• SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - PSB's M4U 4 Earphones (April 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - GoldenEar Technology's Triton Two+ and Three+ Loudspeakers (March 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- KEF's LS50 (February 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio's Platinum II Series (January 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Pryma 0|1 Headphones (December 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF's Blade Two Loudspeaker (November 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF and the Uni-Q (October 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio Acoustics & Aesthetics (August 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- PSB's Imagine T3 Loudspeaker (June 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Hegel's H160 Integrated Amplifier-DAC (April 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- MartinLogan's Neolith Loudspeaker (February 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Prestige Series (December 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Vivid Audio's Giya Series (October 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Totem Acoustic's Torrent Technology (August 2014)

Fuzzy Music PEPCD018
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Movie MusicDrummer Peter Erskine says his record label, Fuzzy Music, is for musicians who "find themselves dipping into rich cultural pools of musical styles, beliefs and realities that do not fit into the large corporate record company way of thought or aesthetics." The label’s emphasis is straight jazz, accurately recorded. This is Erskine’s second collection of standards, and he’s joined on Standards 2 -- Movie Music by pianist Alan Pasqua, tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer, and bassist Darek Oles. Erskine says in his liner notes that the songs are standards "in both the jazz and cinematic sense." This quartet finds plenty to chew on in the nine themes presented here, and each of the players gets a shot or two at arranging. Erskine’s take on "Tara’s Theme" (from Gone with the Wind) swings lightly, while Pasqua approaches "Somewhere" as a subtle ballad, giving Mintzer beautiful harmonic support during his solos. Mintzer takes "Night and Day" from bossa nova to bop, with space for a nice feature from Erskine. Oles’s impressionistic arrangement of "Rosemary’s Baby" is a model of restraint, and Pasqua responds to it with a solo that shows a unique understanding of space, allowing a sustained note or chord to carry the moment rather than filling every space. The recording is exemplary. Warm, subtly detailed, and spacious, Standards 2 -- Movie Music is a gift to both you and your hi-fi.

Self released
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Zach Williams and the ReformationSouthern rock bands were commonplace 30 years ago, but they’re not so easy to find in 2011. Hailing from Arkansas, Zach Williams and the Reformation might be just the band to bring back this genre, or perhaps to prove that it never really went away. In ZWR’s case, you can tell a lot by scanning some the song titles, which include "Gravy Train," "Mason Jar," "The Fix," "Rock’n’Roll Me," and "Motels and Highways" (naturally about life on the road). Fans have compared ZWR to the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Molly Hatchet. You can easily hear clear references to those bands, but I think ZWR has its own style built around one thing: energy. From the driving opener, "Gravy Train," to "Wishing Well," the tenth track, there are pounding rhythms and high energy. Then surprisingly, and perhaps defiantly, the album closes with its only quiet tune, "Sky Full of Treasures." ZWR is heavy on guitars, but Williams has no trouble punching through as lead singer. His voice is strong, and he’s been compared to other Southern-rock greats. But I find that his voice, especially when it’s near breaking, reminds me of Bob Seger. The recording is loud and raucous, with some intended guitar distortion for aural color. Though ZWR might recoil at the thought, I found this album perfect to load on my iPod Nano for the gym. You can find it on iTunes and at Zach Williams and the Reformation’s official website.

Zoho Roots ZM 201105
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

The Mike Eldred TrioYou wouldn’t be surprised to see the photo on the cover of the Mike Eldred Trio’s new disc, 61 and 49, on the door of your local bar advertising an upcoming Saturday night show. Eldred is a California-based guitarist and singer who plays and writes the kind of roots music you’d hear in smoke-filled taverns, back when you could still smoke in them. "She’s a Rocket" is an old-time rocker, with Ike Turner sitting in on a rollicking barrelhouse piano, and "Jake’s Boogie" is a shuffling blues-guitar workout that lets Eldred throw out a lot of quick notes and string bends with little effort and a good deal of feeling. Bassist John Bazz and drummer Jerry Angel both played in the Blasters and know this music cold. "For a Girl" evokes a Stones-like radio friendliness, while "Mr. Newman" hints at a strong storytelling ability that Eldred should develop further. Guitar great Scotty Moore helps out on "Ms. Gayle’s Chicken House," and Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos adds a simple but effective solo to "This Old Train," which also includes a terrific Jordanaires-style backing vocal from The Job’s Quartet. Eldred and Kid Ramos trade licks on "Louise," a great jump blues track, but the most affecting song on the disc might be "Don’t Go Down There," a field holler with Eldred on vocals accompanied by the Emmanuel Church Gospel Choir. You’ve heard the music on this honest, unfussy recording before, but you’ve rarely heard it done this well.

