A Re-Introduction to Two-Channel Stereo (Part 8: Listening to Beethoven–or Do CDs Sound Better than LPs?)

Or do LPs sound better than CDs? Or, in the end, is it all about the performance and the recording, not the stereo system? Or is there no good answer because every record, every CD and every stereo system presents a unique listening situation?

Just for fun, we decided to listen to several recordings of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (also known as Eroica). Just about every recording was an award winner, or the work of a notable conductor working with one of the world’s most highly regarded orchestras. People who are serious about their two-channel stereo systems often use classical recordings to test their systems because (a) the instruments are acoustic, unadorned by digital special effects, and (b) by and large, classical recordings are made by serious engineers working to the high standards of deeply experienced conductors and label executives.

karajan-beethove-3-dgWe started with one of the past century’s best–Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 1961-2 for Deutsche Grammophon. I had just picked up a $4 LP, in very good shape, from Bop Shop Records in Rochester, NY. And I was anxious to do some critical listening with a more sophisticated phono stage pre-amplifier, the Sutherland Insight (which will be the topic of an upcoming article). Everything else in my system remained as it has been for nearly twenty years, except a replacement phono cartridge that’s easily five years old, the Shure Vx15. A very good system, but not an extravagant setup. We would be able to hear the recordings clearly. And we planned to test both LPs and CDs from various eras, various labels, to determine which we liked best. Not a scientific survey, but a reasonable way to spend a winter afternoon.

So: Karajan… Energetic, punchy, but the instruments were not clearly delineated from one another. The record looked pretty new, but we heard a lot of clicks and pops. Not much energy in the mid-highs or the mid-lows. A violin section sounded like a single, thick violin. Some strain evident–the playback was not as stable or confident as I hoped it would be. All in all, not we had hoped for.

eroica-bernstein2Next up: Leonard Bernstein from the same. Era. This was my LP, purchased decades ago, kept in it boxed set, played maybe ten times. This was a master work from Columbia Records at the label’s prime. The performance is ambitious, engaging, flowing–but the sound of the horns and the strings was compressed, very limited in highs and lows. We wanted to hear the depths of Beethoven explored by Bernstein in his prime–but the recording let us down.

eroica-toscanini1Before going modern, we decided to go for Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra, first on LP and then on CD, recorded in 1949–before stereo recording was available. This was state-of-the-art at the time, but the dynamic range was so limited on these recordings, they did not stand up to modern listening. Historical interest only.

colin-davis-beethoven-symI had high hopes for my treasured 1995 CD set from Colin Davis and the Staastkapelle Dresden. Sure enough the CD really delivered–a full range of highs, lows and everything in-between. Wonderful placement of instruments. Lots of clarity, distinct individual violins and basses, just the right horn sounds. I was excited–but somehow, the listening experience was a few marks less than thrilling. After Karajan and Bernstein, the passion felt a little lacking. A fine performance is not the same as a thrilling performance, and when I’m listening to Beethoven’s Eroica, I want to be thrilled. But the sound was more satisfying here than it was on any of the LPs.

Two more shots. Strangely, it’s the same Dresden orchestra, this time led by Herbert Blomstedt in the 1970s and released by the lesser-known Berlin Classics. Again, very good orchestra, very good conductor. This is digitally remastered, perhaps a strike against. The sound is a little thin, not as robust as the Karajan LP, but the performance is full-bodied and fun, if a little slow. The horns sound like horns, the violins sound like violins, there some separation between instruments, and it’s fun. Some of the highs are not reproducing perfectly, but they’re more than acceptable. And it’s a remastered CD. If there’s any logic to the argument that CDs are better than LPs, or vice-versa, I can’t even remember what I was supposed to think.

beethoven0371Now here’s my last one. It’s a digital remaster from 1963, a CD box that I didn’t even know I owned. It’s the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig led by Franz Konwitschny, a notable if not famous European leader. And it’s very good. The energy is there, the instruments sound like real instruments, and it’s compelling. And it’s a remastered CD. I’m listening now, and overall, it’s just plain better than anything else I’ve heard today.

