April 19, 2015

Record Store Day 2015

I guess what I've heard so often really is true: nobody cares about record shops and vinyl LPs anymore. 

As evidence of this sad fact, please see a few photos from Record Store Day at one of the five record stores in my little village. This particular store only sells vinyl (with maybe quite literally a few dozen cassettes and CDs thrown in). 

I got there around 4pm and the owner told me they had been wall-to-wall crowded with customers since opening at noon. I didn't bother going to any of the other record stores because I didn't want to fight the crowds looking for their Kate Bush picture disks. There were two live musical acts and a surprising amount of wine and cheese on offer as well.

So many vinyl releases are planned for RSD each year in the US that pressing plants are booked up solid for the first four months of the year. I've read several articles this year featuring independent label owners bewailing this fact and saying that they cannot release or repress any LPs until May every year. 

I think I should  take this opportunity to mention that the name of this blog is a direct reference to a delightful record store in East Lansing, Michigan: "Flat, Black and Circular" (FBC) opened in the late 1970s and still is in existence. I used to visit there pretty much every single day (as well as the now-gone Wazoo Records) back in the 1980s.

And, to cap off this post, a beautiful video courtesy of the AACM Library in San Rafael, CA.


April 11, 2015

Ali Akbar Khan + John Handy + Zakir Hussain live at the 1972 Berlin Jazz Festival (1972-11-03)

Here is an over-the-air FM recording of a performance by Ali Akbar Khan and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain together with alto sax player John Handy. These three, together with a few guest musicians such as guitarist Bola Sete released two LPs in the 1970s on the MPS label.

Some people will enjoy this sort of material and some won't. Likely you know which camp you are in. For what it is worth, the FM capture is pretty good for being 43 years ago.

This was downloaded from a fairly well known torrent site devoted to live music of all sorts. If one were to Google the word "Dimeadozen," I am sure that one would run into their site pretty quickly.

The original text file (with some editing by me) is as follows:

John Handy & Ali Akbar Khan
November 3, 1972
West Berlin, Germany

Track List (1:02:22):
1. Unknown - 23:34
2. Unknown - 11:58
3. Unknown - 16:11
4. Unknown - 10:37

John Handy - alto saxophone
Ali Akbar Khan - sarod
Zakir Hussain - tabla


pre-FM reel >? >DAT >HDD via coax to Midiman Audiophile 2496 @48 kHz >CoolEdit Pro 2.0 >CD Wave >Trader's Little Helper >FLAC (level 6, ASB)

I feel that I should point out that the text file claims this to be a "pre-FM" -- that is, a direct dub of the tape that was recorded at the concert and then played on the air. It sounds more like a regular FM capture to me, although it may simply be that there are a number of analog generations (cassette copies of cassettes being traded among collectors) as represented by the "?" in the lineage. There was some static which was carefully removed in Audacity and overall I am fairly happy with the resulting sound.

Karuna is usually translated as "compassion" and I think that is close enough to what it means that I don't feel like splitting hairs about it.

April 8, 2015

Kartick and Niladri Kumar - Where Tradition Meets Innovation [Magnasound Cassette C4HI0066] (1989)

Kartick Kumar is one of Ravi Shankar's most senior disciples and a very talented (if under-recorded) sitarist. His son Niladri appears on this cassette as an eager 18 year old with plenty of promise. He seems to mostly be doing fusion and such these days.

The first side of the cassette suffers from excessive brightness and a quite noticeable volume disparity between the left and right channels. These issues had to be (very reluctantly) addressed with EQ and normalization of both channels independently in Audacity. Otherwise the listenability of the side would be minimal. Side 2 is much better, with a fuller and more balanced (in right to left terms) sound.

Many Magnasound releases seem to be available on Amazon.com as mp3 downloads; I encourage anyone interested in these to pursue those. There is a website for Magnasound which seems to promise more activity in the future -- I hope there can be some CD reissues in the future.

Also posted here is the oddly charming advertisement included with the cassette -- see below.

Equipment used in transfer: 
Cassette Deck: TEAC W-890
Pre-amplification: Vintage refurbished Pioneer SX-780.

Recorder: Edirol R-09HR at 24/44 resolution
Software: Audacity to normalize both channels separately and EQ the first side (reduce high frequencies) as well as convert to 16/44.1. xAct was used to convert to FLAC and mp3

April 7, 2015

Ali Akbar Khan - Music for Meditation [CS 2063] (1974)

Here we have an interesting LP -- as sort of a sequel to "The 40 minute Raga" and "The 80 minute Raga" the gentle folk at Connoisseur Records could have entitled this "The 40 Minute Alap" because that is what is featured. The raga is Bilaskhan Todi and interested readers are referred to the back cover of the LP for the notes of the raga. It is considered a morning raga.

