Saturday, June 29, 2019
My latest show report from T.H.E. Show 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one features ATC, the legendary UK loudspeaker manufacturer. You can read it here.
My latest show report from T.H.E. Show 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one covers a room bathed in purple, with a big system from Aaudio Imports. You can read it here.
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review, of Matt Skellenger Group's Vitality, is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. You can read it here.
Friday, June 28, 2019
My coverage of the second event for The Voice That Is! is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This event, hosted by Doug White, featured John Marks, George and Carolyn Counnas from Zesto Audio and Brian Zolner from Bricasti Design. You can read it here.
My latest show report from T.H.E. Show 2019 in Long Beach is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one concerns a unique speaker system that I've heard before from Arion Audio. You can read it here.
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review, Kenney Polson's For Lovers Only, is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. You can read it here.
Thursday, June 27, 2019
My latest show report from T.H.E. Show 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about the second Wilson Audio system, courtesy of Alma Music and Audio, that I truly enjoyed. You can read it here.
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review, Coniece Washington's Shades of Shirley Horn, is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. You can read it here.
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
My latest show report for T.H.E. Show 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about Common Wave Hi-Fi, and how this SoCal dealer was able to create new sound with Harbeth loudspeakers. You can read it here.
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one's about Ric Harris' new blues album, Open for Business. You can read it here.
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one's a fascinating soundscape from Polish avant-garde composer Joanna Duda. You can read it here.
Monday, June 24, 2019
My latest show report from T.H.E. Show 2019 in Long Beach is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about a beautiful system from the always intriguing mbl from Germany. You can read it here.
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is Luca Di Luzio's Globetrotter, which mixes jazz with his Italian roots. You can read it here.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
My latest show report from T.H.E. Show 2019 in Long Beach is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one's about meeting up with Gene Rubin, my original high-end audio dealer. You can read it here.
My latest show report from T.H.E. Show 2019 in Long Beach is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one's about PBN Audio, and an entire system put together by the great Peter Noerbaek. You can read it here.
My latest show report from T.H.E. Show in Long Beach is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about a new brand--to me, anyway--PranaFidelity! You can read it here.
My latest show report from THE Show 2019 in Long Beach is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This concerns a very surprising room--not just because Touraj Moghaddam and his amazing turntables were there, but because I finally fell in love with a Wilson Audio loudspeaker! You can read it https://parttimeaudiophile.com/2019/06/22/vertere-wilson-goldnote-rutherford-t-h-e-show-2019/?fbclid=IwAR10VCvdNWF7bEe_RgVaOrcwulNCiynonDQOSPsdE2jYelIFN4Kxw26akbs.
Friday, June 21, 2019
My latest show report from THE Show 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one's about another stellar room featuring Von Schweikert Audio speakers...another Best Sound of Show? You can read it here.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
I don't know how it is where you live, but I'm getting tired of all this rain. For the first time ever, I've just received a text from the Emergency Broadcasting System warning me of flash flooding in my area--an area that isn't known for flooding. Luckily, I have some big band jazz here that's perfect for an early summer day where the weather is more conducive to building arks than playing in the sun. The Interplay Jazz Orchestra, based in Long Island, has just released their third album, On the Sunny Side, and as you can imagine it's chock-full of songs that are mostly cheerful and celebratory. It's an optimistic album, obviously, but since it features some of the most in-demand jazz musicians in New York, it swings like nobody's business.
That's important for someone like me, a sometimes sad-sack who often wants to wallow in the saddest music in the world in order to unlock the lost keys to happiness. If you're going to be happy all over the place, you better have some attitude and swagger spilling all over everything. That means you need talent, which is the whole reason for the Interplay Jazz Orchestra to exist. The talent here is overflowing, forgive the rainy day pun. While the focus on this album is lively, upbeat tunes such as The Carpenter's "Sing" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street," it's also a showcase for compositions from the band--trombonist Joey Devassy, trumpeters Gary Henderson and Damien Pacheco and sax player Chris Scarnato have all arranged some of the classics here. On the Sunny Side is even recorded in Long Island, just barely so, at the famous Bunker Studios in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
IJO is a big band, but it's also unusually tight and focused. A lot of that comes from the energetic arrangements that focus on a more happy mood I suppose--loose might sound like morose in the world of big band jazz. Plus it's hard to sound lugubrious with an ensemble that's so heavy on horns--six on various saxes, four on trombones and four on trumpets. Fortunately this is not a one-note performance, so to speak, and the band isn't just trying to cheer us all up. There are thoughtful moments, usually focused around Jay Orig's interludes on piano, and some of the songs are designed to show the other side of happiness such as Devassy's "Broken" and the album's closer, Henderson's "Lights Down Low."