How is this possible? A world class LP from one of the world’s most revered Beethoven conductors on one of the world’s most meticulous record labels, played on a very good stereo system, ought outdistance everything else in the category. Right?

Let’s give Karajan from 1962 another try. As it happens, I just found a box of all 9 Beethoven symphonies, on DG (Deutsche Grammophon), that I bought in very clean condition for $8. (The box was misfiled; I just spotted it.) I’m getting up to remove Konwitschny from the CD player to play a record–and I’m finding that I really want to listen to that CD. I’m engaged, involved…but I also want to finish and publish this article.

From the start, the Karajan is very good. The orchestra is towering, formidable, lovely and sensitive, propulsive. The musicians are spectacular. When the orchestra gets busy on a thick and aggressive passage, my room is filled with life and extreme energy. But the strings are thinner, the horns are less clearly defined, the highs not quite right, the lows are not offering quite the thrill I just heard on CD.

I want to hear this classic record properly, but I am maxing-out the capabilities of my current stereo system. My sense is that the Karajan, and probably the Bernstein, can and will sound better, perhaps much better, if I swap my lower-priced (though highly-regarded) cartridge for something better, a cartridge that excels in presenting mid-highs and mid-lows now so understated when I audition these LPs. I also hope the horns will be more stable, the strings and complicated passages reproduced without the strain that I can now hear too clearly, and the tympani will hit me in the solar plexus.

Sometimes LPs sound better than CDs and sometimes CDs sound better than LPs.

At the same time, I am more and more confident that my CD player, though 20 years old, sounds quite wonderful, holding its own against my rapidly-improving analog phono setup. I hold the other components in equally high esteem. I am especially pleased with the improvements made possible by the Sutherland Insight, now holding the place long held by an inexpensive but competent phono stage–as a result of the Insight, I can hear all of my LPs with far greater clarity, punch, and fidelity to original instrument sounds.

Back to the original questions:

Do LPs sound better than CDs? – Sometimes LPs sound better than CDs and sometimes CDs sound better than LPs. The answer depends upon the quality of the performance, the quality of the recording, and as we’ll see in future articles, the quality of the manufactured CD or LP (the pressing, etc.)

In the end, is it all about the performance and the recording, not the stereo system? Yes. Almost always. Except when the performance is so special, even a crappy recording does not detract from the pleasure of listening.

Is there no good answer because every record, every CD and every stereo system presents a unique listening situation? Oh, there’s a plenty good answer. A very good performance on a very good LP can be spectacular, and the same is true of a very good CD. The quality of the equipment matters as much as the quality of the recording. And you can GREATLY increase the quality of the LP with surprising ease–by washing it. More on that in an upcoming article.

 

 

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Three Old Pros

McBrideNow that I’ve written that title, let me check. Christian McBride qualified as a young lion in the early 1990s, but he’s just turned forty. He’s got some old soul, though, perhaps the result of coming up with Bobby Watson’s group, playing with Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, and Freddy Hubbard. He’s a master of control, a craftsman of the first order and an ideal mate for the his very talented pianist Christian Sands, himself a protege of old soul Billy Taylor. Rounding out the trio is an equally top-rank player, Ulysses Owens, Jr. The name of the CD, on Mack Avenue records, is Out Here, and it’s very satisfying, clean and varied with tight, focused performances. This is jazz composition and performance of the highest caliber. There’s a lot of strong material here, but McBride’s own “Ham Hocks and Cabbage” is especially fine. Oscar Peterson’s “Hallelujah Time” is wistful, pensive, and sweet, nicely played by Sands. Dr. Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker” is another of the CD’s best tracks, mostly because of the strolling, gently swinging motion of McBride’s bass, and its interplay with the Sands’ piano. Best of all: McBride bowing his way through the sentimental melody, “I Have Dreamed.” Selecting individual tracks is fun for me because everything here is so well-constructed and winning, but the funk of “Who’s Making Love” is lots of fun–with McBride doing a bit of showboating on a tune that can easily handle it. If you’re beginning to think about gifts for the holiday season, this is one in the category of “you can’t go wrong.”

