Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Next Page: Turn! Turn! Turn (table)!

Recorded music, in all its glory, comes alive on vinyl. Steve Hallock visits Pittsburgh's devotees of the LP and its timeless machinery.

By Steve Hallock

Multimedia converged in full rage as a digital projector screened a silent version of "The NeverEnding Story" on the wall behind the bar. Musicians preparing to take the stage for open mic trilled saxes and trumpets. Cell phones and BlackBerries instant messaged across the room and planet. Funky electronic jazz rumbled out of a pair of newspaper box-size speakers that boomed bass and treble notes through the packed room.

But something curious was happening back in the corner of this East Liberty bar among all the hi-tech gadgetry this recent Monday night.

Disc jockey J. Malls crouched over a pair of shining turntables spinning records -- yes, vinyl discs -- just like radio DJs of yore cued up the tunes that provided the nation's soundtrack of the '50s, '60s and '70s.

Those old DJs, had they witnessed J. Malls laying needle to groove on one of 15,000 records from his collection, would have uttered these words about the scene in this modern day cacophony of CDs, iPods and laptop digital blare: This, folks, is a blast from the past.

Well, maybe not.

Just as records rotate on a spindle -- picture the opening credits of television's "Happy Days" with scenes whirling out of jukebox records -- what goes around comes around. We are in the midst of what appears to be a full-fledged rebirth of the old playboy pad, chic-sound-gear standby of the component bookshelf sound system comprising detached speakers, reel-to-reel tape decks and audio tuners and receivers: the turntable.

THE DEVICES, aka record players, are hitchhiking on the back of the rising popularity of vinyl record sales, which increased 89 percent in 2008 over the previous year and that continue to experience surging sales, according to the January/February issue of AARP The Magazine.

"Music giant EMI has re-released some 65 classic albums on vinyl," the magazine reported, "including acts ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Beastie Boys."

The popularity of vinyl 33 r.p.m. records, and thus the machines that play them, is due to a few factors. One is the loyalty of at least a couple of generations of music fans, beginning with the post-World War II rock 'n' roll baby boomers, who built up large record collections ranging from Elvis to The Beatles and even Radiohead today.

Another is the rediscovery of vinyl, and of the blues, rock and jazz on these old tracks, by a younger generation eager to explore the old music in its original format and attracted by the relatively cheap cost of records compared with CDs.

In fact, most of the customers for the reconditioned turntables that Jerry Weber sells at Jerry's Records, the popular used record shop on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill, are kids and middle-agers.

"Young people are pretty much my demographic now, 15 to 35," the 62-year-old dealer of musical nostalgia said. These folks, he said, buy turntables not only to listen to their own records but also for their mothers, fathers and grandparents.

"They'll say, 'I'm getting my mom a turntable for Christmas so she can dig out her old records and we're going to have a ball,' " Mr. Weber said of the buyers of the Technics, Sony, Panasonic and Pioneer machines he sells for prices ranging from $60 to $100. "These would have cost $200 or $300 originally. Some of those that were engineered back in the '70s, the old Kenwoods and Thorns, they're going to be around. All of them were much better than what you get today unless you spend $300 or $400."

More like $499 to $699 -- which is how much buyers of upper-end turntables will spend for the Technics, Numark or Stanton turntables that Stash Roberts sells at Guitar Center in Monroeville -- a clientele with different needs than the oldie buffs who frequent Jerry's.

Mr. Roberts, 40, categorized his turntable customers into three types:

"The standard scratch DJ, somebody who actually knows how to mix and scratch on the turntable," he said. "And then you have just the guys who want a higher quality piece that will last them most of their life. The last group is the older guy that comes in and is looking to update his vinyl to CD, and there are multiple companies now offering turntables with USB connections" that enable users to plug the machines into computers for conversion to digital formats.

Whatever the reason for the popularity, Mr. Roberts said, he sold more turntables in 2009 than the previous nine years, with a peak of about eight per week during the Christmas season.

"We were literally to the point where we were running out," he said.

That higher sound quality referred to by Mr. Roberts plugs into a debate that has been ongoing ever since CDs first hit the music scene in the 1980s.

"CD is most pristine," Jason Boyd of EMI told AARP The Magazine, "But vinyl has the warm, full sound of the music. It's a way of experiencing music rather than just consuming it."

