Miscellaneous

Squeeze – If I Didn’t Love You – “Tiny Collector’s Edition” 5 Inch Single

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This is a brand new, unplayed British import pressing of the world’s smallest 7″ single — because it’s only 5″ across! The record plays at 33 RPM & has 2 songs, ’If I Didn”t Love You’ & ’Another Nail In My Heart’, two of the best songs on Argybargy.

Don’t buy this for the sound or the surfaces, buy it for the awesome coolness of having a unique Squeeze “Tiny Collector’s Edition.” 

Pat Metheny Has a Few Thoughts about Kenny G

Pat Metheny

Question:

Pat, could you tell us your opinion about Kenny G – it appears you were quoted as being less than enthusiastic about him and his music. I would say that most of the serious music listeners in the world would not find your opinion surprising or unlikely – but you were vocal about it for the first time. You are generally supportive of other musicians it seems.

Pat’s Answer:

Kenny G is not a musician I really had much of an opinion about at all until recently. There was not much about the way he played that interested me one way or the other either live or on records.

I first heard him a number of years ago playing as a sideman with Jeff Lorber when they opened a concert for my band. My impression was that he was someone who had spent a fair amount of time listening to the more pop oriented sax players of that time, like Grover Washington or David Sanborn, but was not really an advanced player, even in that style. He had major rhythmic problems and his harmonic and melodic vocabulary was extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic based and blues-lick derived patterns, and he basically exhibited only a rudimentary understanding of how to function as a professional soloist in an ensemble – Lorber was basically playing him off the bandstand in terms of actual music.

But he did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long notes and playing fast runs – never mind that there were lots of harmonic clams in them) at the key moments to elicit a powerful crowd reaction (over and over again). The other main thing I noticed was thathe also, as he does to this day, played horribly out of tune -consistently sharp.

Of course, I am aware of what he has played since, the success it has had, and the controversy that has surrounded him among musicians and serious listeners. This controversy seems to be largely fueled by the fact that he sells an enormous amount of records while not being anywhere near a really great player in relation to the standards that have been set on his instrument over the past sixty or seventy years. And honestly, there is no small amount of envy involved from musicians who see one of their fellow players doing so well financially, especially when so many of them who are far superior as improvisors and musicians in general have trouble just making a living. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of sax players around the world who are simply better improvising musicians than Kenny G on his chosen instruments. It would really surprise me if even he disagreed with that statement.

Having said that, it has gotten me to thinking lately why so many jazz musicians (myself included, given the right “bait” of a question, as I will explain later) and audiences have gone so far as to say that what he is playing is not even jazz at all. Stepping back for a minute, if we examine the way he plays, especially if one can remove the actual improvising from the often mundane background environment that it is delivered in, we see that his saxophone style is in fact clearly in the tradition of the kind of playing that most reasonably objective listeners WOULD normally quantify as being jazz. It’s just that as jazz or even as music in a general sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of playing that we historically associate with professional improvising musicians. So, lately I have been advocating that we go ahead and just include it under the word jazz – since pretty much of the rest of the world OUTSIDE of the jazz community does anyway – and let the chips fall where they may.

And after all, why he should be judged by any other standard, why he should be exempt from that that all other serious musicians on his instrument are judged by if they attempt to use their abilities in an improvisational context playing with a rhythm section as he does? He SHOULD be compared to John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter, for instance, on his abilities (or lack thereof) to play the soprano saxophone and his success (or lack thereof) at finding a way to deploy that instrument in an ensemble in order to accurately gauge his abilities and put them in the context of his instrument’s legacy and potential.

As a composer of even eighth note based music, he SHOULD be compared to Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver or even Grover Washington. Suffice it to say, on all above counts, at this point in his development, he wouldn’t fare well.

But, like I said at the top, this relatively benign view was all “until recently.”

Not long ago, Kenny G put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year old Louis Armstrong record, the track “What a Wonderful World”. With this single move, Kenny G became one of the few people on earth I can say that I really can’t use at all – as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music.

