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Brian Eno – Drawn From Life   Leave a comment

The thing that makes a lot of Eno’s best records so great is the organic. The records that you can hear (feel) the people on, that are not simply the well crafted output of machinery running in the background. On “Drawn From Life” it seems like he went back and listened to some of his older, more organic records. This time Eno is working with J. Peter Schwalm. Hopefully, this is the first of more collaborations because the results are excellent.

About the tracks…

“From This Moment” is a very “Discreet”-like introduction that segues beautifully into “Persis,” which sounds like a track that should have been on “Spinner.”

“Like Pictures Part #1” sounds like we came in toward the end of… something. Barely distinguishable voices in the background segue into “Like Pictures Part #2.” Starting with mildly treated drums, backwards tape loops, hand claps, and a violin surface, stretching the time to somewhere between Middle-Eastern and a One-Drop.

And Laurie Anderson, telling us, “Some things are just pictures. They’re scenes before your eyes. Don’t look now. I’m right behind you.” As an aside, I wish Brian and Laurie would stop, er, pussyfooting around and make an entire record together.

“Night Traffic” and “Rising Dust” are mid-tempo and dark, and would fit nicely with Bill Frisell’s “Blues Dream.” “Rising Dust” has some way cool background drum loops, beautiful piano, and heavily processed vocals (the phrasing makes me think it’s Laurie again). “Rising Dust” almost fades out completely before segueing into “Intenser.” This track includes another processed vocal, this time, it sounds like Eno.

“More Dust” fades up, and in a way to suggest that we’ve arrived in the middle of something again. There is an odd sense of closure on this track, having “Night Traffic” through “More Dust” sounding like the soundtrack to a short film that may or may not exist.

“Bloom” takes a page from the Jethro Tull / Pink Floyd School of Culinary Arts, with a slightly buried in the mix “field” recording of The onE and a Younger onE in the kitchen getting something to eat. All of the instrumentation sounds *very* analog, with headphones on you can hear the electronics misbehaving, etc. “Bloom” closes with a request for pineapple, and about two and a half minutes of silence.

Using low volume and headphones, the two processed vocals on “Two Voices” are surprisingly understandable. There is almost four minutes of silence bewteen “Two Voices,” and the instrumental version of “Bloom.”

While there are 11 tracks on this disc, arguably, you are listening to four multi-part works. In the case of “Bloom” through “Bloom (Instrumental)” it’s a good thing Eno didn’t give the two sections of silence their own track numbers, making it easy to discarding an important part of the work: Space (Silence).

Drawn From Life sounds great in a variety of listening contexts: Big speakers at moderate volume, and 4 Ohm A/C Delcos at low volume. Under headphones, it qualifies as one of the best sounding record I’ve heard, from anyone, since “Spinner.” With Drawn From Life, you can work to it, and you can nod off to it. It is truly environmental music.

Fans and long time listeners should be very happy with Drawn From Life. If you are new to Eno’s work, this is a very good place to start.

Posted 2017/07/26 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue   Leave a comment

Considered to be one of the Holy Trinity of Jazz (Armstrong & Ellington, since you asked), Davis had a pretty tough gig to continue inventing and innovating as a musician, in a music form that probably places a higher demand on inventiveness (in the form of improvisation) than any other.

Davis landed at Columbia (now Sony) records in 1955, with Kind of Blue being his sixth record for them. To rewind a bit, Davis dropped out of Juilliard, and started playing professionally at age 18. By 20, he’s recorded as a band leader. At 22, he helps invent Cool Jazz. By the time he’s cutting Kind of Blue, he’s 33 years of age, cut a few dozen LPs for three different labels, and kicked a heroin habit. What, exactly, is there left to do?

Go Modal. Bring in a mix of musicians that have great instincts. And get ready to improvise. Without going into some kind of track-by-track analysis, Kind of Blue is easy on the nerves, and a feast for the ears (more along that line later). If you are new to Jazz, Kind of Blue is The Jazz Record For People Who Don’t Like Jazz. If you are new to Davis’ music, this is the place to start.

While Kind of Blue is a perfect example of the Jazz form, it has taken Sony a few tries to get it right. Originally, the tapes for the first side ran a little fast. So, musicians in general, and trumpet players in particular who tried to play along with the record would get frustrated because while they could match the tempo, but they couldn’t figure out the pitch…

What follows is a very abbreviated history on releases (versions) of this record.

