Vinyl

33.3rpm or 45rpm records.

Tres Hombres

6 Aug 2014
ZZ Top
Vinyl
Warner Bros

It’s heart warming to see that the vinyl revival is making an impression on labels like Warner Bros, labels with a back catalogue that’s truly worth plundering. Tres Hombres was the album that put ZZ Top on the map in the US and produced one of their finest songs ever in La Grange. It was the first album engineered by fellow Texan Terry Manning (Led Zeppelin, Joe Walsh, Joe Cocker etc) which might explain why it sounds better than its predecessors.
Unlike the albums and videos that made ZZ Top huge in the eighties Tres Hombres is pure guitar, bass and drums with the occasional second guitar line, it’s devoid of drum machines and rich in tone. And few do tone better than axeman and songwriter Billy Gibbons, the sound he gets on here is to die for and none more than on La Grange and Hot, Blue and Righteous. These down tempo pieces are contrasted by several classic blues rock work outs including the opener Waitin’ for the Bus and Jesus Just Left Chicago, alongside the more left field Sheik. There are different styles but very little fat on this particularly juicy sonic steak.
This release has a bass heavy EQ reminiscent of US style mastering that will suit some systems better than others but it doesn’t get in the way of some of the finest blues rock ever committed to vinyl.

Formats also available: 
CD

Slowly Rolling Camera

4 Mar 2014
Slowly Rolling Camera
Vinyl
Gearbox/Edition

I visited the Gearbox vinyl mastering studio a while back and was very impressed with its dedication to vintage tube powered, analogue equipment. The fact that they use an Audio Note monitoring system might give you some idea of the degree of dedication to the cause, there can be few such facilities on the planet. Most of Gearbox’s catalogue has been vintage jazz recordings from the BBC archives, which is all top gear (so to speak) but the nature of the recordings means that you don’t get the full flavour of what the studio is capable of. This changed last year when Jeremy Cooper cut this debut for British band Slowly Rolling Camera, a modern recording that reveals all of its tonal glory on this spectacular slab of vinyl.
SRC are the closest thing I’ve heard to a personal favourite The Cinematic Orchestra, that is juicy double bass, strong rhythms, a soul jazz vibe and plenty of keyboards, strings, and a fabulous voice. That voice belongs to Dionne Bennett who also writes the lyrics, the compositions are by keyboard player Dave Stapleton and ‘sound design’ and electronics by Deri Roberts, and he’s not a bad designer, the final full timer is drummer Elliot Bennett. The efforts of this foursome are embellished by a string section, brass, guitar, synths and the aforementioned bull fiddle. They make a glorious sound on the eight tracks presented, the style is oft anthemic and the themes are generally straightforward but executed with considerable attention to detail. At the end of the day it’s the sound that takes the biscuit and to use contemporary parlance, it’s epic.

Formats also available: 
CD, FLAC download

Tijuana Moods

12 Nov 2013
Charlie Mingus
Vinyl
RCA/Speakers Corner

What would sound like processed cheese in any one else's hands comes across with verve, wit and an effortless joie de vivre when Charlie Mingus takes the reins. The title alone might be enough to put many off today but that's only because it's associate with so much schmaltz, it must have been a bit more hip back in 1957 when Mingus recorded this in RCA Victor's Studio A, New York. It took the company five years to release it and yet still sounded so fresh that Downbeat gave it maximum honours.
The name is truly indicative of the inspirational source, these are Mexican folk songs in essence and not disguised as anything else, yet Mingus and his ensemble imbue them with an intensity rarely captured on record. The band consists of Shafi Hadi (listed as Curtis Porter, alto sax), Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Clarence Shaw (trumpet), Bill Triglia (piano), Frankie Dunlop (percussion), Danny Richmond (drums), Ysabel Morel (castanets) and Lonnie Elder on vocals, of which there aren't many. Not exactly an all star line up but as Mingus put it Shaw was a "super-improviser" and Knepper a "technical ace". The original sleeve notes indicate that Mingus was going through the doldrums when he wrote these tunes and had visited Tijuana as a sort of antidote, this state of mind is what gives the flamboyant music its inner depth. The five tunes may not sound like the blues but that is their core, the liveliness is a diversion, a superbly played one that nearly convinces the listener. But if that was all there was too it it wouldn't sound so engaging today. Speaker's Corner have done a superb job with this reissue, it sounds dynamic, open and vibrant. The original recording was top notch but you won't get the energy from any of the digital issues that are available, nor any but the rarest vinyl pressings.