This type of musical necrophilia – the technique of overdubbing on the preexisting tracks of already dead performers – was weird when Natalie Cole did it with her dad on “Unforgettable” a few years ago, but it was her dad. When Tony Bennett did it with Billie Holiday it was bizarre, but we are talking about two of the greatest singers of the 20th century who were on roughly the same level of artistic accomplishment. When Larry Coryell presumed to overdub himself on top of a Wes Montgomery track, I lost a lot of the respect that I ever had for him – and I have to seriously question the fact that I did have respect for someone who could turn out to have such unbelievably bad taste and be that disrespectful to one of my personal heroes. (more…)

How Much Better Sounding Is a Stradavarius? A Primer on How to Get to the Truth (Which Works for Records Too)

A skeptical take on an old claim, using the Gold Standard of Double Blind Testing.

We evaluate records using something like double blind testing in the record shootouts we do five days a week. It’s what makes us unique in the world of record dealers and collectors. We allow the records to speak for themselves.

With the evaluation process we use, there can be no influence or bias from the reviewer’s preconceived notion of what pressing should sound best, because the person sitting in the listening chair does not have any way to know which pressing is actually playing.

This is not quite true for audiophile pressings, since the VTA must be adjusted for their thicker vinyl. The way such evaluations are done is simple enough however. We play a top quality Hot Stamper pressing, typically one that received a grade of White Hot (A+++), check the notes for what the test tracks are and what to listen for, and then proceed to test the Heavy Vinyl pressing on those same tracks, listening for those qualities.

It rarely takes more than a few minutes to recognize the myriad faults of the average audiophile pressing.  When played head to head against an exceptional vintage LP, the audiophile pressing’s shortcomings become all too obvious. Again and again, the audiophile pretender is found to be at best a second- or  third-rate imitation of the real thing, if not downright awful.

How the sound of the modern remastered mediocrity has managed to impress so many self-identified audiophiles is shocking to those of us who have been working to get the best sound from our records for a very long time, developing both our systems and our critical listening skills over the decades.

In defense of these surprisingly easily-impressed audiophiles, I should point out that even we were fooled twenty years ago by many of the Heavy Vinyl records produced around that time, such as those on the DCC label and some by Speakers Corner, Cisco and others. It took twenty years to get to where we are now, taking advantage of much better equipment, better cleaning technologies, better room treatments, and the like, most of which did not even exist in 2000.

A turning point came in 2007 with the Rhino pressing of Blue, a record that made us ask, “Why are we selling records that we would not want to own or listen to ourselves?”

In closing, there is one fact that cannot be stressed enough, which may seem like a tautology but is nevertheless axiomatic for us: Doing record shootouts, more than anything else, has allowed us to raise our critical listening skills to the level needed to do proper shootouts.

Without that process, one which we painstakingly developed over the course of the last twenty-five years, we could not possibly do the work we have set out for ourselves: to find the best sounding pressings of the most important music ever pressed on vinyl.

Pitchfork’s Review of the New Roxy Music Box Set

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(The sound is surely mediocre at best, but Tom Ewing has written a beautiful piece here about one of my favorite bands of all time.)

 

This career-spanning box set to mark Roxy Music’s 40th anniversary is often startling, usually wonderful, and more affecting than expected. It’s also fascinating as the story of a gradual hardening of an elegant, enigmatic persona, of Bryan Ferry’s transformation from art-school pop star to self-made sphinx.  

In their 1970s heyday, Roxy Music enjoyed enormous critical and commercial success, but even so, they and their art-school rock were admired more than trusted. American critics snipped at leader Bryan Ferry’s arch romanticism, while the Brit press considered the models Ferry squired and the suits he doffed and dubbed him “Byron Ferrari”. Almost everyone affirmed that the band were great, while disagreeing as to when, exactly. For some, the great achievement was 1982’s farewell, Avalon– impeccably designed pop for weary grown-ups. Others went a decade further back, to the early, playfully experimental albums Roxy released when Brian Eno was in the band, playing androgyne peacock to Ferry’s tailored lothario. Whether you see their development between those points as progress or cautionary tale, it’s easy to let this contrast define the band.

This box set of remasters to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary– not lavish, but thorough and reasonably priced– is an opportunity to break free of narrative and see what sets every phase of Roxy Music apart. The answer is Bryan Ferry, one of rock’s great, sustained acts of self-definition. In classic 70s style, like Bowie or Bolan, Ferry invented a pop star. A sybarite with a plummy, awkward croon, gliding through his own songs like they were parties he’d forgotten arriving at. A flying Dutchman of the jet set, doomed to find love but never satisfaction. Having worked his way into character over an album or two, he simply never left it, becoming more Bryan Ferry with every record and every year, whether performing or not.

