George Benson: “The Other Side of Abbey Road”

The Beatles’ final studio album Abbey Road was released on LP in the United States on September 26, 1969. As will be discussed after the jump, audio-industry maven Philip O’Hanlon has pulled together (under the “Magnum Opus Rediscovered” banner) a coast-to-coast Abbey Roadlistening party” for Saturday, September 28, 2019, in which 40 audio dealers will play the remastered album on “fine audio” (or “high end”) equipment, from 3:00 to 6:00 PM (local times).

Which is all fine and good. But I for one wish that the participating audio shops would extend the duration of their events by not all that much time (32 minutes), and spin what is to my mind, far and away, the best Abbey Road cover album ever, George Benson‘s woefully under-appreciated The Other Side of Abbey Road. Will they, won’t they? Matters not. It’s easy to add this gem to your collection!

Starting only three weeks after Abbey Road‘s US début (October 22-23 & November 4-5, 1969), producer Creed Taylor (who produced this record for Herb Alpert’s label A&M) convened a rather astonishing gathering of participating musicians at engineer Rudy van Gelder’s legendary studio. Don Sebesky was in charge of their comings and goings, in that he was the arranger. (Benson sang, as well as playing guitar.)

How’s this for an (incomplete) lineup? Ray Barretto, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Bob James, Hubert Laws, Idris Muhammad, George Ricci (brother of Ruggiero Ricci), and Emanuel Vardi? More information (and sound samples) after the jump. Continue Reading →

Rick Beato: A Musical and Audio Analysis of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”

Through Arturo Delmoni, I got to know Boris Goldovsky (1908-2001). I treasured our get-togethers and phone chats (and I also did some intellectual-property legal work for him). Although our acquaintance was, by most measures, rather fleeting, the time I spent with Mr. Goldovsky had an outsized effect on me. Just to shake hands with someone who, as a child, had fled Moscow with his mother during the October Revolution… . To say nothing of the fact that, before his small-‘e’ evangelical endeavors had had the result that, in the United States, his name would be inextricably intertwined with the concept of “Opera,” the young Boris Goldovsky’s piano teacher in Berlin had been Artur Schnabel.

Therefore, through Schnabel’s teacher Theodor Leschetizky, there are, in total, only four people shaking hands between Beethoven and me. (That’s because Leschetizky’s teacher Carl Czerny had been a student of Beethoven’s. So, the handshake chain goes: John Marks-(1)Mr. Goldovsky-(2)Schnabel-(3)Leschetizky-(4)Czerny-Beethoven.) And, not to lay it on too thick, but: the young Leschetizky’s concerto-début performance was conducted by… Mozart’s son.

Mr. Goldovsky’s claim to widespread fame (as distinct from his reputation among opera cognoscenti) was his intermission feature during the Saturday-afternoon live radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, which were sponsored by Texaco, the gasoline company. (He also hosted the “Opera Quiz” feature for a time.) Mr. Goldovsky would sit at the piano (a Knabe in a rehearsal room, which always made me well-disposed to that maker) and give a live “Musical and Dramatic Analysis of (the name of that Saturday’s opera).” Those features were brilliant, as well as witty. As examples, here he is on the operas Esclarmonde and Lulu.

I will never forget Mr. G’s quip that, for all his musical creativity, Wagner seemed not to have a clue about population genetics (a reference to the brother-sister twins Sieglinde and Siegmund’s being the incestuous parents of Siegfried). I think it fair to say that the consensus is that Mr. Goldovsky played a major role (and perhaps the major role) in making live performances of grand opera both comprehensible to and aspirational for the broad middle of American society, from the immediately post-WWII years though the 1980s. Mr. Goldovsky also deserves much credit for championing the cause of a young African-American singer, Robert McFerrin, who became the first African-American man to sing a title role at the Met, in 1955. (Robert McFerrin’s son Robert, Jr. took the professional name Bobby McFerrin.)

Courtesy of Jack Baruth‘s personal blog, I have now become virtually acquainted with Rick Beato (pr. “Bee-ah-to”); and let me say this:

What Mr. Goldovsky was to opera (the authoritative “explainer,” par excellence), Rick Beato is to rock-and-roll.

More, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Boston: “More Than a Feeling”

The rock band Boston’s 1976 breakthrough single, “More Than a Feeling” is a song about listening to a song. Or, more precisely, “More Than a Feeling” is a song about experiencing the cascade of emotions—nostalgia, regret, and longing—set in motion by listening to one specific song.

The “old” song the songwriter has been listening to is… “Walk Away Renée.”
Quel surprise!

The year 1976 was a great year for the stereo business. Thinking about the differences in “the industry” between then and now calls to mind L. P. Hartley’s elegant turn of phrase, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

Looking back upon high-fidelity component audio’s market-share peak, Tech Hifi co-founder Sandy Ruby observed, “Electronics retailers felt better about themselves than they should have. In the glory days of audio, we were modestly successful businessmen, buoyed by a tidal wave.”

