Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Vinyl Find: Joe Farrell Quartet [CTI 6003]

Interesting album. I have to admit this is my first Farrell recording so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I always grab CTI label vinyl AFTER reading the inside cover. Creed Taylor liked to add strings to a lot of the jazz and funk albums he produced around this time (1970) and to my ears that takes good music into an extremely dangerous place – i.e. “easy listening”.

This album though is excellent. No surprise really when you consider the quartet line up – Chick Corea, Jack Dejohnette, Dave Holland and John McLaughlin (on one track). The album contains a bit of everything – some cool grooves, some avant guard, some be-bop. Chick Corea shines throughout and McLaughlin is excellent on the opening cut “Follow Your Heart”. And with Farrell handling tenor and soprano saxes as well as flute and oboe there is some variety in sound from track to track which is an added bonus. Not the easiest to find, but recommended if you see a clean copy.

Recorded in 1970 by Rudy Van Gelder and wouldn’t you know it, my copy has “van gelder” in the deadwax.

Vinyl – NM
Sleeve VG+
Price: $2.50

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vinyl Find: Starcastle – First/Self Titled (EPIC PE33914)

Being a progressive rock fan I had heard of Starcastle, but had never actually heard Starcastle.  Saw this LP today and decided to roll the dice.  The gamble paid off.  What a surprisingly good record!

Everyone who mentions Starcastle also mentions Yes in the same sentence.  And it’s true, they do sound VERY similar.  Busy drumming in unusual time signatures – check.  Growling Rickenbacker bass – check.  70s Moog keyboards – check.  Jon Anderson soundalike – check.

But what Starcastle offer is a style of 70s prog rock that’s a little more mainstream (i.e. less self-indulgent) than Yes.  It’s still technically impressive, but more approachable and that’s their real talent.  Making complex songs catchy and interesting.  It's almost like all the "too complicated" bits got shaved off, leaving you with the best part of the song. Regardless, this is an extremely impressive album (especially for a debut) and if you are into 70s prog rock (Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant) and all the countless neo-prog bands (IQ, Spock’s Beard, Porcupine Tree) then this is definitely worth picking up.  

The album was well recorded and the sound quality of the LP is very good – it lacks some low end, but as a result, the recording is very clear and all the instruments are well separated.

Vinyl – NM-
Sleeve – VG+
Price - $3.00

Monday, May 19, 2014

Vinyl Find: Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster [UMV2532]

You can't really go wrong with two of the greatest tenor sax players of all time on the same LP.  And you can't really go wrong with Japanese LP pressings.

I am a huge fan of Japanese vinyl and always pick them up when I see them at affordable prices.  In the 70s and 80s, Japanese vinyl was 2-3 times the price of domestic vinyl and consequently those that could afford it looked after it (or were collectors that played the domestic version but kept the Japanese pressing to show off to friends!) While the bass can be a little shy on Japanese pressings, the clarity and especially minimal surface noise more than makes up for it.

This is a very nice 1981 Japanese pressing of the original 1957 LP.  Bass is actually quite prominent on this one and the two saxes are super warm. Great piano from Oscar P . . .  doing just enough. Also featuring Ray Brown on Bass, Herb Ellis on Guitar and Alvin Stoller on Drums.  My copy does not have the OBI strip, but couldn't pass up a mint copy of this classic jazz album on Japanese vinyl.

Vinyl - Mint
Sleeve - Mint
Price - $5.00

Friday, May 9, 2014

Vinyl Find: The New Tony Williams Lifetime – Believe It [Columbia PC33836]

Been looking for a clean copy of this on vinyl for a while and luckily found a near mint copy yesterday.  One of my Top 10 jazz fusion albums for sure.  In addition to great propulsive drumming from TW, you have Allan Holdsworth tearing up the fretboard.  I know that Allan has redefined how you can play the guitar by incorporating mind boggling, out-of-this-world intervallic leaps into his playing, but I can relate to his more grounded, normal playing on this album much more.  His tone is nice and crispy and the tasteful use of effects – mainly a phaser here and there – just adds more spice.  For me, this album and his playing on the first U.K. album [with Wetton, Bozzio and Jobson] is my favorite Holdsy.  Tony Newton holds down the low end with creative lines and Alan Pasqua’s electric piano fills float over the top of everything and hold it all together.  Awesome stuff.

This is a very good pressing.  The sound is nice and open, instruments very clear, with a nice low end.  Dynamic range is good.  “1G” is in the deadwax so I am assuming this is a first pressing.  Did I mention this is prime Holdsworth?

1. Snake Oil
2. Fred
3. Proto-Cosmos
4. Red Alert
5. Wildlife
6. Mr. Spock
7. Celebration

Sleeve VG+
Price $2.50

Ortofon 2M Red with Rega Planar 2 - Cartridge Review

I’ve owned a Rega Planar 2 for years (purchased new in 1989) and it's had an easy life. As I am spinning a lot more vinyl these days I decided to look at a few upgrades. One of the biggest you can make is changing the cartridge. Depending on your choice, you can completely change how your turntable sounds and performs.

