In 1997, pianist Brad Mehldau, then 26, released The Art of the Trio, Volume One, his second album for Warner Bros. Records. That was followed by four additional volumes, the latest in 2001. The aggressively declarative title was conceived by producer Matt Pierson, who was also the head of A&R for jazz at the label. The idea was clearly to establish Mehldau as the heir to the postwar jazz trio tradition that had been established by artists like Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, and Keith Jarrett. Each of these pianists recruited band members who could improvise at a high level and be counted on to play outside the standard role of a rhythm section.
I have a self-imposed rule when assigning stars for albums I review for SoundStage! Xperience or on my other gig at DownBeat magazine: As a service to consumers, I deduct half a star if the artist provides less than the 45 minutes of music I would expect on a typical album without discounting the retail price.
Whether the credit is due to his Florida upbringing or his longtime residency in California, singer-songwriter Tom Petty had an incredible knack for writing summertime anthems. Songs like “Even the Losers,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and “The Waiting” had extra resonance when played on a car radio on a sultry day, and there was something related to yearning and the quest for freedom in many of his songs—or those he cowrote—that naturally led to the open road or the beach.
In 1940, Chicago was home to 278,000 black residents. Twenty years later, that number had climbed to 813,000—the result of a massive northward migration of African Americans, largely from rural parts of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. The institutionalized racism in the South was at the root of much of this migration, but intertwined economic factors also shaped the movement.
When the stars align, the intersection between art and commerce can benefit both artist and audience, but the meeting is never anything but unpredictable. Sometimes, the two forces collide with terrible results.
Everybody Digs Bill Evans—the name of a recording released in 1959—seems like little more than a hip album title until you reflect on the broad admiration the late jazz pianist engendered in most of the people who encountered his playing. Even in the atypically aggressive performances toward the end of his life, listeners could hear his sensitivity and heart, to say nothing of his deft touch and ability to find original ways of phrasing—even with a hoary chestnut like “Danny Boy.” So outsized is his influence it’s actually possible to make the case that Evans played a disproportionate role in making Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue the album that many people—including those who generally dislike improvised music—cite as their favorite jazz recording.
Thanks to a spate of influential recording sessions, 2021 is a landmark year for albums marking their 50th anniversary. From the Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East to The Who’s Who’s Next, 1971 saw the release of more exceptional rock or rock-related albums than perhaps any other single year, with the possible exception of 1967.
Dear Audiophile: If you’ve slid over here from SoundStage! Hi-Fi or even SoundStage! Ultra, welcome. But, listen, perhaps you should skip ahead a couple of paragraphs; I’m going to reveal something sacrilegious.
Unexpected Notes: Exploring Tonal Variations with the Clarus Cable Coda USB DAC with Headphone Amplifier
Everyone has songs in their memory bank they can call forth at will—tunes that relate to special moments, or just pieces they’ve heard so often they can hum them note for note.
In opera, musical theater, the blues, country music, and, of course, in pop music, the human voice is an essential instrument. The skilled application of breath, glottal manipulation, timbre, tone, and other singing techniques can touch our hearts, draw a tear, raise a smile. It’s straight from human throat to human ear; there is no more elemental communication.