Before I turn my attention to the song at hand, I want to explore what went into building that tidal wave, so that where “More Than a Feeling” fit into it will make more sense. More, after the jump.

Continue Reading →

Singing Lightfoot in Lincolnshire

To quote Oscar Wilde: I can resist everything except temptation.

As I emerged from the narrow passageway below the tower on the ramparts of Lincoln Castle, I could not resist; I just had to sing out, in full voice:

In a castle dark, or a fortress strong,
With chains upon my feet;
You know that ghost is me.
And I will never be set free,
As long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see.

Which of course is from Gordon Lightfoot‘s 1970 song “If You Could Read My Mind.” You may also note that my daughter is doing her level best to pretend that she does not know me. And we will leave aside for the moment the question exactly how does one confine a ghost by chaining its feet? But Gordon Lightfoot, God Bless him, was never going to let common sense get in the way of an evocative, Sir-Walter-Scott-like lyric.

After the jump you will find embedded a wonderful live performance of Lightfoot’s masterpiece; some musings on Lightfoot’s place in the Pantheon of modern popular music; and more photos of our recent trip to the UK. Continue Reading →

Trio Wanderer: Schubert Trio, op. 100 & “Trout” Quintet

Trio Wanderer:
Franz Schubert, Trio, op. 100, D. 929; “Trout” Quintet, op. 114, D. 667
(
Vincent Coq, piano; Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, violin; and Raphael Pidoux, cello.
With Cristophe Gaugué, viola and Stéphane Logerot, double bass in op. 114)
CD Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908748
Streaming of these performances from the original CD releases is available from Tidal.

Trio op. 100 recorded at The Arsenal, Metz, July, 2000; quintet recorded at IRCAM Paris, June 2002. Jean-Martial Golaz, producer and engineer.

Poor Alex North. Stanley Kubrick hired him to compose a score for 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, when it came time to give the movie its première, to his embarrassed chagrin (he actually was sitting in the audience) North discovered that Kubrick had decided to ditch North’s score and stick with his own cut-and-pasted “guide” score.

Kubrick had assembled his “guide” score from a wildly disparate selection of pieces or movements—from Ligeti to Richard Strauss to Johann Strauss II to Khachaturian, and then back to Ligeti. So North, at the time a rather successful film composer whose credits included A Streetcar Named Desire, The Misfits, and Spartacus, was left holding the bag in public, at least in terms of professional reputation (and almost doubtless in various financial senses). Reportedly, Kubrick was so difficult for North to work with that North supervised the recording sessions for his score while lying in a hospital bed brought in for the purpose, because of stress-induced muscle spasms in his back.

I don’t think the same thing could have happened with Kubrick’s under-rated Thackeray adaptation Barry Lyndon. After the surprising success of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s soundtrack LP, I think Kubrick always would again decide to pick his own music—and brook no opposition. And because Barry Lyndon is a costume drama set in the mid-18th century, it is likely Kubrick did not get any pushback from studio executives about using classical (and some folk) music. For Barry Lyndon, Kubrick chose music from Irish traditional-music greats The Chieftans; and from Schubert, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Frederick the Great, Vivaldi, and Paisiello.

As I have written before, I think that the climactic third and final duel scene in Barry Lyndon inspired Ridley Scott’s penultimate scene (“Tears in Rain”) in the original Blade Runner film. Not incidentally, the final duel in the film Barry Lyndon was entirely Kubrick’s own invention; it does not appear in Thackeray’s novel.

A Trio Wanderer Schubert Trio op. 100 slow-movement live performance video, and more commentary, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie: “When the Levee Breaks” (1929)

 

The infosphere is fairly crackling with the news that the current incarnation of the musical ensemble Fairport Convention Fleetwood Mac has notified one of its elderly members that his services will not be required for their upcoming world tour. More than 40 years later, Fleetwood Mac Drama still grabs headlines.

My favorite story about Fleetwood Mac is that during the Narcissistically tumultuous (my words, not theirs) recording of their 1977 mega-album Rumours, the two remaining founding members of the band (Mick Fleetwood and John McVie) repaired to the recording studio’s parking lot to get a breath of fresh air. One of these two gentlemen, not at all at peace with the way things were then developing (at the time, the tattered remnants of the original band were being either re-energized or supplanted by a pair of newcomers), said (or perhaps it is more accurate to write, “whined”) to the other,

“You know, we used to be a blues band.”

To which the other replied, “Yeah. But now, we’re rich.”

(That riposte refers to the fact that while the group was recording Rumours, their most-recently-released recording Fleetwood Mac, which was the first album with newcomers Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, was topping the charts and already throwing off so much cash that the previously hardscrabble members of the band were buying houses in Los Angeles. But: A blues record, Fleetwood Mac was not.)

That exchange says a lot about the endgame of British popular music’s fascination with American blues music.

Intriguing history, and sound bytes, after the jump link. Continue Reading →

A Classical-Music Record Producer Remembers…

(The copyright date is 1995, despite the release date having been late 1994.)

