YouTube Pick (#31) – Christian McBride Trio

The Piano Trio as a genre is a long established tradition in jazz. The first Trio of note was probably The Nat King Cole Trio in the late 1930s through the 1940s. Most audience think of Nat King Cole as the smooth voice, with perfect diction, pop crooner and TV star of the 1950s and 1960s. Most music patrons don’t realize that he was a major jazz pianist way before he became famous as a pop singer. For a time the format of his trio (piano / vocals , bass and guitar)  pretty well defined the genre. Over the years many pianists including, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, have adopted that format. For whatever reason, the original iconic trio format has morphed into the Piano/Bass/Drums format of the modern era. Most jazz pianists at some time in their career front a standard Jazz Piano Trio. The Christian Mcbride Trio is one of many on the current jazz scene and, as if to break with tradition, the leader of this trio is not a pianist. Christian McBride is a bass player.  This is a trio of young, highly trained and very skilled musicians.

Christian McBride (born May 31, 1972) is an American jazz bassist, composer and arranger. He is the “go to” bass player of the past decade and has appeared on more than 300 recordings as a leader and sideman. He is a six-time Grammy award winner. The pianist Christian Sands was born on May 22, 1989 and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and later moved to nearby Orange. He started playing the piano at a very young age, and took lessons from the age of four; he commented that “I grew up with it in the house, in the classroom and on stage so it has always been a huge part of my life”. The drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (born December 6, 1982 in  Jacksonville, Florida) also is an American multi Grammy Award winner.  Owens began playing the drums at the age of 2. He has played many types of music in his younger years, centering on his experience in the church. By the time he was in his early teens, he realized that he would become a jazz musician, and received a full scholarship to study at the Juilliard School. He is active on both the New York and international jazz scene as a sideman and band leader

There are many examples on YouTube of the trio performing in a variety of settings but here are three for your enjoyment.

A Footenote for pianists –

  • In the early 1990s Mosiac Records produced an 18 CD box set entitled The Complete Capital Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio (Mosiac 138).
  • For anyone who may be interested Mosiac has also produced a 5 CD box set of Teddy Wilson Trios entitled The Complete Verve Recordings of the Teddy Wilson Trio (Mosiac MD5 -173). This is a  collection of the music from the master of elegance, Teddy Wilson, with some of the finest drummers of the day. If a drummer needs to study how to play with brushes this is the “go to” source.
  • Another Mosiac set of note is the 9 CD collection The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions 1956-1962 (MD9-246).

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Vinyl – The Medium is the Message

“The Medium is the message” …….. This catch phrase is from the writings of Marshall McLuhan. He coined it way back in the 1960s. I never really got “it” then and I am not even sure I get it now. However, the following is a reprint of an article that I came across recently and it goes a long way to explain the recent resurgence of interest in Vinyl Recordings.

WHY VINYL RECORDINGS SURVIVE IN THE DIGITAL AGE –  Don’t underestimate ritual and tactility.   …. Steven Brykman

Ask a record-collecting audiophile why vinyl is back and you may hear a common refrain: “Of course vinyl’s back! It’s a more accurate reproduction of the original! It just sounds better than digital!”

To this I reply, “Does it really, though? Or is it just EQ’d better? And since when did we start caring so much about the perfect fidelity of our recordings? I grew up—as did many of you—listening to cassette tapes on a boom box. They sounded horrible, and we loved them.”

I think the real reason for vinyl’s return goes much deeper than questions of sound quality. As media analyst Marshall McLuhan famously wrote, “The medium is the message.” In other words, “the form of a medium embeds itself in any message it would transmit or convey, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.” Nowhere does this hold truer than in the world of recorded sound.

Multi-sensory

The entire experience of vinyl helps to create its appeal. Vinyl appeals to multiple senses—sight, sound, and touch—versus digital/streaming services, which appeal to just one sense (while offering the delight of instant gratification). Records are a tactile and a visual and an auditory experience. You feel a record. You hold it in your hands. It’s not just about the size of the cover art or the inclusion of accompanying booklets (not to mention the unique beauty of picture disks and colored vinyl). A record, by virtue of its size and weight, has gravitas, has heft, and the size communicates that it matters.

Records, in all their fragility and physicality, pay proper respect to the music, proper respect to the past. They must be handled carefully, for the past deserves our preservation. They are easily scratched, and their quality is diminished as a result of those scratches. They are subject to the elements—left in the sun, they warp. Like living things, they are ephemeral.

While the process of launching Spotify and searching for a track (Any track! You have 30 million choices!) is clearly the most efficient means of listening to music, sometimes efficiency isn’t what the experience is about. Record albums are analog, the closest thing we have to the sound waves. These waves are coaxed out of a flattened, spinning disk of vinyl by a diamond. The diamond is literally taking a ride on the record. The bumps in the grooves push the diamond up and down. Everything about the process has a tactile physicality to it that differs in feel from digital services.

