Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Great Performances

Someone once asked me, "What is your favorite type of music?" to which I immediately replied, "Anything that is artistic rather than commercial." The person turned to me and said, "I never thought of it that way..."

Most folks align themselves with one style of music, folk, rock, classical, jazz, well you get the idea. But even within these styles there is good and there is bad, sometimes VERY bad, performances. Most are mediocre and there are quite a few that are good, fewer that are excellent. I'm sure that you all have your favorites.

My personal collection consists of music from Eddy Van Halen, Eric Bibb, Supertramp, Scott Hamilton, Norah Jones, AC/DC, Willy Nelson, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Il Volo, Jimmy Buffet, Roberta Flack, and many, many others. Within these I have my favorite pieces and some call these a playlist.

But there are, on rare occasion, those moments that come together which are sheer magic and where even the performers themselves talk about the energy and emotion they feel pour out of their voices and down their hands into the instruments. It is these great performances that occur so infrequently that we all cherish. This is why most people attend live concerts and then listen to the studio version so they can recall that particular feeling, that particular sensation, that particular time.

A musician said to me that the reason he went into the recording studio is because there they could add tracks and create an effect where more musicians played simultaneously enhancing their performance. To this I concur, but to this I would categorize such a performance as one of the mediocre to good. Rarely, like hens teeth, do I find any record production even moderately moving to the same level that a live performance does.

Should they stop? No. Never. Should they aspire for greatness? Of course. They are musicians and this is why they do what they do. I just wish that there was a way for the two to be consistently mutually inclusive.

Harry P of the Absolute Sound regards the Dusty Springfield performance of "The Look of Love" on the album "Casino Royal" (Colgems COSO-5005 stereo, side 1, track 2) to be one of his reference recordings always rating it at the very top of his recommended record list. Every time I would go into a used record store, I would hope to find one of these copies. One day, I did. I rushed home to see what all of the hubub was about.

I carefully removed the record from the album being extra careful not to touch any part of the surface with my fingers (BTW, those of us who know this technique need to pass it on to those young audiophiles who do not). I remember meticulously cleaning is with my Discwasher and dropping the needle down. Once the performance began, I immediately understood what all of the fuss was about.

First, this recording itself was VERY different from anything I had ever heard on my system before. This attribute alone was enough to grab anyone's attention forcing them to sit up and listen seriously. Once the shock of the superb recording quality wore off, I began to listen to the emotion of the music rather than the usual nuances I normally focused on as an audiophile.

Dusty starts off immediately singing the words of the title and after hearing her voice, I understood why Harry was so enamoured with it. Gentle but authoritative, sexual but subtly so, it wasn't the innuendo that was so captivating but rather her entire vocal style. Her slightly nasal golden voice enhanced by the breathy nuances of masterfully sliding notes just off and then on key were an art form in itself. Usually I would focus on all of the instruments but I was so captivated by her voice I barely noticed them.

The saxophone was soft and masterful and its execution flawless. There was a rhythm that exuded from the reed that tugged at your ears, blessing them if you may. The brush whisks of the snare drum in the background and the double bass synergized with the saxophone setting up the tempo and the music dripped from the speakers like a fine fondue cheese waiting to be consumed. But the voice -- that incredible authoritative rebellious voice -- dominated the entire 4 minutes. Even during the break where you finally realized there were more things in the performance than Dusty, you only waited until her voice returned.

It's hard to describe what I felt when hearing it for the first time; it was so striking. Even today after spinning it dozens of times I still get those goose bumps. Despite the pops and ticks in my first copy, I eventually found another in much better condition. The entire album has a production style and quality that is uniquely different from anything else I have ever spun on my table before or since. I know now why this particular recording was Harry's favorite and is one of mine too.

If while cruising your local used record store or the bins in some corner of a Goodwill or Salvation Army you ever find a version of this album, pick it up regardless of its condition, even if it is the mono version. You will be pleasantly surprised by what you hear. And if this is not your style, send it to me!

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

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