Issue 150



Frank Doris

This is the 150th issue of Copper! We are thrilled to have reached this milestone. It would not have been possible without our exceptional staff. I am honored and more than a little humbled to be working with such a talented group.

Putting out a magazine every two weeks isn’t easy. Well, our writers and artists are the ones who make it possible for us to keep Copper rocketing ahead, and you, the readers, are the ones who inspire us. I am continually delighted at what our writers contribute, at the covers by Cartoon Bob D’Amico that give Copper such a distinctive visual identity, at James Whitworth’s and Peter Xeni’s wry cartoons, and the images taken by our Parting Shot photographers.

Naturally, credit has to go to Paul McGowan, our enabler-in-chief, along with previous editor Bill Leebens and editorial superwoman Maggie McFalls, who were gracious beyond words in helping me climb aboard more than 50 issues ago.

You might have noticed that Jay Jay French has been absent the last few issues. That’s because he’s on a promotional tour for his new book, Twisted Business: Lessons from My Life In Rock ‘n’ Roll. Jay Jay will be back and rocking these pages again soon.

In this issue: Rudy Radelic asks: what’s in a number? 150, that is. In The Mindful Melophile, Don Kaplan offers 150 of his favorite recordings, and I list my favorite 150 rock and pop albums. Steven Bryan Bieler looks at a ranking of the best 150 albums made by women. Anne E. Johnson considers 150 years of Aida, and has an overview of multifaceted rocker David Bowie. We have two Capital Audiofest 2021 show reports from Harris Fogel and Steve Kindig. Tom Gibbs finds a new attractively-priced DAC. Ray Chelstowski interviews Don Airey of Deep Purple about their new Turning to Crime album, and I talk with saxophone master Frank Catalano.

Adrian Wu continues his series on exceptional analog recordings. Tom Methans has a conversation with Shannon Parks about the ultra-flexible Parks Puffin phono preamp. John Seetoo concludes his series on Christian music innovator and super-guitarist Phil Keaggy. Russ Welton asks which is better when it comes to speakers and subs: large or small? New contributor Jack Flory remembers when he was a boy fascinated with all things audio, and Stuart Marvin has a fond look at the 1960s musical magic of the Fillmore East and other New York venues. Ken Sander sets the wayback machine to two San Jose, California music festivals. B. Jan Montana rides ahead. J.I. Agnew concludes his series on the dazzling direct-metal-mastered DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1. We wrap up the issue with a rotating Staar, a cheesy situation, some vinyl aeronautics, and magnificent mesas.

Staff Writers:

J.I. Agnew, Ray Chelstowski, Cliff Chenfeld, Jay Jay French, Tom Gibbs, Roy Hall, Rich Isaacs, Anne E. Johnson, Don Kaplan, Ken Kessler, Don Lindich, Tom Methans, B. Jan Montana, Rudy Radelic, Tim Riley, Wayne Robins, Alón Sagee, Ken Sander, John Seetoo, Dan Schwartz, Russ Welton, WL Woodward, Adrian Wu

Contributing Editors:
Ivan Berger, Steven Bryan Bieler, Jack Flory, Harris Fogel, Robert Heiblim, Steve Kindig, Ed Kwok, Stuart Marvin, Andy Schaub, David Snyder, Bob Wood

“Cartoon Bob” D’Amico

James Whitworth, Peter Xeni

Parting Shots:
James Schrimpf, B. Jan Montana, Rich Isaacs (and others)

Audio Anthropology Photos:
Howard Kneller, Steve Rowell

Frank Doris

Paul McGowan

Advertising Sales:
No one. We are free from advertising and subscribing to Copper is free.

 – FD

From Rock to Schlock: 150 Desert Island Albums

From Rock to Schlock: 150 Desert Island Albums

From Rock to Schlock: 150 Desert Island Albums

Frank Doris

Most “desert island” record articles make the assumption that you can only take a handful of discs with you that you can’t live without. Well, since the concept of being stuck on a desert island is hypothetical and ultimately nonsensical, if I’m forced to spend the rest of my life on some sandy rock with only a volleyball named Wilson for companionship (um, not a basketball as originally mis-stated, and thank you m3 lover for pointing that out), I’m at least granting myself a big record shelf. Plus, it’s a gratuitous way to fit the “150” theme into Issue 150.

This isn’t a “best albums of all time” ranking. Muso though I am, I don’t think I’m qualified to put such a list together, and if I had to take a stab at it, it would be all-too-predictable – Sgt. Pepper, The Dark Side of the Moon, Kind of Blue, yadda yadda. This list is of my all-time favorite albums, not some edict from On High. Some would probably make someone else’s worst albums list, and I stand naked in revealing my sometimes-questionable taste. To which I can only say: ehhh?

For now, this is just a list. I will be doing mini-reviews of most or all of these albums in future issues.

I’m not including favorite singles or songs, just albums; a list of singles would easily top 1,000 (I’ll start compiling it now!) and include many more soul, R&B, funk and newer artists (James Blake’s “Say What You Will” is sticking in my head at the moment), as well as country, new wave, dance music and a lot more. I’m also cheating a bit; some of these are greatest hits collections and anthologies.

I’ve included YouTube videos of some of the perhaps lesser-known stuff.

It’s been said that the music of your youth has the most emotional resonance throughout your life. Guilty as charged.

801 Live
The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East
The Beatles, Revolver
The Beatles, Rubber Soul
The Beatles, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Be-Bop Deluxe, Axe Victim
Be-Bop Deluxe, Futurama
Be-Bop Deluxe, Sunburst Finish

Jeff Beck Group, Rough and Ready
Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath, Paranoid
Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Öyster Cult, Agents of Fortune
Blue Öyster Cult, Secret Treaties
Blue Öyster Cult, Spectres
Blue Öyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume One
David Bowie, Aladdin Sane
David Bowie, Lodger
David Bowie, Station to Station
David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Roy Buchanan
China Crisis, Autumn in the Neighborhood

Leonard Cohen, The Essential Leonard Cohen
Crack the Sky
Cream, Disraeli Gears
Cream, Wheels of Fire
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country
James Brown, Live at the Apollo
James Brown, The CD of JB: Sex Machine and Other Soul Classics
Jack Bruce, Songs for A Tailor
Ray Charles, Genius + Soul = Jazz
Ray Charles, Greatest Hits
Jim Dawson, Songman

Deep Purple, Machine Head
Depeche Mode, Catching Up With Depeche Mode
Donovan’s Greatest Hits
Eek-A-Mouse, Wa-Do-Dem


Eno, Before and After Science
Eno, Here Come the Warm Jets
Genesis, A Trick of the Tail
Genesis, Foxtrot

Genesis, Nursery Cryme
Genesis, Selling England by the Pound
Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Gentle Giant, Free Hand
Gentle Giant, In a Glass House
Gentle Giant, The Power and the Glory

The Good Rats, Tasty
The Guess Who, Artificial Paradise
The Guess Who, Greatest Hits
Daryl Hall and John Oates, The Atlantic Collection


Daryl Hall and John Oates, War Babies
Hampton Grease Band, Music to Eat
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland
Iggy and the Stooges, Raw Power
Iron Butterfly, Ball
Iron Butterfly, In A Gadda Da Vida
James Gang, Rides Again
James Gang, Thirds
James Gang, Yer Album
Billy Joel, Turnstiles
June 1, 1974, various artists


Keith, 98.6/Ain’t Gonna Lie
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
The Kinks, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
The Kinks, Everybody’s In Showbiz
The Kinks, The Kink Kronikles
Kraftwerk, Autobahn
Kraftwerk, Computer World/Computerwelt

Kraftwerk, Electric Café
Kraftwerk, Radioactivity/Radioaktivitat
Kraftwerk, The Man Machine/Die Mensch-Maschine
Kraftwerk, The Mix
Kraftwerk, Tour de France
Kraftwerk, Trans Europe Express/Trans Europa Express
Love, Forever Changes

Love, Revisited
Martha and the Vandellas, Greatest Hits
The Mothers of Invention/Frank Zappa, Absolutely Free
The Mothers of Invention/Frank Zappa, Freak Out
The Mothers of Invention/Frank Zappa, One Size Fits All

The Mothers of Invention/Frank Zappa, Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Motown 1s, various artists
Mott the Hoople, Mott
Nektar, Remember the Future
New Order, Substance
Laura Nyro, Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro
Phil Ochs, 20th Century Masters
Roy Orbison, The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison, The MGM Years 1965 – 1973


Les Paul, The Legend and the Legacy
Pavlov’s Dog, At the Sound of the Bell
Anthony Phillips, The Geese and the Ghost

Pink Floyd, Meddle
Pink Floyd, Obscured by Clouds
Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon
Ramones, Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology
Lou Reed, Berlin
Lou Reed, Rock and Roll Animal
Lou Reed, Transformer
The Rolling Stones, Beggar’s Banquet
Roxy Music, Country Life
Roxy Music, Siren
Roxy Music, Stranded


Rumer, Into Colour
Rumer, Seasons of My Soul
Todd Rundgren, A Wizard/A True Star
Todd Rundgren, Faithful
Todd Rundgren, Hermit of Mink Hollow
Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything?
Todd Rundgren, Todd

Shelby Lynne, Love, Shelby
Shonen Knife
Shonen Knife, Brand New Knife
Shonen Knife, Pretty Little Baka Guy
Sly and the Family Stone, Greatest Hits
The Spinners
Spirit, 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus
Spirit, The Best of Spirit

James Lee Stanley, Freelance Human Being
James Lee Stanley, The Eternal Contradiction
Steely Dan, Aja
Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill
Steely Dan, Countdown to Ecstasy
Steely Dan, Katy Lied
Steely Dan, Pretzel Logic
Steely Dan, The Royal Scam
Stevie Wonder, Innervisions
Stevie Wonder, Music of My Mind
Stevie Wonder, Talking Book
Strawbs, Hero and Heroine

Super Hits of the ’70s: Have a Nice Day (OK, I’m really cheating here; this is a 25-volume CD set of 1970s singles)
Talking Heads, Fear of Music
Talking Heads, More Songs About Buildings and Food
Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues
Talking Heads: ’77
Television, Marquee Moon
Joe Walsh, Barnstorm
Dionne Warwick, Anthology
The Who, Who’s Next
Gary Wilson, Forgotten Lovers
Gary Wilson, You Think You Really Know Me

XTC, Drums and Wires
Neil Young, After the Gold Rush
Neil Young, Decade
Neil Young, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Frank Zappa and the Mothers, The Grand Wazoo
Frank Zappa, Hot Rats

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Eight

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Eight

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Eight

B. Jan Montana

 The first installments of this series appeared in Issues 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148 and 149 – Ed.>

“Sit down and have a beer Spider, enjoy the view for a while,” Chip suggested. Soon, KP joined us as well. He started to chat with Candy, but she motioned him to cease and desist, so we just sat there drinking in the scene while an endless parade of Harleys rumbled by on the highway. It was a transcendental moment.

Until the German with the carb jets sauntered over and babbled, “dis is besser dan Time Skware, yah?

”Chip rose and dictated, “we’re leaving.”

Confused, the German shrugged, “was ist los?”

Candy responded, “it’s not you; we were just getting ready to leave.”

Groves of trees, huge rock formations, and many more spectacular vistas impressed us as we climbed the narrow, twisty road through the Black Hills. It actually did a loop on itself by means of a bridge. Harleys crammed every scenic look-out and roadside attraction. Most everyone was friendly and some waved in greeting as we passed.

But a few seemed bent on duplicating Red’s feat of self-destruction. They screamed by, often in competition with one another. Every once in a while, a cop would pull one over. Some bikers honked and gave the cops a thumbs up. This just wasn’t the place nor time for horseplay.

The huge parking lot at Mount Rushmore was overcrowded. We couldn’t park as a group and even had a hard time cherry picking individual spots. 30 bikes could have parked in every spot occupied by one motorhome.

“They shouldn’t allow motorhomes during bike week,” Spider protested.

“The motorhome pilots circling the lot probably feel differently,” Candy responded.

Even though I’d been to Mt. Rushmore before, it’s always an impressive sight. Who expects such spectacular artwork in such a remote location? We paid the fee at the gate and sat down on the benches to admire the view.

“They really look like the presidents,” Candy commented; “you don’t have to guess who they are.”


Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

“What a challenge to produce such gigantic images from a chunk of granite,” KP added. “I wonder how they got up there with men and equipment?”

Spider, reading the brochure, said, “it takes constant maintenance to keep the flaws in the rock sealed up so they don’t fill with water, freeze in winter, and break up the carving.”

The place was full of tourists from all over the world, most of them clutching National Park Service pamphlets. Kids were excited and full of questions. Some sought quarters to look through the commercial binoculars mounted on stands. There were several school groups herded by harried teachers.

A few couples seemed to be on their honeymoon. One of the kids knocked over a tripod and dropped their fancy camera on the concrete. His teacher negotiated with the honeymooners for payment of a cracked a telephoto lens. Then the kid was quickly hustled back to the parking lot. It didn’t look good for him.

Some reprobate walked by wearing a T-shirt with the images of the four presidents on the front, and their buck-naked posteriors on the back – lined up and bent over as if they were in a stockade. We chuckled.

“I wonder how they chose which presidents to carve?” Spider asked.

“They probably picked the most popular ones.” responded Candy.

“That can’t be,” Chip piped up. “Lincoln was one of the most unpopular presidents in US history during his term in office.”

“Well yes, in the South,” Candy countered, “but he must have been popular in the North.”

Chip didn’t respond, but I knew he was right, as I’d just read a biography of Lincoln. Although he is venerated today, I was shocked to learn that much of the Northern political elite and press resented him almost as much as the South – I suppose for taking the words of the Declaration of Independence literally, that “all men are created equal.”

Henry Ward Beecher ridiculed him in his New York newspaper, The Independent, for his “lack of refinement.”

The Chicago Times editorialized on the now-revered Gettysburg Address: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

“Even as the Union began to win, he remained deeply unpopular,” wrote Yale professor Stephen L. Carter. “There were a lot of people, including leaders of his own party, who thought he was not morally as good as they were.”

Susan B. Anthony famously swore, “if he is re-elected, I shall immediately leave the country for the Fiji Islands.” When the American public re-elected Lincoln, she reneged.

An erstwhile correspondent for The New York Times created a fake Presidential Proclamation which was immediately published as fact by two major New York newspapers without vetting.

Some Northern newspapers went so far as to openly call for Lincoln’s assassination. A few months later, an impressionable actor – believing he occupied the moral high ground – acted on their proposal expecting to be hailed as a hero.

Lincoln’s funeral train inspired the largest presidential turn-out in US history (relative to population).

I was derailed from my train of thought by a hand on my shoulder. Candy suggested we go for lunch. We wandered over to the cafeteria while Spider ran off to make a phone call.

The fare was simple but adequate, and there was sufficient seating for everyone.

Spider found us a few minutes later, enthusiastically proclaiming that my (BMW) R90S motorcycle was ready to be picked up.

“That was quick; are you sure?” I asked.“Well it’s not ready right now, but it’ll be ready by 5 pm. We should go down there right away!”

I wasn’t sure if he was excited for me, or himself. It was clear he’d had enough of riding with KP.

After a leisurely lunch, we visited the Gutzon Borglum museum, an educational experience.

Apparently, a South Dakota historian conceived of the idea for the Mt. Rushmore memorial in order to attract tourism. It worked; today it’s visited by over two million tourists annually. The sculptures are the height of a six-story building and were originally planned to extend to the waist, which would have made them three times as tall, but the project ran out of funds.

Gutzon Borglum worked on it with his son, Lincoln, and 400 workers, from 1927 to 1941. The location is almost 6,000 ft. above sea level, and the weather was often less than co-operative. Despite the dangers, there were no fatalities.

Gutzon Borglum, designer of the sculptures on Mount Rushmore. Gutzon Borglum, designer of the sculptures on Mount Rushmore. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Gutzon died as the work was completed.

When we left the museum, Spider was antsy to head for the Rapid City BMW dealer. He wanted the use of his hog back.

My bike was ready as promised. With all the replaced parts, it looked perfect again. The shop owner had polished it, and advised us that the rear subframe had to be replaced as it too was bent. I thanked him, Spider handed him a credit card, and we rode away, each on our own bikes. It was great to get back on my R90S. It felt as nimble as a bicycle compared to Spider’s Low Rider.

Interstate 90 back to Spearfish was packed with Harley’s doing 55 – while sounding like they were going 105. I soon tired of the freight-train pace, waved to the renegades, and took the next off-ramp towards the hills. It was time to enjoy some twisties.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t make it back to Spearfish City Campground that evening.

Header image courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

When I Was a Boy

When I Was a Boy

When I Was a Boy

Jack Flory

I don’t remember the exact date that I became a budding audiophile, but it all started in 1965 when I was in the seventh grade. My parents were building the house of my mother’s dreams.  My father agreed to everything involved as long as he was allowed to put a newfangled stereo in the living room. It would be a huge upgrade to our ancient record player that lived in a wood box on a table.

So, off we went to shop for The Stereo. It was a cold rainy night on the east coast as we drove to an appliance store, riding in our venerable and well-ventilated Willys Army Jeep. I hid under a blanket in the back until we got to the store as the heat in that Jeep was nonexistent. At least the canvas kept most of the rain out.

There amongst all the refrigerators and stoves was a large Zenith console stereo. The salesman proceeded to demo the equipment with great pride. It had all the trappings of the era, lots of empty wood cabinet and a record changer with a knob to change the stylus to play both 78 rpm and LP records. So advanced was this equipment that he deliberately caused the stylus to skate all the way across the record into the runout groove. Riiiiipp! He claimed there was no damage to the vinyl. Right. Even I knew that wasn’t a good thing. Years later, I just knew this guy was the inspiration for “Money For Nothing.”

The next stop was a real audio store that sold Marantz and McIntosh equipment. And this is when it happened. I listened to music played through a system of McIntosh components connected to a pair of Klipschorns. I was hooked. I was in lust, even though I probably had no idea of the meaning of the word. I wanted that system in our home, but the look on my mother’s face wasn’t promising.

Time for a new approach. I was so enamored with the fidelity of the music, I asked the salesman, a friend of my father, if he had room in the back such that I could move my bed in and stay there. The parents were not amused. However, they did consent to allow me to stay there under the salesman’s supervision for a short time as they did other shopping in the mall, providing I sat in a chair, didn’t move, and didn’t touch anything. That would be considered child abuse today.

On the way home, my mother issued her edict from the front seat: “John, I don’t want that in my house. You can see wires.” It was a stunning setback for a power engineer that worked all day with wires at Bell Telephone. And so, the Zenith moved in with us.

To add insult to injury, a friend’s parents invited my family to dinner. There, in an alcove off the living room, was their McIntosh system, its tubes glowing warmly and playing rich, beautiful classical music. It was given equal prominence alongside the family harp. I was “Crestfallen,” but “I Will Survive.”

As my father climbed the ranks of the Bell System, we relocated and the Zenith followed us. “Everywhere I Go.” But “All Things Must Pass.” I finally escaped the clutches of the Zenith by enrolling in the University of Colorado, which was the furthest school from the Zenith that accepted me. It also had pretty good skiing. My parting shot was to ask my father how much he paid for that piece of firewood. No answer.

So, there I was, in a dorm room at CU with no tunes. The Walkman wouldn’t be invented for a long time. What to do? Obviously, you befriended the kid down the hall that brought his harman/kardon receiver and a TEAC reel to reel tape deck with him. No speakers, but that could be worked around. I got a pair of Koss Pro4AA headphones and a “Y”-adapter cable. The price of admission to my new friend’s room was half of a pizza delivered from The Gondolier, and with the “Y” cable, we would both listen to music.

After the University of Colorado, I got married and we set up “Our House” in Eldorado Springs. We had the requisite two cats, but there wasn’t much of a yard. It was more like a cliff. We took the loot…er, wedding gifts…and bought a nice Marantz receiver (with the tuning flywheel), a pair of AR-3 speakers and an AR turntable. Oh, and a Bernina sewing machine for marital bliss. I finally had a sound system I was happy with, or so I thought.

AR-XA turntable. AR-XA turntable.


Down the road a piece, we got divorced. I was informed in no uncertain terms I wouldn’t be taking either the Marantz or Bernina with me. I did get the AR turntable, some vinyl and one of the cats. That was a mistake I would later regret.

What’s a person to do with a newly limited budget? Get an apartment and go shopping for tunes. I purchased a Kenwood receiver and a pair of JBL speakers. They had nice foam grills on them. The cat loved them and immediately set about shredding them. The cat was scheduled for “Urban Renewal” and was later replaced by a dog.

Time for the next phase of life. I started taking some photography classes at the now-defunct Colorado Institute of Art. I met Don, a fellow student, who was between a rock and a hard place and shared many of my interests. He had been accepted into the Rochester Institute of Technology in photography and would be starting classes in a few months. The lease on his apartment was up and his landlord wanted a new lease for a full year. During our conversations over a few beers after class at Charlie Brown’s, I discovered he had an enormous jazz collection. He seemed to have almost everything in the Creed Taylor catalog as well as a lot of other labels. Voila! A roommate. His problem was solved and I had work to do. I was on “The Road To Hell.”

What does any irresponsible young adult do when presented with a situation of poor cash flow? Off I went to Listen Up and financed a Nakamichi 680ZX cassette deck and 200 cassette tapes, of course. I sat down to record every one of his albums I could on metal tape. This all turned out to be a big mistake.

Unreliable source: the Nakamichi 680ZX cassette deck. From hifiengine.com. Unreliable source: the Nakamichi 680ZX cassette deck. From hifiengine.com.

The Nakamichi broke down every 13 months. The original warranty was for 12 months, as was the warranty on each of the very expensive repairs. I was collecting little bags of the same dead parts, “Over And Over.” What made matters worse was that the Nakamichi silently scribbled on the tapes before it would fail. In the end, every one of my precious tapes had blank spots on them or were devoured. Of all my purchases in life, this was clearly the worst. Don went off to RIT and I spent the next three years paying off the Nakamichi. To his credit, he converted me from just listening to rock to being a jazz aficionado.

Over time, I acquired a nice chunk of walnut to hold the equipment and set about filling it with a used McIntosh C29 preamp and a David Hafler DH-200 amplifier I built from a kit. The Kenwood was repurposed as an FM tuner. Since the cabinet was in front of the living room window, my new wife used the top of it for potted plants. You can see what’s coming, right? The plants were overwatered and left big, unrepairable, black stains in the walnut. Eventually she was also scheduled for “Urban Renewal” and replaced by a new dog.

By now, the equipment was beginning to show its age. The DH-200 had developed a nasty hum and the input selector and the volume pot on the C29 had become scratchy and intermittent. The digital age was upon us and the aging stereo was banished to the basement office. I didn’t realize at the time the components could have easily been refurbished. Mistake. “Sounds Familiar?”

I was working for Cray Research, the supercomputer vendor, and was spending a lot of time in computer rooms at the factory. You could get dedicated access to machines in final checkout between 5:00 pm on Friday and 6:00 am on Monday. The rules were strict, after a disaster when a machine due to be shipped melted down. You can imagine how fast something made of aluminum and drawing 300 kW can melt. Unless a machine was attended to at all times, it had to be powered down. If you wanted to be able to take breaks, you either brought someone with you, or you waited for a security guard to make their rounds. There was a fabulous Chinese restaurant in the next town, so we often bribed the guards with crab corn soup to baby sit the machines for us. Moral: Always bring a salesman along with his Amex card.

The most striking observation about a Cray on the factory floor wasn’t its cosmetics, as all of the outer skins were removed and already crated for shipment. No, it was the 400 Hz ring from the power supplies. It was louder than the air conditioning. And so, I went digital. It was easy to carry a portable CD player and a weekend of CDs in a backpack. A pair of headphones cut the 400 Hz noise out of your ears and you were set. The sound quality was terrible, but it was better than using ear plugs and having no tunes.


Number cruncher: a 1976 Cray-1 supercomputer. Number cruncher: a 1976 Cray-1 supercomputer.


I bought a new house on Monument Hill with a kitchen in sore need of a remodeling. The contractor I hired saw my stereo and was entranced. He made the offer of trading his labor for my stereo. I thought that was a fantastic deal and out the door went all the equipment, cabinet, the defunct Nakamichi and several hundred pounds of vinyl. Another mistake.

And that’s how it stayed for some time. “The Thrill Is Gone.” Then the Marriott Hotel organization woke me from my technological slumber. I had accumulated hundreds of thousands of points from all my business travel and I had to use them or lose them. 220,000 points were invested in a new Samsung 42-inch HDTV. Coincidentally, an audio store was closing their shop in Boulder and I got some outstanding deals on a Sony A/V receiver and enough Klipsch Reference Series speakers to build out a 7.1 system with a 500-watt subwoofer. I got it all set up at 11:00 pm and sat down to watch The Hurt Locker. The next day, my neighbor asked if I had heard any explosions. Bingo, we were back in business for another ten years.

Thanks to the curse of COVID-19, I’m now forcibly retired. We get a lot of snow here and it’s often deeper than the top of my Airedale Terrier’s head. He likes to build a network of trails in the back yard. All the better to ambush “Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave and Grooving With A Pict” and then “The Heat is On.” In any case, after long periods of snow cover, you don’t want to hike in his footsteps.  But I digress.

Just another morning in the Poconos.
Just another morning in the Poconos.

I spent a lot of last winter taking pictures of my neighbors without their permission, about 700 in all (thank you for digital, film would have cost a fortune), and I got to thinking the system was getting a little long in the tooth. It occurred to me after losing my sister at the beginning of the Dampenic (a perfect anagram), that life was too short to live without really great tunes. I set about upgrading the aging A/V system. “Lightning” assisted, but was not my friend. Bye bye subwoofer and Blu-ray.


One of our neighbors in the snow.
One of our neighbors in the snow.

The first step was to acquire a McIntosh C2700 tube preamp, a McIntosh MC7300 amplifier, a Marantz SACD 30n player, a Rega Planar 6 Ania turntable and a pair of the top-drawer Sony headphones. All of this equipment was either certified used or scratch and dent, and had a full warranty. I saved a lot of money by doing it “My Way.” Nary a scratch anywhere, but the boxes were in pretty bad shape. It took 50 years, but I now have that McIntosh stack I wanted as a kid, meters and all. “Dreams Do Come True.” Next, I went to work on the A/V stack. A Denon 13.2 A/V receiver is on order. With all the supply chain delays, I hope to live long enough to see it arrive. We need some really great speakers, and with my deteriorating vision, a big wall-hanger 8K TV for all the concerts I have on Blu-ray.


McIntosh C2700 preamplifier. From the McIntosh website. McIntosh C2700 preamplifier. From the McIntosh website.


The best part is in the works. The phone company recently strung fiber down the road in front of my house. Soon, I can get a symmetrical 1 Gb Internet connection for a fraction of the cost of cable TV, which is pretty cool in an area where the population density is 64 people per square mile. Who needs cable when you can stream at 8K speeds? Although, I still prefer to own my own media.  Being housebound this winter will actually be quite enjoyable.  It’s enough to make you “Glad All Over.”

It all started “When I Was A Boy.,” and “I Still Believe. Yes, I’m “Still Crazy After All These Years.”

P.S. When my father retired, the Zenith refused to relocate one more time. In a fit of electrical rage, it spewed out a thick cloud of smoke and proclaimed: “The Party’s Over.” The mighty Zenith was “Gone At Last.” It had been reduced to nothing more than hazardous electronic waste. My frugal father, who never wasted anything, recycled its guts and the remainder became firewood, which heated the house in a different way. No electricity required. I won.

P.P.S. My father, now 96 years old and deaf as a stone without using headphones over his hearing aids, is using my brother’s graduation gift, a Pioneer receiver that my mother tried to talk him out of as you would be able to see wires. When you put good music on it, the grin on his face wraps from ear to ear. And yes, you can see wires.


Apologies to Jeff Lynne, Michael Been, Mark Knopfler, B.B. King, George Harrison, Graham Nash, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Smashing Pumpkins, Roger Waters and a host of others for abusing their song, album and book titles.

About The Author

After surviving a misguided youth, the author briefly dabbled in civil engineering and professional photography. Facing bankruptcy, he found his true calling as a software engineer. He spent the last 25 years of his career writing device drivers, firmware, protocol stacks, engineering specifications and documentation. While some might consider this work an embellished documentary, it’s 99% True.

Header image: My mother’s pride and joy. No, not me, behind me.

One Size Fits All? Part One

One Size Fits All? Part One

One Size Fits All? Part One

Russ Welton

Many of us use 2.1-channel or multichannel speaker setups that include subwoofers. In this article, we examine some of the relative merits of setting up your speakers using either the “large” or “small” setting in your preamp, processor or A/V receiver.

Probably one of the most confusing aspects is whether to set the speakers to “large” or “small in the setup menu. On first glance it looks quite straightforward: if you have small speakers, then put the setting to “small.” If you have floorstanding or large speakers, then surely logic would dictate that you set the setting to “large.” Nothing could be simpler, right?

In fact, “large” or “small” designates the setting of the crossover point between your main speakers and subwoofer(s). It has very little to do with the speaker sizes themselves! When you think about it, this makes sense. How could any A/V receiver, preamp or processor accommodate every possible speaker size on the market with just two categories, “large” and “small?”

The nomenclature is a complete misnomer. Many years ago, with the advent of multichannel home theater systems using subwoofers, Anthony Grimani (of Dolby and THX), introduced bass management to optimize the performance of such systems. A big part of bass management is, literally, managing where the low frequencies are directed, whether to the main speakers or the subwoofers. If the A/V receiver or preamp/processor’s speaker setting is set to “small,” the bass, typically below 80 Hz, is sent to the subwoofer and the rest of the frequency range is fed to the main speakers. If set to “large,” the main speakers will receive the full frequency range.