Last week marked Arturo Delmoni’s 70th birthday. We met in 1980 through mutual friends, during the summer music festival at Rhode Island College. At the time, I was both a budding audiophile (the term was not much in use back then) and also, since my junior-high-school days, an audio-video nerd. Years before, an uncle had given me an open-reel tape recorder he was no longer using. I recorded my junior-high-school chorus in lamentable stuff such as, “If We Could Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Doolittle. (That was a 1967 film that Rex Harrison most likely did not have to live very long after, in order to regret muchly. Sigh.)

Customers of my parents’ delicatessen-café included the couple who ran the independent record label SQN (or Sine Qua Non). I chatted them up about their possibly releasing a recording to be funded and owned by Arturo Delmoni and licensed to them. The one good thing that SQN did for me (well, over and above giving me an “education” in how the music business really works) was to introduce me to engineer David Hancock.

The SQN folks recommended David Hancock because he had not yet invested in the latest digital-recording technology, and therefore his rates were lower than those of the top guys. David had invested, however, in a spanking-new Studer A80 analog tape machine, set up to use half-inch two-track analog tape running at 30 inches per second. Whew.

Now, class, a “thought experiment.”

How many people today would pay over $300 for a sealed-copy LP of Songs My Mother Taught Me, if it had been recorded using early-generation digital technology??? (It is said, that to state some propositions is to refute them.) David Hancock was also a fan of Charles Fisher’s C35 Cambridge microphones, which were, in essence, improved RCA model 44 ribbon microphones with an active proximity-effect-compensation circuit. Those were the microphones David had used on his legendary 1967 recording of Donald Johanos and the Dallas Symphony in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.

Continue Reading →

Frederica von Stade: Canteloube, Songs of the Auvergne, Album I

Frederica von Stade: Canteloube, Songs of the Auvergne, Album I (1982)
CD CBS MK 37299 (o.o.p.) and Sony Essential Classics CD 63063
(also o.o.p.; but available as just-in-time replicated from Arkivmusic)

Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano; the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Antonio de Almeida, conductor. David Mottley, producer; Peter Brown, engineer.

I treasure the wonderful folk-song orchestrations on this recording so much; I have, since it first came out on LP. However, its comparative obscurity today tempts me to think that my enthusiasm for a recording really is The Kiss of Death. This recording is Out of Print from Sony? Are you kidding me?

At least Clifford Brown With Strings and Sleeping Gypsy are still in print. Sigh.

Frederica von Stade signed up at New York’s Mannes School of Music as a part-time student in order to learn how to read sheet music—but only for her own enjoyment. Some faculty members recognized her potential, and urged her to apply for full-time status. In less time than it takes to earn an undergraduate degree, she had learned enough about singing and the repertory to audition for the Metropolitan Opera. The Metropolitan Opera immediately offered her a three-year contract; the rest, as they say, is history (a history that includes more than 75 major-label recordings).

(Despite the above’s having “the additional benefit of being the truth,” I think that if somebody were to write that story into a movie script, people would say, “Yeah, right. Get serious!”)

More info, and sound bytes, after the jump. This is a touchstone CD that is well worth the effort to find. Just find it and BUY IT! Continue Reading →

Arturo Delmoni & Yuri Funahashi: Amy Beach Violin Sonata (complete performance)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944). To quote Wiki: “She was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music, breaking a glass ceiling when her ‘Gaelic’ Symphony was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896.”

Arturo Delmoni asked me to upload not just sound bites but instead his and Yuri Funahashi’s entire recorded performance (from CD JMR 2, which a third-party seller on Amazon would like you to pay $1,526.83 for a new copy of—but there is a bottom-feeding underbidder asking only $166.99; such are the values of my back catalog on the crazy collector market).

After the jump there are: a photo of Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (as she wished to be known); m4a embeds of all four movements of her Sonata in A minor, Op. 34; and the relevant section of my liner-note essay.

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Beach!

Continue Reading →

John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” Animated Representation

John Coltrane would leave for a road trip with the Quartet carrying nothing but his horn case and the Slonimsky book.
—McCoy Tyner

John Coltrane (1926-1967) is generally recognized as one of the most significant saxophonists in music history. However, at times I wonder whether the famous phrase applied to his playing—”Sheets of sound”—actually might lead the unwary to underestimate his talent, work ethic, and achievements. Such is the problem with music-history courses graded via multiple-choice examinations. “Coltrane???” “Oh, yeah—Sheets of sound!” A bit reductive… .

In truth, Coltrane was quite a Music Theory Nerd. He owned a copy of Nicholas Slonimsky’s fearsome Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, and had memorized much of it. (That book, first published in 1947, includes more than a thousand musical examples, the majority being not in traditional Western major or minor scales.)

The title track of Coltrane’s LP Giant Steps (recorded 1959) moves through three keys separated by major thirds… hence the giant steps. The tight structuring of this brief musical gem should dispel the impression that Coltrane was just making random noises. The animated graphical representation by Michal Levy is in its own way a great work of art, too.

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