Friday, May 31, 2019

The Vinyl Anachronist #127 Now Online at Perfect Sound Forever

My latest Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever is now online. This one's about the return of the 7" single among independent record labels. You can read it here.

Peter Lin's New Age Old Ways

My latest Vinyl Anachronist review is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one discusses Peter Lin and his new album, New Age Old Ways, which adds Taiwanese influences to classic bebop. You can read it here.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Lyn Stanley's London Calling: A Toast to Julie London

My latest Vinyl Anachronist music review is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one discusses the new Julie London "toast" from Lyn Stanley, who is making some of the finest vocal recordings today. You can read it here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

High End Munich 2019--Luxman, Ascendo and Isotek

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now online at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is concerned with Luxman, Ascendo and Isotek--a coincidence since I'm working on a Luxman review as we speak! You can read it here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Monday, May 27, 2019

Sunday, May 26, 2019

High End Munich 2019--Acoustique Quality

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about Acoustique Quality, a very intriguing speaker manufacturer from the Czech Republic, and a little too much grappa. You can read it here.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

High End Munich 2019--Unison Research and Opera

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one concerns the brands I used to import and distribute in the US, Unison Research and Opera, and how seeing new products from these Italian companies brings me just a tinge of regret. You can read it here.

Gypsy Temple's King Youngblood

Gypsy Temple is from Seattle, and they definitely have that grunge sound down pat. The first time I listened to their new album, King Youngblood, I immediately thought of Alice in Chains--a band I've only grown to appreciate in recent years. The magic of Alice in Chains was two-fold: the sometimes horrific personal story of the band was a cautionary tale of rock and roll excess which brought an unexpected layer of poignancy to even their hardest songs, and the double lead vocals created such unique harmonies, a sound that made them immediately identifiable in an ocean of PNW rock.

Cameron Lavi-Jones is the obvious front man for Gypsy Temple. He sings, plays guitar, bass and drums, he produces, and he has written all of the tunes. He even raps on songs like "I'm Still Standing" and has an eloquence about him that reminds me of Johnny 5 from the Flobots. But he's also wise enough to include guitarist Wilson Rahn and bassist Moon Milannia in the vocals so he can create those same meaningful harmonies. What's even more intriguing about King Youngblood is how Lavi-Jones starts to steer the band away from those grunge cues and use his soulful voice to head in different directions.

The story behind Gypsy Temple is fascinating--Lavi-Jones is said to have started the band back when he was ten years old. His father was producer Maurice Jones Jr., who encouraged the young Cameron to learn piano, and then guitars, drums, bass and even cello. (That's why you hear so much cello from Cory Cavazos throughout this album.) He's a looming figure in the Seattle music scene--he even hosts a radio talk show, REAL TALK, where he interviews other musicians. He's also known for his incredible stage presence during live shows.

This sounds like the perfect recipe for success, and Gypsy Temple could be one of those bands where we're catching them at the beginning of their rise to the top. Lavi-Jones has the charisma needed to differentiate himself from other hard rock bands, just like Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley did 25 years ago. Based on Lavi-Jones involvement in the music community and his commitment to his performances, we can expect a far more optimistic path for this very promising band.

High End Munich 2019--Crystal Cable, Siltech

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about Crystal Cable, and one of the most impressive "lifestyle" systems I've seen and heard. You can read it here.

High End Munich 2019--Brinkmann, Vandersteen, HRS

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one concerns Brinkmann and Vandersteen--two brands that have been making great equipment for decades. You can read it here.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Peculiar Pretzelmen's Transmissions from the Electromagnetic Understream

This is one of the strangest and coolest indie rock releases I've heard this year, a mixture of down-and-dirty delta blues mixed with junkyard percussion that's so crazy and cluttered that it sounds like it's being performed blindfolded in a junkyard after midnight. Incroyable and Deacon are the names of the two men who are both peculiar and pretzelmen, and yes they are following in the two-person rock template that has guided Black Keys, White Stripes and a multitude of other duos who want to ride the latest wave of glory. But Peculiar Pretzelman take it a step further with blues that are so ragged and deep that they waver in the sun like a mirage, augmented with a found-object rhythm section that is just as odd as anything David Van Tieghem came up with in the '80s.