Yes. Miles Davis' muted trumpet is mellower, Pablo Casals' cello bowing richer, Charlie Byrd's acoustic guitar strumming crisper, on record.

Jerry Weber also invoked the "warm" metaphor.

"That's been the argument ever since CDs were invented," the Squirrel Hill vinyl merchant said. "I've been doing this since 1976. It's a warmer sound. CDs are more flashy and more bright, but not everybody likes flashy and brightness. I'm a throwback. To me, old mono records like the early Beatles and Stones, that's the way they were meant to sound. They sound like you're in a hall, and they're right beside you playing."

Mr. Roberts explained it a bit more technically.

"Digital's always going to be better because it's cleaner," he said. But on CDs, "you're going to miss the actual raw sound of the instruments."

Recording engineers during the heyday of vinyl, he said, pushed the sound on the master tapes beyond the recording threshold to literally squash the sound, compressing it.

"A lot of times the sounds from those guitars back in the '60s and '70s, it was not just the guitar or amp, it was a sound quality brought by this technique."

So the fuzz guitar of Vanilla Fudge or Cream actually was made fuzzier through saturation -- a sound that cannot even be reproduced live and that is unique to the original recordings of the '60s and '70s

SOUND PURISTS seeking that sort of quality comprise many of Vincent Bomba's turntable reconditioning clients.

Mr. Bomba, a 53-year-old Mt. Lebanon native, was a computer systems technician for Mellon Bank until being laid off in December. In a space opened up for him at Jerry's Records, he's going into turntable and computer repair and reconditioning full-time.

A problem with CD sound, he said, is that when the laser beam that reads the disc breaks the sound into bits and bytes, "some detail is lost in the process" of translating those bits and bytes back into sound.

With the vinyl record, he said as he stood among shelves of reconditioned turntables on display like artifacts of an ancient sound culture, "You hear a depth. You can hear a guy cleaning his trumpet out."

The stylus of a turntable, he explained, picks up the sound directly from the groove of the record; sound is not disassembled and then put back together. Along the way, you get the background noise of the studio or club. So it's more real.

Mr. Bomba listed three types of turntables, each with its advantages and disadvantages. One is direct drive, in which the motor of the turntable directly rotates the record platter; the shaft of the motor is the platter. Consequently, some motor hum accompanies the sound of the music.

In belt-drive turntables, the motor sits off to the side, and a belt turns the platter. But the belt has to be replaced every five years or so, and it stretches; so you get sound distortion after time, what sound technicians call wow and flutter.

Rim-drive turntables use a rubber wheel that is hooked up to the motor and drives the platter.

"This is the best of all worlds," Mr. Bomba said. "The motor noise is less, and the rubber idler wheel lasts longer."

J. MALLS (real name: Jason Molyneaux) said he noticed that loss of something in translation when he tried to convert some of his records to a digital format.

"When you digitize a record, that's the closest you get to a record," he said, emphasizing the word "record" as the standard that CDs and other formats strive to achieve. "But it doesn't have the wide spectrum of a record. Something gets lost, in the lows and the highs."

Part of the appeal of his schtick besides the sound, he said, is simply the fact of being an actual DJ.

"This is my niche. A lot of people like the fact that I just play records." When they talk about DJs they've heard in other venues, he said, "a lot of people are like, 'he's not a real DJ, he has a laptop.' "

It's just strange, the 35-year-old DJ said, "to see people who actually have records."

Bottom line, for him, when initially asked why he uses a turntable -- he gives sort of a bewildered look and grin, as though no other format is possible: "To play my records."

Of course.

Practicality also drove Mr. Weber, as he explained during an interview surrounded by his shelves and piles and stacks of used record albums, in his decision to go into the used turntable business.

"The more turntables they're spinning out there, the more chance they're going to come in and buy some records off me."


Steve Hallock (shallock@pointpark.edu) is an assistant professor of journalism at Point Park University and former newspaper jazz critic. He is the author of "Reporters Who Made History: Great American Journalists on the Issues and Crises of the Late 20th Century," published in December by Praeger.

