Last Friday night Becky and I went to Yoshi’s to hear Eliane Elias. We had heard her live a couple of times before and we have several of her CDs. We were very excited when we heard she was coming back to Yoshi’s. Well, that was until I went online to buy the tickets and saw that it was going to be a tribute to, my and many others’ favorite jazz pianist, Bill Evans. I love to hear Eliane do Jobim, but I could not imagine her doing justice to Bill Evans.
Well I was wrong. First, I had no idea that she was married to Marc Johnson, who was the bassist in Evan’s last trio. I am sure that has helped the trio’s efforts to stay true to Bill Evans’ music. Best of all, while Elias allowed Evans’ playing style to come through, she does not make the mistake of trying to sound like an Evans clone. Instead, she uses his arrangements as a starting point for her own musical style to emerge in each Evans’ number she preformed. This concert was based on her new release Something for You, which is a tribute to Bill Evans.
Eliane was in exceptional form and style Friday night. She brought her own sensuous bossa nova flair to some of the most sensuous yet introspective jazz ever composed. She did it with such an authentic, joyful, and emotional way that the crowd often burst into genuine, heartfelt applause. Elias playing the piano, and singing along with Marc Johnson playing a righteous bass, and Joey Baron playing drums, brings to mind in every song how tragic it was that we lost Bill Evans so prematurely.
I’m not a music reviewer and my column is about what it’s like to be an equipment reviewer, so let’s get going and talk about why it is so important to go hear live music. First, you go to hear live music because it is so much better than recorded music. Second, live music reminds you of what a high-end system is all about. So let me share a few insights from the performance, and then after the observations I’ll share a few of my conclusions for whatever that’s worth.
First, it was very interesting that the drums and the bass sounded very tight and quick. In fact as tight and quick as any live music I have ever heard. At the same time, the concert grand Steinway sounded very warm and lacked the attack I often hear from pianos both in live and recorded music. This would concern most of us if our system sounded this way. We would worry about the midrange being recessed, or veiled. Of course, if this performance had been recorded, when you played it on your system it should sound this way.
Second, the bass was incredibly fast on initial attack, yet you could always hear the sound of the bass’ cabinet resonate as the strings were plucked. In audiophile terms, we call this attack and decay, but it’s much more than this. It was almost like the bass became a living, breathing thing as it produced such involving music.
Third, the drum set was so fast and so tight that if my system had sounded like that, I would have wondered what was wrong. I mean I have only heard bass this fast once before in live music. It was one night years ago at the symphony in Columbus, Georgia, they changed drums and drummer at intermission to get ready for the guest performer. The first set up had sounded big, deep, and powerful. The second setup sounded fast, tight, not so deep, and had incredible attack. So, it wasn’t the first time I had heard this kind of bass, but I hear it a lot more often on high-end stereos than I do in real life.
Forth, the flow of the music was effortless, moving, and easy to follow. The interplay of the instruments, and performers was incredible. It was interesting that with all the different things happening on stage, I found very little of it to be distracting. What a difference from listening at home when so much is distracting.
Fifth, the sheer emotion of the performance was intoxicating. Eliane played and sang with such emotion and joy. Joey Baron showed off a little too much for my taste on drums, but he was obviously having so much fun that it was contagious. Then there was Marc Johnson on bass who never cracked a smile, but played with such intensity that no one could ever miss it.
These conclusions are not meant to be a point-by-point comparison. My first and by far the most important conclusion is that if our music systems can’t portray the emotion, intensity, and fun of the performance, then the other conclusions don’t matter. There is no doubt in my mind that some equipment does this much better than others. A few years ago at an audio show, I heard two six-figure systems back to back. They both were incredible in all the audiophile ways. They both played really good performances. Still, at the end of one everybody left talking about the incredible slam the bass had, and at the end of the other the whole room broke into applause for the performance they had just heard. I think this is because the second system portrayed the emotion, intensity, and fun of the performance better. It also probably got the PraT better also.
Next, I would like to point out an obvious conclusion, but one that is so often not really there in most high-end systems I hear; NEARLY REAL LIFE DYNAMICS! Most high-end systems I hear today let you hear the micro-dynamics of instruments from good to incredible. It’s a different thing when it comes to real dynamics though. A lot of things can account for this; a noisy system can seldom have enough power to overcome the noise, a poor source, low efficiency speakers, a lack of power or many other things. Everyone needs to hear a pair of 100db-plus speaker just once to hear what dynamics you can really have in your home. I don’t mean to say you need 100dB speakers, you just need to know the dynamics you could have. You can get this with slightly less efficient speakers and more power.
Lastly, I would like to address our expectations of a stereo. I will never forget years ago listening to a Linn/Naim system at the old Soundtrack in Auburn. First, an older gentleman (probably about the age I am now, but then anything over 40 was really old) came in and said, “Why do you young guys only like bright, tinkly sound? A little while later, a couple of college students came in and said, “that sounds great, but can we crank up the bass?”
As audiophiles, we too bring certain expectations to our listening experience. Some are looking for tight, deep bass with a big sound; others want detail, imaging, and soundstaging; still others are looking for smooth, warm, and beautiful. Well, you get my point, but the point I want to make is that as I shared the above, live music can be all of that in the same performance. So be careful not to build a system that always sounds a certain way or you will rob yourself of some of the fun of the musical performance. Of course, you could choose to build a system that almost always sounds the way you like. Nothing wrong with that, just don’t think music always sounds like that. So in closing let me say one last thing.
WARNING!!! NEVER EVER spend so much on your system that you don’t have enough discretionary income left to go hear live music. I know some of you live where there is so little good live music that it’s not such an important warning. I know because I have lived in some of those places, but I have never lived where there wasn’t at least a church with great live music within driving distance. By the way, some live music is worth a trip, maybe even a plane flight.
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