A Denon A/V receiver setup menu with speakers set to "small" and the subwoofer output enabled. A Denon A/V receiver setup menu with speakers set to "small" and the subwoofer output enabled.

Now it is true that a larger speaker will usually handle more bass than a smaller one, and that a floorstanding speaker will move more volume of air and produce a fuller bass response. But, even so, the “large” or “small” setting has greater significance for how you should set up your system, particularly if you want a more even bass response throughout the room.

In reality, with nearly all domestic stereo speakers and home theater systems that include a subwoofer, you should set the speaker settings to “small.” Although this may be counterintuitive if you own large floorstanders, it benefits your overall sound and not just the bass response. When set to “small,” the receiver or preamp/processor will now recognize that you have a preselected crossover point for your sub to handle all of the frequencies from that point and below. Not only does this allow you the freedom to choose your crossover point based on what sounds best for your speakers and room, it contributes to the evenness of bass response and the tonality of your bass, and it allows the lower midrange and midrange frequencies of your main speakers to come through with more clarity because they are no longer handling the low frequencies as they would be if run full-range. The main speakers also now have to handle less power, which gives them more headroom.

I tend to think of good frequency assignment and crossover settings as a bit like having your musical meal in three separate courses, each nicely prepared for their bespoke flavors and combinations of ingredients. In a similar way, each speaker handles its designated frequency range of bass, midrange and treble (as managed by the speaker’s own internal crossover network*). Each course is also served at the correct time, in the same way that a well-designed speaker is correctly time-aligned, so that you hear each sound at the appropriate time.

A starter course, which could be likened to the treble, often defines a strong characteristic or personality of a speaker and may be the first thing you are drawn to, followed by a main course of the body of the music, or the vocals, which could be akin to the midrange. Finally, a dessert, the bass, rounds out the whole meal, leaving you satisfied with what you’ve partaken of. Wouldn’t you prefer a meal that was served to you this way, in separate courses, rather than having all three courses brought out to you at once, where they then grow cold and less appetizing?

Or worse still, all three courses of food are served together on the same plate and mixed together, which is probably more analogous to having one speaker serve you all the frequencies without time alignment.

If you are running bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer, using the “small” setting is a great way to go, not least of all because the smaller speakers will not typically have the bass extension, or the power-handling capacity to drive serious bass, of a floorstander. They might even be doing very well if they reach as low as, say, 45 or 40 Hz (about the lowest note of an acoustic or four-string electric bass), but won’t reproduce true deep bass. A good approach may be to set the subwoofer crossover frequency at least 20 Hz higher than the lowest stated nominal frequency the main speakers go down to. This is a useful rule of thumb for creating a good blend between the main speakers and the sub and serves as a good starting point for smooth integration.

SVS Prime satellite/subwoofer system. SVS Prime satellite/subwoofer system.

“But I want to run my speakers full-range!” I hear you cry. Or, “They just sound better this way and besides, my user manual says that woofers up to 8 inches in diameter are considered “small” and I have 10-inch woofers, so I should set my receiver’s bass management setting to large.” In fact, you may be entirely right for your personal situation.

I run my main front stereo pair and surrounds full-range with a subwoofer, which is then fine-tuned for placement, phase, frequency setting, volume and EQ. I know it contests the conventional wisdom of not having overlapping bass frequencies from the mains and the subs, (and possibly incurring problems like phase cancellation), but the point is, it’s worth measuring what your room is actually doing to your sound. Sometimes “wrong” may sound “right.” This is particularly the case when you consider the known practical benefits of multiple bass sources pressurizing the room, thereby eradicating more nulls (areas of bass cancellation) within the listening room itself, and providing general reinforcement of bass frequencies, which also allow for effective EQing. After all, it’s worth remembering that floorstanding speakers have been designed by the manufacturer to be run at full range in the first place. Adding more sources of bass and managing them by effective integration can provide better seat-to-seat consistency of bass, and better evenness in bass response which is less localized.

The intention of this article is not to dictate what sounds good to you, but rather to make you aware of how you can take the best control of your sound by either choosing to use a crossover to your subwoofer, or not.

Remember that bass support and enhancement of the low-end frequencies below 45 Hz (down to perhaps 20 or even 15Hz) is the goal of using a subwoofer, and in doing so, to better reproduce those low frequencies with more accuracy, speed, attack and grip. A dedicated sub may also provide a cleaner signal path, in bypassing a more complex crossover as found in the main stereo speakers. Regardless of its driver size, cabinet configuration or whether it employs passive radiators, a subwoofer has been built from the ground up to handle bass.

In our next article we will consider some additional reasons why using stereo speakers full-range on the “large setting” may actually be the right thing for your situation.

Header image: B&W 600 Series loudspeakers and subwoofer.

Phil Keaggy – A Lifetime Of Joyful Noises, Part Five

Phil Keaggy – A Lifetime Of Joyful Noises, Part Five

Phil Keaggy – A Lifetime Of Joyful Noises, Part Five

John Seetoo

Parts One, Two, Three and Four of this series appeared in Issues 145, 146, 148 and 149. 

In covering the half-century long career of Contemporary Christian music (CCM) pioneer and acclaimed guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy, Parts One through Four of this series focused on his huge catalog of solo work and his power trio, Glass Harp, from the late 1960s to the present. This final installment will feature his collaborations with other artists, and an assessment of the regard in which Keaggy is held by his peers. Additionally, we will have an overview of his versions of cover songs, and the groundbreaking techniques he has developed for playing the guitar, which have spawned countless emulators.

The More the Merrier

Phil Keaggy has enjoyed collaborating with others from very early on in his solo career to the present day. Over the span of 50-plus years, he has amassed a significant catalog of collaborative recordings that differ from his solo work, in that Keaggy’s massive talent allows him to modify his guitar playing to suit different musical genres and artists, while challenging his compositional and songwriting skills.

One of his earliest collaborative releases is 1977’s How The West Was Won (Live). As guest lead guitarist for A Band Called David, Phil Keaggy and the band played a supporting role behind Christian singing trio 2nd Chapter of Acts for a triple-live LP release. The record’s highlight is Keaggy’s solo spotlight section, with multiple harmonies supplied by 2nd Chapter of Acts on such favorite Keaggy gems as “Time,” “Your Love Broke Through,” “What a Day,” and others.

Keaggy offers fierce clean guitar solo lines, volume swells and faux violin bowing, and his use of an envelope filter (an effects unit that emulates a wah wah pedal), channels Jerry Garcia’s Grateful Dead tones. When he switches to his distorted rock mode, he cuts loose with Allman Brothers-type call and response solo exchanges with keyboardist Richard Souther (on “Rejoice”), simultaneous scat singing guitar lines à-la George Benson, and wailing wah-wah solos reminiscent of Eric Clapton, especially on this tour-de-force version of “Time.”

Time – Live – song by 2nd Chapter Of Acts, Phil Keaggy, A Band Called David | Spotify

In an interview republished on 2nd Chapter of Acts website, Keaggy explained the wildly enthusiastic response to “Time” on the live album:

“I think about the audiences that were going to Christian concerts in the ’70s; many of them very conservative, many of them coming to concerts having never been exposed to rock, [and they] must have had the thought, “how can I really enjoy this and the Lord? Do I have the freedom to really listen to this and support this sort of thing?

But I think what happened is because they saw we were all so very sincere about our faith in sharing our love for Jesus that it kind of softened, took the edge off of what was rock and roll, you know. Because face it, “Hey Whatcha Say,” “Time,” “Just the Same” and some of these other songs were really kicking tunes. I think it was all balanced out, because [of] the context of the whole show, which was really a ministry, not just a show; it was really a giving out of our hearts and souls to people. It was a very special time.”

These comments also give a 1970s-era perspective on just how groundbreaking an artist Keaggy was at the time in bringing rock music (with all of its sex and drugs baggage as perpetuated by peers like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones) to traditional and hymn-based Christian audiences who would be resistant to such a connotation, while at the time still trying to reconcile the wafer-thin demarcation line between gospel and R&B. Keaggy’s songs were not the folky, hippie-influenced “Jesus Music” of the late 1960s, although a handful of songs like “What A Day” contained some of those elements. The contrast between the show tune and Southern gospel-influenced vocals of 2nd Chapter of Acts, and Keaggy’s hard rock with jazz fusion and McCartney-esque singing, is indicative of how iconoclastic Keaggy was during that time.

Within the CCM arena, Keaggy has recorded several records with longtime friend Randy Stonehill, Illuminations with singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rex Paul, ambient music with Tony Gerber, several instrumental albums with keyboardist Jeff Johnson, garage rock with Keaggy, Blazier & Lunn, acoustic guitar duets with Christie Lenee, recordings with songwriter Katie Peltier, and dozens of others. Some of the standouts are as follows:

While Stonehill was a co-author of Keaggy’s 1976 “Your Love Broke Through” single, he and Keaggy first collaborated directly in 1984, writing and performing “Who Will Save The Children?” together for Stonehill’s, Celebrate This Heartbeat album. They would tour together in 1989 as The Keaggy/Stonehill Band and Stonehill also returned the favor by co-writing and singing on the title track of Keaggy’s 1988 breakout album, Sunday’s Child.

Keaggy would again contribute to Stonehill’s recordings, appearing on his Edge of the World (2002). A 2005 live concert album, Together Live! featured Keaggy and Stonehill playing acoustic guitars, with Keaggy utilizing some of his unparalleled looping techniques to flesh out the sparse instrumentation. Keaggy performs extended versions of “The True Believers” and “Salvation Army Band,” and the two join together on “Sunday’s Child” and duet on “Who Will Save the Children,” which has since become the theme song for the children’s relief ministry Compassion International.


In 2009, they collaborated together on an entire studio album, Mystery Highway. With Stonehill’s Elvis-tinged rock and roll and Beatles-pop roots, Keaggy’s bluesy rock side comes out with joyful abandon on songs like “Rockin’ In a Hard Place” and “Picture Postcard Perfect Day,” plus an updated reprise of “Sunday’s Child.”

Stonehill’s hilarious rap song “Rockman,” the ZZ-Top influenced “Irresistible Future,” and the Albert King-meets-Cream tribute, “Dreamspeak,” also highlight Mystery Highway. A reformed Keaggy-Stonehill Band featuring Glass Harp’s John Sferra and Dan Pecchio would subsequently tour to promote the record.


Phil Keaggy’s influence on the next wave of Contemporary Christian music artists cannot be understated. In a comparable way to when B.B. King or Muddy Waters collaborated with Eric Clapton or Johnny Winter, the musical bond transcends generations. His collaboration with Out of The Grey’s guitar texturalist Scott Dente and singer-songwriter Wes King on Invention (1997) was well received and critically acclaimed among CCM reviewers. Containing mostly a mix of instrumentals like “53 Days In June” and “Budapest Control,” as well as three-part harmonies evoking the Byrds on “Watch My Back,” and a revamped “River of Life,” Invention draws on musical and percussion themes running from Middle Eastern to the Ventures, and complex acoustic textures from Keaggy’s Beyond Nature and Acoustic Sketches oeuvre, with electric guitar solos layered on top.


In terms of instrumental guitar prowess and staying power among Keaggy’s peers in CCM, Rex Paul Schnelle is perhaps his only rival. An accomplished songwriter and highly skilled musician with 3,000 recording credits to his name with producer Dann Huff, guitar legend Eric Johnson and others, Rex Paul’s combination of chops, singing and Nashville production sheen made their 2019 duo album Illumination an eagerly anticipated event.

Illumination was produced by Rex Paul as a collaborative vehicle for writing new songs, as well as an opportunity to trade blistering guitar solos on re-recordings of classic Keaggy material. In their interview with Worship Musician magazine, Keaggy commented about Rex Paul’s songs:

“I’m honored he [Rex] asked me to sing many of them and add my lyrical contribution. The back-and-forth guitar solos we shared and the new songs he brought to the table sparked the idea to revisit a few of my old songs.”


The Respect of His Peers

Keaggy’s guitar prowess has long been held in high regard by both his sacred and secular music peers, and he has actually done a considerable amount of secular collaboration and session work in addition to his own prolific output.

Muriel Anderson is an internationally acclaimed fingerpicking and classical acoustic guitarist, lauded by Chet Atkins and others for her skills. Jazz guitar tapping stylist Stanley Jordan, whose pianistic approach to jazz guitar playing uses two-handed tapping on the fretboard, has forged a formidable reputation in music circles. (Although it had been done before by Jordan and others, Eddie Van Halen’s heavy metal version of tapping popularized the technique.) Anderson and Jordan joined with Phil Keaggy to record a free improvisation record that would become Uncut Gems. The record also included Keaggy’s “Corazon de Fuego,” “Tennessee Morning,” and Anderson’s “Owl Psalm.”

Keaggy recalled the making of Precious Gems (Uncut Gems with added tracks) on his Bandcamp page:

“I believe it was back in 2002; my good friend and guitarist extraordinaire Muriel Anderson let me know that her friend Stanley Jordan was coming to our town and asked if I would like to meet and possibly play and record something together. I said, enthusiastically yes, and we met up at my place, hooked up mics and DIs [DI stands for direct input, a means of running an instrument directly into a PA, mixing console or computer interface – Ed.] for guitars and proceeded to create right on the spot.

I’ve never heard or seen a talent quite like Stanley! Just to watch and listen to his style is beyond description. His fingers literally dance upon the fretboard and he has a musical vocabulary that is full of depth and dedication!

I was still using ADAT machines at the time. All went down very nicely! We had good musical conversation with our guitars and our styles were quite complementary one to the other. Some of the tunes wound up on a project called ‘Uncut Gems.’

Years went by and as I was reflecting on those days, I revisited the recording tracks we did and was delighted to hear us playing together again, as it were!

With Muriel’s beautiful classical and fingerstyle and Stanley’s unique gift, I’m excited to finally release these moments of inspiration for you to hear, along with some bonus tracks as well.

– Phil”


The Bucket List, a 2019 release featuring Keaggy on guitar, Tony Levin on bass and Jerry Marotta on drums, is power trio prog rock hearkening back to Keaggy’s Glass Harp days, but with a greater sense of mutual admiration, akin to when Duane Allman joined Eric Clapton and his Derek and the Dominos band for the Layla album sessions. The range of material is broad, and also includes acoustic jams like “Stella Luna,” slide/ambient mellow grooves on “Blue Hawaii,” and jazz rock with “Midland Crisis.”


While Keaggy has contributed to the records of fellow Christian rockers Rick Derringer, Mark Farner (ex-Grand Funk Railroad), and Greg Martin (ex-Kentucky Headhunters), one of his more surprising guest appearances was on the Remember album by The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz.

Keaggy has cited his solo on the Harry Nilsson penned title track “Remember” as among his personal favorites. Keaggy also played electric, acoustic and classical guitar on the record, as well as Ebow [a hand-held sustaining device for electric guitar – Ed.], and even arranged some of the other album songs.


Fellow Midwestern guitar idol Ted Nugent is another Keaggy admirer and was once quoted as saying he thought that Keaggy “could have saved the world with his guitar.”

Cover Songs

While Keaggy’s vast catalog of songs has been devoted primarily to original praise and worship music, he has recorded and released secular cover songs over the years, such as Paul McCartney’s, “Motor of Love” and Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” Performing as a solo acoustic artist prompted him to release Acoustic Cafe, which included versions of the Everly Bros.’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” and fan favorite “Here Comes The Sun” by the Beatles. Perhaps one of the more underrated renditions was his version of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.”


Pioneering Guitarist

While he is a devastatingly facile electric guitarist, one of the reasons Phil Keaggy inspires such awe among guitarists from all music genres is because of his pioneering of new techniques in playing the acoustic guitar, particularly in the use of capos and looper pedals [a device that records and plays back loops of phrases that are played into it – Ed.].

A capo is a clamp that goes around the neck of a guitar and can be moved up and down the frets. A bar goes across the strings. This raises the pitch of the open strings so that the guitar can be played in a higher key while retaining the chord shapes and fingerings of a guitar played without a capo. This is especially helpful when a song requires the “ringing” sound of open strings, which would be impossible to play in certain keys without the use of a capo.

Phil Keaggy was the first guitarist to popularize the use of partial and multiple capos (partial capos only go across certain strings, not all of them) to effectively place the guitar into open tunings previously impossible with a single capo, thus allowing him to finger and voice ordinarily physically impossible chords and textures.


Originally credited to King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, the use of live analog tape loops (dubbed “Frippertronics”) for guitar self-accompaniment has come a long way since Fripp’s 1973 No Pussyfooting record with Brian Eno. Thanks to digital technology, looping can now be had in the form of a digital looper pedal.

Artists such as Ed Sheeran, Beck and KT Tunstall, among others, have popularized the use of looper pedals. However, Phil Keaggy was the first to utilize early looping pedals in performance, decades before their current popularity, and took the techniques of looping to such a level of sophistication that he is in demand to teach them at music workshops and seminars. He is largely responsible for putting the DigiTech JamMan pedal, one of the first available commercial units, on the map.

From an interview in Crosswalk.com in 1999:

“Chet Atkins introduced me to the JamMan, and he said, “Phil, it looks like this thing was made just for you.” It really improved my sense of rhythm. So there you have it. It’s a fairly simple setup. I can carry the JamMan and the compressor [effects unit] right on the plane. I check my Olson [guitar] in a Calton case, and I’m having special cases made for my Langejans [guitars] as well.”

2011’s Live From Kegworth Studios is an excellent showcase for the live concert experience of Keaggy’s solo acoustic looping expertise. It demonstrates the breadth and depth of how far the pedal can be used in a live context to create music on the fly, and was recorded at Keaggy’s home studio without overdubs.

For Acoustic Sketches 3, Keaggy mentioned that it was recorded using a Pigtronix Infinity looper. This split-screen video shows how Keaggy uses the looper to layer complex musical passages while adding more on top to create a guitar orchestral arrangement.


Well into his 70s, Phil Keaggy shows little sign of slowing down and continues to turn out gorgeous electric and acoustic guitar records. He is also rumored to be working on new tracks with Christian metal band P.O.D. Due to space considerations, this article series, though extensive, has omitted mention of roughly 30 percent of Keaggy’s catalog. At the current rate, I might have to do a Part Six before the next presidential election!

Header image from philkeaggy.com, photo by Randi Anglin.

Jazz Lives: Saxophonist Frank Catalano Ascends

Jazz Lives: Saxophonist Frank Catalano Ascends

Jazz Lives: Saxophonist Frank Catalano Ascends

Frank Doris

Last summer I had the honor of playing on a bill with tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano and his quartet, at the Port Palooza festival in Port Jefferson, New York. I’d never seen him before and didn’t know what to expect. For the next hour and a half, we were riveted by the band’s performance, with Catalano spinning line after musical line, an endless river of ideas, blowing with a big, vivid tone and impassioned expressiveness. His bassist, drummer and pianist were equally mind-blowing, playing a varied set from sumptuous readings of standards to post-fusion explorations that would make Miles smile.

I later found out that Catalano has had quite a career, with a Number One album on the Billboard Traditional Jazz chart, and more than a dozen albums to his credit, including a few in collaboration with Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. After the set I met him and asked if we could do an interview at a later date. Roll ’em…

Frank Doris: What made you decide to play the saxophone? And, why tenor instead of alto or bari sax, or, say, clarinet?

Frank Catalano: I loved the way the saxophone looked! I was seven years old and our neighbor was selling an alto sax at their garage sale (way before eBay, ha!). My mom didn’t have the money to buy it but our neighbor let me borrow it. I had a few books and began teaching myself. A few years later when I got a little bigger, I switched to tenor.

FD: Who were some of your earliest influences? You’re based out of Chicago – did you grow up there? If so, how much were you influenced by the blues scene?

FC: I was fortunate to become friends with the late great Chicago tenor man Von Freeman. He started letting me sit in with him at clubs Like Andy’s when I was 11 or 12. I started listening to recordings of another Chicago legend, Gene Ammons, around that time, in addition to Charlie Parker, Coltrane [and so on]. Von’s favorite tenor player was Lester Young, so I have listened to a lot of Lester. I always listened to blues as a Chicagoan because it was everywhere.

I started playing with [organist] Charles Earland and Junior Wells while I was still in high school, and that is how I got signed to Delmark Records at that time. [Record producer] Bob Koester loved both Charles and Junior.

FD: You play flute on “Night Moves” from your early album, Bang! What other woodwinds do you play?

FC: Bang! was my first album for the legendary Savoy Records. I was honored to be signed by them, especially because I listened to all the Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Lester Young Savoy recordings. I think Savoy is owned by Concord now. [Savoy is now part of Concord Bicycle Music – Ed.] I play all the flutes and clarinets but I have slowly been retiring those to focus on the tenor, with a little bit of baritone and bass [saxes] for fun.

FD: I hope you take this as a compliment and not a diss, but your playing reminds me of Neil Young in that you, like him, can just play on and on and on and not repeat yourself. Every musician has their fallback riffs, but what gives you that fountain of ideas?


FC: If I feel inspired, and the music calls for it, I can keep going and it’s so much fun, just like having a great conversation with a close friend. You are the first person to compare me to Neil Young and I take it as a big compliment because I love his music and I also love Lionel trains, and Neil Young has a very large Lionel train collection. Neil Young was a part-owner of Lionel so we share an enthusiasm for that, as well as for music!

FD: When you’re playing, are you thinking about what you’re going to play next, or just letting it flow? It’s been said, “if you’re thinking, you’re stinking!”

FC: Great question! I was lucky to play a bit with drummer Louie Bellson and singer Tony Bennett when I was young, and they were so kind to me. They each said something to me that was a good lesson, and they were looking out for me and trying to teach me. The idea was that it takes a long time to make something difficult seem effortless to the audience. Meaning, a lot of time and preparation goes into the music…many years of honing your skills and thinking about theory and harmony, etc. But…when you are performing the music has to be coming from your heart and soul and just flowing from you, or it will just be a bunch of notes and not music. So, to answer your question more concisely, I try to think about the music a lot when I am not performing, especially when learning or writing new material, but when I get on stage, I just let the music come out of me.

FD: Tell me about the keyboard player and drummer you were playing with at the Port Palooza gig. They were blowing my mind. I know the bassist was a local guy of renown.

FC: Yeah, they are all great! Keenan Zach, the bassist, is wonderful. Randy Ingram is playing with me in December at Birdland in New York and is on my upcoming album. Rick Drumm, the drummer, has played hundreds of gigs with me and retired about five years ago from being the president of [musical instrument accessories company] D’Addario. They make my saxophone reeds as well as guitar strings, Evans drum heads, [and other products]. They are a great company and that is how we first met, almost 20 years ago.

FD: At the gig, you weren’t using sheet music. How hard is it to commit this stuff to memory, or get inside the song until it becomes a part of you? Or, did you have an iPad somewhere where we couldn’t see it?

FC: I never use music on the gig, especially an outdoor festival, if I can help it. I like playing music that I really love and that is in my body. If I really am feeling the music, I find it very easy to memorize. When I get called in last-minute as a side man, like when I played with Seal live on The Oprah Winfrey Show a few years back, I obviously have to read the music because I am sight reading the arrangements in most of those cases.

FD: I hear a real progression in your playing and writing, from your earlier albums like Cut It Out!?! to your latest, Tokyo No. 9. Can you comment about that?

FC: The original music for Cut It Out!?! was written in 1995 and recorded shortly after. I did an album with Von Freeman and then Randy Brecker after Cut It Out!?! Then I did Mighty Burner and then Bang! in 2007. I met my (now) wife in 2008 and I feel like my playing became different (unintentionally) after that. Tokyo No. 9 was Number 1 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz chart and I feel an evolution from the three prior albums that I did for Ropeadope Records, being Love Supreme Collective, G-d’s Gonna Cut You Down and Bye Bye Blackbird, which I did with David Sanborn. I think I am just really in the moment on Tokyo No. 9 and letting more of my early gospel, blues and R&B roots come out.

FD: Your music at times sounds like straight-ahead standards playing, at times like 1960s groove jazz, and I also hear influences of funk, R&B and even free jazz.

FC: You have great ears because those are all styles I love! I recorded with all the soul jazz [Hammond B3 [organ] guys like Charles Earland, Johnny “Hammond” Smith, and Dr. Lonnie Smith, so the funk, the R&B is in my body. The early albums of mine with [trumpeter] Ira Sullivan, Von Freeman and Randy Brecker are straight ahead and I love that as well as early swing, thanks to all of my Barrett Deems (Louis Armstrong drummer) and Louie Bellson gigs as a teenager. I used to perform a lot with members of the AACM [Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians – Ed.] and I love Sun Ra, so some free playing has always been part of my musical personality.

FD: Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is a rite of passage for jazz musicians (and a song I can’t play!) Have you ever tried it?

FC: Yeah, I have played it a lot, especially while attending DePaul University, but it is not a song I have been that excited to play for many years, maybe because in jazz education it gets treated like an etude more than music. My favorite Trane song to play currently would be a coin toss between “Naima” and “Impressions,” but I am sure that will change for me in time, since I love Trane so much.

FD: Tell us about the Yamaha saxes and the JodyJazz mouthpieces and the reeds you use. What kind of sound do you strive for?

FC: I really like my Custom Z alto, tenor and soprano [saxes] made by Yamaha. They are very comfortable to play and give me an edgy sound that I like and really prefer for non-traditional jazz settings. For [playing] outside or [in] settings [where you need power], the silver tenor you heard me playing really cuts! I have a gold-plated Z that has a darker, richer, deeper sound that is better for some other types of music. JodyJazz makes my favorite mouthpieces and I use their DV line. Rico Reeds, now called D’Addario Woodwinds, are great and consistent. I use their Select Jazz line the most, but love the Reserve line too. I am helping play-test a new line for them called Venn right now. I also use a leather Rovner tenor sax ligature that Red Holloway gave me many years ago.


FD: Among sax players, the old Selmer Mark VI is revered. Can you explain why?

FC: Old Selmers are great. They have a very unique core to the sound and voice. I have many old Selmers and as soon as I play them, a smokey 1950s vibe comes about. I purposely stopped using them [though] because I feel the Yamahas are more flexible and let me sound more like myself. My favorite vintage saxes are probably the King Super 20 like Cannonball Adderley used, because they have a unique balance of core and flexibility. Still, for the demanding schedule I have, I prefer the Yamaha Z line.

FD: You seem to like working with guitar players. Why? Any differences in working with them as opposed to piano players, as it relates to filling in the harmonic spectrum and comping while you’re soloing? I have to tell, you, Vic Juris’ playing on Tokyo No. 9 is especially mind blowing.

FC: Vic Juris was my good friend and probably the world’s best guitarist, both as soloist and as accompanist. I was glad I was able to take him with me to Japan and I am thankful for all the gigs we did over the years. I love working with guitarists in a Hammond B3 organ quartet configuration which is usually sax, B3, guitar and drums [plus me]. After Vic passed away [at the end of 2019 – Ed.], I have gone back to working mostly with pianists. Mostly a personal thing out of respect to Vic. High-energy style comping in the style of McCoy Tyner has always been a favorite of mine.

FD: How did you get hooked up with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin? I have to confess, I would never have thought he has such jazz chops.

FC: Jimmy and I have been friends for over 20 years. He loved to go to Chicago jazz clubs and hang out. We met through a mutual friend, Joey, and started doing some playing and we became friends, so our playing together happened pretty naturally. Jimmy is a great jazz player and most importantly, I think we feel time the same way, and also loop and feed energy together in the same way, which is a much deeper universe and spiritual thing and has nothing really to do with any songs or genre of music. I got to play a little bit with Elvin Jones and also [drummer] Robert Shy who was on my Cut It Out!?! album as well as on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Bright Moments album. All three (Elvin, Jimmy, and Robert) have that ability to go into something that can’t really be analyzed or transcribed — but you can feel it.

Frank Catalano and Jimmy Chamberlin.

Frank Catalano and Jimmy Chamberlin.


FD: Who are some sax players currently playing who you like?

FC: So many great players…Kirk Whalum, Kenny Garrett, Joe Lovano, Sonny Rollins is still with us…My student Nick Mutchler is a great young player who is just now hitting the scene.

FD: How has the pandemic affected your career and your attitude towards music and life?

FC: Well, I caught a horrible case of COVID and had a 104 – 105-degree fever for two weeks straight. My wife caught it shortly after me. So…I don’t think I could properly answer this question today; maybe in a few years after my mind, body and soul has processed everything. But I will say that I am so thankful to be on this Earth and will try my best to do positive and powerful things every day that I am allowed to do so.

FD: What advice would you give young musicians trying to make it?

FC: My best advice is be original and hold yourself to a very high standard. Always give the audience the best performance you can, even if you are having a horrible day, [coming off a] delayed flight, and so on. You will be able to steadily get your music out there to people who will appreciate it, and be able to make a living.

FD: What are your future plans for recording and touring?

FC: I will be performing at Birdland in New York on December 2, 3 and 4 and at City Winery in Chicago on December 27. I recently went to Seattle to do some dates at a new spot called Calluna. We have a tour of France booked for April 2022. A short documentary about me, Chicago and The Green Mill [club] just premiered at the Tokyo Lift-Off Film Festival. It was created and directed by Belgium filmmaker Colin Donner and is called Sugar Jazz, so I am excited to see what happens with that. Jimmy Chamberlin and I are going back into the studio in January. So…I think 2022 is going to be pretty action-packed.


FD: Anything else you’d like to add?

FC: I am also the US spokesperson for Drambuie, and my signature cocktail, “The Catalano Sidecar,” can be found in over 100 venues across the country.

The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women

The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women

The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women

Steven Bryan Bieler

In 1979, WBCN-FM in Boston offered its listeners a fantastic deal: tell us what you think are the 10 best rock albums of all time, and we’ll tabulate the results and play the 104 albums with the most votes (the station’s frequency was 104.7), one per evening, Sunday through Thursday nights. They also offered prizes for the top three voters who came the closest to correctly naming the top 10 albums.