Steven Beeber, the vinyl aficionado and author of The Heebie-Jeebies at GBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk summed up the appeal of records this way: “As with so many things, the Luddites were right. The old ways were better. Vinyl has a richness and depth that digital media lacks, a warmth, if you will. And hell, even if it didn’t, it sure looks cool spinning on the table, and you’ve got to treat it with kindness to make it play right, so it’s more human too. As in our love lives, if you want to feel the warmth, you’ve got to show you care.”

The ritual

Beeber’s last point hits at the crux of vinyl. The cumbersome process of putting on a record is akin to a ritual, an experience that mirrors the care that artists took in creating the work. First you have to find the record—a treasure hunt which might take five or 10 minutes depending on the size and organization of your collection. When you find the record, you pull it out. You remove the album from its cover. (Or, if you’re a real stickler, you remove the album from the cover, still inside the inner sleeve. Because at some point you rotated the inner sleeve 90 degrees to prevent the album from accidentally slipping out. So you pull out the album in its sleeve.) Then you place the record gently on the turntable spindle: the hole so accurately punched that you need to push the album firmly down to get it to sit right.

The album and the turntable needle are both objects that demand your respect. The record must be freed of dust, so you get out your Discwasher D4+ System. You remove the wood-handled brush from the cardboard box. You remove the small red bottle of Hi-Technology Record Cleaning Fluid, along with the tiny red-handled needle brush, both of which are cleverly nestled inside the wooden handle. You gently sweep the needle with the brush, which produces a satisfying whooshing from the speakers.

Then you apply 3-6 drops of D4 fluid to the cloth-covered face of the wood-handled brush and rub it in with the base of the bottle. Then you place the wood-handled brush on the record, careful to orient the nap in the right direction. Then you lick a finger of the other hand, place it in the center of the record, and gently rotate the platter beneath the brush. When these tasks are complete, then—and only then—do you set the platter in motion and lower the needle—slowly, ever so slowly—onto the spinning vinyl disk.

And the music begins to play.

The lesson

The record experience suggests a few possible lessons for user-interface designers:

1) Designing for multiple senses can be more powerful than designing for just one. This is why mobile apps that incorporate sound (button clicks, etc.) and tactile sensations (haptic feedback) in addition to visual cues create greater user delight than those that are purely visual.

2) Always design in a manner appropriate for the medium.

3) Always consider the user’s state of mind. Consider every aspect of their psychology and how it might relate to the experience at hand. For instance, a person might find one experience preferable to another, because it reminds them of their childhood, or because that’s how they’ve always done it. (Case in point: my mother always preferred grinding her coffee beans with a hand-cranked grinder, because that’s how she always did it—not because she thought that the beans tasted better.) There might also be a touch of rebellion in the act of rejecting today’s technology for a simpler tool that worked just fine, thank you very much.

Not everything in life is about ease and speed. Believe it or not, sometimes people want to take longer, particularly if an experience evokes a past memory, satisfies a deep-rooted need, or fills a behavioral gap. Make anything too easy and its perceived value declines.

Some people, some of the time want the process of listening to music to demand respect from them, to offer an embodied ritual that removes us for a time from the daily humdrum of our digital existence. Speed has its place, but time spent can signal value and create a pleasant weight of meaning. There’s a reason our religious services aren’t five minutes long, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that as digital technologies continue to dominate our lives.

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Rudy Van Gelder: A Signature Sound

The three DVD set Sound Breaking was released a couple of years back. It was marketed as “The art and evolution of music recording is one of the 20th century’s untold stories” and the set was meant to set the story straight. It achieved some of that but the story was heavily slanted towards pop music and pop culture. For me the first disc, with its explorations of the Beatles, is the most interesting, while the remainder of the set about, rap, hip hop, sampling, etc, is of no interest to me. Admittedly the object of the exercise was to explore the history of pop music but in doing so it omitted at least one of the recording industry’s most notable personalities – Rudy van Gelder.  For those who are unaware of the name or his significance Rudy was responsible for recording a very significant slice of the jazz spectrum in the 1950s, 60s, and right up into the new century. He is the creator of what became known as the Blue Note Sound.

This is his Wikipedia entry:

Rudolph Van Gelder (November 2, 1924 – August 25, 2016) was an American recording engineer specialized in  jazz. Regarded as the most important recording engineer of jazz by some observers, Van Gelder recorded several thousand jazz sessions, including many recognized as classics, in a career which spanned more than half a century. Van Gelder recorded many of the great names in the genre, including  John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Grant Green  as well as many others. He worked with many record companies but was most closely associated with Blue Note Records. The New York Times wrote his work included “acknowledged classics like [John] Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, [Miles] Davis’s Walkin’, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Sonny Rollins’s  Saxophone Colossus, and Horace Silver’s Song for My Father .

In this day and age of the resurgence of vinyl recordings I think this is one of his most significant comments:

“The biggest distorter is the LP itself. I’ve made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes going simultaneously, and I’m glad to see the LP go. As far as I’m concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don’t like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That’s why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I’m not denying that they do, but don’t blame the medium.” (Audio Magazine 1995)

His fame still lives on and the following is a reprint of an article from the  now defunct Audio Magazine. It has recently been resurrected resurfaced by the editorial staff at JazzProfiles.  Steve Cerra introduces the article:

“I never thought much about the quality of the sound on the Blue Note LPs that I purchased in the 1950s and 60s. I didn’t need to. Blue Note’s sound quality was something that one could take for granted because the now, legendary Rudy van Gelder was the commanding force behind it and, as you’ll come to understand after reading the following interview, he obviously gave it a great deal of thought.

