Fausto Mesolella: Live at Alcatraz (XRCD review)

Fausto Mesolella, guitar and loop pedal; Ferdinanda Ghidelli, pedal steel. Master Music/JVC XRCD24-NT017.

It's an expensive proposition; remasterings such as this one always are. I suspect that the current album might appeal to one or more of four kinds of people: (1) lovers of guitar music; (2) fans of guitarist Fausto Mesolella; (3) folks who simply enjoy pop/jazz musical arrangements; or (4) audiophiles bent on obtaining the best possible recordings for their collection.

In the case of Fausto Mesolella: Live at Alcatraz, I would further speculate that it's the fourth option that might attract the most attention, since there is already a plethora of guitar music and pop/jazz music at much more reasonable prices and since Mr. Mesolella isn't exactly a household name. But as a purely sonic treat, this JVC XRCD24 isn't bad.

Italian guitarist, composer, arranger, and producer Fausto Mesolella began playing professionally in 1969, winning awards, performing solo as well as with a number of bands, making recordings, and working in his own studio. Here, he plays guitar and loop pedal while accompanied on some of the tracks by Ferdinanda Ghidelli on pedal steel guitar.

Incidentally, the Alcatraz of the album's title does not refer to Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay or the famous federal prison once located there. This Alcatraz is a school in Italy. Disappointing, I know.

On this live recording, Mesolella plays mostly a fusion of pop and jazz, as I noted above. Mesolella's style is tight yet flexible, providing solid realizations of many old favorite numbers. He never showboats but presents the music with faithfully, with feeling, and on occasion with much intensity. While he may not display quite the virtuosity we find in some celebrated classical guitarists, the music hardly demands it.

Here's a rundown on the program:
1. Mesolella: "Sonatina Improvvisata D'Inizio Estate"
2. Rota: "Ai Giochi Addio" (from Romeo and Juliet)
3. Capurro/di Capua: "O Sole Mio"
4. Piazzolla: "Libertango"
5. Lennon: "Imagine"
6. Bottrell/Jackson: "Black or White"
7. Newton: "Amazing Grace"
8. Mesolella: "La Principessa"
9. Arlen: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"

Fausto Mesolella
If there is any downside to all of this, beyond the relatively high price of the remastered album, it's that there isn't a lot of it at only forty-four minutes. And, for me, there's the business of the live recording, which I don't care for but which I understand many other listeners do. Be that as it may, let me reflect on a few of my favorite selections.

The first track, the "Sonatina Improvvisata D'Inizio Estate," is a good example of what's to come. Mesolella's playing is fluid and light, the music wafting over one as airily as a spring breeze. If you're a fan of Franco Zefferilli's Romeo and Juliet, you'll probably enjoy Mesolella's performance of the love theme Nino Rota wrote for the film. It's lovely, breezy, lilting, and enchanting. Although "O Sole Mio" and Piazzolla's tango come off a bit too sentimentally for me, Mesolella's version of John Lennon's "Imagine" appears sweet and appealing without being too cloying. And so it goes. The pedal steel in "Amazing Grace" sounds wonderful in its rich resonance, and Mesolella's version of Harold Arlen's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" may leave you in tears. A fine album; I just wish there were more of it.

A final note on the album's presentation: JVC have packaged the disc in a beautiful, glossy, hard Digipak-type case, with the disc fastened to the inside back and booklet notes bound to the inside. It's unfortunate, though, that whoever translated the notes from Italian into English did such a slapdash job of it. Most of it seems as though an automated translation program did the writing, which is sometimes downright hard to decipher.

Fausto Mesolella recorded the album live at the University of Alcatraz, Santa Cristina di Gubbio, Italy, in August 2013. Producers Kazuo Kiuchi and Shizuo Nomiyama and engineer Tohru Kotetsu at the JVC Mastering Center, Japan, remastered the original analogue tape in February 2016, using XRCD processing, JVC's K2-24bit AD converter, and a digital K2 rubidium clock.

OK, so the first thing we have to get out of the way is the whole subject of live recording. Yes, there is no doubt a certain spontaneity involved in performing in front of an audience, a greater feeling of informality, naturalness, and ease. And for some listeners there is the fun of almost being in the crowd listening to the performance. Nevertheless, it comes with its own burdens: There is always audience noise, and there is the inevitable applause, which erupts before and after every number. For me, it becomes tiresome. For other listeners, it probably adds to the charm of the experience.

Beyond the noise, the album sounds terrific. The guitar rings out loud and clear, its vibrations resonating throughout the room in with light, realistic, natural bloom. It is, in short, one of the best guitar recordings I've ever heard. Of course, to obtain such a healthy sound, the engineers have miked the instrument rather closely, so it probably isn't a good idea to play the music too loudly. At the right level, though, this can be some of the best audiophile material available.

You can find JVC products at any number of on-line marketplaces, but you'll find some of the best prices at Elusive Disc: http://www.elusivedisc.com/


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa