[SOUNDSTAGE!] Marc Mickelson is the
Editor-in-Chief of SoundStage!
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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
January 2002

Awards Month

This month we begin what will be a tradition for each January -- listing the winners of our Reviewers' Choice Year-End Awards in addition to the best recordings of the year. This is our third year honoring those companies whose products won our awards, which will be given out at the CES and T.H.E. Expo in Las Vegas. In the past we announced the winners as we presented the awards, but this year we have decided to make a bigger splash and devote our entire January issue to the cause. The same thing is happening at our sister sites GoodSound!, Home Theater & Sound, and onhifi.com, and you'll still get to see pictures of Doug Schneider shaking hands with company representatives in Las Vegas.

I will apologize up front to our readers who visit each month for new reviews, but I also encourage you to have a second look at the reviews of the Reviewers' Choice Year-End Award winners. You may discover a gem that you overlooked the first time. And this is what writing and reading reviews is about, at least from our perspective: finding products that you want to own and enjoy. While the Internet has put a lot of good information at the fingertips of people around the world, it has also help spread bad information and outright lies.

I personally find the constant state of discussion about high-end audio, reviews and reviewers tedious -- to say the least. While there are issues surrounding audio writing (like industry affiliation) that are relevant, good reviewing involves learning as much as knowing. How often have you visited an audio chat site and read the names of a dozen different speaker makers when someone asks about a choice between two? And how often have you seen these same people castigate a reviewer for recommending a particular speaker, citing all manner of supposed conflicts as the reason? These are people who know to be sure, but they need to learn that there is more to making a useful recommendation than being able to post it in a place that others can read it.

What the Internet is very good at is calling attention to goodies that many of us might miss otherwise. And in this vein, I want to recommend a performer whose obscurity -- to me and others I'm sure -- astounds me almost as much as her playing. This recommendation comes via Nigel Fincham-Smythe, whose acerbic wit (it's acerbic when he's in a good mood) is equaled only by his good taste in audio equipment and especially music. I've traded e-mail, and barbs, with Nigel for years, but I've never given him better advice than his "You have to hear Jessica Williams" to me. He even went so far as to send me two of her CDs. What a guy!

Jessica Williams doesn't sing, but her keyboard work is something to behold. The CDs I received, Some Ballads Some Blues [Red and Blue RBCD001] and Blue Fire [Jazz Focus JFCD035], are almost as well recorded as Patricia Barber's, and the music is every bit as engaging. The list of artistic resemblances Nigel and I came up with includes Thelonious Monk ("the sheer inventiveness"), Art Tatum ("his strong right hand") and Vince Guaraldi ("his grace and lyricism"). But what is perhaps an even greater achievement is that Ms. Williams is an interesting and accomplished composer. All you'll have to do is listen to the title number from Blue Fire to know this. There are no less than five original compositions on both CDs, and they are augmented by Williams' evocative, fiery playing. My New Year's resolution is to buy more Jessica Williams CDs, which is easiest done through her website. She may even autograph them for you, as she did for the discs Nigel sent to me.

There are many ways to approach this audio avocation, but the one that will always make you happiest is to see the equipment and music for what they are: the messenger and message respectively. While we haven't been at this publishing thing for nearly as long as others, we know that most of you want to buy equipment you like, then enjoy it with the music of your choice. And with this in mind, we will begin each new year by re-recommending equipment and recordings that will get you there -- our Reviewers' Choices.

...Marc Mickelson
editor@soundstage.com


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