The original CD release (tagged Jazz Masterpieces in the upper right-hand corner of the front cover) sounds like it was mastered using an EQ curve for cassette playback. And they did not make the speed correction for the first side. You don’t want that one.

The next Sony issue was part of the initial release of their Mastersounds titles. Using a gold disc and Super Bit Mapping, there is a sonic improvement, and they did make the speed correction for the first “side.” Even with the improvements, the Mastersounds release is sonically inferior to an LP release of the time, and way more expensive. You don’t want that one either.

In 1997, for the first time, the original 3-track masters were used, and played back on the same kind of tape deck used to track the original sessions. Sound quality on this release blows any previous CD attempts out of the water. The release was speed corrected, and included a bonus track (an alternate take of Flamenco Sketches). The 1997 issue is dated as such, has a catalog number of CK64935, and a “matrix number” of DIDP089266 (found on the disc, near the spindle hole). This is the CD release you want. That said, please continue reading.

The next CD release was for the 50th Anniversary. The sound quality is a big step down from the 1997 release: Lots of compression, and plenty of distortion. You do not want that release. I think Sony is now using the 50th Anniversary Edition master for the regular catalog issue. Sorry, I can’t remember what the year is on this release. In short, if you are going with a CD release, make sure it’s dated 1997 and you will be fine.

About the original Sony SACD release (I only listen to the two channel mix): It is considerably better sounding than the 1997 CD, and crushes all other CD releases into sonic dust. There are two other SACD releases I am aware of: A Japanese Stereo-only (speed-corrected, with the alternate Flamenco Sketches), and the MoFi hybrid disc (not sure about speed correction or multichannel. it does not have any extra tracks). I have not heard either of them, so, no comparison is offered.

If you are set up to do playback from a hard drive, the high-resolution downloads from HDtracks are not a bad way to go. While I think the Sony SACD sounds a little bit better than the stereo 24/192 release from HDtracks, the best sounding version of Kind of Blue I have ever heard is the HDtracks 24/192 transfer of the mono version. Your first listen to Kind of Blue in mono may have you thinking it sounds Kind of Flat. Part of what you are hearing is the absence of a number of phase problems, as you are no longer hearing Coltrane prominent in one channel, with Davis prominent in the other.

Posted 2017/07/26 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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The Spacelords – Liquid Sun   Leave a comment

Looking over previous entries, one could draw the conclusion that I don’t have much use for contemporary music. Or, at least contemporary artists & their latest releases. The older I get, the less time I have for exploring Vast Musical Horizons. And as Roger Daltrey has recently informed us, Rock is dead. Most of my Musical Exploratory Time is now spent with Jazz & Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, almost exclusively in the 50-year span of 1925-1975 (A typical trajectory for any music fan who started out on Rock ‘n’ Roll and is still actively listening to music when they hit Middle Age).

Back on the beam…

Hailing from Germany, The Spacelords are a contemporary blend of some of elements that fuel the Stoner / Space Rock genres. Liquid Sun is their second outing, and a huge step forward from their debut, Synapse. About that…

Give Synapse a listen. While the first half of the record sounds like they are still figuring it out, the second half totally clicks. The biggest problem with Synapse is a poor mix.

Liquid Sun is quite simply The Goods, All That And A Bag Of Crisps, etc. The three tracks take their time building (TRT for the record is about 44 minutes), and the influences are seemingly obvious: Hawkwind, Robin Trower, a sprinkling of early Tangerine Dream. The contemporary comparison that is perhaps a better fit is that Liquid Sun feels a lot like a later period Mermen release.

Thankfully, The Spacelords can be found docked this side of the L-5 point:

https://thespacelords1.bandcamp.com/

Posted 2016/11/25 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Tangerine Dream SACDs (five different ones)

(Some of this is my jabber, re-worked, from the comments section on another site…)

I like having playback gear that is revealing, but not annoyingly revealing. I like hearing recordings where people think they are getting away with something: Chatter they think the band will drowned out or performance and mixing mistakes they think no one will notice. While this small stuff may be just that, it is (in part) what makes recordings human.

