A true treasure

February 7, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Sometimes our memories of great experiences are rose colored. We forget the bad parts and seem to focus on the good parts.

Memories are like that.

Yet, sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes we forget just how great something was and once relived, all those wonderful emotions and experiences come rushing back.

I recently pulled out from the archives a few of the vinyls I kept. In particular the Sheffield Labs Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues series.

OMG. I had a very fond memory from back in the 1970s of being gobsmacked by the recording’s impact. The thwack of the kick drum, the clarity of the piano. In particular, Steve Wonder’s composition You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.

What a recording!

Listening again to this direct-to-disc beauty I realized I had forgotten two things: the magnitude of the recording’s perfection and how the music never resonated with me.

I think that was the first time I figured out the reason I was listening was entirely the recording, which led me to purchase other recordings that were maybe not the best musically but the sound…. oh the sound…

Now, Mayorga’s performance is excellent. Professional all the way. It’s just not my style.

But style or no style, it’s one heck of a great work of art. A true treasure.

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54 comments on “A true treasure”

  1. Maybe I’m not audiophile enough to recall particular recordings for their sonic qualities. Maybe my audio system has for the most part not been good enough to do them justice. When I think of live performance, many come back to me like they were yesterday, for example Gilels/Beethoven op106 (1984), Mehta+Perlman/Berlin Philharmonic (1990), Guillem/In The Middle Somewhat Elevated (1993), Gheorghiu+Solti/La Traviata (1994), Lisette Oropesa/Lucia (2017), Hayward/Giselle (2018), although dozens more come back instantly. I hope to enlarge this collection of memories. It seems a lot more democratic, as these days high quality vinyl recordings seem to be aimed more at wealthy collectors than music lovers.

  2. It’s interesting that you should comment about this very point Paul, because a few people have told me the same thing about the initial, & the more recent, crop of ‘Octave Records’ releases…great recordings but ‘meh’ music.
    Which is why I wanted to get my hands on a CD copy of Gabriel Mervine’s – ‘Say Somethin’ album…to find out for myself.
    A-a-anyway, maybe some of these ‘Octave Records’ artist’s music needs time to grow on some people.

    1. I think Mervine is a good start. We don’t need to compare each artist of a small label with the most iconic greats on the market. I like the Mervine recording for what it is, even if I like Coltrane‘s Ballads better 😉

      1. Not too long ago, I was reading a review of a reissue from the Thelonious Monk Quartet. The reviewer made a comment about how back when it was new music, several music critics disrespected Charlie Rouse, apparently for the unforgivable sin of not being John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins.

  3. Paul, you should (re)try the dope I’m currently on…Italian or German opera on Decca (Tebaldi era). It usually needs to be the AAA black SXL or purple SET label and if you know what label edition to look for, you get it cheap and it’s far better sounding than the first stampers everyone hunts for. 3D and air as you never heard and can’t so far from digital. Those recordings explode on very revealing rigs.

  4. “maybe some of these ‘Octave Records’ artist’s music needs time to grow on some people.”

    This is one of the problems a new label faces. Paul will be very lucky if he gets a well known artist to record on Octave. It’s my perception that while classical music is based around the composer (although obviously some orchestra’s and performances are better than others) other genres tend to be based around the performer. So, big popular artists please form an orderly queue on Sterling Drive.

    1. Classical labels are based around artists (talent) and don’t need their own studios because they record in the same venues for decades, often old churches or large halls, with familiar acoustics. A change in venue for an instrumentalist will change their sound and their fanbase will notice. They often have the same recording engineers and production team for decades. So the sound quality is a given.

      There are many classical single-artist labels, like Coro, Alia Vox and Gimmell, that produce world-class recordings and have done for decades.

      Of course there are many labels founded around specific genres or localities of music, I’ve mentioned before Gondwana Records (Manchester) and World Circuit Records (Buena Vista etc.), the latter based out of Livingston Studios in North London. Another studio in North London noted for its production team and used by many labels is Air Studios, although that had the advantage of being founded by Sir George Martin.

      Octave could probably make money renting its facilities to other labels and offering post-production facilities, but finding talent seems to me a completely different ball game. I’ve mentioned before a young chap who lived in two doors from me, his parents could only afford half the house, but he had the desire to find artists and now runs the world’s largest music business.

      Richard Branson started selling records mail order and, like Paul, he set up a recording studio before having any artists of his own. He rented out the space, which attracts unsigned artists. Fortunately the first album he released on his new label was by a guy called Mike and called Tubular Bells. The rest, as they say, is history.

      So you never know who may walk in the door. You only need lightning to strike once. I just hope they don’t get hung up on SACD and DSD.

      1. Channel 5 is not signing-up for another season of ‘Neighbours’ & so after 37 years it could finally be coming to an end in June of this year…bring back Kylie & Jason! 😉

        1. So it’s the Brits’ fault that Ramsay Street is going to be bulldozed? … and she doesn’t look a day older. Never saw Kylie, but did get to see Jason in Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I think the kids enjoyed it.

