Percussion in Hi-Fi (HQCD review)
Truth in advertising: Percussion in Hi-Fi may not be classical, but it's definitely percussive.
People used to demo their hi-fi rigs with albums like this one to show off their playback equipment and impress friends and family. Still works. The folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers), who re-release old, public-domain tapes and LP's on compact disc, have in this instance taken two albums from the mid Fifties and early Sixties--From Melody to Madness with Dick Schory's New Percussion Ensemble and Percussion in Hi-Fi with David Carroll and His Orchestra--and restored and remastered them on a single compact disc. As usual from this source, the sound, over half a century old, puts most new recordings to shame.
I wonder if the sound is so good because home stereo was still in its infancy back then, and audio engineers were still experimenting with optimum microphone placements and optimum stereo effects. Whatever the case, the sonic results in both albums on the disc are outstanding, even if the music is a bit hard to take in anything but small chunks.
HDTT starts the disc with the newer of the two albums, From Melody to Madness, recorded in 1960, providing the first twelve of twenty-three tracks. I'm not sure why they started with this set, given that it's the older one that to my ears actually sounds most pleasing sonically and interpretively. Maybe they were saving the best for last, I dunno.
Anyway, I didn't care much for the disc's opening number, "Caravan," which I hoped was not a bad omen, and in fact wasn't. From that point on everything is looking up, with more-pleasant music, leaner textures, and less-raucous aural response. I especially liked Dick Schory's version of "Walkin' My Baby Back Home"; the pulsating "Fascinating Rhythm"; the exotic "Safari Anyone"; and the surprisingly subtle "Autumn in New York," considering it was all done on percussion instruments (with about a dozen percussionists involved).
"Fly Now, Pay Later" is a kind of no-holds-barred percussion extravaganza, and it might be just the ticket for that demo exercise I referred to earlier. Then, while listening to "Stranger in Paradise," it reminded me of the Arthur Lyman Group, which also did this sort of thing back in the Fifties and Sixties and whose recordings DCC Compact Classics have also preserved well on disc, if not so spectacularly as HDTT do it on this disc.
As I say, though, I had a preference, overall, for the music and sound of the second album on the HDTT disc, the one recorded even earlier, in 1956, from David Carroll and His Orchestra. Among their numbers, I enjoyed "Bali Ha'i" perhaps the best of anything on the program; "The Chimes of Swing" for, well, its chimes; the atmospheric "Malaguena"; the nuanced jazz of "Discussion in Percussion" and "Quiet Talk"; the delicate beauty of "Jungle Drums," and the unique flair of "Spanish Symphonique."
The booklet note tells us that the Carroll selections used six musicians playing an array of percussion instruments that included vibraphones, marimbas, xylophones, tympani, tam-tam, celesta, glockenspiel, orchestral bells, castanets, tom toms, triangle, maracas, bass drum, traps, greco cymbals, hand cymbals, claves, cathedral chimes, snare drum, tambourine, conga drum, guiro, cabaza, timbales, bongo drums, and field drums; plus, two men on piano, one on contrabass, one on harp, and two more on guitars. That's quite an ensemble.
Still, it's the sound that counts most here, and it does impress one mightily. You'll find everything that audiophiles cherish most: a clear depth of field; sharp definition; a wide dynamic range; a strong impact; a well-extended bass and treble; a clean, well-balanced midrange; superb instrument separation; and a quick transient response. Of course, each of these qualities, particularly the last, may be as much a function of one's speakers as the disc, but if your system is up to the task, it should bring out the best in the music and vice versa.
Remarkably, too, the music seems to sound better the louder you play it. So turn this one up; it's bound to catch the attention of neighbors, even if you live in the middle of a desert. However, I'm not entirely sure how much of it a person can take at one time, or whether it's strictly one-off material, a few pieces heard now and again for a quick sonic pick-me-up. Certainly, you'll not want to play it much (or too loudly) if you have a spouse or partner not as committed to it as you are, and absolutely not if you've got even the slightest indication of a headache.
For further information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.