So who’s older: pianist Keith Jarrett or vibraphonist Gary Burton? Both musicians started their career in the early 1960s, both have recorded dozens of albums, both are veterans of the jazz fusion era and managed to forge remarkable careers as collaborators.

2200 XJarrett’s work is immediately magical, glorious in its improvisation and sonic exploration. He’s been doing these albums for decades, and yet, every time I put a Jarrett CD on (or, for that matter, an LP), I’m immediately transported into the filagree of his imagination, sipping a drink at an after-hours jazz bar where the player is extraordinary and I just don’t want the evening to ever end. Recorded live at the KKL Luzern Concert Hall, the CD called Somewhere begins with the  mind-bending “Deep Space,” and here, it’s Jarrett’s show with just the right additional color and light provided by double bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette; later in the track (the second part is Miles Davis’s “Solar,” their interplay moves the music into an even more interesting exploration, a testament to the extreme skill, experience and love of experimentation that these three musicians consistently offer. So that’s one track, again the first, and again, a favorite. (And I suppose I should mention that the sonic fidelity of these recordings is at such a high level, it would be difficult to imagine a disc sounding any better.) There are some favorite standards here (mine, anyway); it’s difficult for me not to be captivated by Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere;” and the less-often-heard “Stars Fell on Alabama” and the Jimmy van Heusen- Johnny Mercer tune, “I Thought About You.” Ooops–I’m listening to the wrong track–that’s really catchy, and less schticky than I remembered: “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”–well, a little schtick for me. Back to the dark night sky and mystery of “Stars Fell…” and my mind easily drifts to Perseids and stardust. What a lovely album.

GaryBurtonThe old guy in the crowd–Gary Burton is 70 to Keith Jarrett’s 68–opens with a Antonio Sanchez’s rocking drum, instantly establishing a more ambitious, brighter tone for the new Guided Tour, also from Mack Avenue. This is a quartet with Burton leading as one might do with a piano. Sanchez really drives this music. It’s a bigger sound than you would typically expect from a quartet. Burton is leading an exploration not entirely different from Jarrett, but more clearly articulated, more melodic, catchier. The difference is the way that Julian Lage is playing electric guitar, almost as if he’s playing in the style of Burton and his vibes on “Jane Fonda Called Again,” never passive or receding or relaxed, but instead, aggressive and punchy. Yes, they play pretty, too, working the pastoral mood on “Jackalope,”  and the Latin romance of “Helena” (especially nice guitar from Lage on this one), but it is so much more fun when these guys really go for it, with Burton playing fast and strong. Best example is probably the last track, written by drummer Sanchez, called “Monk Fish.” Scott Colley is the capable, but less showy, bassist; tough to get a word in edge-wise when the other players are clearly having so much fun. Far livelier than the other two CDs, Guided Tour is a terrific introduction to the Burton’s massive catalog.

What a great night of jazz listening. I haven’t enjoyed writing an article about anything in I don’t know how long. Thanks for the opportunity. Go–listen!

Donna and The Herd

Donna the BuffaloWestern New York turns out to be one of those creative hotbeds that most people don’t know much about. Ever since 1874, summers at Chautauqua have been filled, for a fortunate 100,000 visitors, with recreation, arts, lectures, and spiritual fulfillment. Buffalo, Rochester and Ithaca have long supported outsized music scenes. And then, there’s Donna the Buffalo.

Donna is one of those bands I’ve heard from time to time, but never really discovered. They come from the Finger Lakes region, and they remain the creative core of the annual Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance in tiny Trumansburg, New York (this year, the festival begins on Thursday, July 18, and I’m hoping to be a part of it). Donna the Buffalo has been playing and recording together for over twenty years. It’s not too late to join the party.

Truth be told, before I started writing this article, I had never completely listened to a Donna the Buffalo album. For the past month or two, I’ve been listening to a half dozen DTB CDs over and over again. They’re terrific. I really like this band. They’re authentic, deeply rooted, and seem to be having a whole lot of fun. They seem to get the commercial thing–this music is neither experimental nor challenging–but they’ve managed to keep their integrity, to stay just to the side of the commercial craziness of the music business.