The sound on Blue Note’s albums had a “presence” that wrapped the listener in an audio environment which was dynamic and vibrant. The sound came forward; it reached out; it enveloped. Rudy made the sound seem as though it was emanating from musicians who were performing it in one’s living room. In a way, this is more than an analogy because Rudy’s initial recording studio was the living room in his parents’ home in Hackensack, NJ before he built his own studio in near-by Englewoods Cliffs, NJ.

Rudy doesn’t talk much about himself or his views on the subject of sound engineering. Fortunately, James Rozzi was able to interview him at length and publish Rudy’s responses to his questions in the November 1995 edition of the now defunct Audio Magazine.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought this rare glimpse of Rudy van Gelder discussing himself and his technical approach to sound recording would make an interesting feature for its readers. It is hard to imagine let alone conceive of what The World of Jazz would have been like if Rudy Van Gelder hadn’t been around.

James Rozzi original article (copyright protected)

“Dr. Rudy Van Gelder’s formal education was in optometry, but his heart and the majority of his professional years have been devoted full-time to the recording industry. Ask any Jazz buff about Rudy, and they’ll name him as the recording engineer responsible for all those classic Blue Note and Prestige Records, among almost countless others.

This interview, one of the very few that Rudy has granted in his 40 plus years in the business, was conducted in his Englewood Cliffs, NJ studio, a gorgeous facility just across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan. I thank him for sharing his history and his views.

It’s a given in the Jazz world that you have set the standards for Jazz recordings for the past 40 years. In an ever-changing industry, how do you continue to maintain consistent quality in your recordings?

I prefer to do my own masters, my own editing. By ‘my own,’ I mean, I want it to be done here. It’s not that I influence what it is. It’s just that I need to be involved in the whole process – up to and including the finished product – in order to give my clients what they expect of me, which is the reason why they are coming here. They agree upon that before we can do anything. This is really the only major stipulation I have, that I do the process. It’s not because it is expensive, because the expense is minimal. I purposely keep it that way because I don’t want the money to be a part of their decision. The point is that I’d like to have at least some measure of control over the finished sound before it’s sent for replication to the plant.

This is contrary to the way most studios work.

The business, at least from my point of view, has really become fragmented – more like the movie industry. There are engineers who do Jazz recording who don’t own the studio and don’t have anything to do with the maintenance, ownership or operation of the studio. They just go to a studio as a freelance engineer and use the facility for their own clients. Obviously, this is not the situation here. I own the studio, I run the studio and I maintain it. It’s my responsibility, I’m here everyday, not somebody else. It reflects me.

Being involved in the complete digital post-production is highly unusual for any studio. Would you please explain it?

Once we have gotten to the point of recording and mixing the two-track tape that has all of the tunes the client wants for the CD, the next step is to get together with the producer or the musician, whoever is in charge of the project – and sequence it. We have to put the tunes in the order that they will appear in on the CD, get all the timings in between the songs precise, and takes all the noises out. As for the medium for that, the most common medium is DAT [digital audio tape]. Now most people – including musicians and producers, except for those who work here – believe that this is a master tape. That format was not designed to be and is incapable of being a master. There are other elements required for CD replication that cannot be incorporated into a DAT. There is just no room on a DAT for the information which tells your CD player to go to track one when you put a CD in and press “play.” The information that makes this possible has to be incorporated on the CD. The DAT must be transferred to another medium that incorporates this information. This studio uses a CD-R. Prior to the CD-R, 1630 was the de facto standard. I consider that now obsolete. Most recording studios do not get involved in this process.

If most recording studios don’t get involved in digital post-production, then how is it commonly done?

The very fact that most recording studios don’t care to do it has created the existence of what are called mastering houses. They don’t have studios. They don’t even have a microphone. They just put the numbers on there and then transfer from one medium to another.

Why are you so concerned with accom­plishing this process yourself? Isn’t the equipment expensive?

Yes, it’s very expensive, very difficult to ac­quire and maintain. The problem is that there can be processing at this stage, quite extensive processing.

Intentionally changing the sound from that of the DAT?

Intentionally changing the sound! Chang­ing the loudness to softness, the highs to lows. Yes, it’s a very elaborate procedure; it is a part of the recording process that most people don’t even know exists.

Who is responsible for making the decision to alter the sound at this late a stage in the recording process?

Whoever is following the course of the pro­ject, usually whoever is paying for it or their representative. I’m now defining why I in­sist on doing everything myself. And you can extend this into the reissue process too. Reissuing is nothing but post-production. The people who were originally involved in the recording are no longer there, or they no longer own it. These mastering decisions on reissues are being made by someone else, someone affiliated with the company who now owns the material.

