While discussing audio equipment with a close friend, we both agreed that many audiophiles end up using their music as the excuse for buying better and better equipment. In my point of view, your gear should serve as the best possible path for conveying your recorded music. I admit having spent quite enough in my analog rig, but only because my vinyl collection is where I wanted it to be many years back when I fell for classic music.
Still, this is a faulty concept.
Your record collection should be there because you cannot listen to real, live music at any given moment — but you really should grasp every possible moment to taste the real thing. Not living in a major city? Not so many concerts hitting your premises?
Take a musical journey.
Pick a big city and book your show tickets in advance, then go out and “see” if the recorded version is close to reality, if your system can be even remotely compare to the voices and instruments of your favorite artists, what influence the venues have on the recorded music, what instruments are actually used, and keep that memory of those concerts close to your heart and mind. That will be your reference for setting up your system.
Speaking of which, I had a terrific week in New York, with three memorable concerts. My audio journey started with Roy Hanes and Pat Metheny, the former celebrated his 91st birthday (yes, you read right, the man turned 91 last spring). What better way to blow out some candles than to throw in a concert at the Blue Note jazz club. The two, along with Dave Holland, made a better-than-a-classic record together, Question and Answer (Geffen records, 1989), and again the same trio with the addition of Chick Corea and Gury Burton, released Like Minds for the Concord Jazz label. I am quoting Chris May from All About Jazz magazine on this one as I could not out it better:
“Attempting to rate one of the trio albums as “the best” would be a meaningless exercise; such is the uniformly incandescent quality of the music involved. But anyone nominating Question and Answer would likely have in mind the contribution of drummer Roy Haynes, which is supremely powerful magic—sensitive, sophisticated and responsive but also fat, mighty and propulsive. The sound of Haynes’ kit is burnished to perfection on the remaster, and his performance fully justifies its inclusion alongside Metheny’s at the front of the mix. Whether driving the band, counterpointing Metheny’s solos or swopping quicksilver, viscerally thrilling choruses with him, Haynes is just heavenly.”
My second stop was at the Smalls Jazz club, a small underground venue that truly deserves some attention as it serves some real no fuss/no glitter jazz on weekly basis. The program is packed with interesting names, but I chose to listen to pianist Spike Milner who has been performing there for more than 20 years. Rumor has it he performed so many gigs in the Smalls that they had to make him a partner. Along with his regular trio consisting of drummer Anthony Pinciotti and bass player Tyler Mitchell, there was the surprise guest appearance of trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, an habitué of the Smalls himself with an impressive bio, and collaborations with just about everyone in the greater NY area. The Smalls in-house recordings are very interesting, do check them out.
Last but not least, the crown jewel of this NY visit of mine, a night at the Metropolitan Opera for one of the most coveted productions in recent years. Carrying the signature of award winning director Antony Minghella, this Puccini’s Madama Butterfly features Kristine Opolais as Cio Cio San and Roberto Alagna as Lt. Pinkerton. Not sure I have enough words to describe this spectacle; ‘sublime’ comes closest to what nails this masterwork of a performance. The Met is a temple of fine music; even if you are not deep into Italian drama you should by all means visit it. The exact piece being performed is not that important — each and every single production is always top notch — but the Boheme directed by Franco Zaffirelli would be my pick for this next season.
Off you go, pull the plug from your system and enjoy a musical journey.