Thursday, 24 March 2016

King Crimson - Live in Toronto

I have always had a problem with the Live at Orpheum CD/DVD release of last year. I just found it lacklustre. Not because of the running time, but it just sounded unexciting. I think Jakko mixed it way too quiet and that somehow lost some of the dynamics of the recording and also mixed it so tightly that a lot of the detail of what was going on was lost. For instance one of the key percussion elements on the studio version of "One More Red Nightmare" were the handclaps. Those are present on the live version, but mixed so low that they are barely discernible. Also, the concept of three drummers is lost as the tight mixing makes it again difficult to discern one drummer from another. I know what Jakko was trying to achieve here. A polished, produced album in the tradition of something like USA. But whereas Fripp's mixing decisions for that album resulted in powerful versions of tracks like "Easy Money" and the improv "Asbury Park" in comparison to the raw live mixes which we have heard since, Jakko's mixes don't do the new lineup any favours.

But this new release is the complete set from November last year and mixed by David Singleton, who has a real understanding of live King Crimson recordings as he has been involved in such a capacity since the early 90's. Here he has got the mix levels right. He has stated in his diary from the DGM web site that he tried turning the levels down, but felt it was necessary to keep them as presented here in order to show off the band in full, powerful mode. That decision was right! At last this version of the band is properly showcased, with the whole ethos of having three drummers in the front line fully defined. The complexity, power and precision of each player and how they come together as a performing unit is fully presented here. One drummer and guitarist on the right and another on the left channel with the third drummer in the centre. You can clearly define each players contribution to the arrangements, especially important on something like "Sailor's Tale" where the cymbal opening is played by each player in turn. A nice touch that! Other highlights are a complete "Larks' Tongues in Apsic Part 1" including all the little effects which Jamie Muir added to the studio version, including the laughing toy box at the end. Level 5 and VROOOM are given different slants with Mel Collins additions taking those pieces away from their more polished Belew-era lineup origins. There are hints at some new material too, especially promising on Radical Action and Meltdown.

After the Live at Orpheum set I didn't think this new King Crimson was very exciting or interesting. This new set has completely changed my mind and I can see how this lineup can take material from any era of the band and make it their own and more importantly sound fresh, powerful and purposeful!


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery SACD

With the news of the death of Keith Emerson I have been revisiting ELP recordings of course. I have heard so many versions of Brain Salad Surgery over the years and own plenty too! Before the catalogue moved to Sony, Universal released a number of deluxe editions which BSS was one back in 2008. It was a mess! From what was actually on the disc to all the errors in the booklet, this looked like a rushed job. The package had 3 discs, one of which I call the "hidden" SACD. Hidden because, apart from the SACD symbol on the discs, nowhere on the packaging or booklet does it mention the third disc is actually a hybrid SACD. The first disc is the original album on CD, remastered by Pachal Byrne. The SACD has that as the CD layer and also the stereo layer of the SACD, so making disc 1 completely redundant! The multichannel layer has the 5.1 mix which was produced for Rhino's 2000 DVD-Audio version of BSS. I have only ever played the SACD on my Sony unit which does not have multichannel capability. So I have only heard the Paschal Byrne stereo remaster. It however just occurred to me that I could play this on my universal player which has SACD stereo and multichannel playback through HDMI into the amp. Though I don't have surround sound my amp should automatically downmix the surround tracks into stereo so I could hear that Rhino mix. I did just that and the results were astounding! Whereas I found the recent Jakko Jakszyk remix very odd and quite radical in some places, this Rhino mix is more akin to the original mix but more detailed, powerful and very exciting indeed. It's a great listen. There are subtle changes, but nothing that jars as much as the recent mix. It's just overall a hugely detailed, clear, punchy experience. It may be my favourite BSS yet. I just wish I sussed this out earlier. What a twat!


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Keith Emerson 1944 - 2016


Words simply cannot express the importance of Keith Emerson on my life. I was 11 years old, back in 1972 around a friends parents house. His big brother had on a record and I heard all these strange noises coming from the speakers, things I had never heard before. The album sleeve had these strange blank framed paintings hung on a wall. That was The Old Castle and the album was Pictures at an Exhibition. That was the start of a musical journey that has lasted to this day. But it was Emersons glorious Moog playing that set it all off and has made music the single most pleasure in my life. Made it more important than food or water. Music is ingrained into my soul and it's all thanks to the music of ELP. But especially thanks to Keith Emerson. He has been with me all those years and now he is gone!