What are your feelings on issuing alternate takes?

Now, to me that’s just a sad event which has befallen the record industry. The rejected outtakes have been renamed “alternate takes” for marketing reasons. It’s a disser­vice to the artist. It’s a disservice to the mu­sic. It’s also rampant throughout the land, and I’m just telling you how I feel about it. I would recommend to all musicians: Don’t let the outtakes get out of your hands. Of course, that may be easier said than done.

You must be disappointed by much of what has been released as alternate takes.

Yes, when I hear some of this stuff, I’m re­minded of all the problems I had, particu­larly on these outtakes. It’s like reliving all of the difficulties of my life again. So I don’t take a lot of pleasure in that because I know I can do a lot better now, and all that does is reinforce my uneasiness. Of course, when it was a recording problem, the music was usually still so good that it was worth it to me. And the fact that it’s still being heard— in many cases being heard better than ever before—is an incredible experience. And it’s clean, with no noise. I don’t like to com­plain too much.

I feel that way very often myself, the way you described, being able to hear the music better than ever. I’m not a person who locks into the sound as closely as I do the music. The music is all-important to me, but sometimes I become distracted by how bad the sound is. It seems that a big prob­lem in translating those old recordings onto CD is the sound of the bass. It be­comes very boomy.

Well, you can’t blame that entirely on the people who are doing the mastering. That particular quality is inherent in the record­ing techniques of the time—the way bass players played, the way they sounded, the way their instruments sounded. They don’t sound like that now. The music has changed the way the artists play. Now everything has got to be loud. A loud .drum­mer today is a lot louder than a loud drummer of 30 or even 20 years ago. It’s all relative. But as far as that certain quality you’re talking about, some of it is very good, by the way. There were some excellent bass recordings made at that time because the bass player and I got together on what we were trying to do.

Considering the reverence given to the his­torical Blue Note recordings and the fact that they were accomplished direct to two-track, do you get many requests nowadays to record direct to two-track?

Usually they say, “I want to go direct to two-track like the old days.” And I say, “Sure, I’ll do that.” I can still do it, or we can record to the 24-track digital machine. As far as the musicians are concerned, regarding their performance out in the studio, that’s trans­parent to them. There’s no difference in the setup. I sort of think two-track while I’m recording and actually run a two-track recording of the session, which very often serves as the finished mix. But this is the real world now. The musicians will listen to the playback, and the bass player will say, “Gee, I played two bad notes going into the bridge of the out-melody. Can you fix that, Rudy?” Now, it used to be that when a client asked for a two-track session, I would never run a multi-track backup. They didn’t want to get involved in it, for money reasons. They didn’t want to spend the money for the tape or didn’t want to have to mix it af­ter the session. I went along with that for a long time. But the bass player would still come in, hoping to fix wrong notes, and I’d sit there like a fool and say, ‘Well, I can’t do anything about it. The producer didn’t want to spend the money for multi-tracking.’  So I decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore. I think of it as a two-track date— we’re talking about a small acoustic jazz band now, not any kind of heavy produc­tion thing—and I run a multi-track backup. Then when the bass player asks to fix a cou­ple of notes, I look at the producer or who­ever is paying for the session, and that be­comes his decision, not mine. He now has to answer the bass player.

So the final product may consist of both multi-track and two-track recordings?

That happens. Right. And my life is a lot happier. And the producers have come around a little bit too.

How did you first become affiliated with Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records?

There was a saxophone player and arranger by the name of Gil Melle. He had a little band and a concept of writing, and I recorded him. This was before I met Alfred. I recorded it in my Hackensack studio in my parents’ home. So somehow—and I was not a party to it—he sold that to Alfred to be released on Blue Note. And Alfred want­ed to make another one. So he took that recording to the place he was going. It hap­pened to be in New York at the WOR recording studios. He played it for the engi­neer, who Alfred had been using up until that time, and the engineer said, “I can’t get that sound. I can’t record that here. You’d better go to whoever did it.” Remember, I wasn’t there; this is how it was related to me. And that’s what brought Alfred to me. He came to me, and he was there forever.

Those Blue Note records, they’re just so beautiful….   Masterpieces.

Did Alfred and you work at producing those jazz masterpieces? Did he have you splice solos?

Yes, he did. He was tough to work for com­pared to anyone else. He knew what he wanted. He knew what that album should sound like before he even came into the stu­dio. He made it tough for me. It was defi­nitely headache time and never easy. On the other hand, I knew it was important, and he had a quality that gave me confi­dence in him. The whole burden of creating for him—what he had in mind—that was mine. And he knew how to extract the maximum effort from the musi­cians and from me too. He was a master at that. I think one of the reasons our relation­ship lasted so long was because he listened to what other people were doing parallel to our product. I don’t believe he ever heard anything that was better than what we were doing. I have no doubt that if he had heard someone doing it better than what I was doing, he would have gone there. But he never did, and that made it possible for me to build this studio. I knew he was always there.

