Summer is almost here, and with it comes great new high-resolution releases.
Audiophiles cherish Chesky Records for their superbly produced and recorded titles, mostly centered around Jazz and Classical, although as their upcoming release schedule reveals, they are a label that is growing beyond their roots. Their pioneering Binaural+ series, recorded with a binaural microphone system that emulates the human ear, requires incredibly carefully positioned instruments and musicians in the studio, since the recordings are essentially live, because with only two microphones for the primary recording, mixing tracks isn't like the traditional multi-track with infinite overdubs, retakes, and processing. Thus it's well suited to Jazz, small combos, folk, blues, and acoustic content. And for critics of today’s auto tuned albums a welcome respite from the tinkered with approach to recording.
When Jeff Lanier, Cheksy's Label Manager showed me the list of upcoming releases, I was a bit surprised, not only at how ambitious the list was, but for the variety of artists and titles. While I’m not expecting a set of metal releases celebrating the Thatcher years, it’s interesting to see their embrace of a more eclectic catalog, not unlike Peter Gabriel’s Society of Sound, which also releases masterfully recorded releases but extraordinary musicians who aren’t necessarily household names.
Noah Wall's "Down Home Blues" from Chesky Records
Noah Wall's "Down Home Blues" is a folk and blues inspired title that is full of life and positive energy, and the use of binaural recording give her music air to breathe. I felt like I was sitting on the floor, bourbon in hand, with the band a few feet away. Wall's backing musicians provide a taught yet loose framework, and songs like Parchman Farms are a tight combination of blues and folk, showcasing her scat style singing with a percussive bottom end that just doesn't quit. There is a strain of gospel in songs like Down by the Riverside, and The Walls of Jericho, while other tracks might be considered folk, bluegrass, jazz, and blues.
Her transcendent delivery, coupled with different genres, backed by a wonderful band, makes this a wonderful discovery, and kudos to Chesky for their shift toward these new genre-free releases. Noah Wall's "Down Home Blues" mix of blues, styles, and genre bending is a perfect match for the Binaural+ process. Wall is also the lead singer, fiddler, and founding member of the award winning acoustic band "The Barefoot Movement." This is a great release, fast on its feet, good for the soul.
For more information on Noah Wall's "Down Home Blues" visit: www.chesky.com
The Doobie Brothers – Warner Brothers Years 1971-1983 – HD Tracks
The Doobie Brothers – Warner Brothers Years 1971-1983 is an extensive remastering of ten albums of this iconic band, who twists and turns mirror the shifting ground that represented the 1970s and 80s music scene. Originally blues based rock and roll, they were the favorite biker band for the Hell’s Angels in the Bay Area, with recurring gigs playing for their gatherings, they morphed into a soft-rock, or adult oriented sound with the addition of Michael McDonald, who brought an FM radio AOR funk based vibe to the group, garnering enormous success, but in the process alienating their original fan base, who felt that not only did the band sell out, but went soft. The later addition of Jeff "Skunk" Baxter fresh from working with Steely Dan, brought a sophisticated jazz sound and groove to the group. Through it all, there are few bands that can match the differing lineups, reunions, non-reunion reunions, final reunions, followed by one-time gigs that became tours like the Doobie Brothers. While the musicians rotated in and out, with some members passing away from various illnesses, the public's appetite for the Doobie's music seems to have never wavered, and they continue to sell out tour after tour.
It's fitting then to consider them from the vantage point of their most important albums, all beautifully remastered and available in high-resolution as either individual titles or a box set with all their Warner Brothers titles. At first I thought I only wanted to listen to a few titles, but I'm glad I was able to sit down with the box set, their hits are spread out throughout all the titles, and progressing through the titles in chronological order not only can see how the music changes, but it's also context to what precipitated the rise of punk, especially since it coincided with the rise of programmed FM radio content while at the same time the Sex Pistols were assaulting any modicum of good taste, insulting the public and the British monarchy all in good time and fun.
Sonically, the tracks have never sounded better, with improvements over the original dynamics, soundstage, and bottom end punch. From China Grove, to Taking it to the Streets, the Doobie Brother's are a bit like the Steve Miller Band, it's easy to forget how much of an imprint they have had on our musical consciousness. The box set is a bit expensive, but for a fan, I can't see how they could live without it.
For more information on The Doobie Brothers – Warner Brothers Years 1971-1983 visit:http://www.hdtracks.co.uk/the-warner-bros-years-1971-1989
American Pie – Don McLean – HD Tracks
American Pie by Don McLean is one of popular music's most iconic tracks. The title cut has been ranked among the most important songs in pop music, and easily one of the most discussed, interpreted, and played. Curiously, I can think of few covers that really do the original justice, although Madonna did a first-rate job of butchering it, which should count for something I guess. McLean never repeated the success of American Pie, coupled with Vincent, the other hit from the album, and the album was to serve as his defining work. There have been various versions over the years from the original vinyl LP, cassettes, 8-tracks, CDs, compilations, and now a fresh high-resolution remastering is available from HD Tracks. While this is the best sounding version I’ve yet heard, it reveals the limitations of the original recording, but it’s still an improvement over previous releases.