That's okay, because even at my most manic I could never suffer through more than ten minutes of happy-slappy music at a clip. On the Sunny Side appears to abide by the old adage that you'll never appreciate the good times unless you've had some bad ones along the way. I'm thankful for that, and that's what makes this album a pleasure instead of an "Up with People" marathon. Happiness is rare, but it is deserved by everyone--even when those flood waters are rising and speeding past your window.
Avery Sharpe's 400: An African-American Musical Project is one of those sprawling and ambitious projects that fixes upon several points in history and brings them together, presenting a new perspective from a thoroughly artistic standpoint. Sharpe is a supremely talented bassist from Georgia, and he was inspired by Duke Ellington's premiere of Black, Brown and Beige: A Tone Parallel to the History of the American Negro, which occurred at Carnegie Hall back in 1943. The 400, of course, refers to the number of years that have passed since the forced arrival of the first African slaves to Virginia. Sharpe uses a large and constantly evolving ensemble, complete with choir, to follow the history of slaves in America, century by century.
Avery Sharpe is perhaps best known as the long-time bass player for McCoy Tyner; his sound is the driving force behind this project. He surrounded himself with some truly remarkable talent for 400, most notably Kevin Eubanks on guitar and his brother Duane on trumpet. There's a family structure throughout--the Rivera family, including Sofia, makes up half of the Extended Family Choir, which is led by Kevin Sharpe. That's the important element in 400--this could be an album of anger and resentment and hopelessness, but instead it's about love. Love of family, love of each other, love of ourselves.
This is not a hard pill to swallow. Much of 400 is supremely musical, with beautiful melodies, haunting themes and fascinating ideas. It moves chronologically and always reflects the times--"Colonial Life," "Antebellum," and "Harlem and the War to End All Wars." The final song is titled "500," which is an obvious reference to the future and where we'll be 100 years from now. There are constant cues from history to guide us along, gospel and spirituals of course, the waltzes of the slave owners, American folk music and ultimately jazz.
It's an understatement to say that anything in 400 is half-hearted. There is a purity in the message, a reinforcement of hope, that makes this project seem far more optimistic than it should be. The idea behind gospel music and spirituals was always the need to be uplifted, just as the message of jazz is to think and to put one and one together to make two. 400 reveals a thrilling level of kindness and unity and focus, and it's one of the most compelling contemporary jazz releases all year.
The mid-to-late nineties weren't that long ago, were they? When it comes to indie rock, the stuff that was being recorded 20 to 25 years ago sounds pretty much the same as the indie rock that's being recorded now, especially since so much of today's indie rock is based upon evoking a fixed time in rock's past, anywhere from the late '60s to what was happening just last year. (That was me being facetious.) Onesie, for some reason, is different. This guitar-based quartet is totally 1995. That's not the same distinctive observation as saying they're totally 1965 or even 1985, but their sound on their new album Umpteenth is clearly based on the Clinton years. They sound like Matthew Sweet. They sound like Teenage Fanclub. They sound like a lot of acts from that era who simply wanted to create a new type of straightforward pop-rock, one defined by smart lyrics and a cohesive sound.
How is that different? Well, Onesie seems as if they're being completely honest about what type of music they want to play. You get the feeling that these 11 tracks weren't meant to be a tribute to all those other bands who played tributes to Big Star. It's almost as if these four guys started rehearsing together and this is the natural, organic sound that came out. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Ben Haberland, who has the kind of earnest voice that probably belongs to a guy your parents would like (providing, of course, that you parents were boomers like me), Onesie isn't interested in blazing new paths. They just want to charm you with a pure, musical and smart way to play this kind of rock, the kind you listened to and loved when you were younger.
