The U.S. record industry isn't a sound business. I'm not talking about profits. I'm talking about the fidelity of their product. There no longer seems to be any desire or urgency on the part of companies to take the sonic quality of what's offered to a new level. Sure, many U.S. record companies remaster classic recordings all the time. But the sound quality of many remasters by U.S. companies is lacking. [Photo: Street Scene: Woman in Blonde Wig and Tight Dress, New York City, 1960s, by Leon Levinstine]
Is it me—or haven't we all slipped on a newly "remastered" CD only to be left disappointed and wondering whether the process actually took place? As Fred Goodman notes in Fortune's Fool, there is a missed opportunity here, that by offering better-sounding CDs, the American record industry would have a chance to survive going forward.
As you read in my CTI posts last week, Japan is way ahead of the U.S. market when it comes to the sound quality of CDs. For starters, Japanese companies care passionately about music from the top down, which is half the game. But this isn't news. Much of Japan's CD product has always been superior (just the words "Japanese import" makes most jazz music buyers salivate). The higher quality is the result of robust R&D departments, highly trained producers, and a company-wide commitment to make great recordings sound more exciting.
In the U.S., there seems to be so little interest on the part of companies to take the sonic quality of recordings to the next level. Either out of corporate stupidity or because bean counters wag the creative tail, jazz and many forms of American music are being compromised. Many companies have simply thrown in the towel and seem to be saying, "Don't bother spending to make things better—they're good enough. Consumers are emailing each other files or downloading music for free. Just do something that qualifies as remastering and we'll put it out there."
Sound familiar? Like the auto industry of the 1980s or financial services business of the 2000s. But why be in business if you don't see a future in it? If record companies here were to introduce a terrific new technology that exposed much more information on a CD, they would create a more exciting listening experience and renew buyer appetities. Sound quality has always been a record-industry selling point. "High-fidelity," "living stereo" and "quad sound" all were terms describing new and improved displays of music.
What would happen if a better-sound product were introduced? Consumers would likely replace many of their CDs to upgrade, provided the price was right. The industry has to find a way to love consumers again. But they'll have to move fast. Already, an entire generation no longer cares much about fidelity, thanks to the rapid disappearance of the album as a concept, the lack of downloadable liner notes, and other factors that used to engage and hold.
Tony Curtis (1925-2010). Tony Curtis died on September 29 at his home near Las Vegas. He was 85. I can't think of a better way to pay tribute to the late actor than to view this clip. New York's Times Square of 1957 looked and felt like this into the 1970s and early 1980s, before it became a tourist tailgate party. That's Elmer Bernstein's score at the start. Be sure to hang in there for the Chico Hamilton Quintet:
Don Sebesky. Arranger Don Sebesky will be Jason Crane's guest on The Jazz Session on October 11. They will be talking about Sony's new boxed set of CTI recordings. The podcast is free. For those unfamiliar with the Jazz Session, Jason interviews legendary musicians and posts the audio. Go here.
CD discoveries of the week. Dig salsa? You're going to love the Spanish Harlem Orchestra's Viva la Tradicion, an album that reaches back authentically for the hot Latin sounds of the 1970s. SHO has been around for 10 years, and this marks the band's fourth CD. Every track packs an enormous rhythmic and brassy punch, with plenty of hooks and riffs. Dig the cha-cha-chas Como Baila Mi Mulata and Regalo De Dios, or the percussive power of Mi Herencia Latina and La Fiesta Empezo. No two tracks are alike, and you won't be able to sit still. This album takes you back to days of Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon.
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra's Viva la Tradicion (Concord) can be sampled at iTunes and here.
Alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky has just released Down With It, featuring Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Jeb Patton on piano, David Wong on bass and Jason Brown on drums. The best parts of this album are the offbeat song selections. For example, there's a walking LaRue (Clifford Brown), a lightly Latin Shabozz (Gigi Gryce), a strutting Decision (Sonny Rollins) and a breakneck Webb City (Bud Powell). All are constructed neatly and smartly played.
You'll find Dmitry Baevsky's Down With It (Sharp Nine) at iTunes or here.
Georg Breinschmid's new double CD Brein's World is proof that you can't tell an album by its cover. Outside, a rather loopy illustration is featured superimposed on the artist. Inside, the Austrian bassist and group have created a seriously compelling mix of jazz, Viennese waltzes and gypsy music. While on the surface it sounds Euro-cafe, there's a strong swing undertow tugging away at your ear. Ultimately, what you have is a recording with enormous passion and jazz musicianship. Give this one a chance. There's humor here, but it's really all taken quite seriously. Life is a cabaret, my friend.
You can sample Georg Breinschmid's Brein's World (Baumann) at iTunes or here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Talk about the ideas barrel being bone dry! On the cover, the type says, "No more shaggy dog stories! I'd much rather listen to Herbie Harper" Huh? Recorded in 1955, this one for Bethlehem shows what you can do with a photo of a dog and a bottle of blue ink.