Once you developed that sound, you knew exactly what to do initially. When the mu­sicians walked in, you knew right where everything should be regarding micro­phone placement and all of that. And you went from there. From that point, it was just minor alterations according to that session.

That’s very well put, and do you know why that was? Because Alfred used to come here often. He used to bring the same people out in various combinations. They all knew what I was like. Everybody would come in and know exactly where their stand was, where they would play. It was home. There were no strangers. They knew the results of what they were going to do. There was nev­er any question about it, so they could focus on the music.

Then when Bob Weinstock of Prestige Records started with you, there was that whole crowd of musicians, sometime cross­ing over personnel.

Well, Weinstock would very often follow Al­fred around, but with a different kind of project in mind. And you know, when I ex­perimented, I would experiment on Bob Weinstock’s projects. Bob didn’t think much of sound; he still doesn’t. He doesn’t care. So if I got a new microphone and I wanted to try it on a saxophone player, I would never try it on Alfred’s date. Wein­stock didn’t give a damn, and if it worked out, great. Alfred would benefit from that.

I’ve always thought of the Prestige dates as a more accurate indication of what was happening in the clubs. Although I know that after a Blue Note session wound down, the musicians could go out into the clubs and play original tunes, with Pres­tige it was mostly standards. That’s what they went out and jammed on. And that deserves documentation as well.

Absolutely. I agree with that, and I’ve said so, though not as well as you did. I wouldn’t want the world to be without them. There are people who say that the difference be­tween Blue Note and Prestige is rehearsal. That’s just glib. That’s bullshit. That’s not even a fair way to put it. It resulted in a lot of my favorite recordings. You know, those Miles [Davis] Prestige things … they can’t hurt those things. It’s really one of the most gratifying things I’ve done, the fact that people can hear those. It’s really good.

When you were in the control booth listen­ing to the sessions, were you ever aware that those sides would end up as classics?

Well, you can’t see into the future. I had no way of knowing that. But I knew every ses­sion was important, particularly the Blue Note stuff. The Blue Note sessions seemed more important at the time because the procedure was more demanding. But in ret­rospect, the Prestige recordings of Miles Davis, the Red Garland with Philly Joe Jones, the Jackie McLean and Art Taylor, the early Coltrane—sessions like that—turned out to be equally if not more important. I always felt the activity we were engaged in was more significant than the politics of the time, to the extent that everything else that was happening was unimportant. And I still feel that way. I treat every session … every session is important to me.

Have you done any classical or pop?

There was a long period of time parallel to those years when I was working for Vox, a classical company. I would get tapes from all over Europe and master those tapes for release in this country. I did that for 10 years or more. So I had three things going: Blue Note, Prestige, and Vox. Each of them was very active. And I did some classical recordings: Classical artists, solo piano recordings, a couple of quartets.

How about pop?

A lot of that popular stuff came with Creed Taylor later in the ’70s. He was oriented more toward trying to commercialize jazz music. You’re familiar with his CTI label? That’s another world altogether. That’s when we started to be conscious of the charts. I love the sound of strings, particu­larly the way Creed Taylor handled them with Don Sebesky. And I love an exciting brass sound too. Creed is a genius as far as combining these things that we’re talk­ing about. I’m not at all isolated in the world of a five-piece be-bop band. As a matter of fact, sonically, this other thing is more rewarding.

What are your feelings on digital versus analog?

The linear storage of digital information is idealized. It can be perfect. It can never be perfect in analog because you cannot repro­duce the varying voltages through the dif­ferent translations from one medium to an­other. You go from sound to a microphone to a stylus cutting a groove. Then you have to play that back from another stylus wig­gling in a groove, and then translate it back to voltage. The biggest distorter is the LP it­self. I’ve made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes go­ing simultaneously, and I’m glad to see the LP go. As far as I’m concerned, good rid­dance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don’t like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engi­neer. That’s why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I’m not denying that they do, but don’t blame the medium.

A lot of people argue that digital is a cold­er, sterile sound. Where do you think that comes from?

Where does it come from? The engineers. You’ve noticed they’ve attributed the sound to the medium. They say digital is cold, so they’ve given it an attribute, but linear digi­tal has no attributes. It’s just a medium for storage. It’s what you do with it. A lot of this has to do with the writing in consumer magazines. They’ve got to talk about some­thing. What should be discussed is the way CDs are being marketed as 20-bit CDs, but there is no such thing as a 20-bit CD. Every CD sold to the public is a 16-bit CD. You can record 20-bit and it is better than 16-bit, but it has to be reduced to 16-bit before you can get it onto the CD. History is re­peating itself. It reminds me of when they marketed mono recordings as “re-mastered in stereo.” All they did was put the highs on one side, put the lows on the other, and add a lot of reverb to make it believable. Then they’d sell it as a stereo record.

Do you feel today’s jazz musicians stack up to the players of the 1950s and ’60s, Blue Note’s heyday?

Well, there are a lot of great kids around. You know, technically they’re great. I feel they’re suffering from a disadvantage of not being able to play in the kind of environ­ment that existed then. You don’t want me to make a broad statement saying, “Gee whiz, it was better 20 years ago than it is now.” First of all, I don’t believe that. I don’t even think of it that way.