The local weeklies printed ballots and we quickly flooded the station with them. WBCN heard from listeners who took this assignment seriously (me); musical illiterates (the male co-worker who wrote down “the Yes album,” then asked me if I knew the name of the Yes album, which I told him was The Yes Album); haters, goofballs, cranks, and super fans. The BCN jocks, in a breach of election security, read many of the more interesting entries on the air. The one example I remember is the unsung hero who filled his ballot with 10 Dave Clark Five albums.

This fabled list seems to have vanished down the back alleys of time, but I can tell you that Sgt. Pepper’s finished first, The Dark Side of the Moon second, Sticky Fingers third, and the 104th spot was occupied by Bad Company’s 1974 debut doorstop, Bad Company. Yes, you read that correctly. It was 1979, rock was barely 25 years old, and the station’s listeners ran out of worthy albums before they got to the 104th.

Or did they? Maybe all we needed was a 1979 version of NPR’s “Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.”


Turning the Tables was put together by a group of female critics and released on NPR.org in 2017. There’s nothing like a best-of list to angry up the blood. On Turning the Tables, I cried out when I saw the Spice Girls sneak past Tammy Wynette, Donna Summer, and Roberta Flack. How did the Carpenters trash Sonic Youth and the B-52’s? Tracy Chapman trumped Heart but trailed Blondie? There was plenty to argue about!

Even if I hadn’t read the accompanying essay, “A New Canon: In Pop Music, Women Belong at the Center of the Story,” by Ann Powers, I would’ve known this list was put together by critics, because the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Choir snagged no. 78 with Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. NPR’s listeners would’ve picked Pat Benatar. In fact, NPR’s listeners did pick Pat Benatar, in a list that was crowdsourced and posted on NPR.org. (Sadly, that list is long gone. Never cross a critic.)

Who’s Your Mommy?

By comparing Turning the Tables to Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Albums of All Time, I learned that no one can dominate popular music like a small group of men.

The evidence:

  1. On the Rolling Stone list, seven artists placed 15 albums in the top 50: five by the Beatles, three by Bob Dylan, and two each by Michael Jackson, Prince, Radiohead, the Rolling Stones, and Stevie Wonder. That’s 30 percent of the top 50 records.
  2. On Turning the Tables, seven artists also accounted for 15 albums: three by Aretha Franklin and two each by Beyoncé, Joan Jett, Madonna, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, and Nina Simone. But that’s 15 out of 150 albums.


What does this tell us about the differences between men and women? About the music industry and its support for women in comparison with men? Does it mean that critics thrive on variety? Or does it just tell us that the Beatles were a quantum singularity?

I am not sufficiently credentialed to make that call. But if you’d like another list where even fewer men rule, I invite you to visit the Pitchfork 200. In 2021, Pitchfork asked its readers to mark the site’s 25th anniversary by choosing the 200 best albums since 1996. Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, and Arcade Fire gobbled up six of the top 10 spots and combined for 18 albums total. At least Arcade Fire has a woman in the band.

Enough With the Math

What I love about these best-ofs is the chance to hear new music and to be reintroduced to old music. Turning the Tables reminded me of the artistry of Nina Simone (I Put a Spell on You, no. 3, and Nina Simone Sings the Blues, no. 28). How do you forget Nina Simone? Somehow, I did! I discovered that Sinéad O’Connor was not a female Bono without the dorky glasses (I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, no. 67), and that Alanis Morissette was a lot more than the one song that carpet-bombed North America in 1995, “You Oughta Know” (Jagged Little Pill, no. 29). I was floored by two women I had barely heard of, Mary J. Blige (What’s the 411?, no. 57) and Shakira (¿Dónde Están los Ladrones?, no. 95). And I loved meeting ESG (Come Away with ESG, no. 104). This punk/rap dance set is as fresh a party record as it was back in 1983.


In her essay, Powers reveals that Turning the Tables originally had more than 500 albums. She doesn’t explain why they cut the list to 150, but this probably accounts for the absence of Joan Armatrading, Diana Ross minus the Supremes, Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and two of my favorites from the ’80s, Bonnie Hayes (“Girls Like Me” and “Shelly’s Boyfriend” from the Valley Girl soundtrack) and Romeo Void (the “I might like you better if we slept together” song).


I would love to give the missing 350 a hearing, even though Pat Benatar is probably lurking in an outer orbit. Someone might want me to vote for something.

(Note: Bad Company did not make the Rolling Stone 500.)


Header image: Joni Mitchell, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Capannelle.

Gustard’s X16 Digital-to-Analog Converter – My New Standard for Moderately-Priced DACs

Gustard’s X16 Digital-to-Analog Converter – My New Standard for Moderately-Priced DACs

Gustard’s X16 Digital-to-Analog Converter – My New Standard for Moderately-Priced DACs

Tom Gibbs
In Copper’s last issue, I talked about possible upcoming changes to my lifestyle and living arrangements that might require me to rethink my large(ish) home stereo setup. In particular, whether I could possibly continue with a much smaller incarnation of the system that would still reasonably reflect my pursuit of what I consider to be the absolute sound. I’d been looking at several sub-$1K Chinese-made DACs that had been getting a lot of really good recent press. A couple of weeks ago, I reached out to one of those manufacturers, Gustard (pronounced "Goos-tard"), located in Shenzhen City in Guangdong, China. Gustard manufactures a variety of audio products, and the model that really interested me is the X16 digital-to-analog converter, which is a full-featured DAC that’s in a reasonably compact case. Its $499 MSRP is priced squarely in the middle of Gustard’s DAC lineup, and the X16 gets very high marks in many online discussions. The X16 also seemed to offer a feature set comparable to similar but significantly higher-priced DACs from other Chinese manufacturers.
The X16 uses top-of-the-line ESS Sabre 9068AS DAC chipset, which handles digital files of every type, and provides full MQA decoding. The X16 uses top-of-the-line ESS Sabre 9068AS DAC chipset, which handles digital files of every type, and provides full MQA decoding.

As most of you are probably aware, most of the world’s supply of DAC chips has been seriously impacted by a fire a couple of years ago at the AKM facility in Japan. Most of the Chinese manufacturers had been using AKM chips in their DAC construction, which is in pretty stark contrast with many manufacturers of higher-end DACs, who seemed to almost always go with American-made ESS Sabre chipsets. Despite that, the AKM-equipped DACs were getting very positive reviews just about everywhere, and I was definitely intrigued. But in the aftermath of the fire, and after having exhausted their supply of AKM chips, most Far East manufacturers have switched to ESS DAC chips, and Gustard has followed suit. Surprisingly, they've implemented one of ESS’ top level, two-channel audiophile-grade chipsets in the mid-priced X16 DAC. After having only spent a little over a week with it, I’m convinced that it will definitely be the one that fills the DAC slot in my new, smaller, more streamlined system – or will occupy a prominent position in my current setup!


Gustard's X16 DAC presents a very solid first impression. Gustard's X16 DAC presents a very solid first impression.

Gustard’s X16 DAC Arrives After a Bit of a Snafu

Almost two weeks passed since I contacted Gustard, and I hadn’t gotten a tracking number; I reached out to them again, simply to inquire as to whether the unit had indeed shipped. A couple of days later (it was a Tuesday, locally), I got an e-mail from them telling me that it had shipped the previous Saturday, and they provided me with a DHL tracking number. DHL’s website showed that a shipping label had been created, but that the package was not yet in their system. A customer service note stated that I should reach out to the shipper to confirm that they had called to arrange for a pickup. My particular home audio situation was a bit strained at the moment; my PS Audio Stellar preamp/DAC combo had suffered a circuit board failure, and had been away from my system awaiting a new board for almost two months. I don’t mean to whine, but I’ve been essentially dead in the water that entire time, and any DACs I had on hand were only 24/96 PCM capable, and I have no other preamp available to control the rest of my system. The Gustard X16 has balanced analog outputs and an analog volume control, so it had the potential to become something of a lifeline in the interim until my main unit reappeared. I had my PrimaLuna EVO 300 integrated tube amp hooked up to my Zu Audio Omen loudspeakers, but the EVO 300 doesn’t have enough juice to power the Magneplanar LRS loudspeakers that perform most of my heavy lifting. And I still didn’t have a DAC that would allow me to listen to any high-resolution digital files. That’s when a miracle happened; DHL picked up the package, and by the next day, it had departed Hong Kong, and arrived in Miami, Florida the following morning! Another notification told me that the X16 had cleared the initial stages of customs. Six hours later that afternoon, a notification informed me that there was a customs problem, and that I needed to contact DHL immediately to help in resolving it. No customer service would be available until Monday morning. To my great surprise, on Monday morning, another notification had shown up, informing me that the X16 had arrived overnight in Atlanta, and was currently on board a delivery truck headed to my home. I almost fell out of my chair!

The X16 DAC Is a Model of Good Construction and Engineering

Upon unpacking the X16, I was immediately impressed by the unit’s relative heft for such a compact device. It measures just a shade over 8.5 inches wide, a bit over 6.5 inches deep, and is 2 inches tall, weighing a surprisingly heavy 5.5 lbs. Right out of its shipping package, the X16 exudes the kind of quality of construction that ticks every one of my boxes – this unit is obviously not a toy. The fit and finish is simply marvelous, and the relative weight of the X16 guarantees that it won’t slip and slide about when connected with heavyweight cables, like my AudioQuest Yukon XLR output interconnects and the AQ Cobalt HDMI cable I use for my digital input connection.


The X16's rear panel offers a surprisingly good selection of digital inputs and analog outputs for such a modestly-priced DAC. The X16's rear panel offers a surprisingly good selection of digital inputs and analog outputs for such a modestly-priced DAC.

All the inputs are digital, featuring the usual selection of USB, coax, and optical connections, as well as an AES XLR-type digital input, along with the one that makes me get a little weak in the knees – an I²S digital input. My Euphony Summus/Endpoint digital streaming setup was recently upgraded to include I²S connectivity; it’s definitely a superior digital signal delivery method, and I strongly recommend its use for those who have access. The X16 employs fully-balanced circuitry, and the outputs are all analog, including a pair of single-ended RCAs, as well as a pair of XLRs. It integrated perfectly into my own balanced system setup. The only other rear-panel input is a standard IEC power connector (I used an AudioQuest NRG Y3 power cable), and beside it, there’s a recessed sliding switch to choose between 110 or 220 volts. The unit arrived preset at 220 volts, but it only took a slight amount of pressure on the switch to move it to the 110-volt position (for use in the US). The power switch is located just to the right of the IEC input, and there’s a nearby connection terminal for attachment of the Bluetooth antenna. The X16’s front panel only includes the display window and a soft-touch volume wheel, for those who might need volume adjustment capability in their system (volume can also be adjusted with the supplied remote control). The X16 is available in black or silver finishes – the review unit arrived in black, and I found its appearance to be particularly handsome, and felt that it fit in nicely with my equipment stack. The X16 package included a standard USB cable, the remote control, and a Bluetooth antenna. Also included was a mini-CD disc containing the necessary computer driver for Windows users. The package did not include an AC power cable, there were no batteries for the remote, and there was no supplied operation manual. The X16 has a built-in high-quality linear power supply; I generally roll my own AC power cables with most new equipment, so the absence of a supplied AC cord wasn’t an issue at all. And I almost always have batteries of all types on hand. I had to go to Gustard’s website to download the manual, which was thorough, although the initial setup of the X16 is reasonably uncomplicated. Most of the information in the manual is for Windows users, and for those who use a freeware program like Foobar for digital file management. My Euphony Summus/Endpoint streaming setup is Linux-based (no drivers are necessary), and I use Roon for file management, so I could conveniently skip over the very detailed Foobar information in the manual. As fate would have it, the day before the X16 showed up, my repaired PS Audio preamp/DAC also arrived, and that made the setup of my normal listening system with PS Audio amps and the Maggie LRS loudspeakers a snap. Was it ever great to hear something approaching reference-quality music again after an over two month absence! Connecting the X16 to my normal system setup was fairly effortless; I put on some small-combo jazz music (set to repeat) and allowed it to play for a couple of days before doing any critical listening. I did sit down and take a quick out-of-the-gate listen; the initial sound quality was a bit harsh (a common online criticism) and somewhat clinical, but after a couple of days of continuous burn-in the X16 really opened up and began to sound supremely musical.

The Good — and the Not-So-Good

Before I get into a more detailed analysis of the X16, I want to highlight a couple of points that really jumped out during the review process. We’ll start with the Good:

  • The X16 is remarkably well constructed, and is a really robust piece of audio kit that offers an astonishingly good level of connectivity at its modest price point.
  • The included technology in the X16 is in line with DACs costing many times its modest MSRP, including a pair of ESS Sabre ES9068AS DAC chips, which are currently ESS’ top of the line 32-bit audiophile 2-channel chipset that includes full MQA decoding.
  • The sound quality of the X16 is beyond reproach, even giving my venerable PS Audio unit a run for its money. Any file I played of any origin, whether PCM or DSD, possessed levels of fine detail, nuance, and musicality that simply shocked me in a $499 DAC.
Now, for the Not-so-Good (none of these are deal-breakers):
  • The front panel display type on the setup menu is almost microscopically small; I practically had to have my face directly in front of the X16 to be able to read the menu entries. It would have been really nice if the display window were large enough to accommodate a larger and more legible type font. And even though the display type for Bit and Sample rates is somewhat larger, it could have been even larger, so it could be seen from closer than a foot or so away.
  • The I²S input switches cannot be adjusted in the setup menu. This is a capability that’s available in other DACs that are in the same range as the X16. This isn’t entirely Gustard’s fault; the I²S protocol has a number of different variations and implementations, and it just so happens that with my particular equipment, the DSD and PCM channel switches need to be set to the opposite of what was factory preset in the X16. The very easy workaround is that you simply switch the positions of the output cables from left to right. It works perfectly, but it’s a bit less elegant than having the option to fix this with software, using the menu.
  • Full MQA decoding is only available with the USB input. I would have preferred full I²S compatibility, but I’m still on the fence about MQA anyway, so it’s not a big deal.
The X16 is compact alongside the standard-rack-width PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp. The X16 is compact alongside the standard-rack-width PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp.

Digging Into the X16’s Feature Set

For my initial listening, I set up the X16 as the principal DAC in my restored main system, and connected the Euphony Summus/Endpoint streaming system via the I²S digital input. I then downloaded the X16 manual and read through all the pertinent information. Gustard’s main page on their website is entirely in Chinese, but hovering over the various menu options will reveal an English language pull-down to access some of the information in English (much of it isn’t translated, however). I then used the menu button on the supplied remote to access the menu screen on the X16’s front panel display. After basically getting on my hands and knees to get close enough to the display to read the available functions, I also figured out that you need to make your selection fairly quickly, or the menu rapidly returns to the default setting. If you’re using the X16 in a desktop setting, which would probably be more common for most users, the visibility (or lack of it) of the display is less of an issue.


The X16 implements American-made Accusilicon master clocks. The X16 implements American-made Accusilicon master clocks.

First of all, you’ll need to cycle through the digital inputs and make a selection (I²S for me). The next option is for the PCM digital filter; there’s a choice of three, and the default selection is “L-Fast,” which stands for Linear Phase Fast Roll-off. The manual describes it as the most accurate and acoustically neutral filter, and after experimenting with all three, my ears agreed and I chose it for all my listening. The next option is for a setting called “NOS,” which is set by default to the “Off” position. As a long-time tube amplification user, in tube jargon, "NOS" generally refers to classic tubes that are "New Original Stock,” which are unused old tubes from the glory days of tube production. But in terms of digital-to-analog conversion, NOS refers to “No Over Sampling,” and if you want to hear all your high-resolution PCM and DSD files natively (definitely my preference!), you’ll need to set the NOS to “On.” Otherwise, 8x oversampling is employed on all files, which may or may not be a good thing, but most of my experience in this area tells me that I want to hear my high-resolution files in the most unvarnished state possible. The next menu choice is for “BT Power,” or the Bluetooth control function; you can set it to a constant on or an auto function, depending on your needs. Next up is “Phase Invert,” and the default setting is “Disable,” which is the US standard; setting the Phase Invert to “Enable” changes it to the Japanese/European standard. If you’re using a fully-balanced rig (as I am), you may need to check your XLR pin configuration to confirm the correct setting. The last two settings are for the front panel LED display, and whether you want the display constantly enabled, or auto-on and off, and for setting the brightness of the display. I chose constantly on, and the brightest display level (8). I know a lot of people tend to listen to their stereo rigs in subdued lighting conditions (I generally do), and prefer to avoid glaringly bright LED displays, but in this case the display level could have been even brighter and I would have been much happier.


Gustard emphasizes the X16's I2S configuration. Unfortunately, no customization is allowed. Gustard emphasizes the X16's I2S configuration. Unfortunately, no customization is allowed.

At this point, everything was basically ready to go, and I switched on some music to get a quick first impression of the X16. Despite the fact that the unit needed to be burned in for a couple of days, I still took a listen, and noticed right away that the left and right channels were definitely reversed. After confirming that all the cable connections were correct, I recalled having recently seen some information on another manufacturer’s site about frequent mismatches with I²S implementations. I’d run into the same thing myself in another situation, where the PCM channels were correct, but DSD playback was reversed. Fortunately here, the incorrect channel assignment was identical for both PCM and DSD, so it was a simple fix to switch the left and right interconnect cables, and all was right with the world again. As I mentioned above, some manufacturers offer software options to correct for I²S mismatches, but that’s not an option with the X16. Which I found to be curious, because Gustard features a prominent graphic on their website that highlights the I²S pin configuration. After making the cable switch, I let the music play for a couple of days and then began my critical listening to get a more in-depth opinion of how I felt the X16 sounded.

Listening Results

Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album cover.

I’ve ripped the DSD layers of over 500 SACDs over the last six months, and have also made a number of new SACD acquisitions, including a Japanese SHM SACD of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I thought its DSD files would be a good starting point to hear how the X16 handled well-recorded rock music. Upon playing the opening track, “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” I was immediately struck by how very powerful and organic the DSD track sounded via the X16. But the moment that really grabbed my attention came on the track that followed, “Candle In The Wind,” where Elton’s voice was presented with much greater levels of nuance and more detailed phrasing than I ever recalled hearing in this performance. His piano came forth from the loudspeakers with such utterly live in your room realism and presence that I sat motionless for the duration of the song. I was absolutely gobsmacked, to say the least!

Deep Purple, Machine Head album cover.

Next up was my DSD file from the Universal Japan SACD of Deep Purple’s classic Machine Head. Now, I’ve heard this music countless times, but on the opening track, “Highway Star,” I couldn’t believe the bruising muscularity, momentum, and drive as presented by the X16. Roger Glover’s classic bass riff, Ritchie Blackmore’s searing guitar, Ian Gillian’s piercing, banshee vocals, and especially the power of Ian Paice’s pounding drums were elevated to a potent level of punishing intensity. The performance even bettered that of my original Warner Brothers LP by a wide margin. Machine Head isn’t an audiophile quality recording by any stretch of the imagination, but the DSD tracks via the X16 came closer to that standard than any previous digital version I’ve ever heard. I ended up listening to the entire album, and it was quite an intense sonic rush!

Karrin Allyson, Sweet Home Cookin' album cover.

While on my ripping tear this summer, I had missed the SACD in my collection for Sweet Home Cookin’ by noirish jazz singer Karrin Allyson. When I ripped it and remedied my mistake, I was definitely underwhelmed by a first listen to the DSD files on my normal system. I decided to give it a listen on the X16, and the track I chose was “I Cover The Waterfront,” where Allyson’s smoky-sweet alto voice is on perfect display. The excellent cast of supporting players, including Bob Cooper on tenor sax and Alan Broadbent on piano, was presented with a more tangible level of realism with the X16 inserted into my system. I have a number of Karrin Allyson’s CDs, and they’re all generally excellent, but I always felt she suffered from a bit of a sophomore slump on Sweet Home Cookin’, her second release. Hearing the DSD files over the X16 has me definitely rethinking how I rank this disc in her body of work, and I’m now digging into more of her catalog of titles.

     Shostakovich Piano Concertos album cover.

I don’t want you to get the impression that I only listen to DSD files. Actually, the vast majority of my collection and the bulk of my listening is done with rips of 16-bit/44.1 kHz Red Book CDs, and a disproportionate percentage of those are classical music titles. One of those titles is an album of Shostakovich Piano Concertos from Harmonia Mundi and Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov. This is a shockingly good recording whose sound rivals that of many higher-resolution formats. Upon taking a recent listen via the X16, I was astounded by how robustly the orchestral crescendos were rendered, and by the palpability of Melnikov’s grand piano. In between the two concertos, there’s a really great performance of one of Shostakovich’s Sonatas for Piano and Violin, and the interplay between Melnikov and violinist Isabelle Faust is breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve always known this is a great recording, but I just didn’t remember it sounding quite this good before, and yes, CD-quality files are rendered with superb musicality by the X16.

Debussy Preludes do 2e Livre album cover.

Staying in the Alexander Melnikov groove, Harmonia Mundi celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of composer Claude Debussy in 2018 with a whole series of recordings from their roster of artists. I played Melnikov’s entry in the series, Debussy’s Preludes, Book II, and as I listened to this recording I’ve played many times over the last few years, I experienced another moment of near-catatonia. I was literally unable to move as I listened, and was nearly awestruck by the unparalleled level of realism of Alexander Melnikov and his piano. I own a number of really good recordings of solo piano, and I consider solo piano recordings to be an excellent indicator of any system’s ability to accurately portray complex and demanding music. Played through the X16, this Melnikov Debussy recording has definitely moved towards the top of the demonstration list!

Patricia Barber, Clique, album cover.

Another really superb recording that I reviewed in Copper Issue 144 is jazz pianist and vocalist Patricia Barber's latest release, Clique. I've ripped the DSD layer of the SACD disc, and I also have the 32-bit/352.8 kHz DXD files. I had the following to say about this excellent release then: "Clique is an exceptional recording; one of those rare events where all elements of the creative process combine to yield a record of perfect performances and technical brilliance. Clique is a truly outstanding listening experience." The DXD file is easily the finest-sounding digital music file on my entire music server, and it reached a new level of magnificence when played with the Gustard X16 in my big system.


While I hoped for good things from the Gustard X16, I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by its impressive build quality, musicality, and most importantly, it’s superior sound quality. And I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was literally stopped in my tracks by the almost hyper-realism of the X16’s portrayal of the music. It often revealed surprising levels of previously unheard detail in performances I'm intimately familiar with. And despite my grumblings about what I felt were a few technical glitches, I’m heavily focused on sound quality above all else, and the X16 certainly gets top marks for that. While my review to this point has focused on the X16’s integration into my current high-end audio system, next issue I’ll cover more of my experiences with it in the compact system I’m putting together for my possible upcoming alternate reality. Generally, in my reviews, I tend to focus on the affordable spectrum of audio equipment, and often find myself referring to a particular piece of kit as my “budget reference.” That’s definitely true of the X16 – it’s without a doubt my new budget reference for digital-to-analog converters. The fact that it features a pair of top-of-the-line ESS Sabre ES9068AS DAC chips at its $499 MSRP is almost incomprehensible to me. And I’ve seen it available online for as low as $449, making it an even greater bargain. In the Gustard X16, I’ve found my new reference, period – it comes very highly recommended! Gustard X16 digital-to-analog converter: $499.00 MSRP (USD), www.gustard.cn All images courtesy of Gustard, ESS, and the author.

Some Notable Analog Recordings, Part Three

Some Notable Analog Recordings, Part Three

Some Notable Analog Recordings, Part Three

Adrian Wu

Part One and Part Two of this series appeared in Issue 141 and Issue 142.

I started exploring recordings on labels related to the Decca Record Company of England in Issue 141, having discussed several LPs from Lyrita Recorded Edition. Lyrita was an independent label that contracted out the technical aspect of making recordings to Decca, with the owner astutely insisting to have the celebrated recording engineer Kenneth Wilkinson put in charge of the projects whenever possible. This article will explore recordings from Argo and L’Oiseau-Lyre, two labels wholly owned by Decca.

Audiophile recording as we know it started with the English recording engineer Arthur Haddy, whose career began at Western Electric (where pretty much anything to do with high-fidelity audio originated). He was poached by Crystalate, an early record label, where he was later joined by Kenneth Wilkinson. Decca soon took over the company, including the technical team. When World War II started, the Decca engineers were tasked by the British government with developing equipment to detect and record German submarines. Their wartime research not only helped Britain win the war, but also kickstarted the concept of high-fidelity sound with the development of the Full Frequency Range Recording (FFRR) technology. FFRR made possible for the first time the recording of the full spectrum of frequencies perceived by the human ear. Decca can therefore be regarded as the first audiophile record label, with excellent sound quality as one of its stated goals.

When the stereo era arrived, Decca was the first company in Europe, and second in the world (RCA beat Decca to it by two months), to start making stereo recordings. Wilkinson, Haddy and their younger colleague Roy Wallace together developed the famous “Decca Tree” microphone recording technique. The early years of stereo from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s was a period of experimentation, with the engineers setting up different microphone arrangements simultaneously during recording sessions to determine the optimum placement for each recording location (venue). The excellent sound quality of these recordings did not happen by chance; it took meticulous experimentation, a thorough understanding of the acoustics of the recording venues, as well as familiarity with the sound of the orchestras and conductors. Wilkinson is best known for his recordings at Kingsway Hall, a Methodist church hall that was demolished in 1998, and Walthamstow Town Hall. Pretty much any recording made by him in these halls is a guarantee of good sound.

Wilkinson was in charge of training all the younger engineers at Decca until his retirement in 1980. This ensured a consistency of sound quality. Record collectors also pay great heed to the actual label of the LPs, since this represents the era when the record was made. There is a good summary of Decca labelography here: http://milestomozart.blogspot.com/2014/02/lp-week-with-aql-special-report-decca.html

In general, up until the early 1960s, the recording and mastering chains were vacuum tube-based. Gradually, more solid-state equipment was introduced, but this was never clearly stated on the records. One has to assume that by the mid 1970s, most if not all the equipment was solid state. Reissues after the early 1960s of earlier recordings were most likely mastered with solid state equipment and sound different from the original releases. In general, tube-based LPs have a warmer mid-range and the ambience has more bloom. The string tone is ravishingly beautiful. The bass, however, is more bloated. The solid-state LPs have a tighter bottom end, a bit more clarity and more precise imaging. Even though the earlier tube-based cutter head amps were likely less powerful than the later solid-state units, the early stereo LPs are astonishingly dynamic. Early acetate-backed recording tapes have more hiss, while Dolby-encoded tapes from the mid-1970s onwards involved an extra stage of electronics, which could offend one’s audiophile sensibilities. One also has to take into account the improvement in cutter heads as time went on. Therefore, preference for earlier or later labels is entirely down to personal taste.

In this article, I will discuss several LPs that are of demonstration quality, but are not well-known and therefore not in high demand. None of them has been reissued by the modern audiophile labels.


 William Mathias – Dance Overture/Ave Rex – A Carol Sequence/Invocation And Dance/Harp Concerto. album cover.

William Mathias – Dance Overture/Ave Rex – A Carol Sequence/Invocation And Dance/Harp Concerto. London Symphony Orchestra, Atherton. L’Oiseau-Lyre SOL346/Decca SXL6607 (1973)

L’Oiseau-Lyre was a Decca label that specialized in early music, but somehow this LP of modern compositions was released in 1973 under this label as well as the usual Decca label. William Mathias (1934 – 1992) was a Welsh composer and music professor who left a large body of choral works, as well as orchestral and organ compositions. The real gem here is the harp concerto. The music is modern but melodious. The first movement is one long flowing line of woodwinds accompanying the harp, with the backing of the strings, percussion and brass. It gives me a feeling of flying through the air over green fields, forests and streams. In the second movement, the mood changes completely. It is darker, as if night has fallen, giving the listener a sense of mystery and foreboding. It has an almost cinematic quality. The final movement returns to a more lighthearted, joyous mood.

The Dance Overture is also a very enjoyable piece of music. It is lighthearted and rhythmic. The style reminds me of some of Malcolm Arnold’s overtures.

The sound is of demonstration quality. The recording was engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson at Kingsway Hall, and it has the Kingsway hallmarks of clarity, great imaging, an all-enveloping soundstage, and superb dynamics. The harp is a good test of transient response, and when well reproduced, sounds as if one is listening to the real thing. The composition also makes good use of other percussive as well as wind instruments, which have a very immediate sound. It belongs in the top rank of Decca recordings. You should be able to find a good copy for less than $20.

 Gerhard, Symphony No 4/Violin Concerto, album cover.

Gerhard, Symphony No 4/Violin Concerto. BBC Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis, Yfrah Neaman (Violin). Argo ZRG701 (1972)

Roberto Gerhard was a Catalonian composer and a student of Schoenberg, and escaped the Spanish Civil War to live in England just before the start of the Second World War. His violin concerto is the earlier work on this record, written during World War II. I find the work mesmerizing, with echoes of Prokofiev’s violin concertos. The violin tone is very natural, and there is good balance between the soloist and the orchestra.

Gerhard’s Symphony No. 4 was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, and premiered under the baton of William Steinberg in 1967. It has less of the lyrical qualities of the violin concerto, instead sounding intense and urgent at times, interleaved with moments of contemplation. It makes use of a variety of percussive instruments and stunning passages of virtuoso wind playing.

The recording was made in Hammersmith Town Hall, and the recording team was uncredited. It is no less brilliant than the other Gerhard recording listed here, sharing the same characteristics of explosive dynamics, huge soundstage, tonal naturalness and the illusion of being alive.

 Rawsthorne, Symphony No. 3/Gerhard, Concerto For Orchestra, album cover.

