Laurindo Almeida Virtuoso Guitar Is — Or Can Be — An Awesome Direct to Disc

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Virtuoso Guitar is yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This White Hot Crystal Clear 45 RPM Direct-to-Disc fulfills the promise of both the direct to disc recording medium AND the 45 RPM cutting speed so much in vogue these days. We had a big pile of these pressings to play through. When we came upon this one halfway through our shootout, it was so big, so clear, so dynamic, so energetic, so extended on the top and bottom, we almost could not believe what we were hearing especially compared to the others copies we played.  

The album features classical (all of side two), jazz and pop music (there’s even a Beatles tune). It also has the kind of sound I prefer: nice and warm, with none of the razor sharpness that you get on some direct discs. An amazing recording with even better music, it’s the best Almeida album I know of and the probably the best Crystal Clear title.

Volume Is Key

This recording has very little processing or EQ boost, and the studio is somewhat dead sounding (all too common in the late ’70s). That combination can mean only one thing: If you don’t play this record loud, it will not sound right. The famous Sheffield S9 is exactly the same way. It sounds dead and dull until you turn it up good and loud. When you do, lookout — it really comes alive. The best pressings can sound shockingly like live music, something one just does not hear all that often, even when one plays records all day long as we do.

The snare drum on this copy represents one of the most realistic and dynamic sounding snares I have ever heard. Talk about jumping out of the speakers! If you have plenty of large, fast, powerful dynamic drivers like we do, you are in for a real treat. Track one, side one — lookout!

What to Listen For

What typically separates the killer copies from the merely good ones are two qualities that we often look for in the records we play: transparency and lack of smear. Transparency allows you to hear into the recording, reproducing the ambience and subtle musical cues and details that are the hallmark of high-resolution analog.

(Note that most Heavy Vinyl pressings being produced these days seem to be rather seriously Transparency and Ambience Challenged. A substantial amount of important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found. We believe that a properly mastered CD is likely to be more transparent and have higher resolution than the vast majority of Heavy Vinyl remastered pressings being produced these days.)

Lack of smear is also important, especially on a recording with so many plucked instruments. The speed and clarity of the transients, the sense that fingers are pulling on strings, strings that ring with tonally correct harmonics, are what make these kinds of records so much fun to play. The best copies really get that sound right, in the same way that the best recordings of Cat Stevens and the Eagles and Pink Floyd and so many others get the sound of stringed instruments right.

Side One

A++++ As Good As It Gets sound from top to bottom. No copy was as transparent, lively or high-rez. No copy actually did ANYTHING better, which is unusual. The distortion level is close to zero on this one. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

Side Two

With a grade of A Double Plus this copy was close to the best, falling a bit short in the area of upper midrange presence and top end. Still, there’s lots of space, the cello sounds full and rich, as does the guitar, and none of the plucked instruments suffer from smear at all. A great side, just a bit dark compared to the very best.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Yesterday
Jazz Tune at the Mission
Late Last Night

Side Two

Sonata for Guitar and Cello

All Music Guide

This extraordinary Brazilian guitarist, composer, and arranger was introduced to music by his mother, a concert pianist who gave him his first lessons. Like his sister, however, he would eventually choose the guitar as his primary instrument. As a teenager, Almeida witnessed, and participated in, a great deal of civil unrest; the experience galvanized him and fueled a lifelong passion for the politics of his native country. At age 19, he became a performer aboard the Brazilian ocean liner Cuyaba, which enabled him to travel to Europe, hear the legendary Django Reinhardt in Paris, and experience a great deal of foreign culture.

In Brazil, he formed a guitar duo named Cordas Quentes with Garoto, who he met at Radio Mayrink Veiga in Rio de Janeiro. In 1947, he went on tour with singer and actress Carmen Miranda’s band. This led him to Hollywood, where he performed on film soundtracks and appeared in concerts with violinist Elizabeth Waldo; he also composed the first of his more than 800 scores for movies and television series. He was to win Oscars for his soundtracks to The Old Man and the Sea (1958) and The Magic Pear Tree (1970). He soon joined the innovative Stan Kenton Orchestra and became a featured soloist. After three years, he established permanent residence in Los Angeles and began an astonishingly prolific recording career that was to earn him ten Grammy awards.

Almeida’s palette of stylistic and emotional expression was wide-ranging. His early ’50s Brazilliance albums with Bud Shank helped establish the bossa nova style in the States several years before the craze hit. He also recorded and toured with the Modern Jazz Quartet and was equally at home with classical and modern concert music, such as Gnattali’s Concerto de Copacabana and the Guitar Concerto of Villa-Lobos.

~ “Blue Gene” Tyranny, All Music Guide