Salmesykkel

27 Nov 2012
Moskus
Vinyl
Hubro

What is it about scandinavians and jazz? They are all at it and an awful lot are rather good, this debut from Moskus puts them in the latter category. A piano trio whose members are in their early twenties Moskus ispianist Anja Lauvdal, double bass player Frederik Luhr and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo, all three are alumni of the Trondheim Conservatory of Music and two have been in Swedish rock bands. So this is by no means straight ahead jazz but it it is influenced by it and occasionally reveals that bedrock, more often however it is free flowing, loose and intuitive. Ocasionally introspective, sometimes outgoing but never aggressive nor humdrum, Moskus makes natural, organic music that slots into the jazz genre not least by virtue of the instruments played. It owes something to est and Tord Gustavsen but equally to Jaga Jazzists the Norwegian neo proggers, but essentially carves its own initials into the park bench that is nordic jazz.

I am particularly taken with the piano playing of Lauvdal, maybe it's because female pianists who don't sing are so rare in this field but she seems to bring a playful effortlessness to the sound that is all to rare in this sphere. The vinyl pressing gives this album a real head start, it sounds gorgeous with rich tone and no sense of digital grain although it was presumably recorded on a hard drive. A salmesykkel by the way is a hymn bicycle which apparently what nordic types call a harmonium/reed organ/pump organ, but there are none of those here.

Jason Kennedy

 

 

Formats also available: 
CD, MP3 download

Reckoning

16 May 2012
Grateful Dead
Vinyl
Analogue Productions
Grateful Dead - Reckoning

This is album is a veritable hens tooth, a fantastic performance by an immensely talented band that was recorded at such a high standard that its stands out a mile over 30 years later. It reveals just how great the Dead were in 1980, playing live in front of very enthusiastic audiences on the east and west coasts of the US. You can understand why the fans were having so much fun, the playing is phenomenal, the songs beautiful, rousing, sad and thrilling and the sound just perfect.

It helps that most of the instruments are acoustic, only the bass is a solid bodied instrument, and it clearly helps that this band had some of the finest engineers in the business in Dan Healy and Betty Cantor-Jackson. But the final blessing is that Analogue Productions has had the wisdom to pick out this album and pay attention to all the critical details of its mastering and pressing. The result is considerably more vibrant, alive and immersive than my original copy. If you close your eyes and you can still pick out the speakers then there’s something wrong with the set-up. Take my word for it this is special, and that applies even if you’re not a Dead head.

Jason Kennedy

 

Formats also available: 
CD

Blues for Allah

28 Jan 2012
Grateful Dead
Vinyl
Audio Fidelity
Grateful Dead - Blues for Allah

This 1975 foray by the greatest hippy band to ever play the pyramids was the closest they ever came to jazz rock. Inevitably it’s not that close but there are quite a few instrumental pieces among its dozen tracks and some pretty sharp playing. There aren’t any saxophones either but a flute takes the lead on one tune. So maybe jazz rock isn’t quite right jazz blues better sums it up. Either way it’s a stonking album that really comes to life on this Audio Fidelity remaster, I’ve not got the standard vinyl but have tried to get into the CD many a time and given up, with this pressing it was effortless.It’s pretty noodly for the Dead and it sounds like there are far fewer tracks than are listed because they usually segue and have a modal theme that recurs across each side. The appeal lies in the quality of playing which is quite superb, tight but supple and immensely fluid it’s enough to make you reassess the band. The tone on this pressing is gorgeous, the sort of sound that bands today would kill for but due to the presence of the computer in the production process are unlikely to really find. Nor will many be afforded the heavyweight gatefold sleeve that enhances this superb pressing.Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
CD

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