Rawsthorne, Symphony No. 3/Gerhard, Concerto For Orchestra. BBC Symphony Orchestra, Norman Del Mar. Argo ZRG553 (1968)

Readers are probably more familiar with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, one of the most important 20th century compositions. Gerhard’s version has a single movement, and was premiered by Antal Doráti and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the leading American orchestra of the time. The music is atonal, and makes liberal use of percussion, brass and plucked strings. There are some experimental elements, and the recording offers a rich and complex soundscape. There are rapid shifts in dynamics and tempo, presenting formidable challenges to the players. The whole piece is highly atmospheric, and a great showcase for an audiophile recording.

The Rawsthorne Symphony No. 3 is a more conventional composition with four movements. It has some hauntingly beautiful moments, and passages of intensity and dynamic contrasts.

This recording was engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson at Kingsway Hall. It is again a spectacular recording that sounds very natural and alive. The dynamics are breathtaking.

 Manuel De Falla – El Retablo De Maese Pedro/Psyche/Harpsichord Concerto, album cover.

Manuel De Falla – El Retablo De Maese Pedro/Psyche/Harpsichord Concerto. The London Sinfonietta, Simon Rattle, John Constable (Harpsichord). Argo ZRG921 (1981)

The title of the first piece translates as “Master Peter’s Puppet Show,” and is a musical tableau with a soprano, tenor and baritone. It is meant to be an opera based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, but with puppets instead of actors. The music is fun, with brilliant sound effects using percussive instruments. Recording opera is a particular strength of Decca, with their recording of Solti’s Wagner Ring cycle being regarded by many as the best music recording ever. This recording presents a realistic soundstage with excellent presence of the voices. The dynamics are impressive, and the sound is very transparent and natural. You can close your eyes and see the puppets in front of you.

Psyche is an impressionistic miniature with soprano voice. The voice has a warmth and presence that suits the music well.

The harpsichord concerto is an important work for the composer. Falla was encouraged by the leading harpsichordist of the time, Wanda Landowska, who was involved in the premier performance of El Retablo, to write a piece for harpsichord. Most harpsichord music was written during the Baroque period, and this composition has a totally different style. The balance between the harpsichord and the chamber orchestra is ideal, and the solo instrument again has that “alive” quality that can be quite startling.

Decca recorded the El Retablo and the harpsichord concerto with the great Spanish conductor Ataulfo Argenta back in 1957. I do not have that recording for comparison. This newer recording by the (then) up and coming Simon Rattle should certainly be categorized as one of the great Decca recordings in its own terms.

1960s Music Magic: Revisiting NYC’s Fillmore East, Greenwich Village (and More)

1960s Music Magic: Revisiting NYC’s Fillmore East, Greenwich Village (and More)

1960s Music Magic: Revisiting NYC’s Fillmore East, Greenwich Village (and More)

Stuart Marvin

New York’s famed Fillmore East closed 50 years ago this year. It’s hard to believe it was that long ago. Although only operational for a relatively short three-year period (1968 – 1971), the Fillmore East was central to 1960s music, the era’s counterculture movement and its generational ethos. A lot of the music performed at the Fillmore was politically based and socially driven. The 2,654-seat venue provided an atmosphere that was intimate and infectious, with both exceptional acoustics and sound.

Music promoter and impresario Bill Graham, seeking a New York City counterpart to his San Francisco Fillmore West venue, purchased the Greenwich Village Second Avenue theater, previously known for its Yiddish performances, in 1968.

The first performance at the Fillmore East was on March 8, 1968.  It was a triple-bill featuring Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, bluesman Albert King, and folk-rock artist Tim Buckley.  A three-artist bill was standard fare at the Fillmore, and it also was common for Graham to book artists from different musical genres on the same night. He viewed that booking strategy as a tool for “audience enlightenment.”

Bill Graham was born in Berlin in 1931, and as a child he narrowly escaped the Holocaust. His father tragically died in an accident just two days after his birth, while his mother perished at the hands of the Nazis at Auschwitz. Graham’s life was likely spared when his mother placed him in a French orphanage in a pre-Holocaust exchange of Jewish children for Christian orphans.

At the age of 10, Graham (who died in 1991 at age 60) was placed in an orphanage in the Bronx, New York, and was subsequently adopted by a local family. Graham later attended City College of New York (CCNY) and also served in the Korean War, where he was awarded both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. In the early ’60s, he migrated to San Francisco and began his career as a music promoter. Graham had a reputation for being surly, difficult and lacking in patience. He had a particular disdain for tardiness.

How good was the sound and performances at the Fillmore East? Well, no less than thirty classic live recordings from the venue have been released.

Some of the most notable albums include, The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East (1971); Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, 4 Way Street (1971); Humble Pie Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore (1971), Joe Cocker, Mad Dogs & Englishmen (1970), Miles Davis at Fillmore (1970), Jimi Hendrix, Band of Gypsy’s (1970), John Mayall, The Turning Point (1969) and Derek and the Dominos Live At The Fillmore (1973).

The Fillmore East. The Fillmore East.

Just that short list of albums alone speaks to the exceptional music that emanated from the hallowed venue, where the best orchestra seats were priced at a relatively modest $5.50.

Of course, accompanying many live Fillmore East performances was the psychedelic Joshua Light Show. Created by Joshua White, the light show used many different image-making devices to add to an artist’s onstage musical performance. The “liquid light show” was showcased behind the artist, and its revolutionary visual effect enhanced the overall concert experience. A Fillmore show was known for both its sight and sound.

In a recently-published book, Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, journalist/photographer Frank Mastropolo interviewed 90 musicians and assorted crew, who share their personal memories about the venue.

Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, book cover.

Singer/guitarist Steve Miller recalls having to follow show opener Mungo Jerry (“In the Summertime”), who, before departing the stage, distributed 500 kazoos to the Fillmore audience. This now well-equipped army of kazoo enthusiasts then uninvitedly decided to jam along with Steve Miller and his band’s set. Not exactly what Miller had in mind, but he and the band had no choice but to roll with it.

David Clayton-Thomas (vocalist for Blood, Sweat & Tears) humorously recalls guitarist Steve Katz’s mother delivering chicken soup to the band backstage in her then-stylish mink coat, and having to step over all the dopers stretched out in the backstage area.

Doug Clifford (drummer, Creedence Clearwater Revival) recalls a night where the audience demanded an unprecedented 17 encores. Bill Graham commemorated the occasion by giving each band member an inscribed gold watch.

It wasn’t terribly uncommon for some bands to play until the wee hours of the morning. Elvin Bishop (guitarist, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Elvin Bishop Group) had this to say: “you can’t visualize today a big venue letting people jam until four or five in the morning. It’s just so cold-blooded (and all) about the money. Nowadays the venues sell those tickets, they do the show and they get your ass out of there and that’s it.”

The first of many Fillmore East concerts I attended was on October 31, 1969. The headliner was Mountain, a band fronted by the now-deceased Leslie West (guitar, vocals) and Felix Pappalardi (bass, vocals). The other scheduled artists that evening were the Steve Miller Band and The Move, fronted by Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood. The Move disappointedly was a late scratch and was replaced by the Steve Baron Quartet, a contemporary folk group. Keeping with Graham’s mix and match booking strategy, the Quartet was somewhat of an odd complement to the evening’s other performers.


As an impressionable young teen, that first Fillmore concert was a coming of age moment.  It wasn’t just the musical experience, which from my sixth-row orchestra seat was magical.  It was also about experiencing and gaining a stronger appreciation for the counterculture vibe emanating from the streets of Greenwich Village. The neighborhood was a big part of the 1960s counterculture movement, driven by the news of the day: the Vietnam War, civil rights and the military draft.

The air in the Fillmore East was often thick with the pungent smell of marijuana, and patrons had to exercise a fair amount of discretion when indulging. The Fillmore ushers prowling the aisles would shine a flashlight on those actively lighting up, which was a no-no. It was sort of a hippie version of theater matrons patrolling the aisles at your local movie cinema, though their job was to curtail youthful chatter rather than the use of illicit drugs.

Of course, there also was the heavy use of hallucinogenics, with the audience’s proclivity directly correlated to whatever band was performing. Though never part of any research study, as far as I know, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd are two noteworthy artists that likely had a strong correlation. If you were graphing the two variables – bands and audience hallucinogenics – the graph lines for the Dead and Pink Floyd would likely resemble a hockey stick.

I have a vivid memory at one Fillmore concert where the ushers had to wrestle a gentleman off the safety railings in the balcony, fearing he was about to swan dive to the lower orchestra level. Let’s just say, being an usher at the Fillmore was not for the faint of heart.


Arguably the most infamous night at the Fillmore East occurred on May 16, 1969. The headliner that evening was The Who. In the midst of the band’s set, a fire broke out in a building adjacent to the venue. Although the Fillmore was not in immediate danger, as a precaution the New York Fire Department ordered the venue evacuated.

When a plainclothes NYPD officer tried to take control of the stage to make an announcement, the band mistook him for a crazy fan, oblivious to the chaos ensuing around them. The Who’s Pete Townsend instinctively went into attack mode, kicking the officer in his Baba O’Riley’s. Luckily for both the officer and Townsend, his aim was slightly off target. To add insult to injury, the non-uniformed officer was then bounced from the venue by the Fillmore’s security team, who also was oblivious to the fire and evacuation order. Bill Graham then took the stage and informed the crowd about the “fire across the street,” intentionally downplaying its proximity to the venue.

Pete Townshend was subsequently issued a summons for simple assault, though the NYPD desired a felony assault charge for kicking a police officer in the line of duty.

When Graham closed the Fillmore, he blamed it on artist greed and changing industry economics. “Some top rock musicians would rather play a 20,000 seat arena like Madison Square Garden for an hour’s work (and make $50,000), rather than the 2,600‐seat Fillmore East (for four hours and make roughly $20,000).”


It’s hard to argue against arena economics, but the experience at the Fillmore for both artist and audience was far, far superior to any large arena show in terms of acoustics, sound, ambiance and intimacy.

A short walk from the Fillmore East’s Second Avenue and Sixth Street location is St. Marks Place. St. Marks back then consisted of a variety of downtrodden apartments and retail businesses, including seedy bars, head shops, funky clothing stores, record shops and the Electric Circus, a venue that couldn’t be more aptly named.

Artwork from the interior of the Electric Circus. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Keith V. Johnson. Artwork from the interior of the Electric Circus. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Keith V. Johnson.

The Electric Circus was emblematic of the wild and crazy side of the 1960s. It was a combination nightclub, discotheque and music venue. It featured flame throwing jugglers and trapeze artists who performed between musical performances, as strobe lights flashed over a large dance floor. Lots of eclectic bands played there, including The Velvet Underground. Going to the Electric Circus was a visceral, multimedia experience, featuring music, dance and performance art.

Several of the era’s famous and infamous also resided on St. Marks, including comedian Lenny Bruce and activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Both Hoffman and Rubin were founding members of the Youth International Party (the “Yippies”), while Hoffman is also known for the counterculture bestseller Steal This Book, which he self-published after no less than 30 publishers refused to print it.

Some other notable 1960s-era Greenwich Village music clubs and coffeehouses included Gerde’s Folk City, The Bitter End, Café Au Go Go, Café Figaro, The Five Spot Café, the Village Vanguard, Café Wha? and The Gaslight Café.

What’s considered a coffeehouse today versus back in the 1960s is resoundingly different. Let’s just say Starbucks wouldn’t exactly pass muster, nor would a patron ordering a triple-venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato. A coffeehouse in the ’60s might include both poetry readings and musical performances, quite often of the folk variety.  They were gathering places for artists, writers, musicians and poets.

Gerde’s Folk City is well-known for hosting Bob Dylan’s first paid public performance, opening for John Lee Hooker. The venue also helped launch the careers of many other artists, including Peter, Paul 

Gerde's Folk CIty poster. From popspotsnyc.com.
Gerde's Folk CIty poster. From popspotsnyc.com.

Two noteworthy performances at The Gaslight Café include Joni Mitchell’s first live New York City show and the first electric appearance by The Blues Project.

If the Fillmore East was the mecca of NYC rock during its heyday, then the Village Vanguard is the same, if not more, for jazz music. Opened in 1935, the Village Vanguard is the oldest jazz club in New York. Musicians who’ve performed there are a veritable who’s who of jazz, including Miles, Monk, Mingus, Coltrane, Evans and Tyner, to name a few. It wasn’t always wine and roses, though, at the small 123-seat club. The mercurial Charles Mingus once held a knife to the throat of club owner Max Gordon for an alleged underpayment. Another time, Mingus tore the front door off the club’s hinges when Gordon neglected to add the words “Jazz Workshop” after Mingus’s name.


Café Wha? is probably best-known as the club where bassist Chas Chandler (The Animals) in 1966 discovered Jimi Hendrix, who was playing five sets a night, six days a week as “Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.”

The Bitter End on Bleecker Street, opened in 1961, is a venerable shrine to Greenwich Village entertainment. Initially managed and then owned by the late Paul Colby, The Bitter End helped launch the careers of an endless number of well-known folk artists, comedians, country and rock bands. Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Curtis Mayfield, Randy Newman and Jackson Browne can all trace their roots back to the venue. Van Morrison kicked over tables while performing, for dramatic effect, while James Taylor is said to have bombed at the club in some of his earliest career performances.

Dick Cavett, George Carlin, Billy Crystal, Joan Rivers and, of course, Lenny Bruce are a few of the comedic luminaries who fine-tuned their craft at the venue. Woody Allen allegedly was so nervous before his very first set at the club that he tried to crawl out a back window.

Yet another Greenwich Village cultural institution was the Hotel Albert, located on 11th Street. What began as three row houses constructed in 1850 was converted first into the St. Stephen hotel in 1875, and with additional expansion, rechristened the Hotel Albert in 1902.

For decades the Hotel Albert served as a meeting place for musicians, artists, writers and political radicals. Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol all resided at the hotel at one time or another. In the years leading up to McCarthyism, the Communist party is also alleged to have held secret meetings at the Albert.

The Hotel Albert is where Paul Butterfield formed his blues band. It’s also where John Sebastian wrote the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic,” The Mamas & The Papa’s created “California Dreamin’” and where Canned Heat jammed with Eric Clapton and Cream. Musicians would rehearse and jam in the hotel’s gritty basement, with water leaks and dancing cockroaches hardly diminishing their desire for music creation. So, what became of the Hotel Albert? Today it’s a complex of 190 co-op apartments.

I’ve barely touched the fringes of the rich history that each of these iconic music and entertainment venues possesses. Most unfortunately are no longer with us, and those that remain are sadly struggling to survive, especially during the COVID-19 era.

There’s no doubt they’ll be new venues to replace the ones that disappear, but the bigger question is whether the collective caliber of music and entertainment that emanates from these new venues can remotely hold a candle to what transpired in Greenwich Village in the 1960s.

It was a special time and a special place.


Plaque commemorating the site of the Fillmore East. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Historicplaques.
Plaque commemorating the site of the Fillmore East. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Historicplaques.
Header image: sign marking the site of the former Fillmore East. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Grye.

150: What’s In a Number?

150: What’s In a Number?

150: What’s In a Number?

Rudy Radelic
150 is the magic number this month. 150 bi-weekly issues ago, Copper magazine was launched. It got me thinking about the number 150 and its many uses. Here is a quick glance at many things “150.” Let’s see how the US dollar performed. $150 in 1921, 100 years ago, is worth about $2,290 today. $150 in 1971, 50 years ago, is worth about $1,103 today. Conversely, $150 today was worth $9.82 in 1921, and $22.20 in 1971. In 1871, $150 would be worth about $3,300 today; $150 today would have been worth about $7.30. Turning back the calendar 150 years, we find:
  • Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, entitled Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, was published on December 27, 1871.
  • Continental AG began life as a rubber manufacturer in 1871, and began developing and producing tires in 1898. Today they are a major automotive component supplier.
  • The Greatest Show on Earth had its roots in P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome, established in 1871, which evolved and merged over the years into the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
  • Beverage producer White Rock Beverages was founded by pharmacist H.M. Colver in 1871, peddling natural spring water from the White Rock spring in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It is now a popular brand of sodas and soft drinks.
  • The cable car railway was first created 150 years ago.
  • West Chester University in Pennsylvania held its first day of classes on September 25, 1871.
  • British Columbia became the sixth province of Canada in 1871. No US states joined the union in 1871, although Colorado (the home of PS Audio) joined five years later, in 1876.
  • Closer to home (if you call Boulder your home, as PS Audio does), the Colorado Springs Company laid out the town of Fountain Colony in 1871 which, within the next year, would be renamed Colorado Springs. In addition, the town of Longmont was founded in 1871 by a group of settlers from Chicago, originally calling it the Chicago-Colorado Colony.
  • The Great Chicago Fire burned roughly 3.3 square miles of the city on October 8 – 10, 1871, causing an estimated four billion dollars in damages (in 2021 dollars), and leaving about one in three Chicago residents homeless.
A half-barrel beer keg weighs about 150 pounds. You may need a few glasses of that brew to read your way through the complete 20-volume set of the 2010 edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, which itself weighs nearly 150 pounds.
Words that carry weight: The Oxford English Dictionary. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Dan (mrpolyonymous on Flickr). Words that carry weight: The Oxford English Dictionary. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Dan (mrpolyonymous on Flickr).
US 150 is a road in the US highway system that starts on its eastern end at the US 25 junction in Mount Vernon, Kentucky and ends at the junction of US 6 in Moline, Illinois. There is no I 150 in the US Interstate Highway System (I 50 has no three-digit auxiliary highways associated with it), but there are many state roads numbered 150. An average adult, male giant panda weighs about 150 kilograms, as can an average upright piano and a cast iron bathtub. The average gestation period of a goat is 150 days. A stack of six original Advent Loudspeakers would reach just over 150 inches, about the same length as about 34 EL34 vacuum tubes laid end to end. Five Dynaco Stereo 70 amps would weigh about 150 pounds, without tubes, and 27 Grado Black cartridges would weigh about 150 grams, without packaging. May 30th is the 150th day of the year, or May 29th during a leap year. According to hot-dog.org, Americans enjoy 150 million hot dogs on Independence Day, which would stretch from Washington DC to Los Angeles more than five times over if you lined them up. Greek chili and onions for mine, please. A 5 x 5 x 5 Rubik’s Cube has six faces totaling 150 colored squares. In a 150-inch parking space, you can fit a Chevrolet Spark, a MINI Hardtop two-door or a Mitsubishi Mirage. And since you were wondering about parking spaces, that long-lost Serbian pinnacle of automobile production, the Yugo, fell short at 137 inches (and in many other ways, apparently), and only enters our survey due to one particular Yugo falling from Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge in 1989, under which there is just over 150 inches of clearance, depending on the lake level. (File this under “most useless factoid of the day.”)
Rust in peace: there's a Yugo somewhere under the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Rust in peace: there's a Yugo somewhere under the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Justin Billau.
Mathematically, the prime factorization of 150 is 2 x 3 x 5 x 5, and in scientific notation, is referred to as 1.5 x 10². It can also be represented as 10010110 in binary or 0x96 in hexadecimal. In numerology, the essence of the number 150 includes ideas of community, harmony, nurturing, independence and family. Things that weigh 150 tons: the Statue of Liberty, without the base; an unloaded Boeing 787-9; an average blue whale, the largest animal on earth; a Komatsu D575A-2 Super Dozer. You can buy a Model 150 tubing cutter made by Ridgid, a Holstein Model 150 sweet corn roaster and potato cooker, a Polaroid Model 150 Land camera, a Model 150 analog dial watch from the RGM Watch Co., a Badger Model 150 double-action airbrush, or a secondhand Cessna 150 two-seat light airplane, which remains one of the most popular light aircraft of all time with almost 24,000 manufactured and nearly 22,000 still registered around the world, despite not being produced since the mid-1980s. You can also purchase a Bajaj Pulsar 150 motorcycle from India, a Winchester Model 150 rifle, a Ford F-150 Lightning EV pickup truck (or at least preorder one), a #150 dress model from Singer (the sewing machine company), a Bogdan Model 150 fly fishing reel, or an Engström Model 150 respirator.
Nope, it's not an air-bearing turntable pump: it's an Engström Model 150 respirator. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Science Museum Group. Nope, it's not an air-bearing turntable pump: it's an Engström Model 150 respirator. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Science Museum Group.
Chilling fact: 150 degrees Kelvin is equal to –190 degrees Fahrenheit and –123 degrees Celsius. The Eden Gardens Cricket Grounds in Kolkata, India measures out to 150 acres. 7 Checklist Items for Success by Jean G. Mathurin, Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society by Kristen Rabe, Lean Gains by Charlene Oldham, and The Grand River: Dundalk to Lake Erie by Matt Sutherland, are all books with a page count of 150 pages. Feeling old? Not as old as these creatures! Animals that can live 150 years or longer are the Galapagos giant tortoise, the red sea urchin, the bowhead whale, and the Greenland shark. Ready for a scenic road trip? A circle with a 150-mile radius includes Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks (Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion and Capitol Reef); Grand Canyon National Park; the Grand Canyon-Parshant, Vermillion Cliffs, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments; the Kaibab, Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal National Forests; the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, and the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, along with numerous Utah state parks. Per a Discogs search, musical bands/artists from around the world include Mourmansk 150, E-150, Psalm 150, 150 Watts, 150 Volts, 150P, Anonym 150, The 150 Band, The LI 150s, The 150 Friends Club and The 150 Murderous Passions. httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8E_G-FgpkU And on that note, I have pretty much exhausted all that I could find about the number 150. Here’s to another 150 issues of Copper! Header image: giant panda, from the Zoos SA website.

Shannon Parks and his Magic Puffin

Shannon Parks and his Magic Puffin

Shannon Parks and his Magic Puffin

Tom Methans

My Leatherman multi-tool is indispensable. Although I bought it as a knife for opening boxes, I soon discovered I couldn’t go a week without the pliers and screwdrivers. The wire cutters and serrated edge come in handy every so often, and while I don’t usually require a saw, it’s there for cutting dried branches off the Christmas tree. While my Parks Audio Puffin phono preamp’s primary function is to amplify a phono signal, it’s also a mini-equalizer, noise filter, and diagnostic system. It works with any cartridge, and you can save four presets for use with multiple turntables, cartridges and tonearms. In addition, the Puffin has a setting for playing mono records and specialized EQs to maximize the sonics of old records by label (e.g., Teldec, London, Columbia). There are even filters to improve the sound of 78 rpm shellac discs.

How can one piece of equipment do all that? The Puffin ($489 suggested retail) is a DSP (digital signal processor) that converts an analog signal into a digital one, then allows user adjustments before reconverting the signal to analog.

Parks Puffin phono preamplifier. Parks Puffin phono preamplifier.


I already know what some of you are thinking. “I didn’t spend $50,000 so I can make my priceless records sound like CDs!” Vinyl purists go apoplectic when computers infiltrate their signal stream, and it’s completely understandable. Let’s say you have an acoustically-treated room filled with classic McIntosh tube equipment driving a pair of very natural-sounding BBC-standard loudspeakers. Chances are you would hate to alter the sound beyond what most McIntosh preamps allow you to make already. Factor in costly turntables, tonearms, and cartridges, and that gear should deliver music the way the musicians heard it. Get yourself double-45 rpm LPs, Analogue Productions’ UHQRs (ultra-high-quality recordings) and Mobile Fidelity MoFi Super Vinyl Ultradiscs transferred from the original master tapes, and you should be transported to the recording sessions of your favorite albums. But here’s the bad news: unless stated otherwise, most records made since the 1980s are the products of digital masters rather than analog tapes. Here’s the worse news: even $100 high-end LPs can have flaws.

Only a small percentage of my vinyl is recorded from the original master tapes. Most of my LPs are second-hand vintage, and the rest are unremarkable discs that never made it onto 200-gram audiophile records. Add room flaws and system variables to the mix, and I have issues that make for a less-than-perfect listening experience. Enter the problem-solver Shannon Parks, engineer, coder, and one-person manufacturer of the Parks Audio Puffin phono preamp.

Tom Methans: Hello, Shannon! Thank you for granting Copper an interview. Can you tell us a little about your background?

Shannon Parks: My folks relocated from the Midwest to California, and my dad was part of the early computer industry in the Bay Area during the 1960s. When people visited from back east, the older people went to Haight-Ashbury for the counterculture they only saw on the evening news with Walter Cronkite; the younger ones went to the Fillmore West to see live acts like Iron Butterfly. I was born a few years later, in 1972. As the hippie scene started to slow down, another scene was starting up. Just a few weeks after I was born, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak broke down a couple of miles from my house, and they used their “blue box” [telephone hacking device] for the first time to bypass Ma Bell and make a free call to a fellow telephone hacker [or phone phreakers as they were known – Ed.] Captain Crunch at Berkeley for a ride home. I like to think that Apple started right then, and Woz says as much.


Shannon Parks. Shannon Parks.


With all our relatives living in the Midwest, and my folks wanting a little farm for homesteading, we moved to rural Ohio. That’s where I really grew up. Records were a big part of my life then, and looking back, it makes sense that I’m doing what I do now. As a kid, I spent many hours listening to my dad’s LPs as well as fooling around with a stack of scratched-up 78s on a crank Victrola. Then when I was around seven years old, I remember hearing the double-A-side 45 of Ritchie Valens’ “Donna” and “La Bamba.” I immediately realized this was something very special. A few years later, I remember a similar moment after hearing a copy of Rubber Soul that I found in someone’s attic.

I pursued a liberal arts degree in college, but in 2001 I changed career paths to become a radio frequency lab technician. All my electronics education and training came from running a lab that did design qualification and production tests for a small engineering company. At that time, I also started building tube amps and selling my printed circuit board kits to other manufacturers of tube amps.

TM: I’m sure people will be surprised that you started Parks Audio with an analog tube phono preamp called the Budgie. Used models show up very rarely because people refuse to part with Budgies – and you still service them. However, you seem to enjoy the possibilities of DSP (digital signal processing). You’re always adding more features to the Puffin software, and end users can download the software for free. Do you foresee someday monetizing the updates and new features or expanding the line of phono preamps?

SP: I like giving Puffin users continued value for free. I think it builds goodwill and helps promote the Puffin in a way that I just couldn’t do otherwise. When I released the Magic [click and pop reduction software] update last year, grateful e-mails from past customers really boosted my spirits. One e-mail said they were finally happy after years of system tweaks and could now just sit back and enjoy their records. I have so many updates planned that I’ll never finish all of them.

Puffin hardware may slowly evolve, but my main focus is on doing new, innovative things in software. I have no plans on expanding the product line.

TM: In one of your YouTube videos, you mention Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark as a reference album you use in tuning the Puffin. What are some of your other favorite albums, bands, or genres? What stereo equipment do you have at home?

SP: My collection has a little of everything: ’60s rock, ’70s prog, ’80s new wave, jazz from the German label ECM, reggae, Chick Corea and associated musicians, European-pressed classical, and vintage mono long plays. When designing or coding, I need instrumental music for the least distraction, so I play Pat Metheny or Andreas Vollenweider. When soldering together Puffins during production, I’ve probably played Thick as a Brick far too many times, but being a prog fan keeps me humble, as I realize meaningful music to one person may seem silly to someone else.

My main turntable is an FM broadcast combo from an Atlantic City station back in the 1980s. It’s a Technics SP15 with an Audio Technica ATP-12T tonearm. My favorite cartridges are typically Ortofon moving coils, but over the last year, I’ve been testing the currently installed Audio-Technica AT-VM95ML. I like to have an inexpensive recommendation for those looking for an upgrade from a starter cartridge, and the AT-VM95ML with a micro-linear stylus for under $200 is hard to beat. My Puffin is connected to a Parasound HCA-1000A amplifier driving a pair of Emotiva T2 loudspeakers. It’s a bare bones setup.

Puffin preamps being burned in. Puffin preamps being burned in.



TM: I bought The Ultimate Analogue Test LP test record you recommended, after my last turntable system update. I had the best intentions of using the new features to measure my anti-skating, turntable RPM, and fine-tune the balance in my cartridge’s left and right channels. Unfortunately, I’m lazy and impatient, and too many numbers scare me. What could you possibly add to the Puffin? What about an option for tape playback? Apparently, cassette decks are making a comeback.

SP: No worries! I won’t run out of ideas and am quite busy already with the 2022 update. The test measurement additions in the last update are just the beginning. I have some ideas that will really amaze folks. As far as tape, I have looked at some of the noise reduction schemes (e.g., Dolby types and dbx), but the processing required outstrips what I can do with the current Puffin processor unless I made it a dedicated noise reduction unit. I have done some custom tape equalization code for a few Puffin customers, but this is a limited number of people. I’d instead point those folks to my neighbor Dan Schmalle at Bottlehead – he’s the guru for tape reproduction.

TM: When I bought your unit, I had a starter Audio-Technica turntable with a $36 cart going into a very mediocre amp and speakers that needed a lot of correction for the room. I could have purchased a $60 tube phono preamp, but I knew I would be upgrading to a much better turntable and amplifier. $489 seems a perfectly reasonable price for everything the Puffin does. Do you have any idea what type of gear Puffin users have?

SP: Puffin users have every combination out there, and I always love to hear what folks are using. Some just have a basic entry-level setup, while at the other end of the spectrum, customers have some of the world’s most amazing turntables with $5K cartridges. It seems to run the gamut and is evenly distributed – and I like that.

TM: You’re essentially a one-man operation, and your customer support is exemplary. Do you ever dream of retreating to the back office and hiring people for the other stuff? If business continues to grow, I suppose you can even outsource the work from your facility in Poulsbo, Washington.