While the title track doesn’t sound that carefully produced, it turns out that aspects of it were assembled almost note for note, word for word, with an untold number of splices. Ed Freeman recalled in a Sound on Sound interview (http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/mar12/articles/classic-tracks-0312.htm) that “"Don's vocal was put together from 24 different tracks that we had to bounce together,” belying the initial impression of a live in the studio one-take recording. There is a strange sort of sibilance in McLean’s vocals, a machine like edge to the vocals that was a bit buried in earlier releases, but here is actually more obvious due to the lack of noise masking the musical content. That being said, the new version is far more open, less compressed, and with layers of muck scrubbed away. For the first time, it felt like I could hear McLean’s actual voice, albeit with this funky machine edge, but this remastering is much more musical than previous releases, and tracks like “Vincent” sound great. Reading Freeman’s interview, makes one want to see the entire track rebuilt from scratch, so the splices are digital, not tape based, but one doubts that will ever happen!
For more information on American Pie – Don McLean visit: http://www.hdtracks.com/american-pie-301978
Audiophile Hi-Res System Test - Great Sampling Tracks Included
System test records come in all shapes and flavors, formats and media, and most of them are a collection of test tones, with a few musical tracks included. Once in a while really good ones come along, such as the threeDr. Chesky titles, The Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc, You're Surrounded, and Dr. Chesky's Sensational, Fantastic, and Simply Amazing Binaural Sound Show are all first-rate discs, not only for setup purposes, but because the musical selections are so strong, drawn from the Chesky catalog.
A new collection from the Audiophile label 2xHD is another fine addition to the ranks. It has a collection of test tones, instrument resonances, stage perspectives, noises and a system burn-in track, in a variety of formats: 192, DSD, DSD2, DXD, and 57 minutes of music tracks. The quality of the recording is exemplary, and I found myself creating a playlist of the music tracks they were so engaging. Because it is available in differing formats, it was useful to compare different playback solutions. I tried to ascertain a difference between DSD and PCM, but for me they were virtually identical, so subtle that I didn’t feel that I could chalk up the difference to hardware or software with any certainty. Which is precisely what makes this collection so useful.
For more information on Audiophile Hi-Res System Test visit: http://www.hdtracks.com/audiophile-hi-res-system-test
Grateful Dead – Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO 7-8-78 (Live)
As most of us know, the Grateful Dead spawned what is arguably one of the largest collections of live recordings in popular music. And although my Dead Head friends, all have their Holy Grail recordings, one of the most sought after was a show they gave at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, in 1978.
So, for lovers of the Grateful Dead, the official release of a carefully mastered soundboard recording from the “Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO 7-8-78” is big news. This recording was drawn from the band’s master soundboard recordings, each newly mastered by Jeffrey Norman.
According to dead fans, this record is considered one of the great concerts by the Grateful Dead. Sonically, this sounds very good for a soundboard tape, although it’s important to remember that recording a concert for release as a concert album, is different then capturing a soundboard feed, but in that light, this is very good indeed. And it’s great to hear the band tackle Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London!” And their hair was perfect!
For more information on Grateful Dead – Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO 7-8-78visit: http://www.hdtracks.co.uk/red-rocks-amphitheatre-morrison-co-7-8-78-live-302168
David Chesky – The Venetian Concertos – Orchestra of the 21st Century
David Chesky's most recent compositions, “The Venetian Concertos” are his tribute to the classic ItalianConcerto Grosso form. According to the press release “Chesky uses his fondness for the Baroque as the starting point. However, influenced and inspired by Brazilian, Latin, and Urban music, he then replaces the Baroque line contour with dense chromatic polyphony. This collision of styles creates a powerful new definition of the Orchestral Concerto form, one which embraces a more contemporary and relevant approach to both counterpoint and energy.”
This summed up my thoughts on this release, in more erudite terms than I’m capable of. It vibrates with energy, befitting the form that translates to transferring musical content from a smaller group of soloists to a larger, full orchestra. Some of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos utilized the form, as have other contemporary composers such as Phillip Glass. Chesky is a bit of a musical chameleon, genres including Latin, urban, rock and roll, jazz, and an underpinning of funk. That fluidity is in force in The Venetian Concertos, and as soon as you feel that you have an expectation of what will follow, there is a shifting of musical influence, so that while The Venetian Concertos can follow the guise of a contemporary classical music at times, it’s clear that Chesky is interested in an almost anarchistic assault on the genre. And that’s a good thing.
For more information on David Chesky – The Venetian Concertos visit:http://www.chesky.com/album/venetian-concertos
Harris Fogel, with additional editiorial input by Nancy Burlan, posted 5/10/2016