Azuline Music
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Aimée AllenAimée Allen has law degrees from Columbia University and the Sorbonne in Paris and has pursued a career in music since she was very young. Now she’s a practicing attorney by day and a jazz singer on the New York scene at night. She has a warm, honeyed voice, a singular sense of pitch, and a vivid imagination that lets her see such disparate songs as "Bye, Bye, Blackbird," and "It Could Happen to You" as a good performance pair. On Winters & Mays she sings covers of tunes like "Peel Me a Grape," "Two for the Road," and "Samba em Preludio," alternating between her own compositions and one by her brother, guitarist David Allen. For me, the best original is "That Day," which aptly describes the moment of falling in love as a life-changing experience. "Second Time Around" and "Stardust Reunited" also make for highly enjoyable listening. A lot of the music sways in a gentle bossa nova, with Allen’s backup band showing its mettle. The recording is just close enough and very warm while retaining definition, but when accordionist Victor Prieto first joins the group on "Samba em Preludio," he sounds detached, as if he’s in another audio world. This disconnect is odd because his other two appearances on the disc are well integrated with the other musicians.

Eagle Records ER202072
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Ben WatersIn Life, his autobiography, Keith Richards writes "I don’t think the Stones would have actually coagulated without Ian Stewart pulling it together." Keith, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones played with Stewart, a great blues and boogie-woogie pianist, before they ever played with Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. Andrew Loog Oldham felt Stewart didn’t fit the Rolling Stones’ image, so Stewart served as the band’s road manager and played on nearly all their recordings until his death in 1985. Ben Waters, a 35-year-old British pianist, put together this tribute to Stewart, enlisting the help of some of his blues- and jazz-playing kinsmen, among them Watts (who plays on six tracks), Wyman, Richards, and Ronnie Wood. Jagger joins them, along with a great horn section, for a swinging version of Dylan’s "Watching the River Flow." The high point of the disc is a live performance of "Bring It on Home to Me" from 1984 by Stewart and his band at Montreux. Stewart displays an ease in his playing that Waters hasn’t quite achieved, but Waters is game and he plays with great feeling. The whole disc is easy and unforced, and another highlight is Richards and Wood trading vocals on "Worried Life Blues." The sessions were warmly recorded at Jools Holland’s studio, and expertly mixed by Glyn Johns. Proceeds benefit the British Heart Foundation.

Analogue Productions CAPP 782 SA
Format: Hybrid SACD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Nat "King" ColeAnalogue Productions continues its SACD traversal of Nat "King" Cole’s Capitol recordings by issuing After Midnight, which presents Cole with his stellar trio, adding a musical guest on each track. Today, Cole is remembered by the general public as one of the greatest pop music balladeers in history. But Cole got his start as a jazz piano player and leader of a jazz trio. This recording, made in 1956 and released in 1957, finds Cole enjoying the best of both worlds. Cole’s voice floats effortlessly over the sounds of the small instrumental group, and it has a clarity often partially obscured in his later recordings with large string sections. His trio consists of John Collins on guitar, Charlie Harris on bass, and Lee (Leonidas) Young on drums. The guest roster includes Willie Smith (alto saxophone), Harry Edison (trumpet), Stuff Smith (violin), and Juan Tizol (trombone). The song list mixes the tried and true ("Sometimes I’m Happy," "It’s Only a Paper Moon," "Caravan," "Route 66") with the less familiar ("Lonely One," "Don’t Let It Go to Your Head"). Virtuoso musicianship runs high for these sessions, but the overall mood is mellow and close. The sound is mono, but it’s so clean, clear, and balanced that it might strike you, like it did me, as absolutely wonderful. The copious notes include an enthusiastic essay by Ralph J. Gleason. This was one of those rare studio recordings where everything went right, and the careful mastering from Analogue Productions lets you hear that everything with absolute accuracy.