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Andy Jackson - 73 Days at Sea


This is Andy's second album for Esoteric and follows on from a similar stylistic viewpoint which "Signal to Noise" hinted at. There is an obvious Pink Floyd feel here, not surprising giving his connection with that band and David Gilmour as engineer and producer. However, I think on this latest album he is making strides to develop his own particular, individual sound. The songs are all connected by a singular concept of water and that gives the overall album a cohesion, with Andy's lush production and loose, languid guitar playing evoking a singular, dreamy, hazy voyage throughout. I am reminded of Robert Wyatt's "Rock Bottom" which similarly evoked a dreamy, aquatic soundscape. The unhurried nature of the album enables the melodies to slowly evolve and a few listens are required for the songs to truly give up their riches. It's great to hear the unmistakeable sqawling sax of ex-VdGG David Jackson (no relation) on the epic Drownings, adding another sonic element to the proceedings.

This is an unusual, but impressive album. It sounds great as expected, not only on the CD but especially the hi-res stereo on the accompanying DVD which also has a surround mix which I am sure makes for an even more immersive, watery experience!


Friday, 19 February 2016

Daevid Allen Weird Quartet - Elevenses

Poor showing of postings due to weeks of feeling shit due to illness. Nearly fighting fit again! Anyway, here we have the final recordings by Daevid Allen before his flying off in the celestial teapot! It's a great selection of all that was great about Allen throughout his career from Soft Machine, through to Gong and beyond. I don't know the other musicians apart from Paul Sears who was a member of the magnificent US Canterbury styled outfit The Muffins. This collection has that whimsical, yet instrumentally complex structure which characterised the best of the Canterbury bands. There is even a hint of early Pere Ubu in the wonky synths and playfulness. That Allen was very ill when this was made is remarkable. His voice is in fine form and his guitar playing even better. For me, along with Sid Barrett I have always felt that Allen was one of the great guitar experimenters of the late 60's. His trademark glissando guitar is here, sounding as cosmic as always, but his guitar playing is aggressive, fierce, edgy, belying his years or health. Of course this is a quartet and the other musicians are excellent throughout, but it's Allen's presence which takes this to a magical level.

This is a superb collection of songs and instrumentals and is a fine, final testament to the wonderful, individual genius that was Daevid Allen.


Sunday, 31 January 2016

Steven Wilson - 4.5 (decimal version)

Early year release for Steven Wilson's stop-gap mini album. Though at 37 minutes, this would count as a fully fledged album in the old analogue days. What we have is some odds and sods from his last few studio recordings which didn't fit the bill as they tend to say. The opening track "My Book of Regrets" has a distinctly XTC flavour to my ears. Wilson's vocals even take on a Colin Moulding accent! The other tracks are a mix of instrumental pieces, which are slight but effective none the less, especially "Vermillioncore" which hints at a more riffing, metallic direction perhaps. The final track is a remodel of Porcupine Trees "Don't Hate Me". Here is it has been given a splendid facelift, with chorus vocals by Ninet Tayeb, great Fender Rhodes playing by Adam Holzman, a blow-out sax solo by Theo Travis, all ending with a beautifully elegiac guitar solo by Wilson himself. Nice to see him play solo again! The whole thing sounds sumptuous on the blu-ray hi-res, though I would have liked the CD and blu-ray packaged together and why not include the blu-ray bonus Lazarus (2015) on the CD? That's a bit mean! But all in all this will do for now quite nicely!



Tuesday, 12 January 2016

David Bowie 1947 - 2016


This was the plan. First album of the year and first review. New Bowie album and it was a good one. Very good in fact! Received CD on Friday and played it over the weekend. Radio alarm goes off Monday morning, I am still half awake. I sort of wake up to the sort of memory that the radio presenter mentioned that David Bowie had died. Just a horrible dream. He only has a new album released a few days before and birthday. But my goodness it's true! Totally shocked. It's all over TV, twitter, facebook. Everyone mentions their disbelief at the news, such was the magnitude of his reputation. Even my wife's nurse mention this and people who normally don't talk about music mention it.

So a day has passed and it's still hard to believe. That he, his family, friends and associates kept the news of his illness quiet is staggering in this day of easy access social media. The new album and accompanying videos have taken on new significance in the knowledge that he knew his time was limited. We can now see different meaning to it all.

His death means that we all head to his catalogue to remind us of his songs. I am then reminded at what a legacy. He covered so much ground and even now there is so much there in those recordings that is still fresh and innovative. My period was from Low to Scary Monsters. After that I dabbled in and out. Loved Heathen and Blackstar promised to be a firm favourite.

Other people will say more about him and more eloquently than I can. But it all comes down to the fact we will never see the like of him again!