While drummer Lee Madaus, bassist Zack Fanelli and guitarist Andrew Nelson are certainly essential to the Onesie equation, it's Haberland's words that lift these songs above the norm. His lyrics are more poetic than most--they certainly read well on the page, which is something you can't say about everyone out there. Not everyone would inject lines into their power-pop such as "What's your pitiful excuse for casting this Depardieu?" or "If your life is small, maybe that's the right size." Or, let me write it like this and see what you think:
In '87 driving over the Brooklyn Bridge
The scaffolding draped over Lady Libs
When she passed the torch to you, you dropped it
In fact, I can take any couplet, any verse from Umpteenth and write it down on the page and it will seem unusually literate and on point. While Onesie's music will certainly make you smile and remember what good music sounded like twenty years ago, it's the lyrics that will carry this band far--provided you're the type of music fan who also likes to read.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Man, I seems like forever since I've heard some good B-3 Hammond organ-based jazz. The Doug MacDonald Quartet's Organism almost slipped under my radar--it has such an unassuming album cover, and I think it's been in the review pile for months. It's not like I expect all organ jazz to feature a B3 on the cover or to have "ORGAN JAZZ" written in bold letters, but it just seems like I never get tired of this music. Some jazz genres, yeah, I do place them back in the queue because I'm not in the mood. But I'm always in a Hammond mood.
In this case, Doug MacDonald is not the organ player. He's the smooth electric guitarist you hear out front. The B3 is played by Carey Frank, who is one of those Hammond players who add a drone-like layer of texture to the proceedings, although he is given the chance to solo his butt off at least once every song. The rest of the quartet, sax player Bob Sheppard and drummer Ben Scholz, are synched up with the other two in an unassuming and gentle way--something you might not expect from a sax player. Organisms is a low-key album, smoothly integrated into a relaxed whole that feels like an afternoon spent drinking with an old friend.
Doug MacDonald's been around for a while--this is his 13th album as leader. This CD has been waiting around so long, in fact, that #14 has already arrived. If I wasn't such a geek about the B3 I'd be focused on the way MacDonald plays his guitar. Like Frank, he floats back and forth between the front edge of the stage and the background, always lending a quiet touch when the others are soloing. He is the leader, but it's not as obvious as you think. Each note outside of a solo is designed to coax the others to explore. That said, he does add a lot of texture to his notes from the tips of his fingers and always lets you know how's he's coming up with these great little riffs.
Organisms isn't a landmark album by any means, or a step in a new direction. There's a sense that these four musicians really like each other, and that the whole is incredibly rewarding because there are no lofty expectations. This is a breezy album that flies by like a pastel ghost, and it will put you in a fabulous mood if you love the Hammond B-3 as much as I do.
It's strange that I don't necessarily think of Zoho Music when it comes to big band recordings. There's always an intimacy involved, a deeply personal story that's being told from the point of view of a musician/composer who was born in one place and now plays jazz in another. Pianist Richie Beirach and violinist Gregor Huebner have enlisted the help of the WDR Big Band in Germany for Crossing Borders, which sounds like a perfect title for a Zoho release. These two musicians have taken the idea of how politics divides us and they have created both a piano concerto and a violin concerto, plus a handful of smaller works, to straddle the fine line between jazz and classical music.
Both Beirach and Huebner were classically trained, so they have the chops to pull it off. What's remarkable about Crossing Borders, however, is how the original ideas within these compositions float eerily between that gray space between the genres and occasionally toss in something that sounds almost familiar. In Huebner's Violin Concerto No. 3, for example, there's a spot where the violinist (Huebner, of course) starts flirting with Arvo Part's Fratres and does an evocative approximation of Gidon Kremer's take on this ethereal and haunting theme. This is anything but traditional big band jazz, in other words.