I’ve always used various Rega carts, including the Bias, with my Planar 2. But honestly, I was never that impressed by them.  After researching online and talking to a few local audio experts, I decided to go for the Ortofon 2M Red at around $100. This is by no means an expensive cartridge, but I didn’t feel like the deck warranted spending much more at this point and I’ve been thinking about adding a second turntable to the stable anyway so wanted to save some funds for that if an opportunity came along.

Because I was about to give the turntable a much heavier workload than usual due to all my recent vinyl purchases, I decided to get it serviced by my local Rega dealer who could install the new cartridge at the same time so I can’t really comment on the installation process.

As far as sound goes, I have a lot of opinions.  Compared to many vintage carts, the 2M Red sounds, not surprisingly, quite modern.  It’s also a lot louder than many vintage carts and provides a nice balance between the detail of CDs and the warmth of vinyl.  The 2M red is a very detailed and full sounding cart with a forward presentation.  It’s somewhat aggressive sounding, not laid back and warm, so it’s great for upfront, pacey genres like rock, pop, and jazz fusion.  It’s also decent for jazz as it can extract lots of detail, but perhaps a little shrill at the top end, like when Miles grabs his Harmon mute and wails away.  It’s a rhythmic cart and much more dynamic than the Rega carts I used previously, which sound dull in comparison. The cart tracks well, but it really likes clean records.  Any groove damage, dirt and dust is immediately picked up by the cart and communicated through the speakers so it’s not the most forgiving cart you can buy if you have a lot of old, worn LPs.

Overall, I am very happy with the 2M Red.  It’s completely changed the sound of my Planar 2 and given it a lot more life (and a few more years). It’s pretty much killed my idea of trading it for another turntable.  No cart does everything perfectly (at least at this price level), but for $100, the 2M Red offers some serious bang for the buck.  If you are looking for a cart at this price point, it’s definitely worthy of serious consideration.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Vinyl Find: Gene Ammons - The Black Cat [Prestige 10006]

Great retro sounding jazz LP from 1971.  Jazz was suffering an identity crisis at the time this was recorded and more soul, funk and blues sounds and grooves started to get incorporated.  This has all that and even some orchestral strings thrown in for good measure.  Don't let the strings put you off - they work well on "Long Long Time" but are pretty sappy on "Something", which was a poor choice of tune to cover in the first place.  Some really nice funky grooves on this LP though that get your foot tapping.

This is a really nice pressing on the green Prestige label.  Recording is very clear and open - no surprise with Rudy Van Gelder manning the board.  Great walking and grooving bass from Ron Carter with excellent comping from George Freeman on guitar and the underrated Harold Mabern on (primarily) electric piano.  Great grooves and hi-hat work from Idris Muhammad, especially on "Jug Eyes".  Big tone from Gene Ammons on tenor throughout.

LP - VG++
Sleeve VG
Price $5.

A very clean LP with minor surface noise which should be eliminated with a Spin Clean.

 All compositions by Gene Ammons except as indicated
  1. "The Black Cat" - 5:36
  2. "Long Long Time" (Gary White) - 4:31
  3. "Piece to Keep Away Evil Spirits" - 7:49
  4. "Jug Eyes" - 8:10
  5. "Something" (George Harrison) - 3:20
  6. "Hi Ruth!" - 5:08
  • Recorded at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on November 11, 1970

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Today's Spin: Bob Marley & The Wailers - Babylon by Bus

I'm not a huge Reggae fan, but I have always loved this album.  Picked it up on vinyl when it came out almost 35 years ago and I still have my copy.  I picked up the original CD release in the '90s which sounded muddy to me.  Then I picked up the remastered version on which they seemed to have boosted the high hat to stratospheric i.e. painful levels.  Played this yesterday and once again, the vinyl sounds killer.  Huge soundstage and D E E P bass.  I am running a Rega 2 through a Marantz 2245 and Klipsch KG4s + ADS 520s and the place was rocking . . . or should I say swaying.  Anyway, it sounded great.

There are so many great tracks and grooves on this album, my favorites being Exodus, Concrete Jungle and War/No More Trouble.

A1 Positive Vibration 4:55
A2 Punky Reggae Party 5:38
A3 Exodus 7:26
B1 Stir It Up 5:11
B2 Rat Race 3:25
B3 Concrete Jungle 5:30
B4 Kinky Reggae 4:36
C1 Lively Up Yourself 6:10
C2 Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Road Block) 5:02
C3 War / No More Trouble 5:20
D1 Is This Love? 7:05
D2 Heathen 4:14
D3 Jamming 5:05