As weird as this all sounds, it's also genuine and serious in a way. These two guys fill out their trademark dark pinstripe suits with some serious blues chops, as they seem more focused on hardcore delta fans than their hometown crowd in Hollywood. (That detachment, of course, is probably what makes them such an LA fixture. LA loves irony.) Their attack can seem frantic and full of chaos at times, but then they reign it in when they turn quiet and pull out something from the deepest part of the swamp. It's good, it's straightforward and it makes perfect sense.

There are plenty of familiar elements here--the Tom Waits caterwaul, the slide and the two scoops of unadulterated, American-grown voodoo. What breaks this loose from other roots albums is that massive, sharp-edged percussive wallop that is so beautifully recorded that you'll obsess over what it is you're actually hearing, and whether or not you can make those same sounds once you uncover the source.

I've read stories about the Pretzelmen's live shows, and I'm sure that would peel back some of those mysterious layers, but just remember that much of the fun in Transmissions from the Electromagnetic Understream is listening to these tracks like they're noises you've discovered on an old ham radio, noises that were made thousands of miles away...or even further.

High End Munich 2019--Whole Lotta Tidal

My latest report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one concerns a huge display of Tidal Audio speakers--more than I've ever seen in one place. You can read it here.

HIgh End Munich 2019--Garrard, SME and the Resurrection of a Dream

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one's about the new Garrard 301 from SME, perhaps the biggest news at the show. You can read it here.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

High End Munich 2019--The World of KEF

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about the massive display of KEF speakers in one of the main atriums. (Atria?) You can read it here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. and Orphan Goggles

I think the title of this 7" single will be longer than the review, and the review will take longer to read than this record will take to hear. It's a fun little disc from White Worm Records featuring a band on each side, with just one song. I'm not even sure if either song cracks the two minute mark. This is an example, however, of the crazy fun stuff I get from indie record labels these days, and I never want them to stop putting me on their mailing lists.

The first band is called Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O, something I bet looks great on a club marquee. (Dammit, we ran out of letters again!) The song is called "From Planet Orb with Love, Part One." I'm not sure where Part Two is, but maybe it's coming. This track is on the psychedelic side, with a gradual and somewhat lengthy intro (lengthy, that is, in the context of its short running time), and it sounds just like Planet Orb is a few decades behind Earth, perhaps in the late '60s when rock was starting to stretch out and explore themes of interstellar travel. You know, prog rock but better and more succinct.

The second band is Orphan Goggles, and "Hey Bud, How's You Blood?" is a fast and dirty punk anthem, swirling with energy, over too soon. The LA-based Orphan Goggles (OG, get it?) is the work of one Harry Cloud, who has recorded this quick exercise with "underground scions" Sterling Riley, Neil Crowley and Arturo Shaman. Between them they've played in a thousand bands, maybe more, and this was a great opportunity for four friends to get together and explode.

Pairing these two songs together may seem odd, since they're not that similar, but there's this--who cares. Sometimes I get these crazy little singles and I think back to those days where I listened to records all day, something I just mentioned in the Stereo Creeps LP I reviewed just a little while ago. I'm too young for Woodstock and too old to really be the L.A. punk I wish I was, but this awesome little single brought these two worlds together for about four minutes and put a smile on my face.

Stereo Creeps' Suck

You've been reading all these show reports from Munich and AXPONA and, soon enough, Philadelphia and Long Beach CA, and you're probably wondering when the Vinyl Anachronist is going to start writing about music again--especially music on vinyl. The ol' review pile is perhaps bigger than ever, and people are starting to ask me these questions. To tell you the truth, I have been busy traveling the world and I won't apologize for that, but reviewing music is what keeps me grounded. In addition, the vinyl rig is about to go through some changes since I just purchased a new cartridge--the first one I've purchased since my Denon DL-103 a few years ago. I also have a few Vinyl Anachronist reviews cued up at Part-Time Audiophile, ready to go, and you'll see those soon. In other words, it's time to dig into some vinyl before I have to get on another airplane.

Stereo Creeps' Suck has been on the review for a very long time--it was the first record I played on the Technics SL-1200G turntable I have in for review, something I picked up way back in January or February. This angry/fun album seems like post-punk at first, which usually right up my alley, but after a few plays I think I'm onto something different--pre-punk. I'm not sure if this is a term that's been coined a million times before, but let me explain my concept of it. Back when I was a teenager in the mid to late '70s, my friends and I all listened to rock and roll, the stuff that's now called classic rock but was original just called rock. Then, here and there, we started finding music that was a bit different, a bit more strange and dark and angry. It wasn't quite what we called punk, but it was certainly the beginning of it. We're talking about the New York Dolls, the Runaways and even some of the music Bowie was recording in Berlin. It all sounded dark and confused, and we really liked it because no one else was listening to it yet.