Do you see yourself as a technician and an artist?

Absolutely. When you mention the techni­cal end, the first thing I think of is making sure all the tools are working right. The artistic part is what you do with them. The artistic part involves everything in this place. There’s nothing here that isn’t here for an artistic reason. That applies to the studio. The whole environment is created to be artistic. It’s my studio and it’s been this way for a long, long time, and people like it. It’s even mellowed through the years, and people are aware of that. Musicians are sen­sitive to that. Someone came in here only yesterday and said: ‘If the walls could only repeat what has happened here ….’”

Posted by Steve Cerra (copyright protected)

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As I have previously posted a similar blog some time back I can be accused of belaboring the point. That is probably true. However, I think it is important that the reputation of a sound engineer of such prime importance as Rudy van Gelder should not be shuffled aside.

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The Haka

I have very fond memories of New Zealand. While en route to Canada in 1971 I spent over a month hitch hiking around the islands enjoying the scenery and the incredible hospitality of the people. It was my first brush with real snow capped mountains and the New Zealand version of Bush Walking known locally as Tramping. I returned there several years later with my life partner and 12 month old son. This time, once again, about to head back to Canada. We really liked New Zealand and “the itch” to travel just wouldn’t go away. We ended up in Kimberley, B.C. for a few years and finally decided to take a year long sabbatical and New Zealand was the obvious destination. We both liked the place and there were opportunities for both of us to find gainful employment. It was an opportunity for my wife to get back into the work force as a Registered Nurse. We wandered around the North Island for a bit and settled in Whangerei for the best part of six to eight months. I played the house parent, read lots of books about the Islands,  while Mae (my wife) worked at the local hospital. The climate was great, the people and life style relaxing but still we had “the itch” . We decided to move around a bit while still searching for more adventure and another place to work. We headed down the North Island to finally end up is Gisborne on the East Cape. There I had a sort of revelation. Standing on the beach at Gisborne while looking east I realized that there was no significant land mass until you hit Chile in South America. Looking south there was no significant land mass until you reached the frozen landscape of Antarctica. Looking north, for all intents and purposes, there was nothing until you reached Asia. We were standing on the edge of the world. And it really felt like it. The sensation was almost over whelming. With the island at our back the great wide Pacific Ocean stretched North, South and East for thousands and thousands of  kilometers’. I found Whakatane Heads 15 3 2006.JPGthat intimidating. Somewhat humbled by the experience we head back into more populous region of the island. We decided that Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty area possibly offered the best chances for employment and, that may have been true, but the catch in the scheme was trying to find a place to live. We could not find a place to put down even temporarily while looking for employment. Staying in hotels was not an option. Despite the attractions of this heartland of Maori culture we decided that with only a few months of the sabbatical left we should head off and visit relatives in Australia. With some reluctance that is what we did.

New Zealand must be one of the few places in the new world where the indigenous people and culture have left an acknowledged  mark on the white man. Over the two centuries of contact the white inhabitants of New Zealand have been enriched with an infusion of Maori culture. So when I recently stumbled on the following YouTube videos of the Maori Haka it all came flooding back.The kids singing mass in Maori; the Polynesian rhythms that infuses jazz bands that play in the pubs; The incredible musicality of the Maori; The young Maori with tribal tattoos; It was like I was still there.  When I watch these videos and I immediately get choked up almost to point of tears.

For those that are unaware ….. “The haka is a ceremonial dance or challenge in Maori culture. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. Although commonly associated with the traditional battle preparations of male warriors, the Haka have been performed by both men and women, and several varieties of the dance fulfill social functions within Māori culture. Haka are performed to welcome distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

New Zealand sports teams’ practice of performing a haka before their international matches has made the Haka more widely known around the world. This tradition began with the 1888-89 New Zealand Native Football Team tour and has been carried on by the New Zealand Rugby Union Team (“All Blacks”) since 1905.” …. Wikipedia.

I offer them to you for your enjoyment………

The Islands of New Zealand are at the end of the earth but still well worth an extended visit. If this has whetted your appetite for New Zealand I suggest the Film Once Were Warriors. It is a wonderful movie, a  little dark perhaps, but well worth finding and watching.

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post script: The power of the Haka after the Christchurch massacre

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Extreme (#2) – Alex Honnold : Free Solo

“In the mind of the climbing world, Honnold emerged from the goo fully formed. In 2006 nobody had heard of him. In 2007 he free soloed Yosemite’s Astroman and the Rostrum in a day, matching Peter Croft’s legendary 1987 feat, and suddenly Honnold was pretty well-known. A year later, he free soloed the 1,200-foot, 5.12d finger crack that splits Zion’s Moonlight Buttress. The ascent was reported on April 1. For days, people thought the news was a joke. Five months afterward, Honnold took the unprecedented step of free soloing the 2,000-foot, glacially bulldozed Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Croft called this climb the most impressive ropeless ascent ever done.” …. Wikipedia

THIS MUST SEE FILM WAS SCREENED AT THE KEY CITY THEATER IN CRANBROOK, THURSDAY JANUARY 17, 2019

Here are some video clips to get your attention……..

