This weekend, I pulled out my SACD of Vince Guaraldi's classic soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, marking the beginning of the holiday season for me personally. Guaraldi's music hooked me from the first time I watched the animated special on TV as a kid and after years of enduring a less than perfect LP pressing I had (just off center enough to make the piano tones wobble annoyingly) and an ok CD, I was thrilled to find an SACD copy of the album. It sounded pretty amazing the first time I played it and still does, with a pleasant enough, if old school, early stereo sound stage (drums hard left, bass to the right, Vince dead center, letting you clearly focus on Guaraldi's carefully placed yet swinging chords as the piano decays very naturally, while the fat acoustic standup double bass thumps along melodically. The stereo mix gets a little strange on the few tracks where the children sing (left channel) leaving the band to the right channel — yet there is an interesting dynamic there which seems to deliver some height, placing the percussion parts above the piano — maybe they just seem that way because they are crisp and mostly coming thought the tweeter, but either way the effect is fascinating.
At the end of the day it's all about the music which is timeless.
I've read mixed reports online about some folks displeasure with this SACD - its hard to tell how accurate these claims are as some going so far to claim the SACD layer is the same as the CD — I do remember that when I got the SACD the sound was noticeably better than the CD version I had at the time.
Decide for yourself: the SACD seems to be out of print but you can find it on line if you look around. Perhaps all that is moot since, for those of you who are into high resolution downloads, this album is also available from HDtracks.com in either 192 kHz/24-bit or 96 kHz/24-bit incarnations. I can only imagine the 192/24 will sound glorious.
Assuming the review quote on the HDtracks site is accurate, from Joe Tarantino Mastering, it should be wonderful:
"The higher resolution captures all the detail of the original recording. I'm happy to have had the chance to master this great music again in HD. I think it's the best it ever sounded." — Joe Tarantino, Joe Tarantino Mastering
Buzz on the Interwebs indicates that the final batch of Frank Zappa catalogue releases will be issued this week. This includes later period FZ albums released in the 1990s including some essentials such as Lather (1996) and The Yellow Shark (1993). But the big news is that there will be a NEW release called Finer Moments circa 1972, a time period in which FZ released many grand compositions (check out the album The Grand Wazoo and Waka Jawaka) as well as transition (birth of the Roxy-era Mothers).
There have been some other "new" FZ releases amidst the reissue series which this writer and long time FZ fanatic will be exploring including Understanding America (a seeming compilation Zappa's deep social commentary on living in these United States). Be sure to look for the first CD release of Mothermania — the official 1969-issue compilation of Verve-era Mothers music made by FZ himself which includes many alternate versions of songs from the LPs. "Hot Rats" is also restored to its original LP mix for the first time on CD in this new reissue series.
Do visit the official Zappa website and forums for more, and the good folks at The Second Disc blog have a lot of good information on the contents of all the reissues and nuanced differences from prior releases (for completists like me who want all the different versions). Check it out at:
Wolfgang's Vault has been posting many wonderful free-download-for-members concerts as part of their 12 Days of Christmas promotion. They also have up this lovely 1978 set from New York's legendary Bottom Line club featuring The Paul Winter Consort, which can make a nice soundtrack stream to wrap up your holiday work days including a nice version of the now-classic composition "Icarus"
Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh has taken hold of the dream the band has long had to establish a permanent space where the band members could jam, perform and fans visit. While not exactly the idyllic "Terrapin Station" that has long been dreamed, discussed and planned, Lesh's new Terrapin Crossroads appears to be the next best thing, a live performance space and restaurant in the Dead's homeland of Marin County, in San Rafael (where their rehearsal studio was located).
Even if you can't make it out to California, you can log in via the web and stream concerts from the venue (and. seemingly. you can sign up for other other Lesh-related live shows). They have already hosted shows with greats like John Scofield, Warren Haynes, John Medeski and others. Upcoming shows include New Years performances with Joan Osborne.
Captain Beefheart's music — which exists at the crossroads of old blues, avant-garde dissonance, free jazz and good old rock 'n roll -- is an acquired taste, no doubt. However, once you get on the same wavelength with the good Cap'n's twisted tuneage, you are almost always in for a challenging, engaging, and compelling listen.
Many of us never got a chance to see the Captain perform live (his last shows were in 1982 and he passed away in 2010) so any snippet of video footage is precious. So imagine my excitement when one of the guys at Streetlight Records in San Francisco — who know my tastes pretty well — told me one day to check out the copy of the new Beefheart DVD they got in.
The Lost Broadcasts is an import, so at first I feared it was one of those grey market quasi-bootleg things with poor quality source material and such. Popping it into my Oppo BD-83 Blu-ray Disc player I was astounded to see the incredible high quality of this DVD on my 50-inch Panasonic Viera Plasma screen. Never have I seen any Beefheart footage this clear — even TV broadcast clips you can find on YouTube are generally fairly blurry. This footage comes from the archives of Germany's Beat Club TV show (April 12, 1972) and it shows the Captain and his Magic Band doing multiple takes of songs from the then current albums Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot.
The thing that is amazing about the video is the sense of joy, precision and abandon with which the band play. Even the Captain is smiling as he tackles tracks like "Click Clack" and "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby." The way Beat Club worked is they would video tape multiple takes of the band on "blue screen" and then for the final broadcast they edit the various visuals over one another so it looks like the band is playing against a backdrop of themselves. Its a kinda trippy, dated production technique but at the time it was probably fairly bleeding edge. Regardless, it works well with this music.
The sound on the disc is quite good too even thought it is 256 kbps MP3 audio running at 48 kHz -- for an archival 1972 video taped recording, I'm pleased we have even that much to hear here, all things considered.
You can get this 30 minute DVD from Collector's Choice Music for about $20 so you really can't lose. Or, heck, a quick search has it going for around $12 on Amazon! Yikes. Grab this 'un while its still in print!