SOURCE:   http://www.post-gazette.com

Reprinted By Permission

New Music Releases ~ February 9, 2010

Abbey Lincoln - Through the Years (3-CD Box Set)
Adam Faith - I Survive
AFI - The Lowdown
Allison Moorer - Crows
ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) - Man of the World (vinyl)
AM - Future Sons and Daughters
Angelique Kidjo - Oyo
Angelo Spencer - Et Les Hauts Sommets
Beach Fossils - Daydream
Bear McCreary - Dark Void (soundtrack)
Ben + Vesper - LuvInIdleness
Besnard Lakes - Albatross b/w Four Long Lines (vinyl)
Best Coast - Something in the Way (vinyl)
Bigga Haitian - Sak Pase
Black Cobra - Chronomega (vinyl)
Black Keys - Big Come Up (vinyl reissue)
Blessure Grave - Judged By Twelve, Carried By Six
Bluebrain - Soft Power
Blues Band - Back For More / Fat City
Broken Consort - Crow Autumn
Butch Walker - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart
Buzzcocks - Another Music in a Different Kitchen (remastered with bonus CD)
Buzzcocks - Different Kind of Tension (remastered with bonus CD)
Buzzcocks - Love Bites (remastered with bonus CD)
Canibus - Melatonin Magik
Celtic Thunder - It's Entertainment!
Chapmans - Grown Up
Conway Twitty - Love You More Today / To See My Angel Cry
Cottars - Feast
Crack the Sky - Machine
Curtis Jones - In London
Cute Lepers - Smart Accessories (vinyl)
Dave Matthews Band - Live in Las Vegas
David Cassidy - I Think I Love You: Greatest Hits Live (CD/DVD)
David Courtney - First Day: The Complete Story
Deep Purple - Fireball
Dessa - Badly Broken Code
DJ Rap - Synthesis
Easybeats - Complete Easybeats (6 CDs)
Empirical - Out 'n' In
Errol Dixon - Blues in the Pot / That's How You Got Killed Before
Fair - Disappearing World
Fanshaw - Dark Eyes
Fear Factory - Mechanize
Field Music - Them That Do Nothing (vinyl)
Fionn Regan - Shadow of An Empire
Fireflight - For Those Who Wait
Four Tet - There Is Love in You (2-LP vinyl)
Galactic - Ya-Ka-May (vinyl)
Gentle Giant - Interview
Gentle Giant - Playing the Fool: The Official Live
Georgia Anne Muldrow - Kings Ballad (vinyl)
Georgie Fame - Mod Classics: 1964-1966
Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here (vinyl)
Grant Hart - Intolerance (vinyl)
Hall & Oates - Abandoned Luncheonette
Hawkwind - Alien 4
HIM - Screamworks: Love in Theory & Practice
Hot Chip - One Life Stand (CD & DVD)
Icarus Witch - Draw Down the Moon
Interference - Interference (vinyl)
Jaheim - Another Round
Jason Derulo, 'Jason Derulo'
Jay Dee - F**k the Police (vinyl)
Jimi Hendrix - Valleys Of Neptune (vinyl reissue)
John Coltrane - Giant Steps (vinyl reissue)
John Dummer Blues Band - Cabal / John Dummer Band
John Martyn - I'd Rather Be the Devil (6 CDs/2 DVDs)
Josh Turner - Haywire
Julie Thompson - Feeling the Corners
Jurassic 5 - Influence (vinyl)
k.d. lang - Recollection (3 CDs/1 DVD)
Kath Bloom - Thin Thin Line
Laura Gibson & Ethan Rose - Bridge Carols
Lionel Loueke - Mwaliko
Lisbeth Quartett - Grow
Luther Allison - Songs From the Road (CD/DVD)
Lynn Miles - Black Flowers I + II
Maccabees - Empty Vessels (vinyl)
Magnetic Fields - Realism (vinyl & CD)
Mark David Ashworth - Bright Is The Ring of Words
Massive Attack - Heligoland
Meg Hutchinson - The Living Side
Michael Martin Murphey - Buckaroo Blue Grass II - Riding Song
Miike Snow - Silvia (vinyl)
Mike Clarke - Roll Again / Live in Luxembourg
Neil Diamond - Hot August Night NYC From Madison Square Garden
Neon Trees - Animal (vinyl)
Nick Jonas - Who I Am (Feb 10, 2010)
Nurse With Wound - Space Music (vinyl)
Ok Go - Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (vinyl)
Olivier Manchon - Ochestre De Chambre Miniature 1
Os Mutantes - Jardim Eletrico (vinyl reissue)
Overkill - Ironbound
Pantha du Prince - Black Noise (vinyl)
Phantogram - Eyelid Movies
Phoenix - 1901 (vinyl)
Pierced Arrows - Descending Shadows
Pretenders - Live In London (CD/DVD)
Quicksilver Messenger Service - Fillmore Auditorium February 4th 1967
Reckless Kelly - Somewhere In Time
Redman - Reggie Noble 9 ½
Sad Day for Puppets - Unknown Colors
Sade - Soldier of Love
Screaming Females - Singles
Secret & Whisper - Teenage
Shannon Curfman - What You're Getting Into
Smile Smile - Truth on Tape
Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes - Live in Boston: 1978
The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers (vinyl)
The Marshall Tucker Band - Way Out West!: Live From San Francisco September 1973
Theodore - Hold You Like a Lover (vinyl)
Toby Mac - Tonight
Tord Gustavsen Ensemble - Restored, Returned
Trio Ivoire - Across the Oceans
Trouble - Live in Los Angeles
Trouble - Plastic Green Head
Trouble - Simple Mind Condition
Trouble - Unplugged
Uffie - MCs Can Kiss EP
Undersea Poem - Undersea Poem
Valentine's Day (Soundtrack) (featuring new music from Jewel, Taylor Swift)
Various Artists - Bustin' Out New Wave to New Beat: The Post Punk Era 1979-1981•Various Artists - Westbound Detroit Northern Soul
Various Artists - Instrumental Tribute to Lady Gaga
Various Artists - Looking Towards The Sky: Progressive, Psychedelic And Folk Rock From The Ember Vaults
Various Artists - Putumayo Presents: Rhythm & Blues
Various Artists - Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Journey
Various Artists - Rough Trade Shops' Counter Culture 2009
Various Artists - Valentine's Day (soundtrack)
Watson Twins - Talking to You, Talking to Me (vinyl)
Yeasayer - Odd Blood (vinyl)
You Say Party We Say Die - XXXX (vinyl)
Young Jeezy - Thug Motivation 103

