Friday, November 13, 2009

Michael Fremer Review

I am very proud to continue our new feature (look for this every Friday), music reviews that are written by the senior contributing editor of Stereophile magazine- Michael Fremer. It has been a pleasure to speak with Michael and learn more about audio sound and equipment. In fact, his new DVD, "It's A Vinyl World, After All" has hit the shelves and is selling out very quickly. This is a must have for anybody who loves vinyl, it is a true masterpiece.


Santana (reissue) Lotus
Sony-Japan/Speakers Corner CBS 66 325/(81047/48/49) 3 180g LPs
Produced by: The New Santana BandEngineered by: Tomoo Suzuki
Mixed by: Tomoo Suzuki, Hideto Isoda
Mastered by: Maarten de Boer at UMG Berliner

Review by: Michael Fremer

Rare, desirable and expensive when first issued in 1973 as a triple LP set in Japan where it was recorded and available in America only as a hard to get import, Lotus didn’t make it to CD until the earl 1990s.

Speakers Corner has done an incredible job of reproducing the original triple gatefold psychedelic/pan-spiritual packaging and double full color posters that made this release such a physical treasure and more importantly, the Pallas pressing quality more than lives up to the original’s pristine sound and silent backgrounds. There’s a moment of silence at the beginning so perfectly quiet that you’ll wonder if your system has suddenly shut down.

However, in retrospect, the music doesn’t quite live up to the ambitiousness of the packaging. At least to me, but then I never was a huge Santana fan to begin with, so that’s just me.

The live setting allows Carlos Santana, who was in a jazz/spiritual musical phase at the time, to stretch out and take long extended solos that were more about speed and bombast than truly interesting musical ideas. He’s got the great Leon Thomas on vocals but the material doesn’t give Mr. Thomas the same latitude to produce the otherworldly yodels and other deeply involving pyrotechnics he delivered on Karma (Impulse A-9181) his astonishing collaboration with Pharoah Sanders (an album that contained the tune “The Creator Has a Master Plan” that I once parodied as “The Creator Has a Master Key”).

As you listen through the six sides of latino-rock, Santana’s ideas seem tame and limited compared to those of John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra that surely provided some of the inspiration for this version of Santana.

There’s lots of slinky, percussive latino-charged clanging and banging on Timbales and Congas and other fireworks that keep the Japanese crowd tuned in and in a rhythmic trance, but listening all these years later at home, you’re left with many stretches of clich├ęd jejune filler as the group covers hits like Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman,” Gabor Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen,” Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” and works by other composers.

Tom Coster’s bombastic Hammond Organ becomes fairly obtrusive after a while (or damned annoying depending upon your perspective and tolerance) and when Santana can’t think of anything to play he resorts to quoting Coltrane solos. A little of this goes a long way.

On the other hand, one can only imagine how the soaring sense of liberation that Santana’s feedback and reverb drenched speed-guitar produced, affected the regimented Japanese mindset of that era. Combine that with the exotic Latin rhythms and clanging percussion and you have a sound that must have flipped plenty of switches that day. Whether it still does now is a personal matter only you can decide.

The recording is excellent for a live set in a large venue. There’s a good deal of P.A. leakage, which is unavoidable but the engineering team has managed to keep it under control so it does more to suggest the enormity of the space than it does put the proceedings underwater, which often results from such recording conditions.

The sonics are never less than exciting, even when the music isn’t. If you’re a huge Santana fan generally, or a fan of this particular record specifically, don’t let me throw cold water on your flames: you won’t get a better sounding or packaged reissue of this 35+ year old classic and you can bet it won’t be around forever or for long for that matter. Take note as you disassemble the complex packaging or you'll have trouble putting it back together. It should come with re-assembly instructions!

SOURCE: Reprinted By Permission

Music News & Notes

Medeski Martin & Wood, Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set (2009, Indirecto Records)

Keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood have been making strange and wonderful music together since the early 1990's. For those of you who who haven't been following Medeski, Martin & Wood for the past few years, Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set a box set containing five CD's, a DVD and two vinyl LP's is your chance to catch up. For dedicated fans this is the highly anticipated culmination of their most creative, productive and ambitious project to date. Even fans who already have the previously released Radiolarians CD's will find enough new material in this set to make it highly desirable and it is sure to be on many holiday gift wish lists.