And that is one of the things I like so much about the vintage TD releases: They are quite human. Talking about TD and their Human Condition reminds me of a shitty, pseudo-pithy review in the Rolling Stone Record Guide (The original Red book) of one of the TD records on Virgin. It went something like, “Music for people who want to grow up to be a synthesizer.” If whoever wrote that review is reading this… pound sand. Not only are you wrong, you are not especially good at it. I’ll cop low, and simply invoke Lester Bangs’ name here. He’s swingin’ somewhere out near the L-5 point and pissing on your head, you just don’t know it. Back on the beam…

As the 1960s came to a close (and musically imploded), TD unleashed their debut, the first of the four records on the Ohr label that make up the “Pink” years. Their four years at Ohr had them progress from Electronic Music Art Brut to sprawling, side-long inner-Space Music epics.

TD’s fourth release, Atem, got a lot of exposure thanks to John Peel making it his pick for Record Of The Year. That lead to Virgin Records signing TD to a five-year contract, bringing the Pink Years to a close. One thing that continued into the Virgin era was some stability: Atem was the debut of the Froese/Franke/Baumann line-up.

About a year ago, the first four Virgin releases (Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, Stratosfear) were re-released in Japan as Super Hard Material Super Audio Compact Disc (SHM-SACD). Since they are Japanese imports, expect to pay about USD$35 per disc (plus shipping). Also, these are not hybrid discs: They will work only with an SACD player. And so…

Phaedra shows TD crawling out of the primordial soup, and starting to walk upright. Sequencer driven, there is a lot more structure and direction, and a lot less “sprawl” than previously. That said, the structure is both dense and thick in places. It indeed sounds like 1974.

Rubycon was a huge step forward, both sonically and materially. A cornerstone record, one can hear the group gain further understanding of the things they are creating, and thus better control, of their sequencers and other instruments. There are parts of Rubycon that TD continued to refer back to and explore (and lift), as much as a decade later. Rubycon was the record that really put them on the map, and deservedly so. However, the beginning of Side 2 is still tedious…

Ricochet is their first live album and something of a step back. Compiled from UK and France shows in ’75, it has been referred to as “plodding” by some. I would have to disagree, and suspect that view comes from comparing it to the the previous release (Rubycon). That comparison lacks context: With a live gig they are limited to the gear at hand, without the benefit of studio support to help add controlled layers of… stuff.

Stratosfear is easily the sonic superior of the lot. Compositionally, I think it is the weakest of the four. I don’t have a problem with the move to less-than-side-long-epics, but they do have to be done well.

Stratosfear is indeed music they needed to make. It is a huge, evolutionary step forward that shows TD getting the equipment further sorted out. While Stratosfear lays the groundwork for the remainder of their stay at Virgin Records, listening to it, it plays as merely a stepping stone to future greatness. Simply, I just don’t find it all that compelling.

In the title, I refer to “five different ones.” In 2001, Virgin Records re-issued Rubycon on SACD. I managed to track one down a few years later via mail order from Canada, and at the original price. The 2001 release is also a single layer disc, so, it will not work with a regular CD player.

The comparison of the two re-issues is one of subtleties. Of the two, the 2001 release definitely sounds more analog.  Any problems strike me as the result of a more “hands off” mastering approach then vs. now. In other words, we hear old mistakes, not new ones.

The 2015 release has a little more detail, and when A-Bd with the 2001, it sounds like a veil has been lifted. But, it also sounds a tad juiced. Specifically, like a little compression has been added, along with a few instances of levels running a little too hot. Also, it sounds like some tape damage has crept in over the ensuing 15 years.

If you don’t have both versions of Rubycon to compare, you will probably be happy with either one. In comparison, the 2001 release is the better of the two. However, I wouldn’t spend more than what the current issue costs to secure one.

(and so)

To put them in some sort of best-to-worst ranking, and because context can be everything…

Sonically: Stratosfear, Rubycon, Ricochet, Phaedra

As a record collector / casual fan: Rubycon, Ricochet, Phaedra, Stratosfear

As more of a bog-standard TD fan: Rubycon, Stratosfear, Ricochet, Phaedra

My preference: Phaedra and Ricochet (tied), then Rubycon. Phaedra and Ricochet are two of my favorite TD records. I only bought this SACD of Stratosfear to review it.

