|The Vinyl Word
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Groove Note LP plus 45 Vinyl
by Todd Warnke
My first favorite record store, The Licorice Pizza, was a nice-sized place just off the main square of Lethbridge, Alberta. Located below the second-best Chinese restaurant in town -- and for a prairie town of 35,000, Lethbridge had a good many Chinese restaurants, so being second best is a high compliment -- it was a literal underground joint. It was there that I was introduced to many of my perennial faves: The Beatles, Hendrix and Neil Young, as well some short-lived annuals like Bread and The Hues Corporation. But the selection didnt stop at pop. I also bought my first Bill Evans and Tchaikovsky at the Pizza (my parents wouldnt let me listen to rock on Sundays, and the "1812 Overture" is as close to rock as I could find). Its been more than 20 years since Ive been back to Lethbridge, and I doubt that The Licorice Pizza even exists today, but my memories of it remain fresh. Theres nothing like browsing through stacks of new 12" album jackets, walls covered in posters, a $10 bill in your pocket and a world of new experiences in front of you to make you feel alive.
I reminisce because opening these Groove Note releases and hefting the thick, black slabs of vinyl reminded me of the old record stores title. No wimpy, floppy disks here. These are pressings worthy of being called a Licorice Pizza, Chicago style even. Better still, with surfaces as silent as the LA Clippers' wing of the Basketball Hall of Fame, they are shining examples of the re-birth of vinyl as the music on each rises from true black backgrounds rather than the artificial and digitally dead darkness that passes for quiet today. And very best of all, each of these sets include a separate 12" 45 RPM that reprise tracks from the LP (both the McShann and Jacintha releases also include an additional tune on the 45).
Starting with the Jacquet set, Birthday Party was recorded in 1972, at 2 in the morning while on tour in Japan. The supporting cast, Art Farmer, Kenny Burrell, Roy Haynes, James Moody, Jimmy Smith (on piano), Jack Six, Gerry Mulligan and Joe Newman, is as top drawer a pick-up band as ever existed. Best of all, with the exception of Mulligan on "On the Beach," each plays with a superb blues feel. The best track on the album, "Birthday Party Blues," is a ten-minute late-night burner that gives everyone room to solo, ending with an extended run by the leader. And, after listening to it at 33 1/3, pop on the 45 version and get even more joy. A lot of recent talk in audio has been about the difference between CD and SACD and how SACD is a serious step forward for digital, one that puts it in LP territory. True as that may be, there is almost as much difference between this LP and the 45 as there is between CD and SACD. This, folks, is music. And of such naturalness that even SACD has a ways to go yet.
The Jay McShann set is a well-deserved dip into the classic past. McShann, now in his mid-80s, found popularity in Kansas City during the late 30s. His first band included Walter Brown on vocals and a teenage alto by the name of Charlie Parker. A trip to Dallas in 1941 resulted in the hit "Confessin The Blues." Later that same year the band hit New York and the big time, at least until Uncle Sam and WWII came calling. After the war, his band gone, McShann found himself in California, and one night without a singer. A young man in the audience asked if they needed a voice and so Jimmy Witherspoon joined the band. Bringing this background to bear on the tunes, McShann plays with true-blue authority and sings with soulful conviction. Songs like "Piney Brown Blues," "Gee Baby Aint I Good To You," "Blue Monday" and "What a Wonderful World" are all rendered with directness and depth of feeling. The band, Gerald Spait on bass, Todd Strait on drums, Ahmad Alaadeen on tenor and Sonny Kenner on guitar, are eloquent and tasteful. In short, this a superb and swinging blues, distilled to its essence, and an essential recording.
Lastly, the Jacintha recording, a selection of Johnny Mercer tunes, is the most lovely. Let me first state that I am not a fan of the "beautiful woman sings beautiful songs, recorded in full audiophile sound" genre, and, fortunately, this album misses that category. Sure, Singapore-born Jacintha fits the beautiful tag, as does her voice. And the numbers certainly were and remain state-of-the-art in popular song. But Jacintha brings the soul of a jazz singer and the skill of a true interpreter to the proceedings. As famous as "Moon River," "Heres To Life," "One For My Baby" and "Autumn Leaves" are, she sings them as freshly as the day they were written. Her fellow musicians, Teddy Edwards on tenor, Kei Akagi on piano, Darek Oles on bass, Larance Marable and Joe LaBarbera on drums, Anthony Wilson on guitar, Will Miller on trumpet and Artie Butler on Hammond, all offer sensitive and inspired accompaniment, especially Edwards. And, of course, Joe Harley does his usual excellent and tasteful job of producing (he also produced the McShann album). The result is an album that steps lightly and swings with grace, but also has depth and body. Recommended then, and not just as an audiophile toy, but solely because of the music. The fact that it is a true demo album is an added, if not insignificant, bonus.
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