Tara-NevinsOn every album, there’s a great feel for Americana, healthy doses of country and bluegrass, an old-timey sensibility when it feels right, pure form rock n’ roll, bits of soul and funk. It all comes together with a superior sense of how it all ought to be arranged and presented. What do I like about this music? I guess I like the sound of the two lead vocalists: Tara Nevins with her country style on some tunes, and Jeb Puryear with a folk / rock / rockabilly / country style on others, but that’s just the start. There’s Tara’s fiddle keeping time on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and Jeb’s pedal steel on “Temporary Misery.” I like the way Kathy Ziegler sounds on backup vocals, a nice complement to Tara’s voice. I like the way the music dips into country music and rock, then goes funky.

The work is really tight–I love it when a band is really tight, really together, hitting every musical idea with perfect timing. Most, but not all, of the work is original, the vast majority written by the band’s lead singers, Nevins and Puryear. They tend to write catchy songs with memorable hooks, and after nearly 200 original compositions for this wonderful group, they know how to make it all work. They do touch base with respected influences: an especially handsome version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” pays homage to Ralph Stanley, for example.

Allow me recommend a few of the albums I’ve especially enjoyed.

PositiveFrictionSo far, I think my favorite is Positive Friction, released in 2000. This is album that I seem to play most often, probably because I enjoy Tara’s vocals, the chorus, and the arrangement, the catchy “No Place Like the Right Time” almost as much as I enjoy one of her other tunes, “Yonder.” The latter is both appealing as a catchy tune and as the kind of earnest social commentary that is so much of Donna the Buffalo’s creative approach. Nice lyrical treatment, too; here’s an example:

The waters led to the promised land

Seeds of  greed washed upon its shore

White footprints in the settling sand

Brought the ways of an ignorant man

Silverlined is a newer album, circa 2008, is a more mature work, more subtle, more varied in its instrumentation and soundscape. Puryear’s “Meant to Be,” for example, reminds me of Emmylou Harris’ work on Red Dirt Girl. “I Don’t Need a Riddle” combines Nevins’ more mature voice with a Cajun accordion and an interesting, vaguely funky rhythm track. The songs roll on, but they seem to be more contemporary, more artful, arranged less to please an audience ready to dance than a single listener enjoying a handsome combination of an interesting arrangement, a plaintive voice, and thoughtful lyrics; “Beauty Within” is a good example with Nevins on lead vocals.

DIGIPAK-4PANEL 1TRAY [Converted]A band that counts its time together in decades ought to encourage some solo work, and that’s precisely the approach here. Right now, I’m enjoying Wood and Stone, a 2011 solo album by Tara Nevins. Here, there’s a healthy amount of straight-ahead country (perhaps bluegrass / old-time / country is a more accurate description), as in “The Wrong Side” with some lovely instrumental breaks. Nice version of “Stars Fell on Alabama,” too. It’s all easy, natural, and a wonderful side journey just close enough to her work with Donna to keep fans happy (I’ll include myself here).

After I wrote all of this, I figured I would check on what others have written about Donna the Buffalo. On Amazon, Alanna Nash wrote this:

Donna the Buffalo–hard to categorize, but easy to love–are meant to be heard live. The six-member group thrives on jams and grooves, blending, bending, and veering from Appalachian country to Cajun, reggae, zydeco, folk, and roots rock often in the same song (check out the nearly 13-minute “Conscious Evolution”).

Intrigued, I kept reading:

Frequently compared to the Grateful Dead, DTB evoke Jerry Garcia and pals, both musically and with their rabid, nomadic fan base (the Herd). But in mixing tribal celebration with spiritual, social, and political issues, the band, which travels the country in a 1960 tour bus, recalls so many other hippie-era ensembles.

Not so sure I agree. DTB reminds me of at least a dozen other bands, but the Dead wouldn’t be high on that list. This doesn’t feel like a California band, not to me, anyway. Instead, I’m hearing a distinctly Appalachian vibe here, probably by way of Nashville, with a mix of lots of other styles I associate with Mississippi, Virginia, and other places on this side of the country.