Over the past two years, rather than doing the common practice of touring to support a record release, Medeski, Martin & Wood sequestered themselves on brief writing retreats, performed only that new material on tour and recorded the material immediately after getting off the road. The band repeated this processes three times while touring in different regions of the US and South America producing the CD's Radiolarians I, II and III. The Radiolarians series is named after a type of single-celled organism, amoeboid protozoa that produce beautifully intricate mineral skeletons - drawings of which adorn the CD and LP jackets.

Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set will release on November 24, 2009. The box set will include the complete CD's Radiolarians I, II and III plus previously unreleased bonus tracks. The set also includes Remixolarians is a 10 track remix CD featuring contributions from 9 different DJs and producers including Dan The Automator, DJ Spooky, DJ Logic, DJ Olive and Scott Harding. The fifth CD in the set is 70-minute live album with pivotal tracks from shows recorded during the Radiolarians tours in 2008 and 2009 that gives the listener a chance to hear the material as evolving works in progress and also be provided with extended improvisations.

To satisfy the vinyl fetish of audiophiles, Medeski Martin & Wood have selected recordings from the three Radiolarians albums to include on an exclusive special edition, double vinyl LP pressing.


MASTODON: 'Crack The Skye' Royal Edition Due In December

Atlanta progressive metallers MASTODON have set a December 15, 2009 release date for the new limited "Crack the Skye" royal edition featuring the official score.

The "royal edition" package includes the following:

* Full-length "Crack the Skye" album
* Full-length "Crack the Skye" score first time available on physical disc
* Housed in gold stamped foiled digibook with brand new gold and black "Crack the Skye" exclusive artwork and packaging designed by Paul Romano
* 6" x 6" exclusively designed lithograph unavailable anywhere else
* An instant download of the "Divinations" (Live at Xfm) and "Colony of Birchmen" (Live at Xfm)

"Crack The Skye" sold 41,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release to land at position No. 11 on The Billboard 200 chart.

MASTODON fans responded with manic enthusiasm to the LP, snapping up every available copy of various limited-edition artifacts, including the deluxe tunnel book CD+DVD package, both color and double-disc 180gm gatefold vinyl pressings, plus a pair of CD single/T-shirt bundles.


SCORPIONS To Embark On Two-Year Tour In 2010

Veteran German hard rockers SCORPIONS will embark on a two-year world tour in 2010. An international press conference will be held in January to announce the details of the trek, which will include dates in Germany, USA, South America, Asia, Russia and other European countries.

SCORPIONS recently spent time at a studio in Hannover, Germany with Swedish producers Mikael "Nord" Andersson and Martin Hansen (the team behind THE RASMUS' "Dead Letters" CD) recording their new album for an early 2010 release.

"We are working on 12 songs at the moment," guitarist Mathias Jabs told Scorps News. "Great stuff. Definitely 'Scorpionized' in sound and attitude. More towards the early Eighties."

Although SCORPIONS' new CD is tentatively due in Europe in March, a U.S. release date has yet to be pinned down. "Azoff Management [which represents SCORPIONS] is currently working on the [record] deal," Jabs said. "Simultaneous release is up to the record companies


Fight Amp's "Manners & Praise" To Be Released On Vinyl This Winter

Brutal Panda Records is teaming up with Red Sun Industries to release NJ noise-rockers Fight Amp's newest full-length, "Manners & Praise," on limited pearl white vinyl this winter. "Manners & Praise" features thirteen brand new tracks and was recorded this past summer at The Jam Room with Philip Cope (Kylesa, Baroness). Vinyl mastering will take place at Prairie Cat Mastering for optimal sound quality, and each record comes packaged with an 11"x16" poster insert. The press will be strictly limited to 500 copies, and is available for pre-order at


DE PROFUNDIS: New Album Artwork Revealed

The cover artwork for "A Bleak Reflection", the sophomore album from the London, U.K.-based progressive extreme metal band DE PROFUNDIS, can be viewed below. According to guitarist Roman Subbotin, the artwork — by artist Darryll Jones — "came out being an extremely powerful and emotive addition to the music. Indeed, the artwork tells the story of the album — that's probably as close as I will ever come to saying that this is a concept album..."