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POST SCRIPT: After having seen the film I can only say that it is an extraordinary example of documentary film making. The scenery was spectacular,the photography spell binding, the subject matter engaging and the possible outcomes emotionally terrifying. Alex is the ultimate climbing nerd and not one you would want your children or siblings to emulate. If you have an opportunity to see this film don’t miss it.

PPS: 2019/02/24 – FREE SOLO has just won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Film of 2018.

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Extreme (#1) – Motor Cycles

I have never really been into motor bikes. In my twenties I toyed with the idea of getting a bike purely to take care of my transportation needs. My uncle talked me out of it and helped me get my first car. I think it was a wise move. In my parent’s day motor cycles were big. I mean the actual bikes were big. With engines over 350ccs the government  of the day decided, probably because of insurance costs, they had to go. They raised  the registration fee (Insurance rates) to a prohibitive level and that forced the big bikes off the road. In a very short time virtually all big motor cycles disappeared off the streets of Sydney (Australia). The Japanese manufacturers took advantage of the situation and aggressively marketed small sporty bikes that captured the imagination of the youth market. The advertisements on the top forty radio shows were not too subtle with their catch phrase  “get something hot and throbbing between your legs …. hop on a Honda”. Soon the soundscape of the beach side suburbs was dominate by the mosquito buzz of 90cc Suzukis, Hondas, etc. The newer, smaller, bikes ran on a thimble full of gas  and cost next to nothing to register and insure.  They were no less dangerous. One could argue that accident rates probably increased. This was in the days of no helmets or protective gear. It was not uncommon to see a bike belting down the beach front road in Manly, manned by youth clad only in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. I lost a number of friends to deadly street crashes. There was no particular street racing culture to blame. It was just the nature of the beast – light, fast and no protection. There was a racing scene but it centered around flat track racing at one of the local arenas. I don’t know if that style of racing exists anymore. Dirt bikes probably fill that particular need for excitement these days. In flat track racing there was a simple formula. Assemble a number of bike riders on a circular cinder track and let them go at it. It was cheap, spectacular and any one with the nerve “could give it a go”. The visual spectacle of a stack of bikes roaring around a track in what was basically a controlled skid with the riders sticking their inside his leg out to slide on the cinder track and prevent the bike sliding out from under them had great visual appeal. It was crazy but bike fans loved it. Compared to the races on the Isle of Man it was positively sane.

Even back in those days I knew about the Isle of Man TT Race. One of my uncle’s employees was killed on the Isle of Man track and when you view the following videos you can see how that could happen. So called “Crotch Rockets” have their appeal but this activity is purely insane.

and now the save of the year…………

It doesn’t get any more extreme than this……..

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YouTube Pick (#30) – Kevin Crawford and John Doyle

What can I say? The whistle player is Kevin Crawford of LUNASA . That band performed here in Cranbrook about a year ago. The fiddle player who is doing nothing is Martin Hayes. He is  an outstanding fiddle player from Ireland. The guitar player is John Doyle.  There’s nobody quite like John Doyle, he is a beautiful driving rhythm player. He plays in Dropped D and he is all over the neck dropping in counter melodies, bass runs and syncopations like you wouldn’t believe. Listen to the switch up just beyond the 6 minute mark. Doesn’t that nearly unseat you? Maybe one day we will get to hear him here in Cranbrook. After all, over the years we have heard some of the great legends here in Cranbrook so why not?

What I like about this music is that there are no false theatrics. Just driving music that speaks for itself.

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YouTube Pick (#29) – Chloe Chua

By definition a Child Musical Prodigy is a young person capable of playing music at an advanced technical level with the interpretative and emotional maturity of an adult. The most famous Canadian prodigy in the recent past was pianist Glenn Gould. The most famous international prodigy, also in the recent past was Yehudi Menuhin. Both musicians started playing and performing at a very young age. Yehudi started violin lessons at age four. Prodigies are rare but not unheard of (pun intended). The big challenge for these gifted musicians is to be taken seriously and not be mistaken for “a monkey see monkey do” circus performer. Another challenge is to avoid “burn out “. A significant number of child prodigies fade into relative obscurity in later life. Having said that while their stardom is in assent in their early years it is startling to see and hear them perform. The question that always come to my mind how do they do it? While the rest of us mere mortals struggle to play a precise and accurate musical scale that can past critical muster there are children out there playing at a level that we can never achieve. It wouldn’t matter if we practiced twenty hours a day it would not happen. It’s just not fair!

Here is violinist Chloe Chua at the age of 11 accompanied by 20 year old Kevin Loh on classical guitar playing Astor Piazolla’s ‘Café 1930’ from his Histoire du Tango suite. Chua was the First Prize winner in the junior category of the 2018 Yehudi Menuhin Competition in Geneva, Switzerland. Loh, now 20, studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London for seven years (partially funded at the outset by none other than the Rolling Stones!).

As I said….. It’s just not fair.