Music News & Notes

Gallagher Dumps Oasis Name - Debut Album Due In July

Liam Gallagher has revealed that his new group are set to ditch the Oasis name in favour of something new.

Oasis finally shook themselves apart last year. Walking away from the wreckage of his former group, Liam Gallagher went on holiday to Italy taking some close friends along with him for the ride.

Since then, speculation has been rife over the singer's solo plans. Forming a new group with some familiar faces, Liam Gallagher is set to front what is essentially the final version of Oasis without his brother.

Speaking to XFM Radio, Liam Gallagher revealed that he does not intend to use the Oasis name on his new album.

"No, it's not Oasis, that was a shit name anyway," Liam Gallagher revealed. "I'm glad to see the back of it."

Oasis took their name from a venue in Swindon. Continuing, Liam Gallagher claimed that he wanted to release an album of new material by July, with recording sessions ongoing with the new band.

The singer remained tight-lipped over a possible name for the collective. "There's a name that we're digging at the moment, but we're going to get on with the music and see how it goes."


British Jazz Icon Johnny Dankworth Dies

Sir John Dankworth, one of the most important figures in British jazz music, has passed away.

Britain has long had a passionate relationship with jazz music. However, for a very long time, it was accepted that jazz was simply something that Americans did - and hence a progressive scene could never exist in Britain.

It is thanks to pioneers such as Sir John Dankworth that the British jazz scene exists at all in its current state. Emerging after the Second World War the saxophonist quickly caught attention with his dextrous skills.

Performing with touring American bands, the musician travelled to Paris in 1949 where he jammed with his idol Charlie Parker. Winning acclaim for his distinctive style, Dankworth then went on to become a hugely successful composer.

Working on the themes for The Avengers and the film 'Saturday Night, Sunday Morning' the saxophonist always led his own band.

Continuing to work until recently, John Dankworth was knighted by the Queen in 2006. Sadly the saxophonist fell ill last year after a tour of the United States. Dankworth's last gig was at the London Jazz Festival, playing his horn from the confines of a wheelchair.

Sir Johnny Dankworth died in a London hospital on Saturday (February 6th). His wife Cleo Laine was starring in a show with her children at the time, and announced the death after the concert.