Posted 2016/02/13 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Skip Spence – Oar

The only solo record from Skip Spence, a founding member of both the Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, Oar was recorded and mixed over a couple of weeks in December ’68 and released in February ’69. It promptly sank with barely a ripple. Greil Marcus (Rolling Stone magazine) dropped some ink about Oar seven months after its release, his article leading off with Oar’s inevitable slide into the Bargain Bins.

There were a lot of bad, external influences that helped Spence get to where he didn’t need to go, and prohibited him from getting what he needed. Being able to look back, his problems seem obvious. Spence had un-diagnosed mental issues, which he attempted to sort out the way a lot of people lacking the necessary bits do: Self-medication through the use of various drugs, including alcohol. Keith Moon and Syd Barrett are two of the Rock ‘n’ Roll set that immediately come to mind.

Eventually, Spence did get some real help. By then, however, too much damage had been done.

Just like the muted, harrowing, and limited output of another founding member (Syd Barrett) of another great band (Pink Floyd), listening to Oar sounds like the last chapter of someone at the end of their string, or the first chapter of that same someone moving on to something better. The perspective changes, depending on the weather, what side of the bed you got up on, was your morning cup alright, etc. Sometimes, while you are listening, Oar’s head changes in the middle of the song.

The era of the Compact Disc has been kind. Both of Barrett’s solo records have been re-released, augmented with extra tracks, and further complimented with Opel, another disc of two dozen previously unreleased tracks.

With Spence, there isn’t anywhere near as much to work with. Oar’s first appearance on CD didn’t happen until 1991, and barely at that. Released on Sony Music Special Products, whoever got the project green lighted must have had a little love in their heart(s). For the Sony re-issue, they went back to the original studio multi-tracks. Since the re-issue was for Compact Disc, LP side lengths were no longer seen as a constraint. With the Sony re-issue we can hear what was done both originally and completely, instead of what was settled for. Sony went further with their re-issue, and added five extra tracks.

In 1999, Oar was released on the Sundazed label. Sundazed used the mixed-down, 2-track masters, restoring the originally released Oar tracks to their original LP released form. Included are all five of the extra tracks from Sony’s ’91 release, along with an additional five minutes in the form of five previously unreleased tracks.

Like the Barrett records, with Oar you can hear Spence emptying the contents of his head. I think the strongest tracks include the record’s open, the oddly joyous Little Hands Clapping. War and Peace sounds like something that could have been on an early Pink Floyd LP yet to be recorded, while Weighted Down (The Prison Song) indeed sounds as described in the booklet from the Sundazed release: Johnny Cash sharing a barstool with Albert Camus.

Since I don’t want to get into a song-by-song rundown, I’ll end the talk of specific songs with this… The single most important bit of restoration is the end of the last song on the original release, Grey/Afro: Four and a half minutes were added in the form of “This Time He Has Come.” Maybe it was supposed to be a coda for Grey/Afro, or maybe it is simply the unfinished, rhythmic foundation for something that will never be.

While I think the Sony release is the way to go, both with regard to sound quality and version of the original record included, the Sundazed release sounds plenty fine (and unlike the Sony release, is currently available).

Heroes   Leave a comment

We could steal time, just for one day.

Eno Fripp Bowie

Posted 2016/01/12 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Crossing Over   Leave a comment

A few months ago, I got a pair of Klipsch Cornwalls in Walnut (Serial# 14R227 & 14R228, date as 1977). In all-original condition, it was no surprise the caps were toast. The company who made them no longer makes a canned oil capacitor with specs anywhere close to the ones originally used in the crossovers. So…

I swapped in some new Sonicaps, and no surprise again, the sound was horrible. I suspect the move made for a mismatch with the original autotransformers.

Since I wasn’t willing to go down the Research/Nearly Endless Tinkering/Time Sink/Rabbit Hole associated with a full rebuild, I checked out ALK Engineering and Crites. Being able to set the roll-off for both the Tweeter and the Squawker on the ALKs make them worth the higher price tag.

The picture below: On the left, an original crossover, re-capped. On the right, an ALK CornScalla-Wall crossover. Compared to the all-original crossovers, the ALKs are more detailed, and a little less warm. I suspect that with a little use, both the electronics will cook a little, my hearing will sufficiently attenuate, and the warmth will return.

Tweeters are rolled off at -4 dB, the Squawkers at -9 dB.

Cornwall Crossovers

The crossovers live here:

14R227 07

and here:

14R228 07

Posted 2014/10/21 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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