After spending way too much of 2018 submerged in contemporary big band jazz, I started to search for performances in this genre that strayed from the norm. Even in the most ambitious works, there's a desire to punctuate big ideas with a wall of sound, usually led by copious brass. In Crossing Borders, those temptations are resisted with the most astonishing moments occurring within the deep silences and empty spaces between those flourishes. This is one of the main reasons why I like the WDR Big Band--they're always willing to sound different and to do something that hasn't been done before, at least by a big band jazz ensemble.
That means, of course, that this is another ambitious and exceptional release from Zoho Music, one that stands out from most contemporary jazz releases. There's a looseness to these performances, a sense that there are no boundaries and no rules. (The title is a strong indicator of the themes here.) But this isn't messy music in the least--the melodies are tight and the ideas musically pleasing. It's the unexpectedness of the structure of Crossing Borders that's so unusual, and so surprising.
If you're going to use "Duke's Place" in the title of your album, you'd better have the goods. That classic Ellington song is more than just a personal favorite--Colleen and I consider it our song. Duke Ellington has become an obsession of mine over the last few years, a result of a gentle straying from my be-bop origins into the masters of the Great American Songbook such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and many more. Vocalist Tom Culver takes the "Duke's Place" mantel seriously as well. He knows to play it straight, to perform it in a way that could be considered contemporary in Ellington terms. He doesn't try to approach Ellington's music from a new angle or a novel approach. He has a pure and heartfelt respect for these songs.
Culver, who is based in LA, has that easy and slightly raspy croon that works so well with classic numbers such as "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me," "Mood Indigo" and "I'm Just a Lucky So and So." Culver does so much more than merely sell the song, or suggest the idea that he's worthy enough to tackle these tunes. He sounds like a guy who's been singing Ellington for decades, and you'd better sit down and accept that. There's a flow to his vocals, a sense that he somehow goes into a trance and these lyrics just float out into the room.
Tom Culver at Duke's Place is so much more than just great and old-fashioned voice owning some of the greatest jazz ever composed. Produced by Mark Winkler, who's also well-known for his magic touch in the studio, this album also features an ensemble that might be familiar to you--pianists Rich Eames and Josh Nelson, drummer Kevin Winard, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Gabe Davis and sax player Ricky Woodard. There's a professionalism at play here, an idea that Culver's voice is the star and the only way to augment that is through impeccable performances from everyone else on stage. It's not a flashy group of musicians, it's an effective and well-chosen one.
Does it compare to all of the great Ellington LPs I have in my collection? That's not a fair question, of course. I think it's difficult to separate jazz performances from their historical significance, and there's a huge difference between creating something on the fly that is immortal and looking back on how a tune has evolved over the decades and putting forth your best effort. There is a flawless character to Duke's Place that might not supplant wild invention and daring, but sometimes it's quite enough to listen to a performer, like Tom Culver, who understands the material and how to interpret it correctly.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
I've just returned from Southern California after a very whirlwind sort of week. My Saturday update from T.H.E. Show 2019 in Long Beach has been up a couple of days at Part-Time Audiophile, but you can read it here.
Sunday, June 9, 2019
Here's my highlights from the first day of The Home Entertainment Show in Long Beach, California, courtesy of Part-Time Audiophile. You can read it here.
Here's my coverage of the Vertere Acoustics event hosted by The Voice That Is!, a Philadelphia-based high-end audio dealer, that happened last week. Doug White of TVTI is certainly one of the premier dealers in the US, and this was an extraordinary event. You can read it at Part-Time Audiophile by clicking here.
Saturday, June 8, 2019
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Continuing this week's theme of international influences on jazz, my latest music review for Part-Time Audiophile is now live. This covers Hungarian drummer/composer Marton Juhasz and his exciting Discovery. You can read it here.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review, of Akira Tana'a new mashup of jazz and traditional Japanese folk music, is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. You can read it here.
Monday, June 3, 2019
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review for Part-Time Audiophile is now live. This one concerns bassist-singer Anthony Caceras--an unusual combination of roles for a jazz musician. You can read it here.
Sunday, June 2, 2019
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one's jazz from an intriguing composer from Finland, Tuomo Uusitalo. You can read it here.
Saturday, June 1, 2019
My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about Deborah Shulman's The Shakespeare Project, which sets Shakespeare's words to jazz. You can read it here.