Reviewing Three of the Audio Beatnik’s Birthday Albums

It was a fun weekend of listening to my birthday albums. Here is my review of the first three, but there’s more to come as I make it through all of these new LPs.

Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer   Bach Trios    LP, CD and FLAC 96kHz/24bit Download

In March of 2016, the trio returned to the James Taylor’s Berkshires studio, the site where violinist Stuart Duncan joined them to record their Grammy Award–winning album, The Goat Rodeo Sessions. This time they recorded Bach Trios, and what an album it is. Everyone knows Yo-Yo Ma’s work, but if you don’t know Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer you should.

Chris Thile is an American virtuoso mandolinist, singer, songwriter, and radio personality best known for his work in the progressive acoustic trio Nickel Creek, the acoustic folk/progressive bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers, and for performing in The Goat Rodeo album. And, if you are a fan of NPR’s The Prairie Home Companion, you might remember him as the mandolinist there.

The New Yorker called Edgar Meyer, “The most remarkable virtuoso in the relatively unchronicled history of his instrument.” Meyer first collaborated with Ma in 1996, along with fiddler Mark O’Connor, on Appalachian Waltz, an album combining traditional folk tunes with original compositions that reached the top of the classical charts. Four years later, Appalachian Journey garnered a Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover album.

In the liner notes essay for Bach Trios, the composer and pianist Timo Andres admits, “Mandolin, cello, and double bass are, at face value, an unlikely instrumental combination.” That was my first thought also, but I enjoyed this Bach album very much. Yes, I love Bach, but that’s what made me hesitant about this combination of instruments, and still, I loved it. I highly recommend it.

Duke Ellington  Masterpieces By Ellington   200 gram 45 or 33 rpm, SACD and CD

This historic record was recorded just four years after the start of the analog tape era. The new release I am listening to is from Analogue Productions. It is a 200-gram double LP set remastered by Ryan K. Smith at Sterling Sound from the original analog tapes and cut at 45 RPM. It was originally recorded on an Ampex 200 using 3M-111 magnetic tape running at 15 inches per second. It was plated and pressed at Acoustic Sound’s Quality Record Pressings plant.

The real question regardless of which format you listen on is how could an album recorded in 1951 sound this good? This recording was done not long after the dawn of the LP era. Michael Fremer said, “This record from 1951 is one of the finest sounding jazz records you will ever hear.” It certainly is. I’ve been a fan of mono recordings for years now, and all of a sudden I’m in style. It does make me want to say I told you they were great. Don’t misunderstand me, I love stereo, but let’s admit that mono can be equally good and sometimes even better.

This LP is historic because of when it was recorded, but it is more than an historic LP. It is the first time that the technology enabled Ellington and his orchestra to record real concert arrangements and not short little songs for 78 recordings. I think this brings an extra excitement to their playing on this recording. It is really something special, and you sure can’t want more from the song selection.

I have, to be honest, many Ellington LPs that I don’t love, but this one is truly my new favorite Ellington LP. The fact that you can now get it on pristine, quite vinyl is a reason to be thankful.

This new 45 RPM version is incredible, and if you listen to vinyl and have the dough, it is well worth it, but the Analogue Productions 33 RPM is almost as good. Just be sure you own this album in some format.

Duke Ellington’s    Jazz Party In Stereo   200g LP, CD and CD and DSD (Single Rate) 2.8MHz/64fs Download

Originally released on Columbia Records in 1959, Jazz Party In Stereo contains a gallery of jazz stars including Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Rushing, Johnny Hodges, Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, and more. The LP release I listened to was mastered by Bernie Grundman from the original analog tape. It is in a tip-on gatefold jacket for the first time. It was plated and pressed at Quality Record Pressings.

This is a rather historic jazz album as Ellington reached what many consider his artistic heights alongside other legendary jazz stars like Dizzy Gillespie. The tremendously detailed audio effect achieved by Columbia’s engineers is brought back to life on this 200-gram LP from Analogue Productions. The performances are full of life and joy. The whole big band sounds like it is having the time of its life. I could never say to anyone that Ellington albums are my favorites, but this one is in the running.

This is one fun album. Indeed a party and I highly recommend it. The program material on this Duke Ellington album includes two selections featuring nine symphonic percussionists on timpani, vibes, marimbas, and xylophones. The last three cuts on side one are a suite. This is why I didn’t purchase the 45 RPM version even though I almost always choose the 45 RPM versions for their more dynamic and relaxed sound. On this album, I didn’t want to have to turn the LP over in the middle of the suite.

There’s more to come in my reviews of the rest of the albums I got using my birthday gift certificates. And, I highly recommend you try my approach to what my family gives me for gifts. By purchasing music I love, my presents continue to bring me enjoyment each time I play them.