Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • 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)

MPS 0210986MSW
Format: LP

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Jamaican-born jazz pianist Monty Alexander began playing in Kingston clubs and recording with local bands, including Clue J & His Blues Blasters, in 1958, when he was 14. Three years later his family moved to the US, and Alexander headed to New York City, where he soon found work in jazz clubs, including Minton’s, and eventually met and befriended a number of great jazz musicians. One of them, Oscar Peterson, introduced him to Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, who owned the German record label MPS.

Alexander had already recorded -- for Pacific Jazz, RCA, and Verve -- before signing with MPS, where his stay was long and fruitful: He made 12 albums for MPS between 1971 and 1985, and Montreux Alexander: The Monty Alexander Trio LIVE! at the Montreux Festival, with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, was recorded in 1976 at the venerable Montreux Jazz Festival. It’s perhaps his most popular album.

About 20 years ago, I bought a used LP of Montreux Alexander pressed by Pausa, the American arm of Italian label Produttori Associati. This edition, which I think was done sometime in the 1980s, is surprisingly good, but MPS’s new reissue on vinyl is vastly more spacious and involving. Alexander’s opening notes in Ahmad Jamal’s “Nite Mist Blues” sustain longer, floating majestically on air, and when Clayton and Hamilton join in and the audience applauds, I got a greater sense of the depth and enthusiasm of its response, as well as a better feel for the size of the crowd.

Alexander shows the influences of Peterson and Jamal in “Nite Mist Blues,” playing long, melodic passages that impress with their speed and dexterity, without Alexander losing his grip on the melody. He colors his interpretation with blues and gospel passages, and his piano’s sound is more three-dimensional on the new pressing. When Alexander plays great, rolling chords, they’re more impressively full and involving. I could also better hear Clayton’s attacks on his double-bass notes, and was able to appreciate much more Hamilton’s subtlety in handling quick changes in dynamics.

Montreux Alexander

After that blues- and gospel-flavored opener comes “Feelings,” Morris Albert’s slice of ’70s kitsch. It comes off well here, because of the trio’s interaction and Alexander’s feel for melody, and here the improvement in sound over the earlier pressing is especially apparent. Clayton’s bass sounds more round, full, and authoritative, and Alexander’s piano rings out with greater solidity and conviction.

Alexander returns to blues and swing in a rollicking version of Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll,” and in this track the new edition’s low-register detail is truly impressive. Clayton’s bass not only sounds larger; each note is also presented with more clarity, instead of smearing into the next note as on my 1980s pressing. When Alexander strikes a low note, it hits harder, and Hamilton’s kick drum pushes more air and comes more forward on the soundstage.

Clayton’s bass opens the trio’s take on Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” and sounds so much better that my old LP now sounds fuzzy and lifeless by comparison -- on the new vinyl, there’s more breadth to the bass, and more realism. Alexander’s long blues runs in Henry Glover’s “Drown in My Own Tears” are fuller and more structurally complete, and Clayton’s bass lines thump harder. Hamilton’s snare drum in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” snaps and resonates.

A couple of months ago, for SoundStage! Ultra, I reviewed MPS’s reissue of Freddie Hubbard’s The Hub of Hubbard; now, with Montreux Alexander, I’m again impressed by the quality of the label’s vinyl pressings. The backgrounds are dead silent, the sound richly detailed. Throughout, Dirk Sommer’s remastering brings more details forward; the overall effect is that the music is expanded, spreading out across a bigger, deeper soundstage.

I recommend all five of the titles I mentioned in the Hubbard review, and here’s one more: Oscar Peterson’s Walking the Line, a 1970 session with George “Jiri” Mraz on bass and Ray Price on drums (LP, MPS 0211989MSW). Peterson does two Cole Porter tunes, one of his own, and a few others, all with his usual energy and inventiveness, and the reissue reveals the harmonic complexity of his piano playing in suitably impressive scale. Mraz and Price are also well served in this very enjoyable trio recording.

Both Walking the Line and Montreux Alexander are entertaining and accessible, and each is filled with intelligent improvisation that holds up to repeated hearings. I can’t imagine them sounding better than they do on these excellently mastered and pressed LPs.

. . . Joseph Taylor