          Had a soft spot for Natalie Imbruglia way back when. Didn’t know Margot Robbie was in it as well.

      2. Mike Oldfield! Love him! B.t.w., if you have not heard his recent “Return To Ommadawn”, I highly recommend it.

        To a geologist, Gondwana is not a small deal, In plate tectonics theory, Gondwana is the name given to the southern more or less half of the division of the monolithic supercontinent Pangaea. It consisted of the core landmasses of what is now Africa, Antarctica, Australia (hi, Martin), India, New Zealand, and South America. I am not familiar with the Gondwana label, does it specialize in music from these areas?

        1. Gondwana Records was set up by a jazz trumpeter from Manchester called Matthew Halsall who, incidentally is brilliant.
          His brother joined him and in 10 years they’ve turned it into an international label representing musicians from Manchester.
          They record at a studio in Manchester https://80hertz.com that is used by half the film, TV and music industry.
          Their recording/production quality is fantastic and because they are an independent label a double vinyl costs £20 (about $26).
          They are slightly more expensive in the USA because they use an independent distributor, but still only $34 on Amazon.com for a double vinyl LP.
          A really good example of a label set up for the benefit of local artists.

  5. It seems we’re back to crossroads again. Great recording with meh (to the listener) music. Or great music on a less than stellar recording.

    One is for showing off equipment, the other is for keeping the soul happy. I prefer the latter, and when I can, find a recording that has both. I will say some great recordings have opened up pathways into other genre’s I didn’t give much attention in the younger days. Jazz in particular.

    Since I’m not designing & building equipment, or have a ‘reference level quality system and room’ then seeking out music I don’t enjoy seems disingenuous to the soul.

    If I was in Paul’s position I would be obsessed as to how that Sheffield recording was done…down to the smallest details… so that some of that knowledge could be applied to the Octave Records recordings.

    1. This is known since the 50s. Analog recording or direct cutting (or DSD?), some tubes in the mic or mic path, a good room to record in, good mastering equipment, a certain not too little capture of room sound and a skilled engineer 😉

      1. My experience echo’s your comments jazznut.

        I have found some late 50’s early 60’s recordings well remastered in DSD from the original tapes. The presence on many of them is just outstanding. Even the ones recorded in the studio.
        No mixing – no over dubbing – just a final take. That ‘art’ of recording seemed to get lost on much of more modern recordings. My days of vinyl play ended quite a while ago. Maybe some day it will be resurrected, as all the vinyl is still carefully stored.

        So as you eloquently stated, it comes down skilled people applying their knowledge and or their experimentation with new techniques.

    1. I honestly feel the same about so many of those Audiophile selected recordings. Pure elevator music and whenever I go to a HIFI show I can never escape the boring, demo music… The Diana krall, Rebecca pigeon, rose cousins and freaking Amber Rubarth.

      So so boring. I feel like yelling at the sales guy to put on a track that will genuinely challenge your system. Put on some Megadeth’ Holy Wars’ or something.I dunno Lol.

  6. Fortunately, there are many excellent recordings of great music so one does not have to listen to mediocre music that happens to sound great. “Ella and Louis” and Beethoven Symphony #6 (Walter, Columbia Symphony) come to mind immediately. Many, many more.

  7. Those recordings are part of the treasure trove of great recordings that were during the peak of vinyl. The best recording engineers worked in audio at the time. That has changed with the advent of home theater and multichannel movie sound. It is also the reason why some recordings sound so much better in vinyl. Compare the original vinyl of Dark Side of the Moon to any other version at it still stands up as the best, even over the SACD. Or for example, I recently compared my original 1975 vinyl recording of Phoebe Snow to the CD version and it was no comparison. The original was much more palpably real. Yet on the same system a comparison of the vinyl and digital version of the remastered Come Together on the Beatles Abbey Road sounded so close you had to listen for a tick or a pop to know which one was the vinyl. Every pressing or digital recording involves a remastering, and sometimes they can be quite different. Try any one of the many versions of Girl From Ipanema. On some the female vocal is on the left on some in the middle and on some on the right. The male vocal is sometimes too thick, and sometimes smooth and just right. My favorite recording is on the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs recording. Mastering is often ignored in its importance. Some of the best recordings in Audio of all time were direct to discs made during the 70s and 80s.

  8. Exactly! I have a decent analog rig again, and I’m repurchasing old mint condition vinyl. I have bought several original Sheffield Lab discs (Harry James and Lincoln Mayorga). So far I have not found anything that can compare to the sound of these discs, especially the horns! The sound literally explodes from your speakers, but is incredibly smooth at the same time. It’s startling sometimes. When people say that vinyl has limited dynamic range I laugh. My new speakers have high quality beryllium dome tweeters, these things with horns are insane.

