Friday, December 18, 2009

Michael Fremer Review

I am very proud to continue our 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 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.

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (reissue)
The Nutcracker Suite

Columbia/Pure Pleasure CS 8341 180g LP

Produced by: Irving Townsend
Engineered by: N/A
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman

Review by: Michael Fremer

Back in 1969, five years before Vince Guaraldi jazzed up Christmas music for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn conceived of and superbly executed this delightfully good-humored jazz version of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite".

Ellington and Strayhorn made up hip new names for Peter Ilich's originals, like "Sugar Rum Cherry," and "Toot Toot Tootie Toot" (Dance of the Reed-Pipes), but even without the novelty titles, you'd know The Duke was going for lightness and good humor.

The suite will be familiar to all, but the retelling as a jazz tale will be novel. The orchestra with Hodges, Carney, Gonzalves, Ray Nance and all the other great vets including drummer Sam Woodyard, swing their way easily through these rhythmically charged, nimbly struck arrangements.

My only criticism here are the short sides. Each is over too quickly.

The recording, produced in Los Angeles May through June of 1960 is clean, crisp and three dimensional, though the mix is more 3 track than stereo, with instruments panned fairly hard left and right with a prominent center fill and little to the its sides until you get to the hard left/right stuff.

Still, despite the somewhat dated staging, the recording quality itself is superb. The horns have a full, brassy swagger, the reeds plenty of buzzy warmth and Woodyard's drum kit is nicely developed with a juicy, woody rim shot that pops brilliantly and crisply chiming cymbals. Ellington's piano is also nicely recorded and there's an emphasis on close-miked percussion that helps make this an audiophile's delight.

A nice blend of direct, closely miked sound and chamber reverb produce a big, exciting picture you'll wrap your ears around with pleasure.

Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman's mastering and the quiet Pallas pressing make this reissue superior to the original, though if you have a clean one of those, you don't need this.

Though it was issued by Pure Pleasure last Spring, now's the time to remind you of this swinging Christmas record, perfect for right now!

I've been loving my original pressing for years. It's a record that comes out every Christmas. Get it and I guarantee it will become a tradition in your house every holiday season for years to come.

SOURCE: By Permission

This Date In Music History-December 18


Blues guitarist Lonnie Brooks (1933)

Sam Andrew - Big Brother & the Holding Company (1941)

Keith Richards - Rolling Stones (1943)

Bill Nelson - Be Bop Deluxe (1948)

Martha Johnson - Martha And The Muffins (1950)

Elliot Easton - Cars (1953)

Geordie - Killing Joke (1958)

Greg d'Angelo - White Lion (1963)

DMX (Earl Simmons) - (1970)

Christina Aguilera (1980)

They Are Missed:

Jimmy Nolen, guitarist for James Brown, died in Atlanta, GA in 1983.

Born today in 1938, Chas Chandler, bass, The Animals. Chandler became the manager of Jimi Hendrix and Slade, he died on July 17, 1996.

UK singer, songwriter Kirsty MacColl was killed in a boating accident off the coast of Mexico in 2000 when a speedboat hit her. MacColl was aged 41.


The Tokens started a three week run at #1 on the US singles chart in 1961 with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

In 1961, Chubby Checker's "The Twist" was on the Hot 100 chart for 23 straight weeks, longer than any other disc on the chart.

Funeral services are held in Chicago for Sam Cooke in 1964. Hundreds of fans break the glass doors off and cause other damage to the A.R. Leak Funeral Home where Cooke's body is on display. Among his big hits were "Cupid," "You Send Me," "Chain Gang," "Having a Party," "Twistin' the Night Away" and "Wonderful World."

Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" enters the Hot 100 in 1965, where it stays put for 14 weeks, peaking at #3. It's Wonder's first trip to the top ten since his first smash, "Fingertips, Part Two."

S/Sgt. Barry Sadler recorded "The Ballad Of The Green Berets" in 1965.

The Beatles enter the Hot 100 in 1965 with both sides of their latest record, "We Can Work It Out" and "Day Tripper." The former is on the charts for 12 weeks making it to #1 while the latter only makes it up to #5.

Tara Browne was killed in 1966 when driving at high speed in his Lotus Elan after it collided with a parked lorry in South Kensington, London. A close friend of The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, his death was immortalized in The Beatles’s song "A Day In The Life" after John Lennon read a report on the coroner's verdict into Browne's death.

At a Christmas Party called "An Alchemical Wedding" at the Underground Club in London in 1968, John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared, sort of. They're both onstage but they aren't visible. They're crawling inside a large white bag. This is the start of what Yoko terms "bag-ism." Umm, OK.

A 1969 New York Times article estimated that the youth audience in America accounted for 75-percent of the $1 billion spent annually on recorded music. The same issue contained one of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's full page "War is Over" ads.

Freakazoid Tiny Tim, 40, married Miss Vicki, 17, in 1970 on "The Tonight Show."

Sly and the Family Stone went to #1 on the US album chart in 1971 with "There's A Riot Going On."

Dial Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records, released Joe Tex's funk record "I Gotcha" in 1971. In late January 1972, the song will reach #2 on the pop chart. A big factor in the success of the song is Tex's slurred delivery of the line "Told you not to play with my affection," which causes millions to mistake the last word for "erection." Anything to sell a record....

At a press conference in London in 1975, Rod Stewart announced he's leaving the Faces to go solo.

The Steve Miller Band's Fly Like An Eagle LP was released in 1976.

An estimated 35 million people around the world watched Rod Stewart's satellite televised concert at the Forum in Los Angeles in 1981. The show featured guest appearances by Kim Carnes, who sings "Tonight's the Night" with Stewart and Tina Turner who duets on "Hot Legs," "Stay with Me" and "Get Back." The broadcast is the first of its kind since Elvis Presley's "Aloha from Hawaii," back in 1973.

Hall and Oates started a four week run at #1 on the US singles chart in 1982 with "Maneater," the duo's 5th #1 hit.

Madonna's "Like a Virgin was the #1 Billboard Pop Hit in 1984. The song was Madonna's first #1 hit.

In 2003, Michael Jackson was formally charged with seven counts of child molestation and two counts of administering intoxicating liquor to a minor with the intent of committing a crime. The abuse was claimed to have taken place between 7 February and 10 March 2003 and the alleged victim was identified only as 'John Doe'. Jackson's lawyer said the entertainer was 'unequivocally and absolutely innocent' and would fight the charges 'with every fibre of his soul.'

A guitar played by George Harrison and John Lennon sold for $570,000 at auction in New York in 2004. The Gibson SG guitar was used by Harrison from 1966 to 1969, including the recording of Revolver, and by Lennon during White Album sessions. Other items sold in the Christie's auction included a letter by Kurt Cobain, which fetched $19,400, and a school book report by Britney Spears $1,200.