Flying Lotus Planning New Album

Los Angeles producer Flying Lotus is set to return in May with his eagerly awaited new album 'Cosmogramma'.

Real name Steve Ellison, Flying Lotus is simply one of the finest producers of his generation. Blending free jazz, electronica, hip hop and dubstep the Los Angeles kingpin's music has lit a trail for others to follow.

Over a series of seminal albums Flying Lotus has carved out a reputation as one of the most forward thinking musical minds on the planet. Joining the dots between continents, the producer has broken new ground.

Releasing 'Los Angeles' in 2008 Flying Lotus reached a new level of critical adoration. With the release of 'Cosmogramma' on May 3rd the producer could be set to stun fans once again.

A travelogue through his home city, 'Los Angeles' now seems to be just a primer for the American producer's talent. On 'Cosmogramma' Flying Lotus predicts and anticipates trends, then demolishes then in the blink of an eye.

A wide eyed pursuit of new music, Flying Lotus has been joined by some guest collaborators for the new album. Fresh from working with soulful jazz vocalist Jose James, the producer has roped in some friends for his own material.

Echoing the spirit of his famed aunt Alice Coltrane, Flying Lotus is joined by Ravi Coltrane, bass virtuoso Thundercat and the brilliant harp prodigy, Rebekah Raff.

In addition to this Flying Lotus is set to be joined by Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke. Laura Darlington is due to reprise her role on 'Los Angeles' while collaborators include Erykah Badu and Outkast string arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.

Flying Lotus is due to release 'Cosmogramma' on May 3rd.


Arctic Monkeys Prep New Single, Tour

Apparently the Arctic Monkeys are not done supporting their twisty, stoner-rocking 2009 album Humbug. They've got a new single coming out fronted by Sabbath-y album opener "My Propeller" and backed by three brand new tracks, including one excellently titled "Don't Forget Whose Legs You're On". The single is due March 23 digitally and through the band's web store before it hits record stores everywhere April 13 via Domino.

The Sheffield lads are also heading back to the United States for two weeks of touring come April.


Ratt Reveal Artwork, Tracklisting For Infestation

It’s no secret that RATT are back and raring to go. The band is proud to announce April 20, 2010 as the release date for their Loud & Proud debut, Infestation, an 11-song opus that is their first studio record in 11 years. The first single, “Best of Me,” is scheduled to impact rock radio on February 21. The song is available at all digital stores.

There’s been a flurry of activity in the Ratt camp in the past few years. Vocalist Stephen Pearcy has returned to the fold and the band has since signed to Loud & Proud/Roadrunner. The legendary Los Angeles rock squad, also featuring guitarist Warren DeMartini, drummer Bobby Blotzer, bassist Robbie Crane and new guitarist Carlos Cavazo, engineered Hollywood’s much-heralded Sunset Strip sound in the 1980s.

“We wanted this to be like something that we would have written right after [1984’s] Out of the Cellar, Pearcy said. “We definitely went back to basics with the mindset of a band with a lot of excitement and some great songs to get out.” Infestation was produced by Elvis Baskette (Chevelle, Alter Bridge.) in the helmer’s Virginia studio, marking the first time the band has recorded outside of Los Angeles. The album is full of attitude and of reflection, cycling through a range of emotions. There are party anthems that Ratt are known for alongside more contemplative, thoughtful tunes.


U2 360 Degree World Tour Crowned Best Stage Show By Stage Crews

U2's 360 degree world tour, which featured a huge “claw” structure, has been crowned the best stage show of 2009.  The jaunt picked up the accolade - voted for by stage crews - at the Total Production International Awards, hosted by TPI magazine.

The stage set featured an innovative 360 degree design which affords an unobstructed view for the audience.

"It is a massive engineering feat - from scenery to video to audio, with the biggest PA system that has ever been seen on a tour," the magazine's editor-in-chief Mark Cunningham said.

"It's a fantastic achievement and the four members of U2 are effectively the icing on the cake."

U2 production guru Willie Williams took home two awards while guitarist The Edgie's roadie Dallas Shoo also won, reports the BBC.

U2's 360 degree world tour is due to resume this summer with additional European dates, starting in Frankfurt on August 10.

Other concerts are scheduled for venues in Moscow, Munich, Athens and Paris.