On side 1 (but, interestingly, not on side 2) there was quite a bit of very low frequency information that did not seem to be coming from the sarod. At one point it sounds like a door is being slammed off in the very distant background and possibly some traffic noises at times as well. I generally do not like using EQ but in this case I lowered the 20Hz band about 6 dB and this cleared things up nicely.

The record was mastered at Sterling and is in reasonable good shape except for one slight scratch near the end of side 1 -- about half a dozen clicks were individually removed using the "repair" function of Audacity.

A big thank you to Nels for the loan of the LP.

Equipment used in transfer: 
Preparation: VPI 16.5 cleaning machine
Turntable:  Audio-technica AT-LP-1240
Cartridge: Shure M97x
Pre-amplification: Vintage refurbished Pioneer SX-780.

Recorder: Edirol R-09HR at 24bit/44.1kHz resolution
Software: Audacity to normalize and carefully remove a few clicks as well as convert to 16/44.1. xAct was used to convert to FLAC and mp3. "Noise removal" was avoided in order to best preserve the dynamic nuances and tone quality of the original sound.

April 3, 2015

TR Mahalingam - Album de Nuit [Stil 0312 S 78] (recorded 1978; released 1981)

On view today is an interesting and relatively rare LP from Tiruvidaimarudur Ramaswamy Mahalingam (6 November 1926 – 31 May 1986) who was affectionately known as Mali. He revolutionized the style of flute playing in Carnatic music yet made relatively few recordings. Many of the ones that are available feature remarkably poor sound, although the two CD sets currently available on the Japanese label EM Records are quite nice. 

This 94-minute double LP is one of two by Mali that the french label Stil Records released in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was recorded live in 1978 in Paris and was released on vinyl in 1981. Stil mostly issued western classical LPs but did issue several LPs of Indian classical music (a pair each from Mali, the great vocalist Lakshmi Shankar [1926-2013], and Ram Narayan, as well as one by Imrat Khan). They have a website but as far as I can tell are no longer in business -- no new releases since the late 1980s and only one CD reissue in 1996.

Equipment used in transfer: 
Preparation: VPI 16.5 cleaning machine
Turntable:  Audio-technica AT-LP-1240
Cartridge: Shure M97x
Pre-amplification: Vintage refurbished Pioneer SX-780.

Recorder: Edirol R-09HR at 24bit/44.1kHz resolution
Software: Audacity to normalize and carefully remove a few clicks as well as convert to 16/44.1. xAct was used to convert to FLAC and mp3. "Noise removal" was avoided in order to best preserve the dynamic nuances and tone quality of the original sound.

Some good bargains on CDs of Indian Classical Music

Recently I noticed a set of Ravi Shankar reissues, entitled "Ravi Shankar Six Classic Albums" on the Real Gone label. It is currently priced at a little more than $10 (including postage in the US) for a 4CD set on the Amazon.com website.

I have read several extremely negative reviews of other Real Gone sets, especially when it came to sound quality (they use LP transfers on pre-1965 material which is in the public domain in certain countries) so I was a little hesitant. Still, at that price, it was worth checking out, and I can say that the set does sound very good. No "enhancements" like fake stereo, either, as far as I have listened into the set.

When will EMI (or whomever owns the rights these days) give us a series of box sets, collected chronologically by session date and including previously unreleased gems? Likely never, alas.

Speaking of EMI, there is an excellent 10-CD box set from EMI Classics which features various pieces and parts of many different EMI and World Pacific albums from Raviji. There is one previously unreleased piece from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and possibly other unreleased music (only recording dates are listed; no mention of previous releases). It's around $22 or so on Amazon, and is a set that I like to give out to people who might need an introduction to the man's recorded work.

(Note: since publishing this link, the price has gone up to $56 on Amazon. Still a good bargain for a 10-CD set. Prices for these types of large box sets can vary wildly and it is usually best to purchase them within a year of their release for best price and availability).

The final box set of Raviji's music I'd like to mention is entitled "Ravi Shankar - The Master" and includes all of his music released on the DG label, including music which has only been issued on vinyl in Japan. For $21 from Amazon for 3 full CDs there can be little to complain about, especially when the sound quality of the original recordings is so fine.