• SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • 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)

Self released
Format: CD

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

201012_lowfidelityCanadian soul and blues singer Treasa Levasseur sure knows how to write a hook. Her second self-released disc, Low Fidelity, contains eight prime examples of her song craft, which she and producer David Gavin Baxter (he also plays guitar on the disc) set to smart, witty arrangements. She also covers two tunes by other writers, "Help Me Over" by Corin Raymond and Sean Cotton and "Talk to Me, Babe" by Bob Snider. All ten tracks show a keen ear for how to arrange and present a song. Levasseur plays to her greatest strength: her strong, slightly raspy voice, which can belt out one moment and caress the next. When she growls out a line, it doesn’t sound forced, and she can let her voice rise to a shout without losing track of the melody. Baxter and Sean Cotton both have a good grasp of Southern soul guitar, and Paul Reddick’s funky harmonica spices things up on "Good Ones Never Share" and the title track. "Rest of the Ride" even shows a sure touch with country music. You’ll be humming almost every tune in the car after just one play, but Low Fidelity holds up to repeated listens, in part because the recording reveals subtle details over time.

HowsaboutNOW? Records
Format: CD

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

201012_believeSpin is a Philadelphia-based band that bills itself as "rock / power pop / alternative." Believe is the band’s first full-length disc, and it’s a very commercial bid for attention. The guitars are loud, the synths sound vintage, and the songs follow heavily trod paths. But that doesn’t mean Believe doesn’t occasionally click. The loopy synth lines on "Hurt by You" and the title track are charming and fun, and the songs often hit their marks. "Over and Over" is an effective anthem-like rocker with good, chunky guitar lines; "Wake Up Girl" takes you back to the MTV '80s; and "After All" and "Ava" hint at the unique songwriters the band could be if they really tried. The harmony vocals, buried in the mix, are a strong point, but the overdriven guitars too often overpower them. The band’s loud/soft dynamic is reminiscent of another Pennsylvania band, Live, but Spin shows the potential to be a group of better songwriters with more staying power. The band members handled all the recording chores, and next time they might clean things up a bit by hiring an outside engineer and putting more space around the backup vocals. Spin has been getting some good press on the East Coast, and another couple of discs may justify that buzz.

Eagle Rock EVBRD33369
Format: Blu-ray

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

201012_thischristmas2This concert was part of the Sound Stage series, and it makes for a diverse and different holiday release. The playlist might fool you into thinking that a good portion of the event is given over to traditional holiday songs, but that’s not so. The songs might be traditional as far as titles go, but the music has been energetically reinvented. Not too surprisingly, considering McDonald’s presence, the selection of holiday songs is bookended by sets of tracks made popular by the Doobie Brothers. The concert gets rolling with "It Keeps You Runnin’," followed by "I Keep Forgettin’," and "Sweet Freedom." After these R&B/rock chestnuts, the holiday portion begins with "Every Time Christmas Comes Around." Along the way we’re given an R&B version of "Come, O Come Emanuel," a spirited Dixieland version of "I’ll Be Home for Christmas," and a foot-tapping "Cajun Christmas." After a medley of "White Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland," the concert closes with resounding versions of more Doobie Brothers anthems -- "Minute by Minute," "What a Fool Believes," and "Takin’ It to the Streets."

Throughout the concert, McDonald exhibits exceptional energy and expertise that strikes fire in the other musicians. The event was expertly filmed, and the transfer to Blu-ray is just short of exemplary. The disc offers three choices for sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and PCM 2.0. But forget the last two -- it’s the DTS tracks that have the most presence.