SP: I enjoy interacting with my customers and ensuring a certain level of service for them, so I’d hate to give that up. I do have a dedicated building for Parks Audio and can expand in the future. But I’ve tried to keep my work as efficient as possible to maintain the status quo. I’m just unsure that I would be a good manager. A big change from the Budgie to the Puffin was shifting the circuit boards built by me and my wife, Kat, to contracting with a US manufacturer. That gave me more time for e-mails, assembly, test, fulfillment, and R&D. My biggest neglect is probably not doing enough YouTube videos. They are just ideal for sharing information.

TM: I happily maintain a variety of prejudices when it comes to wireless speakers, home theater, and streaming unless it’s for background music, but the Puffin is so useful that I forget about the analog to digital, DSP and digital to analog processes involved, which are the opposite of a pure-analog approach. What do you say to people who can’t get past the “computer” aspect of your phono preamp?

SP:  I’m getting my foot in the door with some very demanding audiophiles, and I’m quite happy with that. Several customers have recently purchased the Puffin just for its test features such as Grade, which letter-grades your records from A+ through F, and cartridge balancing functions such as Azimuth, while not necessarily using the Puffin for record playback. Ultimately, someone might even listen to a record with the Magic function turned on and get hooked, or end up using the Puffin in a secondary system. The Puffin can also be used as a line input device with one’s existing phono preamp for Magic’s pop and click attenuation or the Cart Log feature for logging cartridge hours.

TM: Besides bass and treble adjustments, my go-to features are DeRumble for reducing the effects of warping, resonance, and vibration, Magic to minimize clicks and pops, and Warmth to brighten or darken recordings. Is there a point where I’m tweaking beyond the integrity of the music – beyond what the producer, engineer, and musicians intended?

SP: I worry about these things, too. A key design philosophy that I have is not to overdo things and try to be true to the music in the grooves. Hopefully, it’s in a way that the artist and engineer would both approve of, and I always tell folks to trust their ears, too.

I’ve designed the Puffin to be somewhat restrained, and I think that restraint helps make it feel like analog gear. For example, the bass EQ settings have a +/- 6dB range, where many equalizers have maybe 12dB of adjustment or higher. Many traditional DSP features, like cheesy reverb and “cinematic” effects, are missing, too. The goal isn’t to add some 3-D sparkle effect that initially wows but eventually irritates or bores, but some slight EQ adjustment to make things sound balanced and with the lowest noise and defects. The goal is to make that favorite record sound the way you remember it.


At first, playing records through a digital phono preamp seemed antithetical, but the Puffin has become an essential part of my system. It has so much to offer, especially tone controls, which I haven’t had since my 1975 Pioneer receiver. Only you can decide if the Puffin is right for your system, whether as a phono preamp, diagnostic tool, or both.

For more information, visit the Parks Audio website, friend him on Facebook at Parks Audio LLC, subscribe to Shannon’s YouTube channel, or check out another interview with Shannon on The Amp Hour podcast. And, you can always email him at parksaudio@outlook.com.

Header image: Puffin phono preamps awaiting assembly.



150 Years of Aida

150 Years of Aida

150 Years of Aida

Anne E. Johnson

Like every other writer who appears on these gleaming digital pages, I can’t believe we’ve already reached Copper’s 150th issue. I’ve been here almost since the beginning, having contributed over 200 pieces. Here’s to the next 150 issues, and the next after that!

While searching for an appropriate topic to mark this glorious occasion, I was reminded that Verdi’s opera Aida premiered 150 years ago, in 1871. Although that great work remains part of the standard repertoire of opera companies worldwide, in terms of audio recordings Aida seems to have passed its heyday. But it’s always good to be reminded of the many classic recordings from previous decades.

Before we turn to recordings, let’s consider the anniversary itself. The opera, of course, takes place in ancient Egypt; Verdi wrote it on commission to open the new Khedivial Opera House in Cairo. As it turned out, unrest in Europe and shipping challenges meant that Rigoletto was chosen to inaugurate the theater in 1869. Although Aida did receive its world premiere there, it had to wait until Dec. 24, 1871.

Verdi was not exactly on board with the proceedings. He remained in Italy, grumbling that the audience in Cairo was limited to invited guests, mostly dignitaries. He was also disappointed that soprano Teresa Stolz, for whom he had written title role, was not free to sing in the premiere production. She was replaced by Antonietta Anastasi-Pozzoni. The composer therefore always thought of the Milan premiere in 1872 – Stolz sang, and the general public could buy tickets – as the true start of this great opera’s life.

Once the technology for recording voice and orchestra was in place, it didn’t take long for Aida to show up on the docket. It was first recorded in 1906 or 1907 on a label called Zonophone, with Teresa Chelotti singing Aida (some scenes used Elvira Magliulio instead) and Orazio Cosentino as Radamès. Carlo Sabajno, a pioneer in conducting opera for sound recordings, was at the podium.

Chelotti was also one of multiple Aidas on a 1912 Columbia recording (conductor unknown). Happily, there are still some copies of it floating around. Here she sings with baritone Cesare Formichi as Amonasro.


A few new recordings showed up in the 19-teens and 1920s. There was a live broadcast, now widely available, in 1939 of Maria Caniglia in the title role at the Royal Opera House in London, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.

Not surprisingly, European recording studios did not put many resources into churning out opera during World War II, but after the war, Aida really got cooking. Caniglia did her first studio recording of the opera, with Tullio Serafin (who usually conducted at La Scala) leading the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. She is joined here by mezzo-soprano Ebe Stignani and tenor Beniamino Gigli:


Thereafter, the recordings came like an avalanche, with 10 new versions between 1949 and 1959. That was Aida’s pinnacle in the studio, yielding historic interpretations by Toscanini, Barbirolli, and von Karajan, and giving the public a chance to hear the Aidas of Callas and Tebaldi, not to mention appearances by tenors Franco Corelli, Richard Tucker, and Carlo Bergonzi.

A particularly interesting but perhaps less well remembered Aida from this era was released in 1955 on RCA Victrola. Romanian conductor Ionel Perlea leads the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. Aida is sung by Zinka Milanov, with Fedora Barbieri as Amneris and Jussi Björling as Radamès. Björling’s voice had a delicate clarity, and his “Celeste Aida” was legendary:


New Aida recordings continued to roll out every couple of years in the 1960s, starting with two consecutive versions by Leontyne Price, under the batons of Georg Solti (1962) and Lovro von Matačić (1963). Price would go on to make a third recording in 1970, with Erich Leinsdorf.

Among the five complete recordings from the 1970s, two are led by Ricardo Muti. The earlier one casts Gwyneth Jones and Plácido Domingo as the doomed lovers, accompanied by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. The next year, 1974, Muti and Domingo joined forces again, this time for a London-based recording, with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Here is Montserrat Caballé in the title role:


It’s at this point that the pickings get slim. There have been only a handful of audio recordings of the complete opera made in the1980s through the present. Both Claudio Abbado (1983) and Lorin Maazel (1986) did versions with La Scala, the former with Katia Ricciarelli and Domingo and the latter with Maria Chiara and Luciano Pavarotti. These last two really knew how to die in a tomb. Their final duet is exquisite:


The 1994 version conducted by Rico Saccani with Maria Dragoni has some nice moments, especially from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, but Kristján Jóhanssens sings Radamès with a voice that sounds pinched and worn. Levine’s Met Opera recording is the better bet for that decade, and Aprile Millo is a wonderful Aida. A highlight is Samuel Ramey as Ramfis. Here he sings “Nume, custode e vindice” with Domingo:


The most recent studio recording of the complete opera is from 2015, on Warner Classics. One of today’s great opera conductors, Antonio Pappano, directs the orchestra of the Academy of St. Cecilia. His leads are soprano Anja Harteros and tenor Jonas Kaufmann, along with the rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk as Aida’s rival, Amneris. Semenchuk’s intensely powerful low register is the perfect foil for Kaufmann’s shimmering tone. Here’s a taste:


It’s safe to say that the dwindling number of studio recordings is not an indicator of how the opera industry feels about Aida. We live in the age of filmed, streaming opera, and video-based media seems to have taken over from audio-only versions. If you want to see the opera as you hear it, check out the 2018 performance from the Metropolitan Opera, part of their Met On Demand series, starring Anna Netrebko. And in early 2021, the production directed by Valentina Carrasco at the Macerata Opera Festival (in central Italy) and starring Maria Teresa Leva was live-streamed; it is now available on Cue.tv.

Whichever recording you choose, whether you listen or watch, imagine yourself as a dignitary at the world premiere in Cairo 150 years ago. Unlike poor Aida and Radamès, this magnificent opera will never die.

The Many Facets of David Bowie

The Many Facets of David Bowie

The Many Facets of David Bowie

Anne E. Johnson

From the gaunt, alien Ziggy Stardust through solid-colored, big-shouldered suits on MTV to a philosophical album about death at the end of his life, David Bowie had so many personas that he seemed to live along several parallel paths. One thing he never stopped being was an absolute original.

The London native, born in 1947, grew up loving American rock and roll. Soon he learned to plunk out Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley tunes on ukulele and piano. In his teens, his stepbrother introduced him to the world of modern jazz and beat poetry. Bowie’s characteristic response was to start learning the saxophone. Throughout his life, there was no aspect of the arts that he wasn’t eager to try his hand at.

Using his real name, Davie Jones, he and his band the King Bees released the single “Liza Jane” in 1964. Because the single went nowhere, he moved on, becoming lead singer for the Manish Boys. They made a single of the blues song “I Pity the Fool,” which they learned off a Bobby Bland record. He tried a couple more bands, but nothing blossomed. Plus, people were getting him confused with the Monkees’ Davy Jones.

His solo debut was the perfect time to change his name. David Bowie came out in 1967. When it tanked, Bowie got so frustrated that he turned his energy to studying mime and avant-garde theater techniques. However, he kept writing songs and managed to sell a few to other artists. Hoping to restart his music career, Bowie put out another album called David Bowie in 1969. Although its sales were disappointing, it is now recognized for its interesting melding of psychedelia, folk, jazz, and rock. But a single succeeded where the album failed. A week before NASA launched Apollo 11, Bowie released “Space Oddity.”

A less well-known track on that second album is “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed.” Its stream-of-consciousness lyrics and use of acoustic guitar and harmonica sometimes gets it compared to Bob Dylan. But the psychedelic meandering of the melody is as much steeped in Jefferson Airplane as Dylan. (Surrealistic Pillow had come out two years before.)


At this point, Bowie decided he needed his own, dedicated band. When the drummer John Cambridge proved hard to work with, Bowie hired Mick Woodmansey. Mick Ronson played guitar, and Tony Visconti, who was also producing, played bass. The Man Who Sold the World (1970) was their first effort together; with its turn toward hard rock, it was not appreciated at the time. Poor sales weren’t helped by the fact that Mercury Records released no singles from it until more than a year later.

The marketing team did no better with Hunky Dory (1971), although the single “Changes” would subsequently grow into a hit. This album finds Bowie in a state of experimentation, from wearing dresses in interviews to acknowledging his admiration of Lou Reed in the song “Queen Bitch.” Meanwhile, he was busy building on Reed’s proto-punk lyric and melodic style, blended with the wild freedom of Iggy Pop, to create Ziggy Stardust.

The world met this otherworldly being in The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), which Bowie supported with an intensely theatrical stage show. He became glam rock personified. As for the music, Bowie took Reed’s conversational, introspective style and heightened it to something ethereal. Visconti had left the year before, so Ken Scott produced and Trevor Bolder played bass.

The big single was the melodious “Starman,” whose flip side, “Suffragette City,” also got a lot of play. But the album opener, “Five Years,” deserves a fresh listen for its quietly complex syncopation in doo-wop harmony, plus some distinctive imagery in the lyrics: “My brain hurt like a warehouse/It had no more room in there…”


Bowie continued the hyper-theatrical style for Aladdin Sane in 1973, but needed a break from living as a split personality by the end of the year. The result was an album of 1960s covers, called Pin Ups. His next original collection, Diamond Dogs (1974) provided the huge singles “Rebel Rebel” and “Diamond Dogs.” Visconti came back to produce.

That album was inspired in part by Orwell’s novel 1984, which Bowie wrote about in the song by that name. It’s an unusual application of soul and funk rhythms and textures to serious, apocalyptic lyrics.


The soul and R&B influences were deeply entrenched in the songs of Young Americans (1975). By this point, Bowie’s star was ascendent; singles like “Young Americans” and “Fame” took over the airwaves.

Gripped by an addiction to cocaine, Bowie was frantically creative in the mid-1970s, mining the electronica, art rock, and Krautrock genres for a brainier, more outré sound, which he perfected on the 1976 masterpiece, Station to Station. Produced by Bowie himself and Harry Maslin, this philosophical record brought into the world the Thin White Duke persona.

Beyond the hits “Golden Years” and “TVC15,” the track “Stay” exemplifies this new blending of forward-looking technology and intellectual exploration, still underpinned by a soul sensibility.


There was no slowing his popularity, even when he relocated to Berlin to get clean. The result of that migration was the so-called Berlin Trilogy, comprising Low (1977), “Heroes” (1977), and Lodger (1979).

One of the most fascinating tracks in that whole trilogy is “Yassassin (Turkish for: Long Live).” The title comes from the Turkish verb meaning “may he have a long life.” Bowie combines a reggae beat with vaguely Middle-Eastern melodic ideas, largely thanks to the violin contributions of Simon House.


The 1980s continued Bowie’s popularity boom. The inception of MTV brought him a whole new audience: he was a natural at providing captivating visuals for his music. There isn’t space here to dissect that decade’s work in detail, but the output included Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) from 1980, Let’s Dance (1983), Tonight (1984), and Never Let Me Down (1987).

Playing with the band Tin Machine and getting married kept Bowie from doing much solo work for a few years. Black Tie White Noise (1993) finds him providing saxophone on tracks inspired by everything from his wedding to the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles. This album got him back on a regular release schedule, putting out an album every couple of years for the next decade. A highlight was Earthling (1997), which shows strong elements of electronica and industrial rock. “Battle for Britain (The Letter)” has a frenetic, grungy energy in the accompaniment, starkly contrasted with the placid melody.


After the album Reality (2003), Bowie took a ten-year break from making records. Or so it appeared. Then, without warning, he released The Next Day in 2013. Recorded in secret and co-produced with Tony Visconti, its first single, “Where Are We Now,” became Bowie’s last Top 10 hit.

There was something extraordinary about how Bowie brought his career to the perfect stopping point just as he was dying, exemplifying the intelligent control he maintained over his work throughout his career. First, there’s the satisfying fact that Blackstar (2016) was his 25th studio album. And then there was the connected project, Lazarus, a “jukebox musical” developed by New York Theater Workshop with Bowie’s in-person participation (despite already knowing his grim diagnosis).

As for the Blackstar album, which contributed the title song in Lazarus, Bowie created some of the most startling and moving songs of his career. For example, here’s “Girl Loves Me”:


There’s no denying it: Bowie was great right up to the end.

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Roger Woolman.

Rotating Staar

Rotating Staar

Rotating Staar

Frank Doris

In keeping with our Issue 150 theme, the mighty Audio Research D-150 stereo power amplifier. It's one of the all-time classics of tube amplifier design. introduced in 1975, it delivers 150 watts per channel and sold for $2,685. Photo courtesy of Dominic James/Audio Research.

Not a vintage piece, but it has "150" in its model number, and looks so great we couldn't resist. The Cambridge Audio Evo 150 integrated amplifier. Photo courtesy of Howard Kneller.

A General Electric Stereo Classic Model MS-2000 tube integrated amplifier, late 1950s. Talk about understated elegance! From The Audio Classics Collection, photo by Howard Kneller.

General Electric MS-2000 amplifier, rear view. Photo by Howard Kneller.

People of Earth, attention! This is a record player from far beyond your solar system! The Staar Galaxy record player, 1950s. Made in the UK, not Tatooine, and designed by G. Staar.

Howard Kneller’s audio and art photography can be found on Instagram (@howardkneller, @howardkneller.photog) and Facebook (@howardkneller).

Flying Off the Handle

Flying Off the Handle

Flying Off the Handle

James Whitworth
"Mom says I should check how upset you would be if I had used your audiophile vinyl as a frisbee."

Stellar Strata

Stellar Strata

Stellar Strata

James Schrimpf

Taken at Monument Valley, which straddles the Arizona/Utah border. It’s a classic Western movie location. I found it interesting that the visitors seemed somewhat disinterested in the majestic vista.

Who Stole My Cheese?

Who Stole My Cheese?

Who Stole My Cheese?

Peter Xeni
"Using cheddar rings for cable risers saved me a fortune...until my pooch started eating them." "Have you tried gorgonzola?"

Capital Audiofest 2021: Bouncing Back

Capital Audiofest 2021: Bouncing Back

Capital Audiofest 2021: Bouncing Back

Steve Kindig

After so many audio show cancelations during the past 20 months, it was with a slight sense of disbelief that I found myself waiting in line at the registration desk on Day One of the 2021 Capital Audiofest (CAF), held at the Twinbrook Hilton in Rockville, Maryland. I’d made the two-hour drive up from Charlottesville, Virginia, with my longtime buddy and former Crutchfield colleague, Dave. We’d both attended CAF in 2018 and 2019, and were excited to be back.

Although Maryland isn’t currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, CAF’s organizers wisely took precautions, most noticeably requiring that attendees and presenters wear face masks. I put mine on as I entered the hotel lobby from the parking garage, and with a few brief exceptions, like lunch, it didn’t come off until I exited the building as the show closed for the day. I overheard one guy in the registration line complain that the mask info wasn’t mentioned on the website (it was). But overall, people cooperated, and just seemed happy to be at an audio show.

Near the registration desk was the Marketplace area, where records and merchandise were sold, along with several large meeting rooms named after US presidents. The systems in these rooms featured marquee brands well known to audiophiles, and produced mouthwatering sound at eye-watering prices.

But there were several more-modest systems that delivered sound that stuck with me throughout the day. And I found myself seeking these systems out again at the end of the day, as a respite for my fatigued ears. For this report, I’ve focused on a few of those systems.

Salk Sound/McGary Audio/AntiCables

At previous CAF shows I’ve enjoyed the combination of McGary Audio tube amps driving Salk Sound speakers, so this room was one of my first stops. Jim Salk was showing a pair of 2-way floorstanding speakers that are so new they don’t yet have a name…or price. They feature the beautiful natural wood cabinetry and premium drivers that Salk Sound is known for.

Each speaker uses two of the 6-1/2-inch Purifi woofers that have generated so much buzz in the DIY speaker community, while the tweeter is an SB Acoustics Satori 1-1/8-inch beryllium dome. I asked Jim if the Purifi woofer lives up to the hype and he confirmed that it does. Although there’s no official price yet, and this new speaker doesn’t yet appear on the Salk Sound website, Jim thought they would be priced around $6,000/pair, which seems more than reasonable based on the cost of those drivers alone.


The Salk Sound exhibit. Photo by Harris Fogel.

The Salk Sound exhibit. Photo courtesy of Harris Fogel.


The speakers were powered by the latest version of Mike McGary’s 30 watt per channel tube amp. The recently released SA-1E ($6,600) features circuit and parts updates to his well-regarded original SA-1 design. The amp contributed to the system’s engaging, three-dimensional sound. The amp was fed by Exogal’s Comet Plus DAC/preamp ($3500), and the cabling was all AntiCables.

Over the course of the day I heard megabuck systems that sounded bigger and more powerful, but few that I would say sounded better.

Linear Tube Audio/Spatial Audio Lab/Holo Audio – Kitsune HiFi/AntiCables

I’ve been a fan of Clayton Shaw’s boxless open baffle speaker designs since I first heard a pair of his Emerald Physics models at an audio show many years ago. According to Clayton, getting rid of the box reduces or eliminates not only box colorations, but also many room interaction issues, especially with bass frequencies. After selling Emerald Physics in 2010, he had to wait out a non-compete agreement before introducing his refined open baffle designs under the Spatial Audio brand, in 2014.

The Spatial Audio X4 Premium speaker ($7,000/pair) is a new 3-way passive dipole design that lacks the built-in subwoofer amplifier found in Spatial’s X3 and X5 models. The Air Motion Transformer tweeter is horn-loaded in front, but not in back, so there’s little high-frequency energy coming off the back to interact with a room’s front wall. The 12-inch midrange and 12-inch woofer were originally designed for pro audio applications and these drivers use paper cones. The simple external crossover attaches to the back of the speaker.


The Spatial Audio Lab display, and associated equipment. Photo courtesy of Harris Fogel.

The Spatial Audio Lab display, and associated equipment. Photo courtesy of Harris Fogel.


The 94dB efficient X4 Premiums were driven with ease by a Linear Tube Audio Z40+ integrated amp ($7,650), which produces around 50 watts per channel. In recent years the two companies have paired up often at audio shows, and LTA is one of the amps Spatial uses when developing their speakers.

The digital source was the well-reviewed Holo Audio KTE May DAC ($5,598), while the interconnects, speaker wire and power cords were again supplied by AntiCables – likely the most affordable cabling in any room at the show. The sound was bracingly clear, open, and coherent from top to bottom.

MC Audiotech/Linear Tube Audio/Luminous Audio/Weiss/Wolf Audio Systems/Parasound/Audience

Every high-end audio show I’ve ever attended has had its share of unconventional looking speakers, and CAF 2021 was no exception. The MC Audiotech Forty-10 ($40,000 – $60,000/pair) looks simultaneously retro and futuristic – a look definitely better suited to a living room than a man cave.

The folks behind MC Audiotech are industry veterans Mark Conti and Paul Paddock. I chatted briefly with Mark at the show, then followed up with a phone call a few days later to get the scoop on these unusual speakers.


MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeakers. Photo courtesy of Steve Kindig.

MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeakers. Photo courtesy of Steve Kindig.


The Forty-10 is a full-range 2-way dipole design. A curved Spaced Array (their nomenclature) uses ten drivers to produce the mid and high frequencies, and sits atop a bass cabinet with two 18-inch pro sound woofers. An outboard electronic crossover connects the two sections, and the system requires bi-amping. Linear Tube Audio’s Reference 40 amplifier ($5,700) powered the Spaced Array, while a Parasound Halo 23+ ($1,699) drove the woofer cabinet.

Other equipment included Linear Tube Audio’s MicroZOTL preamp ($6,800), a Wolf Audio Systems Alpha 3 music server ($9,895), and a Weiss Engineering DAC501 ($8,400).

Vinyl playback was via a VPI Reference turntable feeding the new Luminous Audio Arion MK II phono preamp ($7,999), which received a glowing review in Michael Fremer’s “Analog Corner” column in the December issue of Stereophile.

This was another room where once I was seated and listening, I just didn’t want to leave. The sound was relaxed and seamless, which surprised me a bit once I got the details on the speakers’ unusual design.

Eikon Audio

Two years ago at Capital Audiofest 2019, I first heard Eikon Audio’s intriguing Eikon IMAGE1 speaker system. The system’s pair of compact floorstanders filled the large room with high-energy sound, including astonishingly deep, impactful bass. Company founder Gayle Sanders happened to be standing nearby and was happy to answer my questions. The combination of built-in amplification, active crossovers, and powerful DSP room correction enabled the IMAGE1 system’s startling performance.

When I stopped by Eikon’s room at this year’s CAF, the spotlight was on the compact IMAGE.5 system – a pair of compact 2-way speakers based on the same innovative thinking as the IMAGE1. Again, the most striking aspect of the sound was the taut, controlled bass. Eikon systems include a matching “control module” that functions as a preamp for connecting and controlling source components. (The IMAGE.5 retails for $12,000.) There are RCA and XLR analog inputs, as well as a suite of digital inputs, and built-in room correction.


Gayle Sanders and the Eikon Audio IMAGE.5 system. Photo courtesy of Harris Fogel

Gayle Sanders and the Eikon Audio IMAGE.5 system. Photo courtesy of Harris Fogel.


One way that Eikon’s DSP approach differs from other companies is their prioritization of time domain accuracy over frequency response correction. And they differ from other “lifestyle” products by delivering superb performance, combined with eye-catching looks and the convenience of smartphone app control. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of the future.

Having attended previous CAF shows, a few Rocky Mountain Audio Fests, numerous Stereophile shows, plus a dozen or more CESs, I can honestly say that this year’s CAF was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever been to. Kudos to Gary Gill and his team for putting together an outstanding event in the face of unique challenges. Audiophiles in the Pacific Northwest may want to mark their calendars for the Pacific Audio Fest, scheduled to take place in Seattle July 29 – 31, 2022. Gary is the show director.

Moving from room to room throughout the day, I heard a few audiophile chestnuts that get played at every show, like The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley.”  But I also heard plenty of well-recorded music that was new to me, and I put together a Spotify playlist collecting some of the songs that caught my ear. (Thanks, Shazam!)


Header image: Eikon Audio IMAGE.5 system. Photo courtesy of Steve Kindig.

Scenes from Capital Audiofest 2021, Part One

Scenes from Capital Audiofest 2021, Part One

Scenes from Capital Audiofest 2021, Part One

Harris Fogel

To be honest, we weren’t sure we’d be able to make it to the Capital Audiofest (CAF) 2021. Not for lack of wanting to, but because of a cascade of problems, car repairs, home construction headaches and other issues before the show. Also, Nancy and I were a little apprehensive, as we had only been to one event since the pandemic started, having taken Amtrak to the Pepcom Digital Experience press event in New York. It was a revelation to step back into our old lives again, and we thought a trip to Rockville, Maryland would do us good.

We headed to the show on Saturday morning, and as soon as we walked in, we were greeted by Gary Gill, organizer of the festival. Gary was speaking with throngs of folks, getting them registered and talking with the friendly folks at the check-in desk. David Solomon of Qobuz was there, and suggested we walk a few short steps to check out the Qobuz listening lounge. The venue was open and airy, and it was a beautiful day, sunny and clear. The light streaming in the front windows lit up the bar, with folks all chatting away.


Gary Gill of Capital Audiofest.

Gary Gill of Capital Audiofest.


Everyone we met seemed to be in a happy, almost joyous mood. I asked around and this was the first audio show they’d been to since the pandemic started, and it felt good to shake off some cabin fever. The Marketplace area in the atrium was filled with vendors, from Mytek Audio, showing off their latest DACs and creations, to CD and LP vendors, Kirmuss Audio and their LP cleaning systems, Wally Analog with their turntable setup tools, and even a gent selling tie-dyed shirts. Off the main floor was an area for exhibiting headphones, and the large Potomac room featuring Valve Amplification Company (VAC) electronics, Von Schweikert Audio loudspeakers, and other components.


The Marketplace area of CAF.

The Marketplace area of CAF.


At the Kirmuss Audio booth. Their record cleaning system works well.

At the Kirmuss Audio booth. Their record cleaning system works well.


Upstairs, the first folks we bumped into were analog wizard Michael Fremer chatting with Roy Hall of Music Hall Audio outside his suite, which he shared with Boris Meltsner of Amped America. This suite was always full, due to the combination of great sound and Hall’s supply of Lagavulin and Meltsner’s Beluga vodka. One of the highlights was Music Hall Audio’s new Stealth turntable, making its debut at the show. We had a discussion about the supply chain problems facing the industry, and Hall recounted the challenges he has had just reserving shipping containers from China. Before the pandemic, a container was $5,000, early this year it was $20,000, and recently the price hit $28,000, and mind you, that’s for an empty container. How were manufacturers supposed to stay in the game with price increases like this, he wondered? Amped America was showing their Amp 2400 stereo amp and AAP-1 preamplifier.


The New Music Hall Stealth turntable.

The New Music Hall Stealth turntable.


We had a wonderful time hanging out with the two audio clubs who took out hospitality suites. The DC Hi-Fi Group suite was jammed with members, visitors, and marauding members of the press, ready for libations, music, snacks, and conversation. Upstairs in the Library Room, the DC HiFi and Home Theater Group also had a swinging scene, complete with supplies of Kirkland pre-cooked bacon to make Bloody Marys.


There were plenty of press people at the show.

There were plenty of press people at the show.


No lack of headphones to audition either!

No lack of headphones to audition either!


The rooms featuring VPI turntables were always busy, and they even had a fire pit brought out in the courtyard. The only thing missing were S’mores. Thrax held late-night reel-to-reel listening after-parties, and we made it a point to attend excellent lectures on the history of the Theremin by Arthur Harrison, a Wally Analog WallyTools seminar on cartridge alignment by J.R. Boisclair, Mytek’s Michal Jurewicz on building a music streamer from the ground up, and much more.


Mat and Harry Weisfeld of VPI Industries.

Mat and Harry Weisfeld of VPI Industries.


One of the best events of the show was a lecture in the Essential Sound Products suite by Jim Anderson, Grammy award-winning engineer and producer, who discussed recording Patricia Barber in high-resolution. After wowing the room with extraordinary audio, someone asked what resolution the songs we heard were recorded in, and when he said, “it’s a standard CD,” you could hear some people gasp. With all the talk about high-res audio, it was amazing to hear what a standard 16-bit/44.1 kHz Red Book CD could do, which we found very reassuring. Don’t toss those shiny discs just yet!


Jim Anderson giving a seminar on high-definition and immersive audio.

Jim Anderson giving a seminar on high-definition and immersive audio.


Many of the rooms were outfitted with Norman Varney’s EVP Equipment Vibration Protectors, audio component isolators from A/V RoomService, Ltd. The LampizatOr Pacific DAC also graced a lot of systems. Qobuz was everywhere, and the tables in the headphones area were stocked with more amps, DACs, headphone, cables, and smiling patrons listening to music than I could count. I heard simple systems that sounded great, and giant systems that looked like they could have been drawing the output of multiple power stations up and down the Eastern seaboard. There were so many rooms, that two days really wasn’t enough time to take it all in.


Gold standard: a LampizatOr Pacific DAC next to a passel of Pass Labs electronics, Cube Audio loudspeakers and other gear.

Gold standard: a LampizatOr Pacific DAC next to a passel of Pass Labs electronics, Cube Audio loudspeakers and other gear.