Hear Music/Concord Music Group HRM-32814-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

Paul SimonWith a long career full of accolades and awards (and sales), Paul Simon could be forgiven if he decided to coast for a while. He’d just rather not. He brought Brian Eno in to co-produce his last disc, Surprise (2006), and while the result showed a playful interest in Eno’s use of soundscapes and studio effects, the songs and the vision were unmistakably Simon’s. So Beautiful or So What continues some of that sonic experimentation. "Getting Ready for Christmas" includes a sample from the 1941 sermon of the same title by Rev. J. M. Gates, and Simon uses bits from the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet in "Love and Blessings" and Sonny Terry in "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light." So Beautiful or So What takes mortality and spirituality -- or, more specifically, the afterlife -- as its themes, but Simon’s gentle touch, humor, and humanism ensure that his observations are never merely cynical. Aural delights abound, whether it’s the Indian percussion from Karaikudi R. Mani and his associates on "Dazzling Blue," the kora, a West African string instrument, on "Rewrite," or Vincent Nguini’s guitar playing. All those instruments would sound even more delightful were it not for the compressed sound, which cries out for audiophile mastering.

Concord Picante CPI 32761-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Eliane EliasBrazilian born Eliane Elias is no stranger to recordings, having produced over 20 albums in a wide variety of styles. In addition to her jazz pedigree as a respected keyboard player, singer, and arranger, Elias also has a classical music background and composes original music. Light My Fire contains four of her originals and several lightly swinging laid-back bossa nova tunes. What’s likely to attract the most attention are the remarkable covers of the title song and Paul Desmond’s "Take Five." "Light My Fire" is re-imagined as a sexy samba, and whereas Jim Morrison’s original performance demands and pleads, Elias slyly cajoles and invites. "Take Five" features wordless vocals and a new development section that Elias created. Often, her vocal line is doubled by Randy Brecker’s trumpet. The recording clearly places Brecker behind Elias, and the unanimity of phrasing makes for a somewhat eerie, ghostly impression. I was hearing this sound in my head long after I’d shelved the disc. The balances on the rest of the tracks are exemplary and satisfying, with tight bass and warm upper frequencies. All in all, this is an appealing CD that would be a perfect summertime companion.

Jazzed Media JM9004
Format: DVD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality **1/2
Picture Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

Stan Kenton“Kenton was very severe about what he did,” percussionist Jack Costanzo says near the beginning of Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm. “He was gonna do it no matter what.” Kenton would have been 100 this year, and Graham Carter’s documentary, produced in association with the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, celebrates a musician who pursued his singular ideas in jazz despite the opinions of critics. Musicians from his long career appear throughout the film to extol Kenton’s virtues as a leader, mentor, and educator. Costanzo, Eddie Bert, and Howard Rumsey are among the players who recount stories from the early years, while Mike Vax and Joel Kaye share later recollections. Ken Poston of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute puts the various phases of Kenton’s career in perspective, with some help along the way from venerable DJ and critic Herb Wong. Jazz arranger Bill Holman talks about his work with Kenton, especially on Contemporary Concepts, an album even his detractor’s praise. Kenton himself is present in voiceovers describing his music and influences and in footage from performances and jazz clinics.

Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm is presented in standard definition, and the sound is predominantly mono. Some of the performance footage, even the later films from the ‘70s, is in poor shape. But Kenton fans will ignore those limitations and find the DVD to be essential viewing.

Self released
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

David LaFleurDavid LaFleur is a singer-songwriter whose music is mostly in the folk genre, and his self-released, professionally produced new album, Them Bones . . ., is comfortable and appealing. LaFleur sings and plays traditional favorites such as “Rovin’ Gambler,” “Darlin’ Corey,” and “Oh Freedom,” as well as seven of his own compositions. These range from highly personal tracks like “The Quilt Song,” which likens the patchwork in the quilts his mother wove to pieces of her soul, to the very funny “Shepherd’s Pie Revisited,” in which the singer is warned not to eat the shepherd’s pie at Mom’s Place but forgets a year later and orders it, much to his regret.

LaFleur handles lyrical ballads and humor with equal aptitude, and his clever asides on the funny tracks could become his signature. Though he usually performs solo, he’s assembled a group of fine musicians for this disc, which features accompaniment from bass, drums, mandolin, cello, organ, and piano. There are even backing vocals, most notably on the title song, which is the most fun track I’ve heard in a long time. LaFleur’s own guitar and Dobro playing is sure and accomplished, and he’s particularly skilled at slide guitar, which gets a good workout in his arrangement of “Double Down or Fold.”

Since Them Bones . . . is self released, you aren’t likely to find it in stores. Go to CD Baby or LaFleur’s site to pick up a copy.