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Heritage Lounge Song Writers Circle

 

Get a bunch of musicians together in a room, on a bus, on a train or around a camp fire it is almost inevitable that at some time during the day, the evening or night a song circle will happen. It’s just a natural way to share songs, tunes, new compositions and strut one’s musical chops. It provides an intimate atmosphere for everyone to enjoy and appreciate the music. The usual song circle happening is somewhat spontaneous  and not meant to be taken as a professional performance. But, having said that, why not? Why should only musicians have all the fun? So that was the premise of the Song Writers Circle at the Heritage Inn Lounge on Friday December7, 2018. So, with that in mind a group of musicians from a variety of back grounds came together to share their latest offerings with each other before and an appreciative audience. James Neve (song writer and classic folk/rock musician) stepped away from his band The Choice to host the evening and kick off the night with a little social commentary in his song Joe Hill. If I remember correctly Joe Hill was a Swedish immigrant to the USA in the first half of the last century and was a major organizer of the Industrial Workers of the World (The IWW, other wise known as Wobbolies). Joe came to untimely end when he was executed on November 19, 1915 in Salt Lake City Utah on charges of murder. World War I was in full swing, if that’s the right word, and at the time labor unrest was sweeping the world. Capitalist societies were running scared so it is easy to believe that the authorities manufactured a trumped up charge followed by a swift execution to get the likes of Joe Hill out of sight and out of mind.  Doug Mitchell is a former educator with a tendency towards songs of social commentary. His first offering of the evening was Laughter of the Heart. Heather Gemmell is an attractive  young woman with a back ground in hard rock / blues and mellow Blue Grass pickings on guitar, banjo and dobro. As an employee of the City of Cranbrook she has some responsibility for the maintenance of the the city’s parks and cemetery and that may have been the inspiration for her songs Ghost Town and Resting Place. I haven’t heard Heather perform for a while and for me her guitar picking seems to be going from strength to strength.Tim Ross, for the want of a better description, is an old style cowboy who has been known to rock out in the band The Bison Brothers. He is a singer/songwriter/guitar slinger who hails from Wycliffe. His day job as a natural resources consultant, which translates to “cowboy with a degree”, grants him the privilege of riding the range and making a living in the saddle. He also ranches, raising grass-finished beef. His  songwriting influences range from rock n’ roll and blues to rockabilly and cowboy songs. Naturally, as a working cowboy, his song Worktime resonates with his life experiences. Darin Welch is a singer songwriter in the classic Bob Dylan / John Prine tradition and to complete the first round of the circle he offered Transition City.

   

Round and round the circle went with more songs of social commentary, humor, nostalgia and life experiences. Songs included were I Will Never Know, A Night for Holding on, Seek the Light of Day, Please Take the Wheel (James Neve); Open Happiness – Open up a Coke, Get Use To It, Prairie Oysters, Wish I was Hung Like My Brother Dale (Doug Mitchell); Mountain Home, Kill Them Twice, One Light Sound (Heather Gemmell); Time Flies – When you are Bummed Out Too, Limousine, The Light in Your Eyes, My Baby Won’t Ride in My Truck No More (Tim Ross); A Matter of Time, Wilderness, Sparrow, Pretty Water (Darin Welch). They collectively finished up the evening with group versions of Ry Cooder’s No Banker Left Behind led by Doug Mitchell; Neil Young’s, Heart of Gold, led by James Neve; Rocking in the Free World, led By Tim Ross and finally Bob Dylan’s Wagon Wheels led by Darin Welch. It was a wonderful night of music and one I hope will be repeated again in the near future. Here are more images from the evening:

                  

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Cecile Larochelle – “Fine and Mellow”

This was the third concert in the Fall Jazz and Blues Series  and it was a fine evening of mainstream jazz with vocalist Cecile Larochelle, Don Clark (Trumpet and Fluegelhorn), Paul Landsberg (Guitar), Rob Fahie
(Bass) and Graham Tracey  (Drums). The evening kicked off with a straight ahead instrumental version of Somewhere there’s Music. Cecile  sang Sunday Kind of Love and from then on out it was an evening of mostly familiar songs with solid solos from the members of the band.  Songs included Dancing Cheek to Cheek, Thought About You, Honeysuckle Rose (featuring some great brush work on the drums and Wes Montgomery riffs on guitar), Stormy Monday, Sweet Georgia Brown (great bass solo), This Masquerade (nice Fluegelhorn solo), Roberta Flack’s Will You Love me Tomorrow?, Bye Bye Blackbird, Glory of Love / Makin’ Whoopee, Quiet Nights, Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear from me, Autumn Leaves  (with some nice Bass playing), The Nearness of You and the classic Billie Holiday Blues Fine and Mellow. 

With such a fine bunch of musicians on stage it hardly seems fair to single out any particular performer for special mention but for me to hear and appreciate Graham Tracey playing brushes on his drum kit was a real treat. I believe all drummers should have their sticks broken until such times they have mastered the art of playing brushes.


This was the last concert in the season and once again thanks should go to all the volunteers and merchants who without their support the series would not be possible.

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