Norman Varney of A/V RoomService, Ltd. and the EVP Equipment Vibration Protectors.

Norman Varney of A/V RoomService, Ltd. and the EVP Equipment Vibration Protectors.


There were too many rooms with extraordinary systems to name them all, without doing a disservice to all of the show’s 80-plus rooms, but a few stood out for us. The Triode Wire Labs folks always seemed to have a room full of happy listeners, and one room, Overture Ultimate Home Electronics, featured the new Technics SL-1000R direct drive turntable, McIntosh MC901 dual mono power amplifiers, and the US debut of new Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 speakers. This system had gorgeous sound, with hints of yesterday, a dash of legacy yet updated for today. It was one of the only rooms we wished had a bit more space, as those massive monoblocks seemed to take up half the room. Another favorite suite, Wolf Audio Systems, featured TAD loudspeakers, which have never failed to impress. One of the best-sounding rooms, The Gryphon, also had one of our favorite attempts at dressing up the space, with a small stand of tall potted plants forming an ersatz forest in the background.


The Gryphon suite.

The Gryphon suite.


Fred and Joe Parvey of Wolf Audio Systems.

Fred and Joe Parvey of Wolf Audio Systems.


There were so many rooms with so much gear that a week wouldn’t have been enough time to properly sit, listen, and discuss everything with everyone there. One of the most fascinating rooms was Eikon Audio, whose sophisticated room correction system and IMAGE.5 system left us wanting more. MC AudioTech set themselves apart with their unique Forty-10 loudspeakers with Audience cables handling all the signal transfer work. If you haven’t heard them, their dipole design is quite the experience.


The Nola Metro Grand Reference Gold Series 3 loudspeakers.

The Nola Metro Grand Reference Gold Series 3 loudspeakers.


David Solomon (Qobuz), Michael Fremer (Stereophile, Analog Planet) and Gayle Sanders (Eikon Audio).

David Solomon (Qobuz), Michael Fremer (Stereophile, Analog Planet) and Gayle Sanders (Eikon Audio).


The best part of the show was its effortless feel. It was a relaxed, easygoing affair. Proof of vaccination was required, as were masks, and we never witnessed any anti-vax or anti-mask behavior. We had the sense that everyone was thrilled that the show had actually taken place, and respected what it took to make it happen. I suppose it didn’t hurt that we were in the backyard of the CDC. Gary Gill and his team did a fantastic job, and we look forward to his future events, like the upcoming Pacific Audio Fest, slated for July 30 through August 1, 2022.


The VPI crew and friends, gathering around the fire pit after hours.

The VPI crew and friends, gathering around the fire pit after hours.


Part Two will feature many more photos from Capital Audiofest and appear in Issue 151.

All photos by Harris Fogel.

Header image: the ACORA Acoustics room.

150 Musical Offerings

150 Musical Offerings

150 Musical Offerings

Don Kaplan

To celebrate the 150th issue of Copper I’m offering a list of 150 recommended recordings, most with hyperlinks to YouTube for instant listening gratification. Half of the entries are CDs and LPs I’ve written about in Copper before; the other half are new recommendations. I’ve provided a link when the entire recording is available on YouTube, and usually links to samples whether or not the entire recording is there. When recommended recordings aren’t accessible, I’ve indicated that in parentheses, although if you’re adventurous the work(s) might be found on YouTube performed by different artists.

American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption, and Glory/Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi SACD) This is a different kind of disc for the Anonymous 4, four women vocalists who have specialized in performing and recording medieval music for over 20 years. Their Billboard review says it all: “A stunning disc of old-time Americana.”



Lynne Arriale/Inspiration/Lynne Arriale Trio (TCB CD) According to JazzTimes, “Lynne Arriale’s music lies at the synaptic intersection where brain meets heart, where body meets soul. She is one of jazzdom’s most intensely unique voices.” Her arrangements of pop songs and jazz tunes are intelligible and lyrical: I especially like “Mountain of the Night” on this disc.

“Mountain of the Night”



J.S. Bach/Bach Secular Cantatas: Coffee BWV 211 & Peasant BWV 212/Les Violons du Roy/Bernard Labadie, cond. (Dorian CD) During the 18th century, Starbucks would likely have competed with Gottfried Zimmermann’s coffee house, where live music was played and Bach’s Coffee Cantata was probably premiered. In Bach’s day, drinking coffee was controversial and this satire about the “insidious” beverage had promotional value as well as audience appeal. Drink a couple of treacherous cups so you’ll be alert for the piece’s enjoyable disc mate, the Peasant Cantata.

Coffee Cantata: “Ei! Wie schmeckt der Coffee susse”


J.S. Bach/Six Concertos for the Margrave of Brandenburg/European Brandenburg Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock, cond. (Avie CD) Pinnock recorded the Brandenburg Concertos once before with The English Concert on the Archiv label. It had been my favorite interpretation until he conducted it again on the Avie label which provoked a search for the “perfect” set of concertos. After investigating several performances on both modern and period instruments I decided the new Pinnock was the best recording. The Archiv performance is close…very close…but the tempo on the new set has a slight edge that’s very dance-like. All of the other recordings I heard were too murky, too slow, too fast, too boring, too….



Joan Baez in Concert: Part 1/Joan Baez, guitar (Vanguard/Cisco LP reissue) Not just for nostalgia seekers: It’s a great concert for all kinds of folks, especially if you missed it the first time around. This audiophile reissue comes in a glossy copy of the original album cover, has quiet surfaces, plenty of air, and excellent guitar/vocal detail.

“Copper Kettle”



Samuel Barber/Violin Concerto/Gil Shaham, violin/London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn, cond. (DGG CD) “Neo-Romantic” 20th century music with exquisite first and second movements and a breathless “perpetual motion” third movement. Shaham and Previn emphasize the music’s lyrical nature without gushing uncontrollably.



Samuel Barber/The Complete Solo Piano Music/John Browning, piano (MusicMasters CD) The center piece here is the Sonata for Piano, considered to be one of the best American piano sonatas. The Sonata incorporates more dissonance than the Violin Concerto but is still tonal and lyrical.

Piano Sonata



Baroque Reflections/Alessio Bax, piano (Warner CD) A guilty pleasure: Bax’s approach is more rhapsodic than authentic. At times he plays Baroque music without reasonable restraint, but who doesn’t like to get passionate every now and then?

Almira: “Sarabande” (Handel)



Bela Bartók/Concerto for Orchestra/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, cond. (RCA Living Stereo LP reissue) A spectacular recording of the Concerto where individual sections of the orchestra are often treated in a “soloistic” manner, reissued from the famous Living Stereo series, which is valued for its superior sound quality and performances. Collectible first edition vinyl is expensive so consider buying an audiophile reissue. Reissues can be good investments because the vinyl is better (resulting in quieter surfaces that allow more detail to come through), the records are less likely to warp, and the highs and lows aren’t as limited as they were on some of the original pressings.



Bela Bartók/Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, cond. (RCA Living Stereo LP reissue) Unlike some of his other compositions which can be very dissonant, this is more popular Bartók: modern, chromatic, Hungarian folk-music influenced, and very approachable. One of Bartók’s masterpieces.



Bela Bartók/Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3/Stephen Bishop, piano/London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis, cond. (Philips LP) Bishop is particularly known for his recordings of works by Bartók, for his technical skill, clarity, and interpretations. These are terrific performances: edgy, percussive, exciting…the best I’ve heard.

Piano Concerto No. 1: “Allegro”



Luciano Berio/Ayre/Dawn Upshaw, vocals (DGG CD) Berio’s Folk Songs are derived from a variety of sources, and share a disc with Osvaldo Golijov’s multi-culturally influenced Ayre (see below). Unlike Berio’s usual avant-garde works, these songs are melodic and lovely while still incorporating a few experimental techniques.

Folk Songs


Hector Berlioz/Symphonie Fantastique/Sir Colin Davis, cond. (Philips LP) Symphonie Fantastique is a famous symphony from 1830 that includes, in the final movement, the colorful portrayal of a dream filled with horrific figures. (Don’t expect music like the soundtrack to Jaws: this is early Romantic period music.) Davis was a Berlioz specialist and the recording is one of Philips’ best.

“Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath”



Leonard Bernstein/Peter Pan/Alexander Frey, cond. (Koch CD) Bernstein’s Peter Pan opened on Broadway in 1950. Although it was both a critical and financial success, the show was quickly obscured by other productions including Bernstein’s own. Despite being “lost” in time, Peter Pan is worth revisiting for its very appealing songs.

“Dream With Me”



Leonard Bernstein/Symphony No. 3/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (Columbia Masterworks LP) Felicia Montealegre (Mrs. Bernstein) is almost too dramatic as the speaker but the approach is in keeping with the rest of this first, sizzling recording: raucous, gripping, eclectic, engrossing, emotionally gratifying…and without the destructive cuts Bernstein made to the score later on.



Hildegard von Bingen/Symphoniae/Sequentia (BMG CD) Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179) was an early feminist, composer, writer, and visionary, celebrated not only for her music but for her experimental contributions to holistic medicine and nutrition. (Her name has also inspired the creation of contemporary products like Hildegard bread and Hildegard’s naturopathic moisturizers and face creams.) Hildegard’s music is important because her melodies were freer, more wide-ranging, and elaborate than those used by her contemporaries, and she gave plainsong greater expression through the use of long, spiraling melismas and soaring melodies. Might not be the best choice for Karaoke night, but ideal music for relaxing while eating Hildegard bread.

“O quam mirabilis”



Hildegard von Bingen/A Feather on the Breath of God/Gothic Voices with Emma Kirkby, vocals/Christopher Page, dir. (Hyperion CD) Early Hyperion releases consisted of rarely recorded 20th century British music but the company’s success was actually built on the critically acclaimed Feather. And a good thing, too: Hyperion has given us many superb recordings since its original venture.

“Columba aspexit”



Marc Blitzstein/The Cradle Will Rock/Gershon Kingsley, musical director (MGM original LP or CRI LP reissue) Blitzstein’s compositions included theater/opera works that were deemed controversial because of their social content. His first production, The Cradle Will Rock, opened off-Broadway in the 1930s and received national attention for the political situation surrounding its premiere. Content aside, the music is first-rate.

“Nickel Under the Foot” from Scenes 6 – 7



Marc Blitzstein/Regina/New York City Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Columbia LP) Blitzstein’s tuneful opera based on Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes is very enjoyable. No Italian dictionaries needed: it’s in English. And if the music sounds like Bernstein in places, that’s because Bernstein was Blitzstein’s protege.



Ernest Bloch/Concerto Grosso 1 & 2, Schelomo/Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/Howard Hanson, cond. (Mercury Living Presence LP) Bloch was a 20th century composer whose works were basically conservative but incorporated some contemporary techniques. This LP, part of the historic Mercury Living Presence series, includes three of Bloch’s most popular compositions conducted by another conservative composer, Howard Hanson.

Schelomo: Hebraic Rhapsody for Violoncello and Orchestra



Johannes Brahms/Piano Concerto No. 1/Emil Gilels, piano/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugen Jochum, cond. (DGG LP and CD) It’s a tension and release kind of thing. Sometimes I wait for a particular moment in a recording. If it’s handled well, the recording becomes a keeper. There’s a moment like that about 12 minutes into the first movement of the first piano concerto. After a quiet, lyrical section the piano enters vigorously, the tension builds to a peak, and is released by a descending sequence. Gilels and Jochum are responsible for performing it perfectly. (Note: On the CD, the second piano concerto is included as the first concerto’s playmate.)



Johannes Brahms/Clarinet Sonatas and Trio/Martin Fröst, clarinet (BIS SACD) While almost anything composed by Brahms is worth listening to, the pieces on this disc are especially noteworthy, because they feature a clarinet instead of one of the strings taking the lead in Romantic chamber music. The second movement of the second sonata is memorable and top-shelf.

Clarinet Sonata No. 2: “Allegro appassionato”



Johannes Brahms/Violin Concerto/Jascha Heifetz, violin/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, cond. (RCA Living Stereo LP or SACD) Another virtuoso performance from the iconic Living Stereo series. The all-tube sound can be fantastic, but in these mid-to-late 1950s recordings the soloist was often placed unrealistically close to the front of the soundstage so listeners could hear the performer better.



Joseph Canteloube/Chants d’Auvergne Vol. 1/Véronique Gens, vocals/Orchestre National de Lille (Naxos CD) Canteloube was primarily interested in researching folk songs and wrote only a small number of orchestral and chamber pieces. These lush, sensual folk song arrangements have become widely known and are captivating, especially as sung by Véronique Gens. Volume 2 (now available in a two-disc set) is equally enjoyable.


www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5TVKT0HbVo (No. II)


Carmina Burana Vol. 1/ New London Consort (L’oiseau-Lyre/Decca CD) This isn’t the famous Carl Orff piece but the early text and music Orff based his composition on. The original manuscript, compiled in Bavaria during the first half of the 13th century, is an uninhibited celebration of life’s pleasures including sensuality and the physical excitement of love. (Note: To compare this selection with Orff’s version go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OGPso1rbx0.)

“Tempus est iocundum”



Bill Charlap/Live at the Village Vanguard/The Bill Charlap Trio (Blue Note CD) I usually don’t like orchestral music recorded in concert but do enjoy music recorded live in intimate jazz settings. Released on the celebrated Blue Note label, documented at the famous Village Vanguard, performed by one of the strongest jazz pianists and best interpreters of standards…this CD has notable credits and makes me want to be part of the audience.




Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes/Double Portrait (Blue Note CD) And now for something completely different: two pianists improvising together on separate pianos. Bill Charlap and his wife Renee Rosnes play works by a variety of composers including Jobim, Shorter, Mulligan, and Gershwin.



Ernest Chausson and Guillaume Lekeu/Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet (Chausson) & Sonata for Violin and Piano (Lekeu)/Elmar Oliveira, violin and Robert Koenig, piano (Artek CD) Two exquisite pieces of French chamber music…wonderful!



Ciaramella Dances: On Moveable Ground/Ciaramella Ensemble (Yarlung Records 45rpm LP) Michala Petri, a virtuoso recorder player, says on the album cover, “…dance tunes from the Baroque and Renaissance. It doesn’t get better than this! Ciaramella is magic….” Performed in high quality audiophile sound on a 12-inch 45rpm LP.


Aaron Copland/Symphony for Organ and Orchestra/Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton, cond. (Delos/Naxos CD) Move your calendar back a few seasons prior to the familiar Appalachian Spring and enjoy some of Copland’s early music. This symphony deserves better recognition: It’s more dissonant than some other works, but just as rewarding.


Aaron Copland/Symphony No. 3/New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (DGG CD) Move your calendar a few seasons ahead of the familiar Appalachian Spring and enjoy some of Copland’s later music. No. 3 is one of America’s greatest symphonies, conducted here by one of America’s best interpreters of modern music. It’s emotionally satisfying and worth every hearing.



John Corigliano/The Red Violin Concerto/Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Joshua Bell, violin/Marin Alsop, cond. (Sony/BMG CD) The Concerto is Corigliano’s music for the film The Red Violin transformed into a composition that has an “earworm” – a catchy theme that stays in your mind long after the piece has ended.




George Crumb/Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death/Ensemble New Art (Naxos CD) Crumb was well-known for incorporating extended instrumental and vocal techniques into his compositions. For example, “Death-Drone III” (not a Charles Bronson film) employs some of these techniques to create an eerie ambiance.

“Death-Drone III”



Dancing in the Isles/Musica Pacifica (Solimar CD) Not the Olympic airways ad from the 1960s where passengers listening to Greek music were told “please, no dancing in the aisles.” These selections of Baroque and traditional music from England, Scotland, and Ireland are performed on period instruments and every track is appealing. Do clear the aisles…just remember to dance the pandemic-approved six feet apart.

“English Country Dances”



Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel/Piano Trios/Florestan Trio (Hyperion CD) When I first started listening to classical music, I only played orchestral music: The larger the forces, the better. (More is more.) Many years later I started focusing on chamber music and now favor that. (Less is more.) French chamber music in particular can be warm, elegant and graceful. These are beautiful examples that show off those qualities. (Not available on YouTube.)


Divertissements: Fantasies and Impromptus/Lavinia Meijer, harp (Channel Classics SACD) At first I was suspicious of 20th century classical music written specifically for the harp, but this is impressive. The superb resonance and remarkable flexibility of the instrument are qualities I wasn’t aware of. And the compositions are as pleasurable as music written for any other instrument. This is a great disc!

Trois Morceaux: Variations sur un thème dans le style ancien



Antonín Dvořák/Stabat Mater/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik, cond. (DGG CD) Dvořák is one of those composers whose most famous works have sometimes obscured his other fine compositions. The Stabat Mater is sublime, especially the way the first movement is performed on this recording.

“Stabat mater dolorosa”



Early Italian Harpsichord Music (1520 – 1670)/Edward Parmentier, harpsichord (Wildboar CD) Music by a variety of composers performed by one of our foremost harpsichord players. An early Wildboar CD but the entire series consisted of high-quality recordings from first release to last.



The Elfin Knight: Ballads and Dances from Renaissance England/Joel Frederiksen, lute with Ensemble Phoenix Munich (Harmonia Mundi CD) Stories in song including popular ballads like “Greensleeves,” “Barbara Ellen,” and “Scarborough Faire.” According to Frederiksen, these songs belong to both English and American traditions and are “a collection of individual microcosms of life.”

“Whittingham Faire (The Elfin Knight)”



Sir Edward Elgar/Symphonies 1 & 2/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (Lyrita CD) The composer’s two symphonies conducted by Elgar specialist Adrian Boult, reissued on the superb Lyrita label. Have someone make you a cup of tea, perhaps English breakfast, and allow the music to draw you into Elgar’s world.

Symphony No. 1: “Andante”



Sir Edward Elgar/Violin Concerto & The Lark Ascending/London Symphony Orchestra/Hilary Hahn, violin/Sir Colin Davis, cond. (DGG SACD) If you’re already hooked on Elgar or just want to explore more of his music, try this superior performance of the Violin Concerto.



Ella in Hollywood/Ella Fitzgerald, vocals (Verve LP) This live recording has it all: Ella scatting, songs intelligently sequenced, and lively performances. It sounds like everyone including Ella is having a great time and whenever I listen I have one, too. Now that’s entertainment!

“Take the ‘A’ Train”



Entre Amigos/Rosa Passos, vocals and guitar with Ron Carter, bass (Chesky SACD) Latin American music can be invigorating and rousing (see La Cantata Criolla, below). It can also be soothing and understated with flexible rhythms that create an ebb and flow… a style typified by the Brazilian bossa nova. Of course “The Girl From Ipanema” makes an appearance and the popular “Desafinado” is on the program along with lesser known Brazilian songs – all performed with simplicity and grace rather than glitz. The tall and tan and lovely “Girl from Ipanema” walks at a slower pace than in the famous Getz/Byrd version which is more pop oriented; “Desafinado” is gentler than Getz/Gilberto’s take and just the thing I’m looking for when I want to relax.




Antonio Estévez/La Cantata Criolla: Florentino, el que cantó con el Diablo/Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela/Eduardo Mata, cond. (Dorian Discovery CD) La Cantata is one of the most important works of choral-symphonic music in Latin America and it’s impressive: exotic, percussive, rhythmic, and exciting. It incorporates one vocal “duel,” two Gregorian chants, and occasionally sounds like Stravinsky in a good mood.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=07BeB4qUaD0 First movement
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xsDFboYjcs  Second movement
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZC7gaYaGwFQ Third movement


David Fanshawe/African Sanctus/David Fanshawe, cond. (Philips LP) This piece incorporates music recorded in Africa that Fanshawe describes as fascinating, weird, wonderful, and rapidly vanishing…an attempt “to fuse different peoples and their music into a tightly knit unit of energy and praise.”

“Bwala Dance of Uganda”


“The Lord’s Prayer”



The Fantasticks/Original Cast Album (Ghostlight CD) This is the 2006 “New Off-Broadway Recording,” not the 1960 original cast of The Fantasticks that played in New York’s Greenwich Village for so many years it was called “the longest-running musical in the world.” Unfortunately the 1960 cast doesn’t seem to be hanging out on YouTube but a copy…any copy…of the musical is a “must have.”



Gabriel Fauré/Piano Quartets/Trio Wanderer (Harmonia Mundi CD) More “less is more” elegant French chamber music written by a famous Frenchman.



George Gershwin/Piano Concerto, Rhapsody in Blue, Cuban Overture/Jeff Tyzik, cond. (Harmonia Mundi CD) There are many recordings of the Piano Concerto and Rhapsody but not as many of the Overture. It’s a musical impression of what Gershwin heard while on vacation in Havana – maracas, claves, bongos, gourds and all. I always imagine a line of Carmen Miranda impersonators (even though “The Brazilian Bombshell” wasn’t Cuban) dancing in front of me when I listen to this. It’s a riotous treat recorded in excellent sound, like the other pieces on the disc.

Cuban Overture



W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan/The Mikado/Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera/Sir Charles Mackerras (Telarc CD) As a former Savoyard I can’t create a list, long or short, without mentioning the ever-popular Mikado. The original D’Oyly Carte production on London LP is the standard but this slightly abbreviated performance in modern digital sound is a good second. Enjoy singing along with your favorites – texts provided!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYrF1MNNlMc Act 1
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7V3WAXdXro Act 2


Philip Glass/Metamorphosis/Lavinia Meijer, harp (Channel Classics SACD) Music by minimalist composer Philip Glass that’s haunting and somewhat mysterious…far from those familiar harps in heaven but otherworldly nevertheless.

“Metamorphosis Five



Osvaldo Golijov/Ayre/Dawn Upshaw, vocals with The Andalucian Dogs (DGG CD) Ayre (“air” or “melody” in medieval Spanish), the companion to Berio’s Folk Songs described above, is influenced by the intermingling of Christian, Arab, and Jewish cultures. Golijov draws upon eclectic sources like Sephardic melodies, Semitic electronica, Arabic poetry, Roma (gypsy) music, sensual songs, and popular Mexican rock groups for his unusual and unique compositions.



Morton Gould/Fall River Legend/Latin-American Symphonette/Morton Gould, cond. (RCA LP) Gould conducts his own dramatic music for Agnes De Mille’s 1948 ballet based on the Lizzie Borden legend. The story is retold as it might have existed in the minds of people who were there at the time, and the “Epilogue” ties several story elements together.




Edvard Grieg, others/The Beauty of Two/Kennedy Center Chamber Players (Dorian CD) Consistently enjoyable duos written by Edvard Grieg (of Peer Gynt fame) and three 20th century composers: Poulenc, Hindemith, and Martinů. When I need to relax, I play these in addition to French chamber music – et voilá! (Not available on YouTube.)


Steve Grossman/Steve Grossman in New York/with McCoy Tyner, Avery Sharp, Art Taylor (Dreyfus Jazz CD) I’m a native New Yorker so any recording that reminds me of the Big Apple gets my attention. This live and varied set led by saxophonist Grossman was recorded at Sweet Basil, located in Greenwich Village. Founded in 1974, it was considered one of the most prominent jazz clubs in New York and the source for many outstanding jazz recordings like this one.

“Love for Sale”



Guardian Angel/Rachel Podger, violin (Channel Classics SACD) Solo works by Baroque composers Biber, J.S. Bach, Matteis, Tartini, and Pisendel played by Rachel Podger on an early18th century violin. Podger is one of our best period-instrument performers and just about any of her recordings is highly recommended.



George Friedrich Handel/Organ Concertos Op. 4/Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr, dir. (Harmonia Mundi SACD) If you enjoy the sound of a large-scale organ, try the Saint-Saëns, Copland, or Poulenc organ concertos. English organs in Handel’s time (the early 18th century) had only one row of flue pipes that produced a sweet, warm, flute-like sound and were small enough to be portable. The Opus 4 (and Opus 6) concertos are refreshing and appealing – especially in SACD sound.


Howard Hanson/Symphony No. 2 (“Romantic”)/St. Louis Symphony/Leonard Slatkin, cond./ (EMI CD) A terrific double bill: Hanson’s lyrical symphony is paired with a performance of Barber’s melodic violin concerto that’s a bit cooler than Shaham’s performance listed above. These are two 20th century neo-Romantic compositions in the style of many pieces written by Bloch, Tippett, Walton, Del Tredici, and Corigliano.



Gene Harris/Like a Lover/Gene Harris Quartet (Concord CD) Keep your player set for replay: the title track is very upbeat and you’ll probably want to play it again. The rest of the disc will put you in a good mood, too.

“Like a Lover”



Roy Harris/Symphony No.3 and William Schuman Symphony No. 3/New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (DGG CD) Another great double bill of two symphonies by modern composers who don’t neglect the emotional element. The Schuman symphony is particular builds to a rewarding conclusion.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvHF04mN64c Harris
www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8GyNGOgRnc Schuman

Haydn/Six String Quartets, Op. 76/Takács Quartet (Decca CD)
 No “surprises”: just outstanding chamber music, superbly played.



David Hazeltine/The Classic Trio/David Hazeltine Trio (Sharp Nine Records CD) The first volume of two “Classic Trio” CDs featuring the same musicians: David Hazeltine, Peter Washington, and Louis Hayes. Sharp Nine jazz discs almost sound like SACDs (they aren’t) which makes the music even more involving.

“These Foolish Things”



Bernard Herrmann/Music From the Great Movie Thrillers/Bernard Herrmann, cond. (Decca Phase 4 LP) The composer conducts his own film music on a Phase 4 recording that includes the thrilling “Overture” from North by Northwest and a suite from Psycho. Many Phase 4 LPs became collectors’ items because of their extremely wide right and left channels, emphasis on directional effects, and sound manipulations, although the results have little to do with what you would hear in a concert hall. Herrmann’s unique orchestrations do not require a natural hall perspective to sound good but do need to have their details clearly heard…a great match for Phase 4 technology.



“Psycho: A Narrative for Orchestra”



Fred Hersch/Dancing in the Dark/The Fred Hersch Trio (Chesky CD) One of Hersch’s best recordings. “Secret Love” is a great example of how traditional jazz evolves: The melody is introduced, then altered, solos are added, and the material develops in ways that are straightforward rather than free form.

“Secret Love”



Fred Hersch/Fred Hersch at Jordan Hall: Let Yourself Go/Fred Hersch, piano (Nonesuch CD) Years ago one of my English teachers told the class we should never describe something as “beautiful” because the word is too vague. I’m not so sure about that. Jazz pianist Fred Hersch’s performance of the traditional “Black is the Color,” combined with Alex North’s love theme from the film Spartacus is, quite simply, “beautiful” however you want to interpret the word. “Black…” might be the highlight but the rest of the disc is far above average, too.

“Black Is The Color—Love Theme From ‘Spartacus’”



Paul Hindemith/Mathis der Maler, others/São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling, cond. (BIS SACD) Mathis der Maler (1934) has been described as lyrical, luminous, dramatic, spiritual…more so than Hindemith’s works of the 1920s. And that can be said about Nobilissima Visione as well. The Symphonic Metamorphosis is spirited to a greater degree but still sounds like it belongs with the other two pieces. An excellent recording of well programmed, satisfying music by a celebrated composer.



The Holly Hofmann Quartet Live at Birdland/Holly Hofmann, flute (Azica CD) With the exception of well-known musicians like Herbie Mann and Jean-Pierre Rampal, flutists don’t usually lead jazz trios or quartets (a saxophonist, trumpet player or pianist usually leads). This set highlights the artistry of Holly Hofmann, Ray Brown, Bill Cunliffe, and Victor Lewis…the results are all very entertaining.

“Brown Bossa”



Vagn Holmboe/Symphonies 6 & 7/Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes, cond. (BIS CD) Holmboe was a little-known (in the US) Danish composer until the adventurous BIS label started promoting his music toward the end of the 20th century. He’s another composer influenced by East European folk music and especially its mystical, ecstatic, and magical qualities. The music in Symphony No. 6 grows organically from a few cells and has an inner energy that makes transformation possible; Symphony No. 7 uses a rhythmic motif throughout the work. Holmboe is a great find. Now you know, too.




Shirley Horne With Strings: Here’s to Life/Shirley Horne, vocals and piano (Verve Gitanes CD) I generally don’t care for solo vocals with band or orchestra but this disc is an exception. There’s nothing melodramatic here…just quietly expressive music making. It puts me in a better mood whenever I play it.

“Here’s to Life”



Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance/The Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow, dir. (Angel LP) If you already enjoy, are curious about, or want to have anything to do with early music, keep an eye out for this item: a collectible box set consisting of two LPs and a 100-page book published by the Oxford University Press. Instruments are introduced by family and the book, written by Munrow, is very thorough. Want more music of the Middle Ages? See Music of the Gothic Era, below.

Virginals: “Variations on the Romanesca”


Italian Lute Virtuosi of the Renaissance/Jakob Lindberg, lute (BIS SACD) Music composed, according to Lindberg, by “arguably the greatest lutenists of the first half of the 16th century…whose touch on the lute produced such ravishing sounds that they moved their audiences in profound ways.” Lindberg is one of the greatest lutenists of our day. Try comparing his style of playing to the styles of other lutenists on this list.



Charles Ives/Symphony No. 4/Leopold Stokowski, cond. (Columbia LP) Ives’ Fourth Symphony is extraordinarily complex, usually requiring three conductors to hold things together. When it was written in 1916, sections of it were unlike anything else being composed at the time: a combination of Protestant hymns and overlapping bands (each band playing its own parade music) plus a crazy quilt of American parlor songs, marching tunes, ragtime melodies, and patriotic songs. When it was first performed in 1965, reviewer Harold C. Schonberg wrote in The New York Times “…it throws up spiky walls of sound and then sings the simplest of songs. It has wild polyrhythms, clumps of tonalities that clash like army against army, Whitmanesque yawps and – suddenly – the quiet of a New England church…the work is a masterpiece.”



