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What I got for Christmas: Shindo Turntable – VSEI Level 7 modded Sony SACD player

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Jack Roberts Beatnik's JourneyFor the 2011 holiday season our dear publisher ran a survey on Dagogo, asking how much you planned to spend on equipment during the holidays. Well, I fell into the 20%+ who said “NOTHING”, but that didn’t mean I had no plan to spend some money on the hobby during the holidays. For me, it wasn’t about equipment but new vinyl to spin.

I put together a wish list and I guess I’d been a good beatnik, because about two days before Christmas they all showed up, every single one on the list. I was shocked but my wife just said Merry Christmas, and it was.

I guess the big highlights were the three box sets; starting with The Mahler Project 22 LP box set with book autographed by Michael Tilson Thomas. This set is incredible in every way. They all sound incredible. I go to Davies Hall often and I think they have captured the sound in a very admirable way. The vinyl is as quiet as any I have ever heard and that was before I cleaned them. I cleaned them as I listen to them, I guess. Another thing about the Mahler is the incredible quality of the box, the covers, and the hardback book that came with it. Also, it’s nice that MTT autographed the book.

I know they were recorded for SACD, but having both I can promise you, for some reason, the Vinyl is much better on my Shindo table than I remember it was with the VSEI Level 7 modded Sony SACD player.

The Jennifer Warnes The Well 45rpm 3LP box set is about as good as recording and packaging gets. The sound of the 45rpm LPs simply blow away the 33 rpm I already had. I could not believe how much quieter the backgrounds were and especially how much more dynamic the 45s were. Like the Mahler, the packaging was superb.

The Bill Evan’s Riverside Recordings 45rpm set sounds even better, though the vinyl is not quite as quiet, but still far better than most. These are the best sounding Bill Evans recordings I have ever heard. I do not have mint copies of any of the originals, but I do have a couple of “VG+++” to “Near Mint-“, and they do not compare in overall sound or dynamics. My only complaint with this set is that, for the money, they could have gotten a decent box that wasn’t so tight that you can’t get the LPs in and out.

The two Shelby Lynne LPs, Tears, Lies & Alibis and Revelation Road are both great. I particularly like Tears, Lies, & Alibis. While we’re on female vocals I also got Lori Lieberman’s Bend Like Steel and Gun Metal Sky. Lieberman has an exceptional voice in that she can sing songs that are oh-so-delicate, but seems even more at home and heart ripping raw. It was a privilege to meet her and hear her sing in person at the RMAF.

Another album I got for Christmas was Andre Previn & Russ Freeman, Double Play. I always enjoy Previn’s jazz albums, this was one I had not heard before. In 1957, pianists André Previn and Russ Freeman teamed up with drummer Shelly Manne in a trio to play eight of their originals, along with the standard “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. All the songs were given titles having to do with baseball. Double Play was advertised as the first time that two pianists recorded what was then modern jazz together. The music was fantastic, and by the way, what an album cover. Makes you wonder where all those great, suggestive LP covers of the 50s went.

I’ve saved to the end my favorite one LP of the bunch: Casandra Wilson’s Blue Light Until Dawn. All the three box sets mentioned above are incredible; but if I could only keep one thing on this list, it would be the Evan’s Riverside Recordings. Still, for a single album, I fell in love with the music and performance by Cassandra Wilson. The second cut, “Come On In My Kitchen,” has some of the best bass I’ve ever heard on a recording. It is deep, powerful, but it fits perfectly into the music without ever sounding like an audiophile show-off piece. She also gives a really new interpretation to “Tupelo Honey/Angel”. This is just great music and an excellent sounding recording, but it was the music and the artist that made it my favorite.

Your ole Beatnik just wanted to remind you; it doesn’t matter what your system costs, it takes great music to make it worth the effort. Keep on boppin’ to the music in 2012.

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