Stereo Creeps, a power trio from Seattle that is made up of guitarist/vocalist Sean Moe, bassist Mark Wardell and guitarist Robert Dollison...wait just a minute. I'm confused. For some reason Stereo Creeps doesn't credit the very present drummer, and at first I thought Dollison had to be the drummer. I'm not sure what the story is here, a typo, or some kind of PR mystery, but anyways. Someone on their bandcamp page named Bucky has proclaimed that "this album SUCKs every last drop of nostalgic 90s chaos off the bar room floor and spits it in your pimple crusted face with a post-punkish sneer and a hydroponic punch." I don't see it. I see PRE-punk. I see an adherence to old-fashioned hard rock signatures dancing in the same dark corners where you might run into Satan or at least a very cute Goth girl with a few too many body piercings.

What's unusual about this tough album, tagged as scuzz pop on their website, is that it's nicely recorded and pressed on beautiful transparent blue vinyl. I thought this was another indie rock band lucky enough to make a deal with the Pallas Group pressing plant in Germany, but there are none of the prerequisite stickers on the outer sleeve. It's released by DeepSkull Records, mixed by Don Farwell at Earwig Studio and mastered by Levi Seitz at Black Belt Mastering and they've all done an incredible job. Our pre-punk albums back in 1976 didn't sound this good, but we were listening on little record players on the floors of our bedrooms and not with analog rigs that cost twice as much as my first new car. But Suck definitely takes me back to a time when everything was about to bust open and change in ways we couldn't possibly imagine.

(Edit: I just heard from Sean Moe, who wanted to explain the drummer situation: "We were in between drummers during this period of time so one of the engineers (Mikel Perkins) tracked the drums with us after rehearsing the songs with us. That's the quick story." Thanks for the clarification, Sean!)

High End Munich 2019--dCS Bartok, HIFIMAN and WyWires

Are you waiting for me to talk about headphones in my show reports from High End 2019 in Munich? Well, here you of the best headphone experiences I've ever had. You can read it at Part-Time Audiophile right here.

Monday, May 20, 2019

High End Munich 2019--AudioQuest

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one follows a compelling seminar and demonstration in the AudioQuest room. You can read it here.

High End Munich 2019--SoundSmith

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one focuses on the superb analog products from SoundSmith. You can read it here.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

High End Munich 2019--McIntosh Labs

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about that venerable New York audio brand, McIntosh, and a very humid and crowded room. You can read it here.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

High End Munich 2019--Kondo Audio Note and Kawero!

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one is about an amazing system from Kondo Audio Note and Kawero! You can read it here.

Friday, May 17, 2019

High End Munich 2019--Living Voice R25A, a Small Miracle

My latest show report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one covers one of the finest "affordable" speakers I've ever heard, the Living Voice R25A from the UK. You can read about it here.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

High End Munich 2019--Joseph Audio, Purity Audio, Alluxity and Doshi Audio

My latest report from High End 2019 in Munich is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This was one of my favorite rooms, featuring Joseph Audio, Purist Audio Design, Alluxity and Doshi Audio. You can read it here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

High End Munich 2019--Sunday Highlights

My Sunday highlights from the final day of High End Munich 2019 are now live at Part-Time Audiophile. I'm back home in New York after my first Europe trip, and this was obviously one of the most memorable hi-fi shows I've attended. You can read it all here.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

High End Munich 2019--Here I Go!

Here's my preview from the High End Munich 2019 Show for Part-Time Audiophile. I'm currently typing this from Germany--a first--and we'll be supplying coverage all through the weekend. You can read it here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

AXPONA 2019: Marc's Wrap Up

My final show report from AXPONA 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile, with my picks for best sound and more. You can read it here.