Which might have been insufferable, except Ferry’s performances could hit an emotional core nobody else in rock was getting near. He made enervation his own– a real, neglected feeling, if a hard one to sympathise with. On Avalon’s title track he puts it plainly: “Now the party’s over/ I’m so tired”. Roxy were never drained by hangovers or comedowns, more by moments of rueful self-knowledge. But you hardly needed lyrics to spot it: from first to last, Roxy Music scattered moments of exquisite exhaustion through their songs. The hanging chords on the intro to early single “Pyjamarama”, as if the song can’t decide whether to get out of bed. The smothering synthesised pall of “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”, from their masterpiece, 1973’s For Your Pleasure. The hilariously overwrought dolour of “A Song For Europe”. Or the band rousing themselves on “Just Another High” for a quixotic chase after one last thrill, futility nipping at their heels.

That song, closing out 1975’s Siren, was one of the great career-ending statements. Except Roxy reformed and returned– a three year break counted as a split in the frenzied 70s– for a trio of albums that explored ennui in ever smoother, prettier, and more laconic ways. They restarted well. The glowering, compelling title track from 1979’s Manifesto promises a meaner and darker band than we ever quite got. But the later material isn’t always worthwhile. There are moments on 1980’s Flesh and Blood, in particular, where the band stop sounding tired and start sounding bored, a fatal difference. There are also moments, like Avalon’s “More Than This” and “To Turn You On”, where the entropic gloss is a feint to let heartbreaking loneliness get in close and floor you. The ultimate late Roxy Music song, oddly, might be their cover of “Jealous Guy”, released after John Lennon’s murder. Here genuine loss is paid tribute by studied melancholy, soul-baring replaced by poised regret, and in the greatest tribute a narcissist could pay the song stands revealed as a Roxy tune all along.

Exhaustion was Roxy Music’s speciality, but if it was all they could do they’d be a footnote. The band earn their ennui by convincing us how hard they can party. The superb mid-70s albums in particular– For Your Pleasure, Stranded, Country Life and Siren– are giddy, muscular displays, and vicious when they need to be. They’re also Ferry’s peak as a vocalist: by Stranded (also from ’73) he’d found his voice but hadn’t settled into the lounge lizard comfort zone, and was confident playing things staccato, mocking or sentimental. More importantly, his band had the same freedom to roam. If they lack the impertinent invention of the Eno years, these records are generous with opportunities for Roxy Music’s lynchpins– Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Eddie Jobson– to shine and stretch. When they reach full steam behind an inspired Ferry, on “The Thrill of It All”, “Street Life” or “Mother of Pearl”, it’s the best, most exciting music the band created.

Eno’s departure, as he himself admitted, helped Roxy become that more focused, energized band. But his contributions had been colossal. Eno helped Ferry mutate his songs into referential collages and eerie synthscapes, and that experimentation gave the early Roxy their identity. He’s easier to spot on their flashy, daring self-titled 1972 debut, the inventiveness of songs like “Ladytron” and “The Bob (Medley)” helping cover up rattly production. But For Your Pleasure is a greater testament to Eno’s importance: it’s hard to imagine an album that better exploits the tension between two fast-diverging creativities. Its best tracks play games with sincerity and emotional tone: the preposterous schmaltz of “Beauty Queen” resolving into real anguish, while “In Every Dream Home an Heartache” lurches from creepiness to hilarity. Speculating on what would have happened if Eno had stayed with Roxy Music past two albums is wistful fun. But once you’ve squeezed nine-minute krautrock jam “The Bogus Man” and light-footed pop manifesto “Do the Strand” into the same space, and made it work so magnificently, where do you go? Besides, Ferry needed room to obsessively refine himself.