LiveFromTheAmericanBallroomThen again… there’s this live album from 2001, probably a better representation of the band than the individual CDs. It’s a compilation of tour recordings called Live from the American Ballroom. The sixties are alive and well on “Conscious Evolution,” a kind of tribal chant by way of rock n’ roll, world music, Cajun, funk, lots of styles bubbling up to the surface, then fading into the next musical idea. In fact, the whole album is filled with long songs and the kinds of improvisation that filled so many live albums in the 1970s. I think my favorite is “Standing Room Only,” kind of Cajun, kind of a chant, great dance song for a Saturday night.

Those days are gone (but available online and from any well-stocked vinyl-oriented record store), but Donna the Buffalo keeps on going. A few months ago, I wasn’t sure what these guys were all about. Now, I like them enough to recommend them to you. Who knows? Maybe we’ll all meet up in the Finger Lakes in July.

Enjoy.

P.S. Lots of Donna the Buffalo video on You Tube.

Jack DeJohnette: One of The Best


Jack DeJohnette is one of those extraordinary jazz musicians whose career is largely unknown to those who do not follow jazz. Too bad. (Let’s do what we can to remedy the situation.)

Background: He came up through Chicago’s avant-garde scene, working as part of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians); played with John Coltrane’s quintet in 1966; then worked with a young Keith Jarrett in Charles Lloyd’s group; then made some history as a drummer on Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew sessions (and on eight other albums from the early 1970s); soon, his circle included John McLaughlin, Chick Corea and Dave Holland. In fact, for 25 years, he has been a part of a trio with Keith Jarrett on piano, and Gary Peacock on bass–their series of Standards albums are extraordinary (watch them here). The complete list of DeJohnette albums and collaborations is a long one; fortunately, Wikipedia maintains a good list. As both a leader and a co-conspirator, DeJohnette’s portfolio includes so many albums, so much excellent work, that it may be difficult to know where to begin.

For starters, I’d suggest a 1984 CD called Album Album because it offers both an avant-garde sensibility and easy access for anyone willing to take the time to listen. The interplay between saxophones–the formidable David Murray on tenor,  the lesser known John Purcell on alto and soprano, and a young Howard Johnson on tuba and baritone sax–is consistently inventive, with a relentless flow of interesting ideas, varied textures, and explorations of old ideas made new. DeJohnette is the controlling influence, ever present, often leading the way. Plus, there’s this sense of style, short bursts in lavish settings, that provide the basis for an album released in 2009–that’s 25 years later–called Music We Are.

For DeJohnette, the melodica is an old friend: he played melodica on his first significant solo album, excerpted here on YouTube. On the 2009 release, the melodica provides a winning c

ombination of tango sensibility, bits of remaining avant-garde (sounding more mainstream here, perhaps due to the passage of time), and the kind of atmospheric soundscape that was central to Weather Report’s earliest work. The creative collaboration here is with pianist Danilo Perez, who explains, in the album’s liner notes, that he has been playing with DeJohnette since 1992, and that his first encounter with the famous drummer was listening to DeJohnette playing “some beautiful piano.” John Patitucci plays electric and upright bass. They work together beautifully. That is to say: this is a very special album, one that pulls together so many different jazz styles, so successfully, that it defies categorization. It swings, it makes you think, it makes you dance, it does a whole lot of stuff really well.

In fact, they explain how it all comes together on a 25-minute DVD that comes, free, with the Music We Are CD. This is a solid documentary, explaining the creative process from composition and performance through recording and editing. After watching it, you will wonder why every CD doesn’t include an accompanying “how we did it” DVD.

Hey, I was going to write about the newest DeJohnette CD, Sound Travels, but this article is probably long enough. I will write about Sound Travels soon, I promise.

On Our Side

Ani DiFranco marching in DC for Women’s Lives in 2004. Her new album is entitled Which Side Are You On?

I love Ani DiFranco’s commanding version of Pete Seeger’s classic, “¿Which Side Are You On?” Her vocal is strident and scolding, hopeful and demanding. With each verse, she raises important questions, and insists that we, at least, think about the answers. The backup voices, percussion and increasing distortion suggests a dark revolutionary march; she’s in front of the angry crowd, instructing, inciting, leading the charge. She’s terrific.