Hänssler Classic CD 98.609
Format: CD

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

201012_aboutchristmasWith their tight-knit harmonies and crooning style, the Berlin Voices (Esther Kaiser, Sarah Kaiser, Marc Secara, and Kristofer Benn) follow the tradition of the Singers Unlimited in presenting a holiday album that’s mostly jazz peppered with pop. Singing in German and English, they often weave musical lines in breathtaking counterpoint, and their impeccable intonation assures that no matter how complex the jazz sevenths become, they’re always in tune. The vocals are accompanied by a jazz trio of piano, bass, and drums, with saxophone, flute, cello, and bass clarinet added on certain cuts. The overall feeling is warm and lush, yet the repertory is surprisingly heavier on religious Christmas carols such as "Joy to the World," "Angels We Have Heard on High," and "Silent Night" than on pop holiday titles, which are represented only by "You Make It Feel Like Christmas" and "It’s Christmas Time All Over the World." The recording is close-up and personal and is impeccable in its own right. A jewel box seems an appropriate housing for this unusual and appealing gem.

201011_leadNYC Records / Buzz Music Records 6042
Format: CD

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

 

Jazz vibraphonist Mike Mainieri’s wide-ranging career as a recording and performing artist since 1960 includes appearances with George Benson and Pat Martino, as well as some surprising turns, like his work on Dire Straits’ Love over Gold (1982). His fusion group, Steps Ahead, included at various points Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd, Eddie Gomez, Don Grolnick, and other jazz musicians who made their reputations in the ’70s and ’80s. Mainieri and Dutch guitarist Marnix Busstra established their current quartet last year, when they recorded Twelve Pieces. Marnix and the remaining musicians, Eric van der Westen and Pieter Bastis, are well respected in Europe, where they recorded Trinary Motion / Live in Europe during a 2008 tour.

The broad umbrella of modern Latin music has grown into a global mainstream genre, but much of its lineage and heritage can be traced to “son,” a musical style popularized in Cuba during the early 20th century that unites African and Spanish rhythm and structure. Without son (literally meaning sound in Spanish), there would be no salsa, no mambo, and no “Macarena.” What began as a marginalized musical expression for the island nation’s poor and dispossessed has grown into a top contender in the hierarchy of modern popular music and has proven a formidable forebearer for modern Latin sounds. The marriage of Spanish and African cultures as a whole continues to influence the rest of the world for its contributions to music, dance, language, and art. An impassioned sensuality and infectious spirit unify the four albums I’ll share here in this segment.

201011_septetonacionalAs son evolved and gained popularity, musical groups of six and seven members formed across Cuba to perform and expand upon the newly emerging style. Cuban musician and composer Ignacio Piñeiro is credited with writing over 300 sons, and in the late 1920s he formed a group that would become Septeto Nacional, a veritable crown jewel of Cuba’s musical landscape and one that, generations later, is still performing. The group was nominated in 2004 for a Grammy, and they now return with their latest release, ¡Sin Rumba No Hay Son! (CD, World Village 468105), an acoustic offering of inventive new material alongside reinterpretations of Piñeiro’s now-classic century-old compositions. The disc branches out beyond son alone. While the romantic bolero, “En Tus Ojos Yo Veo” and the lively guaracha, “La Fiesta de los Animales,” don’t subscribe to the standard parameters of son, as with tracks such as “Donde Andabas Anoche,” they serve to further evince the development of Afro-Cuban musical culture. Septeto Nacional has long played an important role in Cuba’s history, and ¡Sin Rumba No Hay Son! may just be the catalyst to help them leave their latest indelible mark.

201010_marcos_amorimAdventure Music AM1052 2
Format: CD

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

 

Brazilian guitarist Marcos Amorim grew up in a musical household in Rio de Janeiro, where his father would invite musicians over for jam sessions that often ran into the early hours of the morning. Amorim began formal studies when he was 14 and was playing with some of his country’s leading musicians while he was still in his teens. Portraits is his second outing with bassist Jorge Albuquerque and drummer Rafael Barata and his fourth disc released here in the US through Adventure Records. All three musicians have extensive experience with other Brazilian jazz musicians of note, including Mario Adnet, Ivan Lins, and Nestor Torres.