Leoš Janáĉek/Sinfonietta, more/Czech State Philharmonic Brno/José Serebrier, cond. (Reference HDCD) The Sinfonietta isn’t a symphony in the traditional sense. It was composed for a gymnastic festival that celebrated youth, sports, and independent nationhood, begins and ends with military fanfares performed by an additional ensemble of 13 brass players, and has unpredictable textures that create a sense of surprise and suspense – the opposite of what occurs in conventional symphonies.



Leoš Janáĉek/Orchestral Works Vol. 3/Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Edward Gardner, cond. (Chandos SACD) If you enjoyed the previous Janáĉek selections, listen to the Glagolitic Mass included on this disc. Referred to by one Czech writer as more of an orgy than a mass, it was greatly influenced by the folklore of Janáček’s native Moravia and is filled with musical qualities that reflect the clipped dialect of northern Moravia. (Not available on YouTube.)


Karl Jenkins/The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace/Karl Jenkins, cond. (Virgin Records CD) Here’s another guilty pleasure. The music isn’t very challenging or complex. Some of it sounds like the score for a biblical movie or Battle of the Titans. However, The Armed Man is satisfyingly melodic, tonal, and catchy when Jenkins isn’t going overboard. Most critics thought the piece was derivative and eclectic but admitted they liked it anyway. “Good” or “bad” music aside, whenever I listen to it I’m glad I did.




Antônio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá/Black Orpheus: Original Soundtrack (Verve CD) The film tells the same story as Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (below) but is set in a 1950s Rio de Janeiro Carnaval. The bossa nova selection “Manhã de Carnaval” became a jazz standard but the entire score is varied and appealing, beautiful and creepy parts alike.



Hymns of Kassiani/Cappella Romana (Cappella Records/Naxos SACD) Kassiani (aka Kassia c. 810 – c. 867) was a Ninth century nun, poet, and hymnist generally thought of as the first woman composer. She became famous partly because of her popular composition known as “The Hymn of Kassiani.” The Cappella Romana performs Kassia’s hymn in a traditional manner with the choir singing in unison supported by a Byzantine vocal bass drone. The hymn is melodic but also has occasional resolutions and chromatic changes that wouldn’t be out of place in some modern choral music. There are several examples of the composer’s music on the disc that haven’t been recorded before, all impeccably sung.

“The Hymn of Kassiani”



Constant Lambert, Arthur Bliss, William Walton/Three English Ballet Suites/English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones, cond. (Hyperion CD) Outstanding ballet music written by composers on the other side of the pond during the first half of the 20th century: William Walton’s Facade (minus the spoken poems by Edith Sitwell), Constant Lambert’s Horoscope (choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton considered Lambert to be the finest ballet conductor with whom he ever worked), and Arthur Bliss’ Checkmate – one of his best works. (Not avaiable on YouTube.)


Love’s Illusion: Music from the Montpellier Codex 13th-Century/The Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi CD) Every album recorded by the Anonymous 4 treats listeners to little-known medieval repertoire in superb performances presented in superior sound. Love’s Illusion focuses on courtly love texts from the Montpellier Codex, the richest single source of 13th century French polyphony. The Codex spans the entire century and contains polyphonic works in all the major forms of its era, especially motets.

“Amours, dont je sui”




Witold Lutoslawski/Concerto for Orchestra/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim, cond. (Erato CD) Like Bartók’s concerto, Lutoslawski’s concerto highlights different instruments of the orchestra instead of featuring only one instrument backed up by the other players. It’s enjoyable modern music presented in a top-notch performance by Daniel Barenboim and the CSO.




Gustav Mahler/Symphony No. 8: Symphony of a Thousand/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti, cond. (Decca LP or CD) According to the original program prepared for the symphony’s premier in 1910, the work required 858 singers and 171 instrumentalists – a true symphony of a thousand. My favorite recording is the one made by Sir Georg Solti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1971. It doesn’t have the natural perspective of more recent recordings and the organ part was dubbed, but it’s a dramatic reading in full-bodied sound. This rarely performed piece (due to artist and venue costs) is awesome: it holds my attention for the entire length of over an hour and leaves me richer for the experience.



Bohuslav Martinů/Sinfonietta La Jolla/Zelina State Chamber Orchestra/Jan Valta, cond. (Essential Media Group CD) Martinů is another of my favorite composers. He has a distinctive, rhythmically driven style I enjoy. This composition in particular demonstrates his character nicely. (Note: All three movements can be located using the YouTube guide on the right side of the screen.)



Bohuslav Martinů/Symphonies 1 & 2/Bamberger Symphoniker/Neeme Järvi, cond. (BIS CD) Even greater musical satisfaction, complements of Martinů. More compositions from the days when Järvi seemed to be conducting music by every composer on Earth, and doing it rather well.

Symphony No. 1


Symphony No. 2



Felix Mendelssohn/String Quartet No. 6 Op.80/Quatuor Èbène (Virgin CD) Unlike the composer’s enchanting A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is angry and anguished music composed after Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny died. Some ensembles play it in a more measured manner but the Quatuor Èbène performs it with energy and heavily accented, syncopated rhythms…just what the music needs.

“Allegro assai”


Darius Milhaud/La Création du monde & Suite Provençale/Charles Munch, cond. (RCA Victor Living Stereo Soria Series LP) The Soria series consisted of records in beautiful slip cases accompanied by equally beautiful LP-sized booklets produced by the famous Swiss art book publisher Skira. This is one of my favorites in the series: the pieces are lively and jazzy, and listening to the music while looking through the artsy booklet is always fun. (Not available on YouTube.)


Claudio Monteverdi/L’Orfeo/Emmanuelle Haïm, cond. (Virgin CD) The first true opera (1607), it tells the story of how Orfeo travels to the underworld, retrieves his betrothed Euridice who has died of a snake bite, only to lose her again on the way back to Earth by breaking his deal with the King of the Underworld (otherwise known as the Devil). “Tu se’ morta” is sung by Orfeo after Euridice’s death.

“Tu se’ morta, mia vita”



Byron Janis plays Moussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition/Byron Janis, piano (Mercury Living Presence SACD) The piano score is the original version of Pictures which was later orchestrated by Ravel – also included on the disc. I wouldn’t say I prefer the piano to the orchestral version but it’s every bit as good: colorful, absorbing, dramatic, and seems to have a better flow.



“The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba-Yaga)”



W.A. Mozart/Complete Violin Sonatas vol. 2/Rachel Podger, violin (Channel SACD) Several years ago Channel Classics issued Mozart’s complete violin sonatas, performed on Baroque violin by Rachel Podger and fortepiano by Gary Cooper. I like the music on the earliest volumes best, but you can’t go wrong listening to anything from this set.

Sonata in C Major, KV 303: “Tempo di Menuetto”



Music from the Morning of the World: The Balinese Gamelan (Nonesuch LP) The highlight is the Balinese monkey dance (ketjak) with its polyrhythms and, yes, monkey-like chatter created by quickly chanting the word ketjak (pronounced “yak”). The cross-rhythms and accents are so complex I hear something new every time I play the chant – complexities that would challenge Western musicians but come easily to many people in non-Western cultures.

“Ketjak Dance” (excerpt)


Music of the Gothic Era/The Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow, dir. (Archiv LP) Another collector’s box set (three records and a 50-page LP-size book) from Munrow focusing on medieval music. The entire recording is on YouTube with a short video introduction presented by an unidentified person (someone from Authentic Sound?) talking enthusiastically about Munrow and his accomplishments but, unfortunately, not saying very much about the music.



Music of Spain: Julian Bream Plays Granados and Albéniz/Julian Bream, guitar (RCA CD) Masterful classic guitar music played by a master.

“Valses Poéticos” (Granados)



Carl Nielsen/Symphonies 4 & 5/San Francisco Symphony/Herbert Blomstedt, cond. (London CD) There are many recordings of the Nielsen symphonies but Blomstedt’s are among the best. Symphony No. 4: “The Inextinguishable” is famous for the finale’s “battling timpani”: two sets of timpani placed at opposite sides of the orchestra that seem to be attacking each other. The sound is striking and you can clearly hear the battle moving back and forth…riveting and engrossing like the rest of the piece.

Symphony No. 4



Nina’s Choice/Nina Simone, vocals and piano (Colpix LP) From “Trouble in Mind” to “Memphis in June” every selection is outstanding. I own several Simone albums, but this is my “go to” choice even if the sound quality is variable.

“Trouble in Mind”


“Li’l Liza Jane”



Ninna Nanna ca. 1500-2002/Montserrat Figueras, vocals (AliaVox SACD) An unusual album of lullabies from a variety of sources and time periods, performed by early music vocalist Montserrat Figueras accompanied by a period instrument ensemble. The first track, “José embala…” draws me into the program not only because of the music but the way it shows off Figueras’ lovely, clear voice.

“José embala o menino” (Joseph Rocks the Infant)


Michael Nyman/The Piano Concerto/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/ Michael Nyman, cond. (Argo CD) Nyman, a minimalist composer, wrote a very attractive piano concerto based on his soundtrack for Jane Campion’s 1992 film The Piano. It’s catchy music (another “earworm”) that invites you to listen again and again.

“The Beach”



Officium/The Hilliard Ensemble with Jan Garbarek, saxopohone (ECM CD) The combination of medieval/Renaissance vocal music and saxophone seems like an odd concept but is surprisingly successful. Garbarek’s instrument provides musical commentary as it weaves through the voices and brings words like spacious, ancient, primeval, and spiritual to mind. This distinctive style can be haunting. (Not available on YouTube.)


On Yoolis Night: Medieval Carols & Motets/The Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi CD) The Anonymous 4 return for a program of carols, plainchant, songs, and motets using English sources from the 13th through the 15th centuries. You don’t have to wait for Christmas to listen: This lyrical, relaxing music is appropriate for all times of the year.

“Ther is no rose of swych vertu”



Orquesta Nova (Chesky CD) This is Latin American popular music originally played in dance halls, brothels, and silent-movie houses, performed here by the Orquesta Nova chamber ensemble. The instruments include the usual string quartet suspects (violin, viola, cello, bass) as well as flute, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and harp. While the entire disc is exceptional, the syncopated and rhythmic “Wapango,” a Mexican folk dance, is my favorite. (Not available on YouTube but the selection here, from Chesky’s jazz sampler, is the same track that’s on the original disc.)




Harry Partch/Delusion of the Fury/Ensemble of Unique Instruments/Danlee Mitchell, cond. (Columbia LP) Harry Partch was famous for inventing his own instruments and integrating music with art, drama, and dance. His instruments are beautiful and tuned to a micro-tonal scale of 43 notes per octave instead of the standard 12 notes. The original 3-LP box set of Delusion of the Fury (a stage work based on a Japanese Noh drama and an Ethiopian folk tale concerning the reconciliation of life and death) is a collector’s item. It includes a complete performance of Delusion, an extra LP describing the instruments and sounds they produce, and a large-format booklet showing the instruments. A visual and aural treat!

Treats with Death and with Life Despite Death: Cry from Another”



Walter Piston/Symphonies 2 & 6, Sinfonietta/Seattle Symphony, New York Chamber Symphony/Gerard Schwarz, cond. (Delos CD) Delos should be applauded for producing many discs of American music, including the compositions of Walter Piston, an award-winning composer (his Third Symphony won a Pulitzer Prize) who adhered to traditional and classical forms. Syncopated, sensuous, dark, unsettling, intense, lyrical, playful…Piston wrote music using a variety of textures.

Symphony No. 6 : “Allegro Energico”



Walter Piston/The Incredible Walter Piston/Seattle Symphony and Juilliard String Quartet/Gerard Schwarz, cond. (Delos CD) The Delos American series continues with additional Piston pieces including The Incredible Flutist (Suite), one of his most famous compositions. The complete Delos disc (reissued on Naxos) isn’t available in one place on YouTube but bits of pieces and most of the Flutist conducted by Schwarz, as well as Howard Hanson for the Mercury Living Presence series, can be found at the sites below.



 Postcards/The Turtle Creek Chorale (Reference Recordings CD) Ernst Toch, one of the composers represented on the Turtle Creek’s program, is best known for his inventive “Geographical Fugue.” This spoken chorus, a style invented by Toch, is written in strict fugal form for four voices saying the names of various cities, countries, and other geographical landmarks. It became a sensation when it was first presented in 1930 and is now the composer’s most-performed choral work. The fugue is clearly spoken by the chorale in a tempo that, to borrow a phrase from Goldilocks, is just right – as are the other works on this disc.

“Geographical Fugue”



Francis Poulenc/Chamber Music/Pentaèdre (ATMA CD) I bought this disc when I owned speakers from the French company Triangle and it was a perfect match for them. The disc, played through those sweet-sounding speakers, was captivating. This exceptional music still sounds wonderful played through my current system: transparent Audio Physics speakers, a hybrid Pathos amplifier, and a Marantz SACD player to warm things up (in case you were wondering). (Not available on YouTube.)


Sergei Prokofiev/Five Piano Concertos/London Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano/André Previn, cond. (London LP) A highly rated set that includes Piano Concerto No. 3, a listener favorite and favorite of mine.

Piano Concerto No. 3



Sergei Prokofiev/Romeo and Juliet/The Cleveland Orchestra/Lorin Maazel, cond. (Decca LP & CD) The famous score for the famous ballet, often performed by famous dancers like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Maazel conducts one of the top recordings presented, as usual, in Decca’s full-bodied sound.



Sergei Prokofiev/Cinderella/The Cleveland Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond. (Decca CD) Anyone familiar with ballet has heard or is aware of Prokofiev’s great music for Romeo and Juliet. Cinderella could be considered the lesser-known stepsister of the more famous ballet and that’s too bad: the music is almost as extraordinary.




Giacomo Puccini/Madama Butterfly/Philharmonia Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond. (DGG CD) Get out your handkerchiefs. Sinopoli was famous for conducting pieces at a slower pace than usual and there are a couple of places here where that’s apparent. But Act III is special: It’s a genuine tear jerker that never fails to move me.



Giacomo Puccini/La Rondine/Kiri Te Kenewa and Placido Domingo/London Symphony Orchestra/Lorin Maazel, cond. (CBS CD) The renowned first act aria “Chi il bel sogno” is, well, marvelous, and Te Kenewa’s voice is perfect for the role. The rest of the music is charming but not as memorable.

“Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” (at approx. 5:12)



Giacomo Puccini/Turandot/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta, cond. (London LP and CD) Terrific music, exemplary cast that includes Pavarotti and Sutherland, extraordinary sound…what more could you ask for in a Puccini recording?




Puccini Orchestral Music/RSO Berlin/Riccardo Chailly cond. (Decca CD) Need a Puccini fix? Can’t go out to the opera because your tuxedo is at the cleaners? Don’t have enough time to listen to a complete score at home? Try some Chrysanthemums. This string quartet in its orchestral arrangement is as lyrical as music from any Puccini opera. If it sounds familiar it’s because some of the music was subsequently incorporated into his third opera Manon Lescaut. In addition to the rare and beautiful Chrysanthemums the disc includes other lesser-known pieces plus selections from Puccini’s earliest operas.




Sergei Rachmaninoff/The Elégiaque Piano Trios/Beaux Arts Trio (Philips CD) Appealing chamber music by the prodigious Rachmaninoff performed by the sensational Beaux Arts Trio.

Trio Elégiaque No.1



Rachmaninoff/Piano Concerto No. 3/Byron Janis, piano/London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati, cond. (Mercury Living Presence 35mm magnetic film recording and LP reissue) Another classic performance in analog sound from the “golden age” of acoustic recording (1950s – early 1960s).



Rachmaninoff/Symphony no. 2/London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn, cond. (EMI CD) Certainly one of the best recorded performances of this audience favorite. The crescendos, decrescendos, and pauses during the memorable third movement are just about perfect. The sound is excellent but a bit cramped by today’s standards.



Earl Wild Plays Rachmaninoff/Earl Wild, piano (Chesky CD) More Rachmaninoff including fine performances of the well-known Corelli Variations and Chopin Variations.

Chopin Variations



Ariel Ramirez/Misa Criolla/José Carreras, vocals (Decca digital LP) This popular mass sung to a Castilian text combines Ramirez’s own music with traditional Argentinian and Hispanic-American instruments, regional dances, and rhythms.



“Agnus Dei”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=14gqU4gnW3Y (Note: This site includes links to all five movements.)


Sonny Rollins/Way Out West/Sonny Rollins, saxophone (Original Jazz Classics LP reissue) Great music and playing from 1957 in amazing sound with depth and clarity. Get those wagon wheels rolling and check out the vinyl at your local record store.


Celedonio Romero/An Evening of Guitar Music/Celedonio Romero, guitar (Delos CD) Music by Giuliani, Sor, and Tarrega, played by the founder of The Romeros guitar quartet.



Nino Rota, others/Fellini Jazz/Enrico Pieranunzi Quintet (CAM CD) Nino Rota wrote the scores for almost every film directed by Federico Fellini. Here, in Fellini Jazz, Pieranunzi leads his group in relaxed interpretations of music from a handful of Fellini films including some of my favorites (like the theme from La Strada) but missing some others (like the theme from 8 ½). Rota also wrote orchestral and chamber music, although I don’t find those pieces as memorable as his film scores, which are always distinctive.




Miklós Rózsa/Three Hungarian Sketches, Cello Rhapsody, Hungarian Nocturne/Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV/Mariusz Smolij, cond. (Naxos CD) Yes, he’s the same composer of music for films including Ben Hur and King of Kings. Rózsa wrote a substantial amount of concert music and this CD contains several samples, all of them listener-friendly. The Three Hungarian Sketches are best: a jazzy, fast moving “Capriccio,” an attractive “Pastorale,” and spirited “Danza.”

Three Hungarian Sketches



Camille Saint-Saëns/Piano Trios 1 & 2/Florestan Trio (Hyperion CD) Saint-Saëns was best known for his large-scale works. He also wrote chamber music (besides the famous Carnival of the Animals) that’s lyrical and a pleasure to hear no matter how many times you listen to it. (Not available on YouTube.)


Sara K./Closer Than They Appear/Sara K., vocals (Chesky CD) Sara K. caught my attention on a Chesky jazz sampler because of her distinctive, angular sound: a combination of folk, blues, and pop with abrupt shifts, fragmented rhythms, and odd phrasing. I enjoyed the selection so much I bought the entire album. The rest of the songs on the CD, all written by Sara K., are just as interesting and entertaining.

“Miles Away”



Eric Satie/Avant-dernières pensées/Alexandre Tharaud, piano (Harmonia Mundi CD) There’s a good chance you’ve heard pieces by Erik Satie in movies, on various TV programs, and almost always on recordings that feature music for relaxation. His most famous piece is the languid “Gnossienne No. 3,” composed in 1888. With apologies once again to Goldilocks, Tharaud gets it just right: not too slow, not too fast, without trying to make it more dramatic or more interesting by breaking the flow with heavy accents. After all, the eccentric Satie referred to many of his compositions as “Furniture Music,” intended to be ignored like wallpaper.

“Gnossienne No. 3”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6O5ivRCec0 (track 3 at 4’50”)


Ferran Savall/Mireu el nostre mar/Ferran Savall, voice, piano, and guitar (AliaVox CD) A disc of arrangements, new compositions, South American pieces, traditional songs, and old Catalan melodies performed by Ferran Savall and his small group of musicians. According to Ferran (son of Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras), these pieces have been “reawakened by infusing them with the musical and multicultural influences of our own time.”

“La Cançó del Lladre”



Ahmed Adnan Saygun/Piano Concertos 1 & 2/Gülsin Onay, piano/ Rundfunkorchester Hannover/Gürer Aykal, cond. (Koch CD) If you enjoy Bartók you might like Saygun, a Turkish composer who was inspired by folk music and, like his colleague Bartók, conducted extensive folk-music studies. This is complex, driven music that combines Western genres with Eastern traditions. [N/A on YouTube.]


Stephen Sondheim/Sweeney Todd/Original Cast Album (RCA CD) Sweeney Todd, aka “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is a hit musical some refer to as an opera because there are only a few minutes of dialogue. It has both scary and beautiful music – e.g., the soothing “Not While I’m Around” sung by the character Tobias Ragg, an orphan who serves pies baked with very special ingredients by the ever-practical Mrs. Lovett. (The original Broadway cast album is not available on YouTube. This selection is a video from the film version of the play.)

“Not While I’m Around”



Songbird/Eva Cassidy, guitar and vocals (Blix Street LP) Songbird is a compilation album and, while the entire record is appealing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is exceptional. I first heard Cassidy’s interpretation of “Rainbow” on ABC’s Nightline in 2001 and was so moved I had to own a copy. It’s an especially touching arrangement and performance, and extremely poignant since Cassidy died at the age of 33 in 1996. At that time Cassidy wasn’t well known outside her native Washington, D.C. although she did achieve worldwide recognition after the Nightline broadcast and when her other albums were issued posthumously.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (video of track 2 on Songbird)



Mary Stallings/Live at the Village Vanguard/Mary Stallings, vocals (Maxjazz CD) Great vocals, personality, and music directed at an audience having a great time. You’ll have a great time, too: Stallings is terrific!

“I Love Being Here with You”



Lyn Stanley/Potions: From the 50s/Lyn Stanley, vocals (A.T. Music LLC CD) I like well-performed vocal jazz and Stanley is the real thing, not an opera singer struggling to loosen up and sound jazzy. I especially like her second album, Potions because all of the songs are familiar and comfortable, and satisfying to listen to. Stanley’s discs are all audiophile recordings which makes listening even more enjoyable.




Lyn Stanley/The Moonlight Sessions Volume 1/Lyn Stanley, vocals (A.T. Music LLC SACD) Even greater musical satisfaction complements of Stanley.

“All or Nothing at All”


Igor Stravinsky/Le Sacre du Printemps/New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (Columbia Masterworks/Sony Classical LP reissue) This early recording is a fierce performance that, according to the album notes, “perfectly captures the raw power and rhythmic intensity of what many consider the finest recording of one of the most influential compositions of the twentieth century.” Upon hearing it, Stravinsky said “wow!” I agree. And the 1958 sound is spectacular.



Igor Stravinsky/The Soldier’s Tale/Igor Stravinsky, cond. (Sony CD) A theatrical work performed by a small group of actors, dancers, and instrumentalists – an innovative format when it was created during the early 20th century. It’s another tale where the Devil prevails after his contract with a mere mortal is broken (see L’Orfeo, above).

“Triumphal March of the Devil”



Alessandro Striggio/Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno/Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet, cond. (Glossa CD) Early music scholar Davitt Moroney has referred to Alessandro Striggio’s Missa sopra as the most extravagant piece of polyphony ever written in the history of Western music. The Mass is the largest and most complex work known to have been composed during the Renaissance and “one of the first great pieces to use architecture and space, with musical phrases physically moving around the ring from choir to choir… There are other large choral works, but Striggio’s Mass is unique with its five eight-part choirs. This is Florentine art at its most spectacular.”



Barbara Strozzi/Arias & Cantatas/La Risonanza (Glossa CD) Strozzi was said to be the most prolific composer – man or woman – of printed secular vocal music in Venice and had more music in print during the 17th century than any other composer. Most of her poetry centers on the theme of love, similar to the Marinist aesthetic of the time which valued wit, linguistic virtuosity, and erotic imagery.

Arie a voce sola, Op. 8: “E pazzo il mio core”



Josef Suk/Piano Quartet and Quintet/Nash Ensemble (Hyperion CD) Suk was Dvorak’s son in law. Like Saint-Saëns, he was better known for his orchestral works, but Suk’s chamber music is a melodic and attractive discovery. Who knew? (Not available on YouTube.)


Tierney Sutton/Blue in Green/Tierney Sutton, vocals (Telarc CD) Extraordinary jazz artist Tierney Sutton sings a swinging and sensual mix of mostly Bill Evans originals.

“Just Squeeze Me”



Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky/Violin Concerto/Jascha Heifetz, violin/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, cond. (RCA Living Stereo LP or SACD) You have a choice of the classic Living Stereo recording on vinyl, or paired with the Brahms Violin Concerto on SACD.



Tippett/A Child of Our Time/BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis, cond. (Philips LP) A Child was written before Tippett turned to a more atonal style. This work, composed during his neo-Romantic period, is absorbing and lyrical with spirituals interwoven throughout. Top drawer performers; opulent and warm sound.



David Del Tredici/Final Alice/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti, cond. (Decca CD) Alice was commissioned by the CSO to celebrate the US Bicentennial: it consists of arias interspersed with dramatic episodes from the last two chapters of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and falls someplace between opera and symphonic music. According to Del Tredici (another Pulitzer prize winner and neo-Romantic composer) it tells two stories simultaneously: “…the tale of Wonderland itself, with all its bizarre and unpredictable happenings painted as vividly as possible. But between the lines, as it were, is the implied love of Lewis Carroll for Alice Liddell…”


Trobairitz: Poems of Women Troubadours/La Nef (Analekta CD) Although troubadours during the 12th and 13th centuries are usually associated with men, there were female troubadours (trobairitz) as well. The most common form used by the trobairitz was the canso, a song in stanza form restricted to topics of courtly love. These songs help us understand the trobairitz culture and how it influenced poetry and concepts of love for centuries to follow.

“Na Carenza” (Lady Carenza)



Two Lutes: Lute Duets from England’s Golden Age/Ronn McFarlane and William Simms (Sono Luminus CD) The lute is usually enjoyed as a solo instrument, so what could be better than one lutanist playing? Two lutenists of course, like frequent collaborators Ronn McFarlane and William Simms.



Una “Stravaganza” Dei Medici/Taverner Consort, Choir and Players/Andrew Parrott, cond. (EMI CD) This is a “must have” if you can find a copy. One of the best recordings of Renaissance music ever issued performed by top early music artists of the time.

“Jove’s Gift to Mortals of Rhythm and Harmony”



Ralph Vaughan Williams/Serenade to Music (choral version)/Rochester Philharmonic/Christopher Seaman, cond. (Harmonia Mundi CD) The lyrics (adapted from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice) where lovers revel in the magic of the night are reflected in Vaughan Williams’ sensuous sounds…a celebration of music so captivating that Rachmaninoff, who was also on the program at the Serenade’s premier, had reportedly been moved to tears.



Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir Edward Elgar: Music for Strings/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra/ (DGG CD) The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra never disappoints and this selection is pure pleasure: five pieces for string orchestra that are calming and (there’s that word again) beautiful.

“Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” (Vaughan Williams)



Heitor Villa-Lobos and Alberto Ginastera/The Little Train of the Caipira, Estancia, Panambi/The London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens, cond. (Everest/Classic Records LP re-release) A reissue from the early Everest label, recorded on 35mm magnetic film instead of tape for more lifelike sound. Goossens has written that Villa-Lobos’ “little train puffs and chugs along, and save for a solitary emergency stop (with great squealing of brakes)…proceeds to its distant destination which it reaches safely in a process of gradual deceleration and much exhaust steam. A mighty and startling chord marks the end.” Ginastera’s Estancia and Panambi are ballets: the first, intended to reflect all aspects of Argentine ranch life; the second, based on a South American legend.

“The Little Train of the Caipira”


Antonio Vivaldi/Bajazet/Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi, cond. (Virgin CD) Vivaldi, composer of The Four Seasons, also wrote approximately 50 operas. The first complete recording of the opera Bajazet was issued by Virgin in 2005 and took most listeners by surprise because of its format. It’s very different from the Vivaldi we’re used to hearing but the music is just as special.


Volti/House of Voices/Robert Geary, cond. (Innova CD) A well-chosen program, flawlessly performed, of unaccompanied choral music by emerging and established composers that is challenging, stimulating, and always intriguing. The music is accessible, with harmonies and timbres that will likely draw you back for repeated hearings.

Luna, Nova Luna: No. 3 “The Moon-Dance” (Mark Winges)



Volti/The Color of There Seen From Here/Robert Geary, cond. (Innova CD) More unusual vocal techniques, still flawlessly performed, used in compositions that engage your mind and ears in a variety of soundscapes. For example, Mark Winges’ intriguing All Night is rich, dense, and sparse all at the same time and Lithuanian composer Žibuoklė Martinaitytė’s soft and atmospheric The Blue of Distance washes over you with speech sounds, humming, and open vowels.

From Ivory Depths: II. “Tuesday” (Tonia Ko)



Kurt Weill/Street Scene: An American Opera/Scottish Opera Orchestra & Chorus/John Mauceri, cond. (London/Decca CD) Is it a musical? An opera? A folk opera like Porgy and Bess? An urban folk opera because of its city tenement setting? Doesn’t matter. Whatever you call it, it’s one of Weill’s best works.



Kurt Weill/Mahagonny Songspiel, Violinkonzert, Happy End, more/The London Sinfonietta/David Atherton, cond. (DGG LP) A special Kurt Weill box set originally issued as three LPs of rarely performed works and first recordings. It was accompanied by a book with a chronology, Lotte Lenya interview, notes on the music, translations from the German…and is now available on CD. (Not available on YouTube, although parts of this recording can be found by using the guide on the screen at the site below.)

“Prologue” and “Alabama Song”



World Keys: Virtuoso Piano Music/Joel Fan, piano (Reference Recordings HDCD) Piano pieces by several international composers you’re not likely to discover in a collection elsewhere. Global variety (music from Turkey, Australia, Syria, Egypt, China, Latvia, etc.) and dazzling performances can be found here.