She’s provocative when she sings about “Promiscuity,” offering a cool lyrical analysis with “promiscuity is nothing more than traveling, there’s more than one way to see the world.” She’s fully exposed on “Life Boat,” a song about a failed mom’s sadness and self-image featuring “red scabby hands” and “purple scabby feet.” She’s political and forceful when she proposes an “Amendment” to provide civil rights to women, a good song that promotes the “right to civil union with equal rights and equal protection, intolerance finally ruined.”

This is Ani DiFranco’s ambitious, righteous, significant side. She is a songwriter and a performer who thinks, and isn’t at all afraid to tell us what she thinks and why.

Then, there’s the other side, the side that confuses me, the writer who takes the easy way out, as on “Zoo,” where we’re treated to “I can no longer watch TV cuz that shit really melts my brain…” and “I go to do my food shopping and all I can see is packaging and a mountain of garbage about to be happening…” Sure, every record’s got its B-sides, but DiFranco’s good work is so strong, I wince when I hear work I wish she had done better. Moreso because her lyrics are both interesting to the ear and smart enough to be worth reading. And, even moreso because her songs quickly become old friends, worthy of replays for weeks on end. The more I listen, the more I like what I hear.

But I do keep coming back to the Seeger song. He plays some banjo at the start of it, but it’s Ani DiFranco’s power that electrifies the song and its meaning. And it’s that song that anchors this album, a nod from one authentic performer to another. Wouldn’t it be fun to hear her perform an album filled with Seeger songs, a female counter to Bruce Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, or maybe, even better, an album exposing lesser-knowns who took sides in their time: Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, maybe Joan Baez, too.

Buy the album directly from the artist’s Righteous Babe label.

Extremely Long Player

1980s: I’m buying lots of LPs.

1990s: I’m buying lots of CDs.

2000s: I’m downloading lots of music files.

2010s: I’m buying lots of LPs.

What’s going on? As record companies contemplate the end of CD production, LPs are gaining popularity. TIME magazine caught the trend early, but failed to mention activity in vast used LP stores (separate blog post, in the works).

For newcomers, or those whose memory was fogged by digital d-rays, here’s what you need to know…

You need a turntable, a tone arm, a cartridge, a stylus, some cables, a phono per-amp, an amplifier, more cables, and loudspeakers. Back in the day, all of this stuff was combined in a “record player.”

Here in 2011-12, it’s more complicated–and that’s without the USB connection to your computer.

One popular, convenient choice is Audio-Technica’s PL-120, available for about $300. It includes everything you need except the amp and speakers. And, you can connect it to your computer to create digital versions of your LPs.

Rega's RP1 Turntable, an audiophile choice.

If you’re willing to invest more money for better sound, the audiophile choice is Rega’s RP-1, which includes a superior tone arm, a better drive system (to spin the platter) and other features that contribute to a cleaner, more focused presentation. The cartridge (which typically includes the stylus) is an accessory–each cartridge design possesses unique sonic characteristics–is a separate purchase. Rega’s RP1 accessory kit costs an additional $200, and includes Rega’s Bias 2 cartridge and several useful accessories.

Audio-Technica's all-in-one, lower-priced USB turntable.

Better would be another favorite cartridge, Audio-Technica’s ML-440. With turntable, tone arm and cartridge in place, you need a phono preamp. At about $150, one good choice is Music Hall’s PA 1.2. I leave the choice of amplifier and loudspeakers to you–the old system stored in your basement or found in a good used stereo shop will be just fine. Audiogon.com is an online store specializing in audiophile equipment, but a local dealer may provide both friendly advice and a place to listen before you buy.

How about a used turntable? Maybe from a reliable high-end dealer, but not from some random eBay source. Used cartridge? I wouldn’t do that. Instead, I would opt for the all-in-one Audio-Technica PL-120. But first, learn from:

Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor, which sells all sorts of cool stuff, not just needles!