And now, I'm off to Munich for the biggest hi-fi show on earth!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Jerome Sabbagh and Greg Tuohy's No Filter

My latest Vinyl Anachronist review for Part-Time Audiophile is now live. This one is a wonderful and unique jazz LP from Jerome Sabbagh and Greg Tuohy called No Filter. You can read it here.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Simon Sammut & Omar Vazquez's Gravity

This is a strange, dark and rainy weekend, full of excitement and anxiety because I'm about to head to Europe for the first time in my life in a few days. I'm finally attending my first Munich High-End show, after years of being an international importer and distributor and only getting off the continent once in that eight years. (Have I told you about my trip to Australia in 2015? That's an in-joke.) Anyway, calming and meditative music is most welcome in my house as I plan for a busy week. Fortunately I have an intriguing new album from bassists Simon Sammut and Omar Vazquez, a dreamy set of smooth jazz instrumentals that merge with just enough electronica to land firmly on my good side.

Sammut is from Malta and Vazquez is from Mexico, and what they've done for Gravity is enlist the help of jazz and fusion musicians from their respective countries. The two bassists bonded on social media and eventually planned a project, this project, to fuse the two cultures musically. Together they worked on eight distinct and original compositions, and just a few weeks ago they performed Gravity live in Mexico. They released this album on the same day, April 12. A separate performance will be scheduled for Malta as well.

That's always a good idea for a musical project, bringing together ideas from around the world--just look at the Zoho Music record label and how they create such rich and diverse recordings from the collision of two cultures. Gravity succeeds for the reasons you would guess, because the exotic combination of Maltese and Mexican sensibilities creates a wonderful sound that deftly jumps between world music, jazz and fusion.

In a way this album reminds me of that exquisitely odd album from Somesh Mathur late last year, Time Stood Still, and how there are giddy discoveries around every corner. In particular, both Sammut and Vazquez have recruited two amazing drummers--David Caspeta and Melchior Busuttil--to play the same astonishing role as Gergo Borlai on Mathur's album. While Gravity is mainly about the bass players and how they've developed these compositions around this pairing, you may walk away thinking primarily about the wonderful drumming, the globally inspired rhythms, and the way the two bass players stretch this out into a succinct and fascinating exploration of two rich musical cultures.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Lauren White's Life in the Modern World

On her last couple of albums, jazz singer Lauren White has developed ideas and themes that are uncommon--on Out of the Past she covered songs that were linked to the Film Noir era, and Experiment was a tribute to singer Irene Kral. Now she's releasing Life in the Modern World, which focuses on both new compositions and radical new arrangements of standards from Hoagy Carmichael, Lionel Hampton and Ella Fitzgerald. She relies heavily on her longtime associations with pianist/arranger Quinn Johnson and producer Mark Winkler, and she's assembled top players from both LA and NYC because she performs on both coasts. She sounds like a jazz singer who's doing very well for herself--Life in the Modern World is a polished, professional and big-budget jazz production that cuts no corners.

Lauren White has another life, however, one that's intriguing. She's a TV producer--you might even have heard of her current show, Homeland. That almost conjures up a particularly snide phrase--vanity project--but just listen to that voice. It's smoky and sultry and all those adjectives we typically use for women jazz singers, but she's also so clear and deliberate in her phrasing that she uncovers a layer of emotional expression that's often neglected in contemporary jazz. Her voice goes up, it goes down, it growls a little, and there might be a touch of a laugh, and often all within a single line. White is definitely one of those singers who consider every word carefully, parsing I suppose, and she realizes that each one of these words were concocted out of thin air by a songwriter who had a reason to do so.

That's why White's fans often speak of her skills as a storyteller. I feel as if the last few jazz singers I've reviewed have touched on this and listed it as a major motivation for adopting their craft. Perhaps this goes back to Sinatra, who received so much of his acclaim due to his ability to treat every word with careful consideration. While White is surrounded with fantastic arrangements and compelling performances from her varying ensemble, it's fun to just zero in on her voice and let her tell you that story. Close your eyes, and by the end of the song you'll feel as if you know so much more about her.

AXPONA 2019: Bricasti Design and Tidal

My latest report from AXPONA 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. I think this is the last one, other than my wrap-up and best-of-show. This one covers the Bricasti Design and Tidal loudspeakers room, which was predictably awesome. You can read it here.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Yuriy Galkin's For Its Beauty Alone

Is it just me or are bass players far more adventurous when they also act as band leaders? Discussions of Charles Mingus obviously aside, I feel like bassists understand the rhythmic structures in the music so intimately that they are more prone to tear them down and start over. Whenever I get a contemporary jazz release where the bassist is the leader, arranger and composer, I know there will be thinking as well as feeling. Here we have a young bass player from Russia, Yuriy Galkin, and his new album For Its Beauty Alone. This is not free jazz, since the themes and melodies are consistent and memorable, but it's a circling, probing sound that leads you by the hand and guides you toward both lovely vistas and dark, frightening corners.

