Years ago we were contacted by a Russian reporter who wanted to do a story on Better Records and our Hot Stampers. How could we possibly turn down the chance to spread the word to our liberated friends on the other side of the world about these amazing sounding pressings? Note that the key feature of the article is how high the prices are. This is apparently big news in Russia, yes? The full newspaper page shows three records, each of which is many hundreds of dollars. Crazy Americans? Maybe so, but we say put that on your revolving object and spin it if you don’t believe these are the most musical records. You will see that each cent spent for them is justified.
SOUND AND COLOR
Selectors from California
Company Better Records searches and sells most the best prints of classical vinyl albums
If still one week ago you I am ready to give the sum for well written down vinylic disk, I, perhaps, have stopped on fifty dollars. The price reissue disks in the catalogue of Company Acousticsunds.com is those at the maximum. But in the same catalogue there are disks and on 20 dollars.
Purchase of disks – not cheap pleasure. But who has told, what the illness, known to us as “audiophilia” – for those who wishes to save? What component of a stereosystem take, fluctuations in the price – thousand dollars. It is possible to get a revolving object both for 500 dollars, and for 50 thousand Difference – hundredfold, thus, I assure you, what is also more dear what for, to limit the most valuable component of a stereosystem – the most musical record?
Recently I have learned, that there are records which cost in tens times more expensively. They for elites, and these elites approve, that each cent spent for them is justified.
It is a question of Californian company Better Records which main goods – Hot Stampers, Is a plate which correspond to the highest requirements of sounding.
[words missing in newspaper scan]… a way – to hear to it. You can trust only to the ears, instead of all those advertising labels which today decorate disks for audiophiles.
– Means, you listen to each disk which you then sell as hot-stamper?
– Only so.
– How many at you leaves on it of time?
– It is enough to hear to 10 seconds to define its quality. If it sounds well – we put aside it. Then we listen to it more closely and we estimate according to ours and after a sink [I think this means record cleaning] will be huge. Therefore the machine for a sink of disks also costs thousand dollars! (more…)
Presenting the poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect, a man who fancies himself an audiophile/mastering engineer.
He’s a mastering engineer in the same sense that a person who makes mud pies is a piemaker.
I have not played any of his classical albums. I have in fact only played one title, a jazz record I happen to know well, and his remastered version is no better than the other records that get an F grade for sound and find a home in our Bad Sounding Audiophile Records Section.
An extract from Steven Novella’s explanation of this psychological effect gives some background:
Dunning summarizes the effect as:
“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”
He further explains:
“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”
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, 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.
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…)
Hans Fantel lays it all out for you, circa 1963.
To read more about Dynagroove, click here.
(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.
The Day the Music Burned
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…)