"A Bleak Reflection" will be released in early 2010 and will come with a "very cool" 12-page booklet. The CD was produced by Fernando Pereira Lopes (MISANTHROPE, ORAKLE) and DE PROFUNDIS and was mixed at Russ Russell's Parlour Studios in July. Subbotin states, "[the new album] represents a significant moment for our musical evolution. We've all worked really hard and, in my humble opinion, achieved rather spectacular results."


Sgt. Pepper Available For Gaming

Rolling Stone reports that the entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band will be available as downloadable content for TB:RB starting November 17th. Sgt. Pepper’s title track, “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “Getting Better,” and “Good Morning Good Morning” were previously included in the game’s original release, but the classic LP’s remaining eight tracks, including “A Day in the Life,” will hit Xbox 360s, PS3s and Wiis next week.


Bassist Dies

Some sad news to report, journeyman bassist Mark Smith, who has played with Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and George Michael among others, died back on November 2. His body was found in his apartment after he didn't show up for a show. No cause of death has been announced. Smith was 49.


Kinks and R.E.M. Back in Studio

The Kinks are back in the studio recording their first album of new music since 1993's Phobia. Ray Davies told Billboard that he's been working with Mick Avory, the original drummer for the group, and later members Jim Rodford and Ian Gibbons.

Davies said, "I've been in the studio with a couple of the Kinks, actually. "We've got four, five new songs...and I'm just sort of getting them motivated and seeing what they're playing like, because I haven't played with the Kinks for eight or nine years."

Also back in the studio is R.E.M., working on their followup to last year's Accelerate. They are once again working with producer Jacknife Lee who said they will use the same "live in the studio" process as used on the last album.


75-Track Elvis Presley Best Of Album Set For 2010 Release

To mark his 75th birthday...

A 75 track album of Elvis Presley's biggest UK hits is to be released to celebrate what would have been his 75th birthday in January. The three CD album 'Elvis 75' will comes out through Sony Music on January 4th, 2010, four days before The King's birthday.

The career-spanning collection features every hit from his breakthrough single 'Heartbreak Hotel' through to the 2002 Junkie XL remix of 'A Little Less Conversation'.

The full track-listing is as follows:

CD 1:
1. Heartbreak Hotel
2. Blue Suede Shoes
3. I Want You I Need You I Love You
4. Hound Dog
5. Blue Moon
6. Love Me Tender
7. Too Much
8. All Shook Up
9. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear
10. Paralysed
11. Party
12. Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do
13. Lawdy Miss Clawdy
14. Trying To Get To You
15. Jailhouse Rock
16. Don'
17. Wear My Ring Around Your Neck
18. Hard Headed Woman
19. King Creole
20. One Night
21. A Fool Such As I
22. A Big Hunk O' Love
23. Stuck On You
24. A Mess Of Blues
25. It’s Now Or Never

CD 2:
1. Are You Lonesome Tonight
2. Wooden Heart
3. Surrender (Torna Surriento)
4. Wild In The Country
5. (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame
6. Rock A Hula Baby
7. Can't Help Falling In Love
8. Good Luck Charm
9. She's Not You
10. Return To Sender
11. One Broken Heart For Sale
12. (You're The) Devil In Disguise
13. Bossa Nova Baby
14. Kiss Me Quick
15. Viva Las Vegas
16. Kissin' Cousins
17. Such A Night
18. Ain't That Lovin' You Baby
19. Crying In The Chapel
20. Tell Me Why
21. Love Letters
22. All That I Am
23. Guitar Man
24. U.S. Male
25. If I Can Dream

CD 3:
1. In The Ghetto
2. Suspicious Minds
3. Don't Cry Daddy
4. The Wonder Of You
5. I've Lost You
6.You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
7. There Goes My Everything
8. Rags To Riches
9. I Just Can't Help Believing
10. Until It's Time For You To Go
11. An American Trilogy
12. Burning Love
13. Always On My Mind
14. Fool
15. My Boy
16. Promised Land
17. The Girl Of My Best Friend
18. Suspicion
19. Moody Blue
20. Way Down
21. My Way
22. It's Only Love / Beyond The Reef
23. A Little Less Conversation (JXL Remix)
24. Rubberneckin' (remix)
25. That's All Right