Old, New, Borrowed and Blue
The year 2004 was a terrific one for the sound system if not for the soul of this writer. With the help of Exact Audio Copy software courtesy of doctors' Marja and Henk how-to essay, the CDs I have copied with my Plextor drives have never sounded better. Despite myriad system changes, the amazing results of using EAC -- improved resolution, dynamics and dimensionality -- have been easy to appreciate. However, the releases I've discovered over the last twelve months have not been as satisfactory as in years past. Perhaps it is due to preoccupation on my part (working harder than ever at age 59), since the music shops are full of new compact discs from a huge assortment of unfamiliar artists. Or maybe it's because I am so picky about recording techniques that I steer away from best-selling releases.

For instance, when I do tumble for a popular CD that sounds dynamically truncated, over-equalized or two-dimensional, I seldom play it beyond the first listen (U2, are you reading this?). Consequently, I remain leery of getting burned by Sony, Warner Brothers and the rest. Despite purchasing an average of two CDs per week, I can count on one hand the 2004 discs that get played on a semi-weekly basis. In the age of MTV, I should consider myself lucky. Nevertheless, there have been several finds of which I am pleased and would like to share with 6moons readers at year's end.

Something Old: Seven Bridges
One of my dirty little secrets is that I like fusion jazz, especially if it reproduces itself on my system with depth of field and instrumental separation. A 1997 release I discovered a few months ago that remains a happy one to cue up (I hope the artists aren't starving by now!) is Tim Timmermans' Seven Bridges [Higher Octave Music HOMCD 77549]. Timmermans plays keyboards, drums and tingly jujus which may explain why the disc is infused with catchy rhythms, compelling energy and a lot of 'visual' cues. Timmermans' session musicians are top-flight soloists in their own right: Mike Acosta, Jeff Beal, Doug Cameron, Bill Cantos, Joe Reyes, Randy Tico and Peter White (love those Parisian accordion licks). Each track's grouping plays tight, tight, tighter than Dolly Parton's bodice if not quite as tight as Kylie Minogue's bottom. Wowie!

Timmermans drafted the booklet notes with a gift for imagery suggesting that if the day job doesn't hold up, he can always write music reviews alongside 6moons jazzman Ken Micallef. According to Mr. T, the seven elements that separate us humans are race, gender, language, religion, culture, generations and geography. The album's compositions attempt to bridge these chasm - a goal that would have made Mother Teresa proud. Did Timmermans succeed? Hardly, although the album still deserves a listen for the lines of joyful communications it does set up. But don't take my word for it. May I suggest a visit to the following site where you can listen to samples from the album. Even if the recording does not impress on your computer loudspeakers, I predict your hi-fi system will unmask the glories.

Something New: Hadouk Trio Live à FIP
My favorite music release of 2004 was a gift from friend Remi who, being French, knows the merits of French recordings, especially those recorded live at FIP, site of Radio France's cozy studios. Since there are a number of Live at FIP titles, searching Google could lead to music like this ...which, while I am sure is robustly entertaining, has an intimidating presence.

Instead, I am referring to the kinder, gentler music of the Hadouk Trio's double album Live à FIP [Melodie-Celluloid 2004-02], a beguiling example of accessible world music played on exotic acoustic instruments including the hajouj (an African three-stringed bass) and the doudouk (an
Armenian double-reed instrument) from which the group's name is derived. The trio's leader is Didier Malherbe who can play any wind instrument extant and probably owns them all, too, since he's been collecting exotic flutes and horns for decades. His Trio partners, Loy Ehrlich (hajouj, kora and keyboards) and Steve Shehan (percussion and sound effects), combine on various cuts with Wasis Diop on vocals, Peter Herbert on contrabass and Jean-Philippe Rykie on sai-sai (whatever that is). The resulting French/North African musical creativity is stunningly recorded in sonic 3-D.

How good does the CD sound? When a HiFi manufacturer recently asked me to recommend a demo disc for the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, the first title I came up with was Live à FIP, which was not well received. I can only guess it's because Diana Krall does not play on the gig. If you wish to try a taste of this musical couscous, may I suggest a visit to the Hadouk Trio's Live à FIP website where several tracks are available for audition.

Something Borrowed: Live: A Fortnight in France
Actually, Patricia Barber's Live: A Fortnight in France [Blue Note 78213] wasn't borrowed as much as loaned since I was unaware of it until it turned up in the generous hands of Don Rocolo, a friend of congruent musical taste. As soon as I heard the mordant lyrics of the disc's first song, "Gotcha" ("...The IRS is on your trail, a private dick is in your mail..."), I knew I had to have the CD.

Now, I apologize to Patricia that I did not eventually purchase her first Blue Note release, but
instead copied it via EAC. I hope by recommending that you, dear reader, buy the disc, I'll be making it up to her. Otherwise, I'm afraid if she meets me, she'll beat me to a pulp (with the help of her entourage, guitarist Neil Alger, bassist Michael Arnapol and drummer Eric Montzka, that is). For a preview of the smoky club atmosphere to which you'll be subjecting yourself for a ten-song set, please enter Ms. Barber's website for a download.

Something Blue: But Beautiful
Who would ever have guessed that Boz Scaggs would show his angular face in 2004? Sure, his too-cool 1970s release Silk Degrees was a staple in a million homes but man, that was a ages ago and nowadays old pop stars only make fools of themselves. Not the Boz. He's found a new medium for his vocal and interpretive skills: jazz standards. The resulting album, But Beautiful, Standards Vol.1 [Gray Cat GCD 4000], proves that an intelligent ex-rocker can grow and develop as he matures instead of become a caricature of his former self (Elton, are you reading this?). When listening to But Beautiful, my critical faculties dissolve as I float away to a land of grown-up romance inhabited by Bogart, Holliday, Porter, Ellington & Co. Boz is my age (three decades young!), but he sings like he's soaked up '40s sophistication in a time machine.

In an interview with NPR's Michele Norris, Scaggs (along with saxophonist Eric Crystal) reveals that the album was recorded with the lights turned low in his San Francisco home studio. The 'amateur' nature of the recording may account for its intimate atmosphere. Why else would my throat lump up while listening to it? I am after all an audiophile.

Happy music-hunting in 2005!