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The Beatnik’s Favorite Things in 2012

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In 1959, Rodgers and Hammerstein released the musical The Sound of Music which included the wonderful little song “My Favorite Things”. As we come to the end of the year, I’ve been thinking about my favorite things in regard to music.

Live Music

When it comes to live music, I’m lucky to live in the San Francisco Bay Area and to enjoy some wonderful music. One of my favorite things is to go to Yoshi’s in Oakland, occasionally also their San Francisco venue, and hear great jazz. Of all the artists, a few really stand out. There, I got to hear Ray Brown one last time before he passed away. He did a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with just him and the drummer. It is something I will never forget.

I have also been lucky enough to hear one of Oscar Peterson’s last performances as well as Shirley Horne. Not all my favorite things at Yoshi’s have been legends though. Just this year, my son talked me into going to hear Ruthie Foster. If you’re like me and you don’t know who she is you are really missing a great performer.

Another one of my favorite things to do for live music is to go to church. I grew up going with friends to hear great music at the local General Baptist Church. If you don’t love good “Black Gospel” music, then I assume you’ve never heard it, especially live. In most every place I know, if you look you can find great music at church, not every church, but with a little checking around you should find some great music.

The last favorite place for music is actually two places in the city; Davies Hall and the Herbst Theater. Speaking of Black Gospel music, for the last three Christmas seasons, “The Blind Boys of Alabama” have performed at one of the two venues. They put on an amazing show. In the last two years I have been privileged to hear Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, and Michael Tilson Thomas conduct Mahler. It’s not all classical though, I’ve heard Judy Collins, Eliane Elias, Patricia Barbara, and a few years back, Ray Charles put on an unbelievable concert.

Recorded Music

I have over 2,000 LPs and hundreds of albums stored on hard drive, this results in my favorite albums changing throughout the year. Still, with all the LPs I have heard this year, there are some oldies that keep being part of my favorite things list.

Let’s start from my college days with Cat Stevens, Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat. I love bluegrass and a few come from that genre. If you have never heard Sauerkraut and Solar Energy, you are missing one of the most fun LPs of all time. Also from the bluegrass genre is the incredible Allison Krauss Live album.

There are two other genres I have to have to be part of my favorite things list. I listen to lots of jazz, and almost anything by Ray Brown or Bill Evans would make the list. For the sake of naming some I’ll go with The Ray Brown Trio’s Soular Energy. I’m going to cheat with Bill Evans though and go with the Analogue Productions 180g 45rpm 22LP Box Set of Bill Evans Riverside Recordings.

Of course, anyone who knows me knows how much I love girls singers. There aren’t many that don’t fall into the list. I love Blossom Dearie, Dorris Day (well at least before the movies turned her into a virgin), Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, and like I said almost all of them. This year, a couple on fairly new LPs rose to the top for me. If you haven’t heard the Analog Productions issue of Shelby Lynne’s Just A Little Lovin’, get out there and buy one. Another LP I have found on my turntable a lot this year is Sarah Jarosz’s Follow Me Down; I really like this album.

Let me close out my favorite things list of recordings with two albums I find to be both musically and sonically simply to die for. Both of these are LPs that I owe a debt of gratitude to Garth Leerer of Musical surrounding for turning me on to. The first is Rob Wasserman’s Duets. This is one of the great hidden gems on vinyl. The second LP is Ray Brown and Laurindo Almeida’s Moonlight Serenade. It opens with Almeida playing the Moonlight Sonata on his Brazilian guitar and Brown playing Round About Midnight on his incomparable bass. It is an emotionally moving experience; I’ve never played it to anyone who didn’t say “Wow!” afterwards. Other than digital, I listen to these two LPs on every piece of gear I review.

Audio Equipment

As a reviewer I get the privilege of hearing lots of great gear. Most of it is exceptional, but over the years there are a few pieces that fall under the description, “a few of my favorite things”. I have only owned two speakers that have really excited me: The original Quad ESL from 1957, and the Teresonic Ingenium XR Silvers which use Lowther technology that is even older than the Quad ESLs. No other speakers I have had in my home to listen to have nearly as clean a window to hear the sound through. I would go so far to say that the XR Silvers throw the window wide open letting you hear the power and dynamics of the music as well as being utterly transparent. Best of all, the XR Silvers can be driven by my beloved Wavac EC 300B.

On the other end of the audio chain is the phono cartridge. For me, there are at least three that fall into my favorite things category. They all are very low output, low impedance moving coil designs. I’ll list them in alphabetical order since I truly love all three. There is the Benz-Micro Ebony TR S-Class cartridge with its single winding per channel, then there is the Miyabi Standard which is sadly no longer being made, and lastly there is the Shindo version of the Ortofon SPU. These three cartridges all require you to use a great step-up transformer to get the most out of them, but all three will bring an emotional involvement in music that is rare from recorded music.

Last, let me quickly share my favorite electronics. I’ve said it many times, just give me the best Shindo preamp I can afford, and I’ll be happy. I think the preamp is the heart of the system and I think Shindo preamps have unbelievable heart. I have a chance to hear lots of SET amps, and I admit that only a few are truly great. Still, to this day the one that moves me most is by a fair margin the Wavac EC300B with Western Electric tubes.

Well, I hope you had a great 2012 and will be blessed in 2013. Thanks for letting me share with you a few of my favorite things and keep on boppin’.

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