  9. The references to Sheffield Lab remind of the first time that I read a piece by the late (and greatly missed) Art Dudley in Stereophile. Listening #3, published almost 20 years ago, is a brilliant, laugh-out-loud dissection of the obsession with sound over music. I reread it whenever I need cheering up, or feel that I’m becoming overwhelmed by gear envy.

  10. I certainly cannot argue that great sound is not important, however, if I must choose between great sound and great music, great music wins every time. Imagine what the world of music would be without these gems:

    Revolver, Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street, Blonde On Blonde, Blood On The Tracks, Pet Sounds, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Dark Side of The Moon, Led Zeppelin IV.

  11. I was listening to Milt Jackson Ballads & Blues last night, analogue remaster by Speaker’s Corner. Lovely album and terrific sound, good enough for me. And the price is right.

  12. Famous recording studios did not spring up overnight. Word gets out and then the musicians will come. I love the Muscle Shoals story…
    Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, George Michael, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Cocker, Levon Helm, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Tamiko Jones, Cher, and Cat Stevens…
    Give Octave time. Good things cannot be rushed.

      1. You get the parents you deserve…you get the wife you deserve…you get the children you deserve…you get the boss you deserve…you get the government you deserve…you get the life you deserve…maybe even the home-audio rig that you deserve.
        ‘You get the __________ that you deserve’, is extremely overused & basically, even though it sounds profound to some people, it really means nothing as it rarely, truly applies.
        You could even go as far as to say that you get the BS that you deserve…where does it end?

            1. Oh yes Martin I see what I missed, in ambiguity.
              You the post-modernist here.
              We included my partner and me, Also me and all of my customers.
              A cluster hug

              “I say what I mean
              Or I mean what I say — it’s the same thing…isn’t it”
              -Alice.

  13. Personally I want the best performances of the best artists through time at their peak. Often they exist and are recorded excellently. We must see it as what it is, the preservation of our musical history. It is the music that is most important, and the artists that were blessed with incredible talent. Finding the recordings that expose how great they were is the mission. For example, listen to Stokowski conducting on Fantasia, or Joni Mitchell’s Blue album. These great recordings can make you feel like you are there, as in Fantasia, or like Joni was visiting your home and playing just for you, as she would for her friends back when all that great music lived in Laurel Canyon. As for recordings made today, returning to nature and a natural sound is what we must do. Real music is played on real instruments in a real space. Great recordings just let the electronics and speakers get out of the way.

  14. Fully agree Paul, and a perfect example for the question of sonics VS performance. For a given taste that is.

    I didn’t question that Mayorga and company were good musicians, but the music seemed “schmaltzy” to me. In fact, despite the D2D recording quality there were not many I considered to be musically interesting.

    But the sonics VS performance question has continued for years, right through to today.

    1. Agree! My choice of favorite music gets a boost when partnered with great audio tech. Subjectively, average music remains ‘average’ on any system regardless of performer or performance.

          1. It does seem that colored vinyl is becoming more popular. Lately it seems the translucent deep blue is popular and I have several new albums that use that vinyl. Thankfully all of them are dead flat and dead quiet.

  15. DW News recently has been promoting an upcoming documentary about research to reverse the aging process, perhaps even leading to immortality, for all practical purposes (a foxtrotting bad idea, in my profound and much in demand opinion). Anyway, this has me giving (alleged) thought to the subject of mortality, “the circle of life”, and all that jazz. More and more talented musicians that I (we) grew up with have gone on to “the great gig in the sky.” Their living voices and playing have been stilled on this mortal coil. However, we are blessed with the recordings that they left us. These are the real treasures of audio.

  16. I agree that many of the Sheffield D2D records aren’t strong musically and also that many older recordings sound amazing. If it wasn’t mentioned, I’ll add that the ECM recordings from the 70’s sound amazing as is the music. Patricia Barber and Melody Gardot pull off great/great on both IMO. It seems like recording quality vs. music quality is a litmus test for music lover vs. audiophile. The LPs Tony P listed are fortunately both great musically and reasonably well recorded. Milt Jackson and MJQ were great, Steven. Good call.

  17. I also had that LP along with another starring Thelma Houston. What a couple of great recordings! One of the 1st I had heard where you felt like you were in the studio. Too bad the CD version didn’t live up to the LP.

  18. My wife of fifty years is not quite beautiful — more like a 320K MP3 as against a Victorias Secret UHQR model.

    And I am 100 per cent certain that I chose her over any 10, a good looker but without the “keeping” factor.

    A treasure but with maintenance— like a Linn.

  19. Music is pure art, man! 🙂
    You just gotta dig in. 🙂

    My recording that always knocks me on my ass when I play it is The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta from 1980.
    This is an incredible recording and for me the music is absolutely terrific.
    I don’t have the latest remastered copy of this album. I have an original CD press release from A&M records many many moons ago.
    This album gets me in audiophile mode like crazy. I can never just sit back and listen to this one. I fixate too much on how Damn good it sounds.
    I gotta knock that off. 😉

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