“La Nuit du Destin” (Syria)


The Two San Jose Festivals, 1969

The Two San Jose Festivals, 1969

The Two San Jose Festivals, 1969

Ken Sander

It turns out that there were two festivals in San Jose, California on Memorial Day weekend in 1969. They both happened within one mile of each other. Neither festival was recorded or filmed, as was the case for many of the 1969 festivals. There was some film taken of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s set, but many of these early festivals did not have professional film crews present. Certainly, not on the level of the filming that took place at Woodstock, or in 1973 at Watkins Glen. [Ken wrote about the latter in Issue 146 and Issue 147 – Ed.] I attended the second Northern California Folk-Rock Festival, located on the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, with some people from A&M Records. The other one, the Aquarian Family Festival, took place at the San Jose State University’s Spartan Stadium practice field. Upwards of 80,000 people were said to have attended these festivals. Both festivals were firmly entrenched in the philosophies of peace, love, and rock and roll. (Sex, and drugs were intimated.)

The Northern California Folk-Rock Festival took place on May 23 – 25, 1969. (I wrote about it in Issue 149. Note that although it wasn’t officially named the “Second” Northern California, Folk-Rock Festival, a previous one took place in 1968.)

These bands were advertised, but not all were booked: the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jefferson Airplane, Chambers Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Eric Burdon, Spirit, Canned Heat, Buffy St. Marie, the Youngbloods, the Steve Miller Band, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, Noel Redding (and Fat Mattress), Lee Michaels, Blues Image, Santana, Aum, Elvin Bishop, Poco, People, Linn County, Loading Zone, Sweet Linda Divine, Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys, Doc Watson, and the New Lost City Ramblers.

Eric Burdon did not get to play due to time constraints. At the time, Santana was just another popular local band without an album, although their groundbreaking debut would be released a few months later.

According to reports, the Aquarian Family Festival was started as a protest against Bob Blodgett, the promoter of the Northern California Folk-Rock Festivals. The 1969 (second) festival he had produced had contained false advertising of groups who were not actually booked, who Blodgett claimed were no-shows. And there were bad drugs around at the 1968 festival, mostly bad PCP. In most cases a promoter has no control over the distribution of drugs at his or her event, but they are responsible for security. Over 1,000 attendees of the first Northern California Folk-Rock Festival had to go to the emergency room, where gallons of orange juice were dispensed. The high sugar content in OJ will help bring you down from a bad psychedelic trip.

Because of the prevalence of bad drugs at the 1968 show, Dennis Jay, head of an organization called Drug Crisis Intervention, contacted Blodgett and asked if his group could provide free medical help at the 1969 Northern California Folk-Rock Festival. Blodgett reportedly said, “If you pay me.” That off-the-cuff comment cost Blodgett. Also, radio station KSJO warned listeners once again that the acts advertised for the festival, particularly Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, were not going to appear, as they were booked elsewhere at the time.


1968 Northern California Folk-Rock Festival advertisement.


The newfound scrutiny of Blodgett’s operation was a result of the public outcry that caused a review of his earlier 1968 festival, but it was apparently too late to cancel his permits for the 1969 event.

In spite of all the bad advance publicity, the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival was successful. The acts that did play were paid, and the event came off relatively smoothly. That said, the negative press about Blodgett’s false advertising was such that no major talent agency would do business with him in the future. Also, neither the San Jose or any other authorities would ever again entertain any thought of granting concert permits for him. As a promoter, he was toast.

Roger Desmond, who helped organize the Aquarian Family Festival, wrote this in an e-mail that was made public:

“We thought the [Northern California Folk-Rock Festival] fairgrounds festival was a rip-off for many reasons. Mainly, the promoter, Bob Blodgett promised that the Jimi Hendrix Experience would play but we found out the Experience had dates booked in Canada at the same time. (Closer to that Memorial Day weekend, those Canadian dates had to be canceled. Jimi got busted and wasn’t allowed to leave the US.) So, we basically contacted some bands and told them we wanted to do a free concert, and wham! It was happening. As a San Jose State student, I was able to help secure the venue.”

The hippie community and some San Jose college students organized a concert committee. Dennis Jay and members of San Jose’s Free University, the Institute for Research and Understanding, and the Druid Corporation (a musicians’ collective) were granted permission from San Jose State College to organize the concert at the football practice field across from the football stadium (Spartan Stadium). Dubbed the Aquarian Family Festival, it would be held less than a mile from the site of the 1969 Northern California Folk-Rock Festival.

In addition to wanting to mess with Blodgett, another goal of this festival was to provide a place for hippies to camp and sleep. It was assumed by the concert committee that a large portion of the attendees of the free festival would be coming from Berkeley, where they had been protesting at People’s Park. The Aquarian Festival committee asked Hells Angels to provide security. They were cheap and happy to show their muscle, but they did more harm than good. It was not until later that year at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont that West Coast promoters fully understood the problem in using outlaw biker gangs for security.

One of the conditions of the license granted to the Aquarian Family Festival required that attendees could be present only when bands were playing, so the music had to be continuous, with the bands playing nonstop. To fulfill this obligation, two stages were constructed so that one band could set up while another was playing.


Aquarian Family Festival poster. Very little information for the Northern California or Aquarian festivals exists online.


The poster for the Aquarian Family Festival could barely contain the names of all the bands appearing over Memorial Day Weekend, 1969.

The bands that played at the festival included: Ace of Cups, All Men Joy, Birth, Beggars Opera, Boz Skaggs, Crabs, Crow, Cleanliness And Godliness Skiffle Band, Devine Madness, Denver, Scratch, Elgin Marble, Flaming Groovies, Frumious Bandersnatch, Gentle Dance, Greater Carmichael Traveling Street Band, Glass Mountain, High Country, Jefferson Airplane, Joy of Cooking, Last Mile, Libras, Lamb, Living Color, Linn County, Mother Ball, Morning Glory, Mad River, Mount Rushmore, Nymbus, Old Davis, Red Grass Green Smoke, Rubber Maze, Rising Tide, Rejoice, Sunrise, Sable, Sons of Champlin, Sounds Unlimited Blues Band, Sandy Bull, The Steve Miller Band, Stoned Fox, South Bay Experimental Flash, Throckmorton, Tree of Life, Weird Herald, Womb, Warren Purcell, and Zephyr Grove.

Looking at the band list, it seems that just about every band in the Bay Area was hoping for a chance to play. There is some uncertainty as to which of the local groups actually played. Most of these groups were club bands from the South Bay or East Bay. Ron Cook, who as a member of the Druid Corporation, which had helped build the festival’s stage, recalls a sign-up list for the bands. It was taped to the sound board to determine the order of who played when (whoever signed up first, played first). It got very crowded in the backstage area, causing difficulties with load-ins and band set-up. According to Dennis Jay, at one point the stage manager announced to the mingling musicians and crews backstage: “if you aren’t up now or scheduled to go on next, go away!”

Grace Slick knew how to handle that traffic jam as she casually walked up to the stage manager on Sunday morning and said, “we’re the Airplane and we’re scheduled to play now.” The Airplane played for close to three hours, as this was becoming their normal routine. However, nobody pulled the plug on them, an occurrence that happened often at that point in their career, not because of them not being good (they were the Airplane, after all), but because they seemingly had no sense of time when they were on stage, or didn’t care how long they played. Someone, probably the stage manager, wound up pulling the plug on them to get them off the stage.


Recent photo of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, site of the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival. From LinkedIn/thefairgrounds.org.


Steve Miller showed up with his band but without his equipment (probably because their stuff was still at the Folk-Rock festival). According to Rick Carroll of the San Jose Mercury News (now The Mercury News), the stage manager was stupefied. He got himself together quickly and rounded up some equipment and instruments. He went out of his way to get Steve Miller a nice Les Paul to use. Steve Miller said to the stage manager, “You expect me to play this piece of sh*t?” Surprised and angry, the stage manager shouted,” Get off my f*cking stage!” Cooler heads prevailed and peace was restored. The Steve Miller Blues Band went on and did an incredible set.

By most reports, the festival initially drew approximately 20,000 people, but the word got out and those numbers greatly increased. The result was a mixed bag of bad and good, a crazy scene somewhat out of control. Musically both were good festivals. They were reviewed positively by the San Jose Mercury News, Rolling Stone and the Spartan Daily. Mercury reporter Rick Carroll wrote that local businesses boomed as a result of the influx of people, and that despite “hippies wandering around ‘making love’ in peoples’ yards,” the overall atmosphere was peaceful. (Personally, I think the statement about hippies making love in peoples’ yards was BS; and more of an assumption of what hippies were about, rather than reality. I am sure it happened on occasion, but in my experience, public fornication was not really a thing!)

Carroll also recalled negative happenings, like the Chambers Brothers’ attempt at promoting a riot (at the Folk-Rock Festival), and noise complaints, assaults, four stabbings, 15 attempted rapes and even a gang rape (allegedly by bikers) of a festival employee at the Aquarian Family Festival.

As it turned out, an agreement was made for the Jimi Hendrix Experience to be flown to the Northern California Folk-Rock festival to play for half an hour. Sunday afternoon at the Aquarian Family Festival, Hendrix stopped by hoping to jam. Jamming was Jimi’s favorite pastime, but alas, it was too late; the stage was in the process of being dismantled. Their permit had expired and they had to be off the property by 3 pm, so having Jimi play was a no go. Someone must have told him about the Aquarian Festival. (That is my assumption, because this was prior to the Experience’s set at the Folk-Rock Festival.) A real dilemma: on one hand you have Jimi Hendrix asking to play. How cool is that? On the other hand, you have no stage, no power, and no equipment. Ouch, dang it.

Janet Gray Hayes, the future first woman mayor of San Jose, got on a portable phone (this I would liked to have seen, a portable phone from 1969) and pulled every political string she could think of to try and get a place for Jimi to play, anywhere really. Nobody wanted to waste that opportunity. No such luck on that Sunday afternoon, and besides, there was a time consideration, as he had to play later that night. So, Hendrix wandered around for a bit and chatted with people, and then poof, he was gone. He went back to the fairgrounds to close out the Northern California Folk-Rock festival.


Notice Jimi is playing his guitar upside down. He is left-handed and left-handed guitars were rare back then. Though he sometimes used other guitars, he primarily played right-handed Fender Stratocasters upside-down, but with the nut reversed so that the stringing was correct for a left-handed person.

On Sunday morning I headed back to Los Angeles with the guys from A&M Records. We listened to the radio in the rental car, smoked some, stopped by a stream, and took a swim wearing just our underpants. Someone brought out a bottle of Ripple (wine). We walked eastward and explored some mid-coastal California woods. Back in the car, we resumed our drive south to LA, getting there around 10 pm.

That was a great Memorial Day weekend.

Deep Purple: Making Vibrant Music in 2021

Deep Purple: Making Vibrant Music in 2021

Deep Purple: Making Vibrant Music in 2021

Ray Chelstowski

Deep Purple is a band with very little left to prove. With more than 100 million records sold and a history that spans over fifty years, this is a band made up of musicians who are regarded as being at the top of their own musical trade. You could say they’ve done it all, and to that point, when last year’s studio album Whoosh!, which reached number four on the UK charts, was said to be their last in their “time trilogy,” (which also included the albums Now What?! and infinite), it didn’t come as much of a surprise. So, to hear that the band was able to assemble another studio record in less than a year, during a lockdown, no less, was welcome news to fans across the globe. The result is Turning To Crime, their first-ever collection of songs recorded by other artists.


Turning to Crime album cover. Photo courtesy of earMUSIC.


Producer Bob Ezrin (KISS, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel, Andrea Bocelli, Phish and others) returned once again to the Purple fold and quarterbacked an incredible recording protocol that required each member to lay down their parts remotely, in their own personal studios. Those pieces were sent electronically back to Bob, who assembled each song with such mastery that it’s impossible to determine where the parts were snapped together – this sounds like a record that was recorded live in just one room by five guys. It’s really quite something.

The process began with everyone offering up songs they felt helped explain the path their musical journey has taken, and the mix they settled on is eclectic. Here you’ll find songs by Cream, The Bob Seger System, Little Feat, Love, and a blistering version of the Fleetwood Mac original, “Oh Well,” which is also their latest single. Deep Purple includes long-time members Ian Gillian (vocals), Steve Morse (guitars), Roger Glover (bass) and original member Ian Paice (drums). They are joined by keyboardist extraordinaire Don Airey, who this year celebrates his 20th anniversary with the band. Don’s tenure with “Purple” follows a storied collection of sessions backing Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Jethro Tull, Whitesnake, Steve Vai, Michael Schenker, and Rainbow, to name just a few. He has even worked with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Airey was the perfect person to step in to fill the shoes of then-retiring member Jon Lord, and help guide forward a band who, with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, remain part of “the unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal.”


We had the opportunity to speak with Don about this remarkable project, and how he found a way to make this recording protocol work within a studio that he had already begun to turn into a game room. It’s part of a larger story that is almost as stunning as the music it helped create. We also learned that, believe it or not, there just might be another Deep Purple record in the tank. When you hear Turning To Crime, you’ll wonder why there aren’t even more. This is a band that really does challenge each other to be their best and grow together – even when they take a moment to just look back.

Ray Chelstowski: The band has never been known for doing covers, so was everyone on board with this project when the idea first surfaced?

Don Airey: It came about during the lockdown, but we had talked about it before. This just seemed like an ideal opportunity to tackle something that everyone had always wanted to do.


Don Airey. Photo courtesy of Simon Emmett.


RC: This is an eclectic group of songs. Did you all come forward with two or three personal favorites?

DA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was like, “What’s your favorite song?’ And of course, everyone agreed on [Fleetwood Mac’s] “Oh Well” because its everyone’s favorite song. I came up with the medley (“Going Down”/”Green Onions”/”Hot ‘Lanta”/”Dazed and Confused”/”Gimme Some Lovin’”), which is of things that we would jam live in an encore. I just tried to knit them together. I also came up with the Ray Charles idea with “Let The Good Times Roll.” Steve Morse came up with “Lucifer,” a track that is not generally known by Bob Seger but one that Steve saw him perform live when he was like 13 years old and never forgot.


RC: The real outlier to me to me is Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken.” Who brought that song forward, and are you a fan of Billy Payne and his keyboard abilities?

DA: I think that might have been [suggested by] Steve Morse as well, he being a Southern gentleman himself. He thought it was a good one to try, but I thought it was going to be impossible, especially trying to cover Billy Payne’s piano part. I thought it turned out quite well though. I think for me it was the most difficult track, just technically [speaking], because my recording equipment was on one side of the room and my grand piano was at the other. I had five seconds to get across the room and put the headphones on and make sure everything was working properly. It took me quite a time that one. What Billy did was give me a good lesson; I’m such an admirer of his keyboard skills. It was nice to give him a tip of [the] hat.

RC: What song did you all want to include but, in the end, just didn’t come together the way you wanted?

DA: I did a demo of “Chest Fever” by The Band. It’s a monumental track for any keyboard player, because it changed the way keyboards were played. I know that it inspired Jon Lord in how he played with Purple in 1968 or 1969, whenever he heard it. But when it came to it, Ian Gillian said, “I just can’t sing those lyrics” (laughs). “They’re just not me.” I actually think that Robbie Robertson just made the lyrics up in the recording session as he went along.

RC: So, you were all required to record your parts separately?

DA: Yes, that’s what happened. We all did demos to a drum machine. Once Paice put the drums in it all seemed very real. We just kept sending tracks back and forth to each other. Bob Ezrin really worked his magic again on this one.

RC: You have had a long prolific career working with everyone from Ozzy Osborne to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now that you have been with Deep Purple for 20 years, what sets this relationship apart from all the others?

DA: I think that because it’s a democratic band really. No one really leads. If anyone, it’s Ian Paice, who leads from behind with his drumming. You know, it’s not an easy band to play with. It’s a tough gig for keyboard player. With all of the musical changes you have to be on your toes in four numbers time. We play almost every song [in the Deep Purple catalog]. It’s very intense, but that’s what I think has kept it together all this time. It’s gone from strength to strength. The last six or seven years is the most successful period the band has ever had.

RC: What was the hardest musical part of becoming a member of the band?

DA: It’s really all about the Hammond organ. You must have some arcane knowledge about how you get that [Deep Purple] sound out of it, the distortion and how to fit in with a guitar. Not everyone knows about how to do it. I remember when we were rehearsing for the tribute to Jon Lord in a big church in London with an orchestra. I forget what we were playing, but I saw [Yes keyboardist and solo artist] Rick Wakeman come in and I thought, “Oh heavens, Rick’s here.” Next thing I realized was that he was standing right behind me. When we finished playing, he turned to me and asked, “Man, how are you doing that?” He just wanted to know where that sound was coming from. I said, “I could tell you Rick, but I’d have to kill ya!” (laughs)

RC: I was recently turned on to the band’s song “Lazy.” It has a remarkable and lengthy Hammond organ intro. Does that still make regular appearances in your live set?

DA: It’s so hard to copy what Jon did with it because he was so jaunty about it. We perform it quite often and I do it slightly different than Jon. I go to “swing time with Basie,” and it gets a big cheer when the guitar comes in.


RC: Is there any keyboard player who has captured your attention lately?

DA: You know, who I really love is Finneas O’Connell, Billie Eilish’s brother and producer. He does some really cool things with keyboards. It’s sparse but it’s also really tight. He has a technician’s eye. Then there’s a keyboard player in Denmark, Palle Hjorth, who plays with Sweet Savage. He’s a hell of a Hammond player and really something else.

RC: You had stated publicly that Whoosh!, the band’s last studio record, would be your final. Now comes this record. Is another studio record still possible?

DA: Well, potentially there’s one more record in the offing but whether it happens no one really knows. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next year. Everything seems to be opening up. I don’t think we will make another album like [this] covers record, because we really would prefer to be in a room together, being able to see the lights of the drummer’s eyes and all of that. It kind of inspires you. That’s how Deep Purple has always made music.

RC: With a peak position of number four, last year’s album Whoosh! was the band’s highest-charting studio album in the United Kingdom in over 46 years. What do you attribute the success to?

DA: Well, it was the third album we had done with Bob Ezrin and by that time you get into the swing of everything. Bob really had some great ideas, which we had to turn into some kind of musical reality. It suited us really well that time, especially with the longer tracks. They are very impressive, particularly the one with the orchestra, “Man Alive.” It was all of bunch of pieces that he helped pull together.

RC: What are you hoping for from this record?

DA: You know, when you put an album out you don’t really hope for anything. You are just focused on getting it done, and then you stand in amazement when people like it. I mean Whoosh! is a very, very good album. It’s very well played and recorded. This is Bob Ezrin (producer) at his best. I was really impressed when I heard it. It was very nice that it went down so well, especially at such a time when the pandemic was really raging. I just hope people accept our cover album [Turning to Crime] for what it is; that there is some weird joy that they find in it, and something different.

Header image courtesy of earMUSIC.

The DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 and the Art of Pushing the Boundaries, Part Four

The DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 and the Art of Pushing the Boundaries, Part Four

The DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 and the Art of Pushing the Boundaries, Part Four

J.I. Agnew

Parts One, Two and Three of this series appeared in Issue 147, Issue 148 and Issue 149.

In listening to the direct-metal-mastered Stockfisch Records DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1, I almost couldn’t believe that the source was “only” a CD-quality recording, being so used to hearing substandard CDs and CD-quality recordings over many decades now. As with all kinds of audio technologies, it is not that the CD cannot possibly sound good. If anything, Stockfisch Records has done the medium a huge favor, proving that it is actually capable of good sound, if properly done. However, the CD as a medium and digital recording technology is more commonly associated with lowering the entry level in what used to be a very exclusive industry of audio recording and mastering. It was and still remains much cheaper and much easier for less-skilled and less experienced individuals to produce a recording in the digital domain, especially nowadays that computer ownership is so widespread, allowing pretty much anyone free access to software that will somehow record some sound in CD quality. It is much simpler, easier, cheaper, and almost an entirely automated process to burn the result on a CD using that same computer, and play it back on a CD player.

Even doing a factory run of 500 CDs is way cheaper and easier than doing a run of 500 vinyl records, with its complicated mastering process that requires equipment that is beyond reach for anyone but the most determined and serious audio engineers. This already filters out those that do not intend to really devote themselves to learning the art of disk mastering. I mean, few people in their right mind would invest six-figure sums to purchase industrial equipment weighing in excess of 1,000 lbs. to just randomly press buttons and see what happens, not to mention incurring the risk of explosions, fire, electrocution and having to overcome an aversion to screwdrivers. Avoiding all this was one of the major appeals and selling points of digital recording technology when it was introduced.


DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1, album cover.


Digital recording was cheap and only needed that computer that you already had anyway. No heavy equipment, no major investment, not even what used to be standard equipment, such as mixing consoles and rack-mounted outboard gear. Digital audio workstations of a rudimentary nature were offered as free perks with many operating systems, or could be freely downloaded, including virtual mixing consoles and plugins that would replace the outboard gear. For many enthusiasts, this became a hobby, clicking around just to see what happened. There would be nothing wrong with that, if a clear separation was maintained between the professional industry, and the hobbyists.

What happened, though, was that countless overly self-confident hobbyists realized that they could get some sort of sound coming out of their computers, so they started believing that they were in the same league as the professionals and some even began selling their services as such to an unsuspecting audience that knew no better. Even worse, several short-sighted individuals in managerial positions in the industry saw this as an opportunity to increase their profit margins by eliminating what used to be a major expense in the production of an album: professional recording and mastering facilities and equipment, and suitably qualified engineers to operate them.

On the other hand, what Stockfisch Records has proven is what CD-quality digital audio can sound like in the hands of suitably qualified professionals, working in professional audio facilities packed full of very expensive equipment, using extremely high-quality mastering, and playback media.

Remember this every time you hear a bad-sounding CD.

There are several questions raised by this, though. If a CD-quality source can really sound this good, do we still need the higher sampling rates and bit resolution?

I really do wonder what the DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 or a disc made in a similar manner would sound like using high-resolution digital sources (perhaps DSD recordings), or all-analog recordings from magnetic tape (Günter Pauler told me that this would be technically possible to do at their facilities, but he is not a big fan of tape, so we are not very likely to find out soon), or, even more ambitiously, direct-to-DMM-dubplate recordings, eliminating all other steps in the process.

Needless to say, you could only produce as many direct-to-DMM dubplates as the number of lathes in the facility (two in the case of Stockfisch Records), of each performance. For more than that, the performance would need to be repeated until the musicians collapsed (and of course, each performance would be different).

But I guess this would be the ultimate in pushing the boundaries of analog recording technology.

The other question is whether we need the DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 at all, if the digital source is already that good. Why not just listen to it in its digital form? In the digital domain, the 0s and 1s that comprise the digital audio signals will (in theory at least) remain identical (sample rate conversions, sometimes occurring under the hood, will certainly change that). However, the process of reconstructing an analog electrical signal from these 0s and 1s relies on the digital to analog converter (DAC) at the consumer end. Likewise, the extraction of the information from the grooves of a disk relies on your turntable, tonearm, cartridge and phono stage.

If you have an outstanding disk reproduction setup, but only a mediocre DAC, then you are better off listening to the DMM Dubplate, Volume 1 (or other high-quality LPs cut from digital sources) with your turntable setup. If you have a top-of-the-line DAC but only a budget turntable, stay with the digital files.

If you have the finest examples of both…well, just listen to both and compare!

Just to make things even more interesting, one of the tracks on the DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1, “No Sanctuary Here” by Chris Jones, was also featured on Stockfisch Records’ DMM-CD/SACD Vol.1, released in 2013. The same digital source was used to transfer to a DMM disk, as with the DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1, but then the DMM disk was played back right there on the VMS-82 lathe vacuum platter, using an EMT tonearm, cartridge and phono stage. The signal was then fed to an analog to digital converter and converted back to a digital 44,1 kHz/16-bit file (to create the CD layer) and a 2.8 MHz DSD file (for recording onto the SACD layer). You could then listen to a digitized version of the sound that came off the DMM disc. This was meant to somehow do something good to the sound, and “improve” upon the plain digital source. The end result (the DMM-CD/SACD Vol. 1) did also sound good.

I have yet to encounter anything that Günter Pauler has done that did not sound good. But I am not very convinced that the sonic “goodness” of the DMM-CD/SACD Vol. 1 came from the DMM transfer. Compared to the DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1, DMM-CD/SACD Vol. 1 sounds somewhat less exciting, which was not much of a surprise; the additional and unnecessary analog to digital conversion and subsequent digital to analog conversion is a process that’s never done anyone any favors. Any conversion or transfer for that matter that can be avoided, is best avoided. In this case, given a top-of-the-line DAC and disk playback setup, I would expect the digital source to sound slightly better than the DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1. (You can compare for yourself, as both the DMM dubplate and the digital source file are available from Stockfisch Records.)


The Stockfisch Records cutting room.

The Stockfisch Records cutting room.


A direct-to-disk DMM dubplate (as opposed to one sourced from a digital or analog magnetic tape master) would most probably be the ultimate recording medium of all time. The commercial viability of creating such disks would be questionable at best, but in terms of sound quality alone, I would think that a direct-to-DMM dubplate would be about as good as any form of sound recording can get, all technical points considered.

But what if we were to do a direct-to-disk recording on lacquer and on DMM at the same time? Which one would win?

Unlike the nickel mothers grown from processed lacquer master disks, which are ferromagnetic and as such, impose restrictions on the type of playback cartridge used to reproduce them (the stray magnetic field on the underside of a typical moving coil cartridge would create strong forces of attraction between the cartridge and the nickel mother, making it impossible to maintain proper vertical tracking force), the lacquer disk itself does not have such issues (it does have an aluminum substrate, but this is not ferromagnetic). On the other hand, lacquer disks are soft, they tend to deform under the playback stylus (low vertical tracking force (VTF) cartridges offer an advantage here, and a line contact stylus is an additional bonus, maximizing the area of contact between stylus and groove), and they have a very limited lifespan (about 10 plays before audible deterioration).

The DMM disk, on the other hand, is hard enough to have a reasonable lifespan and lower deformation under the stylus, while both the copper recording layer and the stainless-steel substrate are nonferromagnetic, allowing various types of cartridges to be used. It almost sounds perfect, but there is a little-known fact that unfortunately stops us from reaching the highest states of enlightenment and sonic bliss.


DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 on turntable.


To achieve the required surface finish of the copper groove, the machining parameters at that surface speed range (linear cutting velocity) call for a significant positive rake angle (the angle formed between the cutting face of the tool and the surface of the blank disk) of 15 degrees. Lacquer has traditionally been cut with a stylus rake angle of 0 to 1 degrees. Playback cartridges are usually designed to have a stylus rake angle of 0 to 1 degrees, to match the angle of the cutting stylus, for accurate tracing of the groove wiggles. Similar to the concept of vertical tracking angle (VTA), which has troubled many a self-respecting audiophile and, at times, every major and minor publication devoted to high-fidelity audio, the geometry of the playback stylus must match that of the cutting stylus, or distortion will start creeping in. Just as the vertical plane of modulation (VPM) at the time of cutting a record has to be in close agreement with the vertical tracking angle of the reproducing system, the stylus rake angle (SRA) at the time of cutting should match the SRA of the playback stylus.

Neumann and (record label) Teldec were of course fully aware of this, and addressed the issue in German overcomplicated engineering fashion. The electronics package of the Neumann DMM system came with a pre-distortion module, adding the inverse form of distortion to the signal, of what would be expected to be generated upon playback, so that it would cancel out…if everything worked exactly as calculated!


J.I. Agnew with a Neumann cutting lathe.

J.I. Agnew with a Neumann cutting lathe.


Since the distortion generated is dependent upon the exact shape of the playback stylus, marketing and statistics came to the rescue. Most listeners at the time of development of DMM technology were using spherical styli, so the pre-distortion system was designed to compensate for spherical styli of a specific tip radius.

If yours deviates from that, then the mathematics won’t quite work out as intended! Curious, as I always tend to be, I played the DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 using a spherical stylus as close as possible to the original Neumann specification, and I also played it with my favorite line contact stylus, which is as far as a stylus can get from what the engineers at Neumann were wearing out their slide rules on. I think it sounded better with the line contact stylus, but I cannot explain why. It would take a few DMM dubplates containing test signals to conduct proper laboratory measurements with, and make conclusions regarding the magnitude of error and the exact form of distortion generated in practice, using different calibrated playback systems. There is quite a bit of intense science behind record cutting and accurate playback.

Listening to direct-to-disk recordings on lacquer disks (unprocessed disks, not the ones that have gone through the plating process used for mass manufacturing of vinyl records) has been a fascinating experience for me, as has been listening to the metal mothers made from my lacquer masters. But I know of no examples where a direct-to-disk recording has been simultaneously done on lacquer and DMM.

While vinyl records made from direct-to-disk recordings are perhaps the most sonically rewarding mass-manufactured audio media available, I expect that direct-to-DMM dubplate recording would possibly be beyond anything that has ever been attempted in the world of audio.

Has it already been done?

To the best of my knowledge, not yet. Even the Church of Scientology is, I believe, using recorded versions of L. Ron Hubbard’s speeches to transfer to DMM.

One major obstacle to attempting direct-to-DMM recordings is the lack of enough Neumann VMS-82 cutting lathes, as the VMS-82 is the only machine ever designed to cut DMM. However, modifications are always possible, and the author knows of at least one Neumann VMS-70 lathe that has been successfully converted to cut DMM. This is a recent development, prompted by the shortage of lacquer disks following the 2020 fire at the Apollo-Transco plant in Banning, California. I expect we will be seeing plenty of innovation and a lot more pushing of the boundaries in the years to come. In many ways we live in very weird times, but these are also exciting times indeed when it comes to audio. Perhaps spending more time at home due to the pandemic will rejuvenate the appreciation of high-fidelity sound and the importance of recorded music in general.

If you have a good record playback setup and want to discover how far the boundaries of grooved media can be pushed, the Stockfisch Records DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 comes very highly recommended. It is a great recording of great music, using top-shelf equipment, transferred to DMM by one of the world’s few remaining extremely knowledgeable and experienced audio engineers and his very capable team.

My copy even has my name on it!

Handwritten, to drive the point home even further!