Galkin's theme behind For Its Beauty Alone is the idea that we live in "uncertain and unjust times when an absolute power causes suffering to many." The ebb and flow of these twelve compositions are deliberate--Galkin wants to juxtapose feelings of peace and beauty with what he calls "riot-like outbursts." He insists that he's an optimist, and the the "passage always leads back to humanity and love," and yet you might walk away from this album remembering the sadness and regret more than the voices who proclaim that all is well.

Galkin's lived in New York City for only the past two years, and that adds another layer to his ideas of right and wrong. When he talks about absolute power, what does he mean? With every choice, the outcome is slightly different and this moody, troubling music wears a completely different mask. If you believe his ideas were formed in Russia, that creates a kinship to all of the great Russian classical composers such as Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich and Prokofiev, people who know how to match the melodious against the startling. Galkin's compositions take on that classic Russian feel, that sadness that always lurks in the background, and I mean that as a high compliment.

Galkin is noted for working with both the US and Russia as sort of a musical ambassador. He spent many years playing and competing on the international stage, and he followed that road into academia and eventually as someone who could travel to New York City and organize a tour with some of the top American jazz musicians. The last time he toured in Russia, the US Embassy in Moscow sponsored it. This is the music he plays for fans on opposite ends of the planet, so there has to be something almost universal in these songs. At the same time, I'm impressed with the more cerebral content, the ideas that move through the room like ghosts and provide fleeting glimpses of a young man's ambition as well as his concern about the world.

The Jack Wilson Quartet's Call Me: Jazz from the Penthouse

When I think of Light in the Attic Records, I usually don't think of straight-ahead jazz releases. LITA is more about the fascinating stories in the music industry, the people who should have been famous but weren't, the long lost discoveries in some old vault and the occasional alien abduction. When I first slapped The Jack Wilson Quartet's Call Me: Jazz from the Penthouse into the CD player, I didn't know about Jack Wilson. I thought this was another contemporary jazz release, something to put in the pile and eventually review. LITA has a habit of sending me CDs and LPs in the mail with no press kit, no liner notes, no nothing and it has to slowly dawn on me, over the course of weeks, that I've got another LITA release in my mitts. And that's always an awesome thing.

The story on the Jack Wilson Quartet is a combination of two of those LITA tropes, the old vault and the guy who should have been more famous. Wilson was a pianist who recorded for both Atlantic and Blue Note, which is a good start. He and his quartet used to go on tour with Redd Foxx back in the day, and the liner notes state that he was "ubiquitous" through most of the '60s. All of this makes sense because, well, as soon as I hit play I said wow. This quartet swings. And listen to those vibes! Who is that? Roy Ayers? A young Roy Ayers? These guys are good. They're not journeymen.

These live recordings were captured from three performances at the Penthouse in the summer of 1966, and that's part of the magic. Wilson and his quartet, which also includes bassist Buddy Woodson and drummer Von Barlow, have chosen some contemporary pop tunes for inspiration, songs like "Call Me," "Here's That Rainy Day" and "The Shadow of Your Smile." I'm starting to truly love this era of songwriting, when melodies were both sophisticated and catchy, and at a point in our culture when big shifts were starting to happen. It's almost a poignancy to it, a song built by the past but already nervous about what's around the next corner.

In addition, the recording quality is very nice on Call Me. LITA is occasionally more concerned about search and rescue than remastering for audiophiles, but they always insist on the best-sounding and faithful remastering of the recording. Sometimes the recording is a bit rough, but that's due to the source and because the story behind the recording adds an important context. But the sound quality here is so good that you might think "Why did they wait so long to release this? Didn't they listen to it and know how good it was?" Well, that's the thing about LITA. They always supply all the information you need--in this case a 24-page booklet with the whole story and plenty of photographs. LITA is always a class act, and this is one classy and thrilling jazz performance. And now I gotta go get some more Jack Wilson recordings.

Daniel Norgren's Wooh Dang

Daniel Norgren's new LP Wooh Dang is a dry, lonely desert of an album, spare and beautiful and dusty around the edges. It reminds me of a sub-genre that came on strong about a decade ago, exemplified by bands like Castanets and early Calexico, music for hip people who happen to live in the middle of nowhere. This is sad music filled with empty yet meaningful spaces. This is the sort of music you'd imagine being spilled out of bars in Marfa or Arcosanti. It takes its time to unfold, but it also keeps things simple and honest along the way.