Audio Advisor

Music Direct

Bill Evans: Last & Found

Late in the summer of 1980, pianist Bill Evans played several trio sessions at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner. Marc Johnson played bass. Joe LaBarbera played drums. Evans knew he was dying, knew that these would be his last sessions. Fortunately, the sessions were recorded. Two weeks later, he was gone.

Twenty years later, in 2000, Milestone released a box of eight CDs, one for each evening’s performance. For the past week or so, I’ve been listening to the discs. (You can, too: I just checked, and you can buy them on Amazon. The link is below.)

The performances are wonderful. Evans’ work has always been described as lyrical, poetic, introspective, relaxed, and a kin to European salon music.

Everybody Loves Bill Evans is one of his most popular single albums–perhaps a place to begin before buying the more expensive box. In a review from a long-ago book about jazz, I wrote: “Classic 1958 piano jazz, played by a musician so widely respected that Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal, and Cannonball Adderley signed their written praises for use as the album’s cover art. Most songs are confident variations on jazz standards like Sonny Rollins’s “Oleo” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” is also a highlight. Bassist Sam Jones and (unrelated) drummer Philly Joe Jones keep things moving. More distinctive are Evans’s unaccompanied solos, particularly “Peace Piece” and “Tenderly,” both haunting because of the pianist’s light touch, tiny flourishes, patience, and willingness to allow the piano to resonate.”

In fact, I rediscovered the Last Sessions box after hearing one of Evans’ duets with Tony Bennett on the radio. When the albums was recorded, Bennett was just beginning to taste a possible comeback, and it was this album that led to his remarkable second-round success. I wrote: “Bennett was in his mid-fifties when he recorded this album in 1975. HIs voice is a tad husky and a bit light on the high notes, but his endless experience shapes and sells every word of every song. This adds meaning and depth to “Some Other Time,” “Waltz for Debby,” and other titles that had been in Evans’s repertoire for almost two decades. Evans’s accompaniment is perfect, and his solos are magnificent, fitting ever so perfectly between Bennett’s verses (“Some Other Time” includes a particularly fine example). Some songs such as “The Touch of Your Lips” and “We’ll Be Together Again,” are generally romantic and often sentimental.” The album was called The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.

There are lots of Evans albums, and most are still available. But the more I listen, the more I favor the Last Sessions box, partly for its intimate club feel, partly because he speaks directly to the audience from time to time, mostly because the work causes me to sit up and listen because it is so clean, so well crafted, and so compelling. Nicely recorded, too.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00004YLJR/qid=1057202581/sr=1-5/ref=sr_1_5/103-1025772-7999806?v=glance&s=music

Paco de Lucia – One Summer Night…

Paco de Lucia was born Francisco Sánchez Gómez in 1947 in Algeciras, a southern port city in Spain. He learned the guitar from his father, his brother, and family friend Niño de Ricardo, a virtuoso. By age 7, de Lucia was playing flamenco guitar; by 12, he was recording. Before his teen years, he had won several guitar competitions. By 13, de Lucia was touring internationally with José Greco’s flamenco show. He started composing and playing backup for various Spanish singers, notably the great Gypsy singer (or cantador) Camarón de la Isla, with whom de Lucia worked from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. In addition to leading his own group, de Lucia has collaborated on projects with John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Al di Meola, and even Placido Domingo. De Lucia is widely regarded as the finest living flamenco guitarist—and one of several musicians who has modernized the classic Spanish form.

Here’s the thrilling, no-holds-barred, blazing-guitar, high-energy concert recording that caused many rock fans to pay attention to a flamenco guitar player. Recorded by de Lucía’s Sextet in 1983, it’s terrific ensemble work with de Algeciras, a flutist named Jorge Pardo, and an equally facile percussionist, Rubem Dantas. John McLaughlin composed a pretty intro to “Alta Mar,” and “Chiquito” is dedicated to Chick Corea; listen for strong 1980s jazz/fusion influences in de Lucía’s interplay with electric bassist Carlos Benavent, and the flute and guitar arrangement that begins “Gitanos Andaluces.” But it all comes back to de Lucía’s straight flamenco.

http://www.amazon.com/Live-Summer-Night-Paco-Lucia/dp/B0000046UR

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