The enthusiast's audio webzine

Recordings of Special Merit

Maihar - Khan - Waterlily AcousticsMy first recording of special merit was recorded and co-produced with George Cardas by Kavi Alexander on his Waterlily Acoustics label. Tim de Paravicini of EAR custom-built the two vacuum tube mics (used in a Blumlein configuration for this occasion) as well as the mic preamp, tape heads and record cutting system. It is special because of the sound, but also because of the content.

Maihar (1990) features Ali Akbar Khan on sarod, accompanied by two tanpura players and tabla, playing an evening raga on side one and a late evening raga on side two. Evening ragas are generally more deeply affecting, and never more so than on this album. I don’t know how Alexander accomplished it, but on my smallish active speakers the sound is more room-filling than usual. The images have very believable life and body, and the depth and richness of tone is positively sensual. This is one of the best-sounding recordings I own or have heard – very highly recommended even if you’re unfamiliar with the genre; this is seriously beautiful music in any language, played with great touch and skill. I must recommend the vinyl version of this album (it is unclear to me whether or not it was ever issued on CD) because it makes my system sound like a million dollars. Yours too, perhaps. Contact Waterlily Acoustics direct to ascertain availability.

Another Indian classical music gem is Afternoon Ragas from Raga Records, performed by Nikhil Banerjee on sitar with tabla accompaniment. I own this one on CD. The sitar is a higher-pitched string instrument than the sarod with more sympathetic (vibrating) strings, responsible for the harmonic overtones. Recorded in a museum in Rotterdam, the alap – an improvised opening section, of around ten minutes in this case – brings one word to mind: sublime. You can hear a preview of the alap on YouTube here. Banerjee made several other live albums while on world tours, including another darker-toned beauty made at UC Berkeley, California.

A culture away is a lively and uncompressed recording from the Virgin label, Querencia, with Mayte Martin and friends. This is flamenco with two guitars, hand claps, and even a contrabass that isn’t out of place in the least.

I love what the ECM jazz artists were inventing in the 70’s. Resonance by The Manfred Schoof Quintet is a compilation of this group’s three ECM recordings, and includes tracks from the LP that received the German Record Critics’ Prize for Album of the Year, “Scales.” I suppose you could classify this as avant-garde jazz, but you shouldn’t confuse it with what was coming out of New York and Chicago in the sixties.

And while we’re here, why not a little rock and roll? If you are a Jefferson Airplane fan, you owe it to yourself to obtain a relatively recent release of theirs, The Woodstock Experience (Legacy Recordings). There is nothing polished about this: it’s raw and live with extended versions of some of their hits, but don’t miss the two Pooneils: “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” from After Bathing at Baxter’s and a strong “The House at Pooneil Corners” from Crown of Creation. Nails me to the back of my chair.

Listen well, always. Next time: the best Blue Notes.

Readers' comments

    Manfred Schoof Quintet – Scales
    Label:Japo Records
    Catalog#:JAPO 60013
    Format:Vinyl, LP
    Style:Contemporary Jazz
    Available from DISCOGS

  • Hi Jim – another fascinating article, I must say! I contacted Waterlily Acoustics about “Maihar” and received the response “Sorry, but this title was never released as a CD, only as an LP, which was sold out years ago.” So your copy of this recording is probably quite a collectible! I did however manage to find some CDs of Indian classical / ragas at the library, as it’s a genre I know little about and you’ve inspired me to learn more.

  • Thanks, mon editor, for going the extra mile in contacting Water Lily and reporting back for viewers. A few blokes in England have thanked me via email about the Indian classical recs and two guys in the states about the Manfred Schoof one on ECM. Always a pleasure.

  • Thanks Jim, I received Afternoon Ragas today from Amazon; they cancelled my order for Querencia saying it’s not available.

  • Check out any of the Indian classical music recordings from Mapleshade Records. Sound as real as it gets. Check out their jazz, blues, and folk, too. Unbelievable in-the-room presence.

  • To this list I should like to add-
    Elgar’s Enigma Variations- Pierre Monteux and the London Sym (RCA) and
    the most “organic” sounding performance and recording that I believe I’ve ever heard: Carmina Burana by The Clementic Consort on the Musical Heritage Society label. This would be the rarer volume 2 originally released on Harmonia Mundi, I believe. I can’t think of another word that describes what I hear from this it’s so impassioned and utterly real sounding.

  • You still at it, John???

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