting on the skinny wooden stool.
Finally, all but two songs on these two CDs are originals, written by Todd Hunter. This might be one way in which contemporary jazz differs from past generations, the need for original compositions and the reluctance to put a new twist on an old standard (although Hunter does cover "Autumn Leaves" and "Comin' Home, Baby" on Have a Nice Trip). My theory is that we've seen at least three or four generations of singer-songwriters in rock, folk and pop, and it may have bled into the world of jazz. It's a matter of integrity, I suppose, the dividing line between hitmakers who just need to look good on stage and those talents who are trying to make their mark. I can go on and on about this, but suffice it to say that after all these decades it takes tremendous skill and inspiration to write original jazz compositions that sound as rich and melodic and memorable as those beloved standards.
If I had to choose one CD over the other, surprisingly I'd go with the older Dig It. (As a side note, I knew I had another album in my collection with the same title--it turned out to be from Klaus Schulze. These two albums sound just a little bit different from each other.) This has nothing to do with the strength of the compositions or the quality of the performances. I just felt that the overall sound quality of Dig It was simpler, smoother and more hypnotic. On Have a Nice Trip, the horns have a bite to them that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I'm reminded of J. Gordon Holt's comments about audiophiles who complain about harsh, bright horns on recordings, and how horns in real life are harsh and bright. There's nothing wrong about the horns on the second album, but they are more forward. This, of course, is nitpicking, so ignore me. These two albums are fantastic, and I can't wait to hear the new album later this year.
Until then, you can get Dig It and Have a Nice Trip directly from Todd Hunter's website at www.toddsounds.com.
Friday, August 16, 2013
I just made another change to our reference system at CCI World Headquarters. I swapped out the Unison Research Sinfonia I've used for the last 18 months for another Unison integrated...the S6. The only reason I made the change was because we sold the Sinfonia as a demo piece to one of our dealers. The S6 I'm now using was the same one John Marks reviewed for Stereophile last month, so it's sort of a celebrity.
The S6 was the first Unison integrated amplifier with which I became familiar once Colleen and I started CCI in July of 2011. Although I've used numerous Unison amps in our home system and at trade shows over the last two plus years, the S6 might just be my overall favorite so far. It's an EL-34 based amplifier instead of a KT-88 based amplifier, such as the Sinfonia, which gives it a slightly more dynamic and modern tube amp sound. The Sinfonia was a warm, slightly lush-sounding tube amp that sounded a bit more old-fashioned than the S6. It was also slightly less powerful (27 wpc vs. the S6's 35 wpc) and yet slightly more expensive--mostly due to the more elaborate use of wood in the chassis and the more complex circuitry designed for the KT88s.
I quickly compared the two amps before I made the switch using a couple of CDs I just received from jazz pianist Todd Hunter (article/review coming soon). The Sinfonia might be slightly more refined and romantic, but the S6 is gutsy and powerful. In my rather large room with fairly sensitive speakers (the 89dB Opera Secondas), Todd's rich and lyrical piano sounded much more forceful and impressive. I have to admit that my new Colorado listening room is so big that some of my speakers are having trouble energizing its boundaries. Deep bass exists, but it doesn't quite hit you viscerally like it should. The S6 has eliminated this issue completely.
So welcome back, S6! I'll really miss the Sinfonia, but the new amp feels like an old friend...one that I've missed a lot.
Monday, August 5, 2013
That's a word my audiophile friends and I used to bandy about--usually when talking about equipment. My late friend Steve Zipser, who used to own Sunshine Stereo down in South Florida, used this adjective whenever he approved of a specific piece of gear he sold. I used to think it was an odd word when I first heard it; music was glorious, and gear was just an end to that means. Over the years, however, I have used glorious once or twice to describe gear whenever a heavenly sound emanated from a pair of more-than-competent loudspeakers. I always felt a little strange doing it.
When listening to the latest Blu-ray audio/SACD disc from 2L recordings, Hymn to the Virgin, I immediately thought of the word and felt utterly comfortable in applying it. Like Song from the Uranienborg Vokalensemble that I just reviewed a couple of weeks ago, Hymn is full of sacred choral music that is, of course, utterly glorious in the way it can transform the mood and disposition of a thoroughly secular person such as me. Comprised of short pieces from well-known composers such as Benjamin Britten, Francis Poulenc, Eric Whitacre, Sergei Rachmaninoff and a personal favorite, Arvo Part, this is rich, textured choral music that will force you to tiptoe across your listening room in an penitent, God-fearing manner--even if you're a fellow heathen.
Sung by Schola Cantorum and featuring soloist Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl--a name that is in and of itself glorious--this recording is somewhat richer and more forceful than the delicate Song. When I posted that review, a man replied on the 2L Facebook page that he was troubled by my comment that Song featured an approach that favored individual voices and allowed the listener to follow singular musical threads with uncommon ease. This gentleman thought that choral music should be composed of a more homogenous sound, that chorales often strived to sound more congealed in order to magnify and multiply the power of the human voice. Perhaps he'll find that Hymn to the Virgin meets his expectations in a more predictable way, although I hate to use that particular adjective when describing a 2L recording. Throughout the recording we are treated to wave after wave of grouped voice, powerful and united, and positively hypnotic in the way the sections of the chorus weave in and out of each other to build a cumulative strength.
In describing these recordings from 2L, I've always commented on the acoustics of the recording venue. More often than not, it's a Norwegian church. This time is no different, with Morten Lindberg recording the vocal ensemble at the Garnle Aker church in Norway, but this is perhaps the most resonant place yet, a true and distinctive performer like never before. As the title suggests, these pieces are devoted to the Virgin Mary, yet mated to a thematic undercurrent courtesy of Sir Thomas Aquinas: "Music is the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal, bursting forth in sound." The interior boundaries of the church guarantee that the sound does burst forward, full of startling dynamic contrasts that create an unparalleled sense of passion in the music. What a magnificent venue this is.
I attemped to review Hymn to the Virgin before I moved to Colorado; I listened to it shortly after reviewing Song and found it difficult at first to differentiate between the spirit of each recording. I'm glad I waited. My new listening room in Colorado is enormous, close to twice as big as my Texas listening room, and this increased volume allowed Hymn to the Virgin to bloom in unexpected ways. First of all, this is a much larger vocal ensemble (I count 35 or 36 people in the photos included in the liner notes) and I appreciate the way the increased space allows each member to contribute to a greater whole. While Song celebrates intricacy, this recording is more about energy and momentum and will push the limits of your system as few voice recordings can. That indeed is a truly glorious thing.