So here's the crazy thing. Norgren is from Sweden. He went out into the woods near his home to write these songs, and then he recorded them in an old farmhouse. In Sweden. I wonder how this type of music, so obviously influenced by what we call roots music, plays in Sweden, but I also happen to know that Swedish bands are so skilled at emulating American forms of music (Robyn, Serena-Maneesh) that they blend right in. Daniel Norgren blends right in. He could hop up on a SXSW stage and start playing and no one would be the wiser. Is this a good thing? I'm going to say that it is, and for one reason--Wooh Dang is charming, fun and otherwise totally legit.

Norgren has even mastered that thin, folksy way of singing that's so particular to Americana--I call it the Levon Helm School of Vocals. Perhaps that's why he seems so genuine. He sings in English, and he even does an excellent approximation of the "country" accent needed to give these types of songs heft and authenticity. I should probably stop obsessing about his nationality, but I'm discussing it because it reveals an underlying motivation--mainly, his love and dedication to folk and Americana and maybe a dash of psychedelic '60s rock. There's probably a rich, nuanced feeling that comes from living in one part of the world and having the music from another part of the world speak so directly to your heart, and that kind of love is obvious in every song.

My only real complaint with Wooh Dang is its brevity. Norgren takes his time with his songs and performs them in an unhurried manner, with lots of room for slow builds and quiet interludes. That makes the album fly by quickly before you've had a chance to really absorb the ideas. On the other hand I'd rather have that than an album with filler that seems to go on forever without a purpose for doing so. Norgren's new album is short, sweet and kind, and the LP pressing is quiet as can be. I don't need much more than this to make me happy, or at least beautifully sad.

AXPONA 2019: AudioQuest, McIntosh and B&W

My latest show report from AXPONA 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one covers another AudioQuest room, this time with McIntosh and B&W. You can read it here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Steve Lipman's Hats Off

Steve Lipman seems like the kind of guy who'd walk up to you on the street and just start talking to you like he's known you forever. He's got that extroverted energy, a fast talking kind of swagger, that's perfect for a jazz singer who is invoking the Age of Crooners while on stage. Lipman's new album, Hats Off, is obviously crafted as a tribute to those guys, the ones with snazzy suits and fedoras who would get up in front of a post-war audience and project confidence, cool and talent. It's also meant as a general homage to the Great American Songbook, with Lipman covering songs that have meant something to him--"You Make Me Feel So Young," "Night and Day," "The Way You Look Tonight" and on and on.

Lipman has a rather direct delivery, typical of a guy who's mining this particular jazz genre, but there's an authenticity to it that seems plucked from the past. There's something about his voice that reminds me so much of Depression-era recordings, the plaintive delivery that masks the inner struggle, the insistence that we keep our chins up while making that journey to the end of another tough day.

The liner notes speak of Lipman's early days as a vocalist, and how he "yearned to emulate the greats." Hats Off is an effort to step into a new arena, to become a storyteller instead of a mere vocalist. He went back to the starting board and studied voice and music theory so that he could honestly say he was "no longer an imitator." While there's a familiarity to his voice, as well as his overall approach to these tunes, I find it challenging to describe his voice in terms of other singers. He's not a smooth crooner, a Bing or a Perry, and while he obviously loves Sinatra he's not going after those fans. Instead, Lipman balances a full-throated delivery against a modesty that's genuine. He's a storyteller first, and he just wants you to listen all the way to the end.

Lipman has surrounded himself with a lot of talent--each song is focused on a unique arrangement and depends on a variety of ensembles. He's obviously thought a lot about this album, and what he wanted to say through these classic songs. But here's a remarkable detail I've left out until now--Lipman has a day job as a dentist. There's something about this that I find uniquely charming--I imagine being one of his patients, sitting in The Chair, when he suddenly decides to break out into song. Why not? Life is short, but there's always room for singing dentists when they're this well-versed in our musical heritage.

AXPONA 2019: AudioQuest, Vandersteen and Channel D

My latest show report from AXPONA 2019 is now live at Part-Time Audiophile. This one covers AudioQuest, Vandersteen and Channel D in a very big room. You can read it here.