The three players received equal billing on their previous disc, Revolving Landscapes. Even though they work this time as the Marcos Amorim Trio, Portraits is a collaborative work. Albuquerque wrote three of the ten tunes (Amorim wrote the rest), and Amorim shares solo time generously. Portraits is composed of ten tracks that show a wide command of the group’s Brazilian musical heritage, but American jazz fans will find it exciting and approachable. Amorim plays beautifully melodic, well-developed lines, and his tone is clean and full. He often multi-tracks his guitars, with an acoustic taking the rhythm-guitar parts, which give the tunes their harmonic foundation.

Eagle Vision EV302939
Format: DVD

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

201010_tompetty“It’s just the normal noises in here,” an unidentified female voice says just before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tear into “Only the Losers” on their third record, Damn the Torpedoes (1979). The normal noises meant guitars, drums, bass, and traditional keyboards -- no synthesizers. Producer Jimmy Iovine, with a lot of help from ace engineer Shelly Yakus, took those elements and gave Petty his first top-ten album. This entry in the Classic Albums series shows how much hard work goes into making a hit record. Benmont Tensch, the band’s keyboard player, points out that Yakus and drummer Stan Lynch took three or four days just to get a drum sound. Yakus went so far as to take Lynch shopping for new drums. Iovine, Yakus, Petty, and guitarist Mike Campbell sit at a mixing board and adjust the levels throughout the video to show how very tiny details, such as the shaker in “Refugee,” ultimately sell a song. The bonus material is almost as good as the main program. Iovine and Petty talk about the mix for “Refugee,” Shelly Yakus explains how he panned guitars and added delay on “What Are You Doing in My Life” to create a wall of sound, and Tensch describes how he achieved some of his keyboard effects. Archival footage of the band in performance and in music videos helps give the story background and context.

Zoho ZM 201009
Format: CD

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

201010_auctionprojectDavid Bixler teaches jazz studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and has made several excellent albums that have already been released. This one, however, is different. Working with piano player Arturo O’Farrill and his wife, violinist Heather Martin Bixler, he’s combined Latin American roots with Celtic folk music to create a sound that’s fresh and original. Variety abounds on this disc, even within a style. “Spanish Misfortune” starts off as an Irish romp, only to veer off into more conventional jazz territory before Heather Martin Bixler brings it back into Celtic line. “She Moves Through the Fair” starts with the solitary fiddle keening the melancholic tune, but as other instruments enter and dissonances pile up, the piece takes on an even more tragic nature. “Green Target,” “Worth Dying For,” and “Heptagonesque” are the tunes without Celtic overtones, and they feature Bixler’s poignant alto sax. The overall recorded sound is clean and clear, but the drums of Vince Cherico could have better definition. In sum, the album is a fresh, creative effort that’s well worth hearing.

Analogue Productions CAP8456 SA
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

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

201010_milesdavisTaped over three days in 1961, Someday My Prince Will Come is one of Miles Davis’ most mellow sets. It still features the solid-as-a-rock rhythm section of Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. The sax players fluctuate. John Coltrane was no longer playing regularly but came back to the studio to guest on the title track and “I Thought About You.” The rest of the tenor tracks are handled by Hank Mobley, who had only been with the group for a short time. It shows a little in his playing, which is more reserved than that of Coltrane but has a lighter, neat, and simple beauty of its own. There are some miraculous moments throughout this set, and not always in the big sections. Listen to that great rhythm section in “Prancing” when Chambers has a bass solo, yet Kelly and Cobb continue to accompany him with awesome subtlety. There’s never a throwaway note with those three guys. Davis is at 100 percent and plays with great beauty and depth on every track.

The recording deserves mention. Most people think of surround when they think of SACD and multichannel, but many analog masters were produced with only three tracks: left, right, and center. Someday My Prince Will Come is one of these, and the SACD format allows us to hear it exactly as it was mastered. The piano is in the left channel, drums in the right, and Miles and the bass in the middle. Though it’s still a bit exaggerated in the separation of channels, the impression of three-track mono is lessened by bleeding a tiny bit of the drums and piano into the left and right channels without bleeding any of Miles’s center-channel solos back. The overall results define the old “clean as a whistle” saying, and the disc’s sound clearly reveals every nuance from each player.