What they lost, over time, wasn’t so much inventiveness as playfulness. Country Life (1974), in particular, is an album of delightful variety– the genre pastiche of “Prairie Rose”, the gothic folly of “Tryptych”, the gentle reflection of “Three and Nine”. None of these survived the three-year gap. The box set has two discs of non-album material– singles, mixes and edits– including all the instrumentals they put on B-Sides. Relaxed studio goof-offs (“Hula Kula”, “Your Application’s Failed”) give way to portentousness (“South Downs”) as Ferry, or the group, evolve, and it’s a shame. There were trade-offs, of course. The final records may not be so much fun but Ferry had found an occasional knack of crafting brilliant, swooning radio choruses– “Dance Away”, “Oh Yeah”, and “More Than This” fully deserve their thrones in AOR Valhalla.

Direct Roxy Music copyists are few, but their themes– romantic gloom, and the weariness of hedonism– will be pop-relevant as long as self-conscious twentysomethings get famous, or want to. The music on this box set is often startling, usually wonderful and more affecting that you might have expected. But it’s also fascinating as the story of a gradual hardening of an elegant, enigmatic persona, Bryan Ferry’s transformation from art-school pop star to self-made sphinx.

Thought for the Day – Getting Older and Losing Patience

I’ve observed an interesting development in the world of record collecting, one that seems to be true for both myself and many of my customers.

As I’ve gotten older I find I have more money, which allows me to buy higher quality goods of all kinds, especially records. At the same time I seem to have much less tolerance of mediocrity, as well as less patience with the hassle of having to do  too much work to find a record that’s truly exceptional, one that actually will reward the time and effort it takes to sit down and listen to it all the way through.

As a consequence, if I’m going to play a record, I’m going to make sure it’s a good one, and I don’t want to have to play five or ten copies to find the one with the magic.

We actually do play five or ten copies of every record  because it’s our business, but I sure don’t have the patience to go through all that for my own personal listening the way I used to twenty years ago. Of course, that’s precisely what taught me what I know about records today, and how I learned to find the one with the magic, but it sure would be hard to start all over again at this age (I’m 65). (more…)

The Day the Music Burned

The Day the Music Burned

Jody Rosen

1. ‘The Vault Is on Fire’

The fire that swept across the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood on Sunday, June 1, 2008, began early that morning, in New England. At 4:43 a.m., a security guard at the movie studio and theme park saw flames rising from a rooftop on the set known as New England Street, a stretch of quaint Colonial-style buildings where small-town scenes were filmed for motion pictures and television shows. That night, maintenance workers had repaired the roof of a building on the set, using blowtorches to heat asphalt shingles. They finished the job at 3 a.m. and, following protocol, kept watch over the site for another hour to ensure that the shingles had cooled. But the roof remained hot, and some 40 minutes after the workers left, one of the hot spots flared up.

The fire moved quickly. It engulfed the backlot’s famous New York City streetscape. It burned two sides of Courthouse Square, a set featured in “Back to the Future.” It spread south to a cavernous shed housing the King Kong Encounter, an animatronic attraction for theme-park visitors. Hundreds of firefighters responded, including Universal Studios’ on-site brigade. But the fire crews were hindered by low water pressure and damaged sprinkler systems and by intense radiant heat gusting between combustible structures.

Eventually the flames reached a 22,320-square-foot warehouse that sat near the King Kong Encounter. The warehouse was nondescript, a hulking edifice of corrugated metal, but it was one of the most important buildings on the 400-acre lot. Its official name was Building 6197. To backlot workers, it was known as the video vault.

Shortly after the fire broke out, a 50-year-old man named Randy Aronson was awakened by a ringing phone at his home in Canyon Country, Calif., about 30 miles north of Universal City, the unincorporated area of the San Fernando Valley where the studio sits. Aronson had worked on the Universal lot for 25 years. His title was senior director of vault operations at Universal Music Group (UMG). In practice, this meant he spent his days overseeing an archive housed in the video vault. The term “video vault” was in fact a misnomer, or a partial misnomer. About two-thirds of the building was used to store videotapes and film reels, a library controlled by Universal Studios’s parent company, NBCUniversal. But Aronson’s domain was a separate space, a fenced-off area of 2,400 square feet in the southwest corner of the building, lined with 18-foot-high storage shelves. It was a sound-recordings library, the repository of some of the most historically significant material owned by UMG, the world’s largest record company.

Aronson let the phone call go to voice mail, but when he listened to the message, he heard sirens screaming in the background and the frantic voice of a colleague: “The vault is on fire.” (more…)