Rosa Fra Betleham

For many years, the infamous CD by Proprius’ “Cantate Dominos”  has occupied the top spot on many audiophiles’ best sounding list.      It has glorious vocal presentations, magnificent dynamic range combined with the utmost clarity, ambience and realism.  To find another live recording of the same caliber is a daunting task……………..until now.


Sondre Bratland is one of the most respected folk singer in Norway, he has reached iconic status and is often the representative voice of Norway.

Rosa Fra Betleham was recorded live in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, hailed as one of the best Christmas Album ever produced in Norway which sold 60,000 copies.


When I first pressed the PLAY button, I was stunned by its quality, as if my two channel system was giving off “7 channel surround sounds”, or should I say my living room was turned into a church.     I was not listening to music, I was THERE.     


The quality of this recording matches “Cantate Domino” in every respect (ambience, clarity, realism, etc), but it also has an added emotional touch which was missing from the Proprius label.  Sondre Bratland has the ability to convey a deep stirring feeling which brings these songs to life.


From an audiophile perspective, Rosa Fra Bethlehem is in my opinion the toughest recording to reproduce.  This is the ultimate high fidelity test recording demanding the best from the worlds best systems. The scale, depth, width, and height, combined with the sense of ambience and echo.  

 A bold suggestion: if your system can’t play this recording, then much work needs to be done.   …….not too many systems can render  this recording well.


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Midnight Slows vol. 6

If you have a soft spot for standard ballads, this one featuring two tenors playing off each other with aching beauty and backed up by Buckner’s mellow mellow organ will send you off to dreamland happy.

Recorded in 1976 for Black and Blue by the Gerhard Lehner at Barclay Studio which is your guarantee of great sound, this record will prepare a hot chocolate for you, read you a bedtime story and give you a good night kiss on the forehead after tucking you in.


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Disques Black and Blue #33064

Earl Hines.  Budd Johnson. ” The Dirty Old Men”

This was the first Black and Blue album I heard, and still might be the best.  If you have any affinity for this kind of music, you will, like me, go looking for more once you hear this.  The opening piece “blues for sale” is shockingly  brilliant as Budd Johnson alternates between Soprano and tenor saxophone and Fatha hits every note on the piano. And James Leary provides some bowed double bass

Track 2 Gone with the Wind features some nifty action by Panama Francis.

Recorded in 1974 by the redoubtable Gerhard Lehner

The sound is as open and present as any I can think of.

This is one of my favourite demo lps and most of you have heard it.

Haniwa / Brinkmann is top combo for this lp bringing out low level detail that I have not noticed before, while losing none of the power and presence.

Budd and Earl may have been somewhat old and dirty when they recorded this at SEED studio in Vallauris France but they were Giants! Alive in your listening room.


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Mozart String Quintets on Denon/Supraphon

Smetana Quartet. . Josef Suk first viola

Through some magical combination of Mozart, performance, recording, Haniwa/Emia/Kondo/Goto and mood and air pressure we had a unique treasurable, probably not easily duplicable audio experience.  A feeling of utter correspondence between listening to this recorded event and hearing it live.

So I won’t recommend this lp on thebasis that you will have the same experience but I do revere the string quintets and Josef Suk along with the amazing Smetana Quartet.

I know chamber music is not uppermost on the minds of most audiophiles but one of the most obvious traits of such music, especially when heard live, apart from the fact that it is so easy to follow the conversation,  is the sheer power these few instruments generate.

So on second thought, to those who might be interested, I do recommend this lp .  And I do recommend you play it with the Haniwa cartridge which continues to thrill me alongside the Olympos.

For what it is worth the second side # 4 KV 516 was the better of the two for me




Ready for Freddie – Freddie Hubbard (mini-music review) – January 28th, 2017

Album: Ready for Freddie
Main artist: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet)
Accompaniment: Bernard McKinney, euphonium (!!); Wayne Shorter, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano: Art Davis; bass: Elvin Jones, drums

Music: 9/10 Audiophile: 8/10
Recorded: 1961
Released: 1962
Recording: Blue Note ST-84085

Note: Rudy Van Gelder recording engineer.

Freddie Hubbard passed away in 2008, leaving behind a prolific set of recordings that are musically innovative and help define the hard-bop era of jazz music. One of the most enjoyable and intelectually challenging kinds of jazz. Freddie Hubbard always wanted to sound “Coltrane like”, that is to provide a lot of colour and emotional changes in his music. He went so far, that he used both Art Davis and Elvin Jones in the rhythm section, and both of them are from the Coltrane quartet.

Most jazz musicians are looking for creative freedom to express themselves, and where a band lead (Freddie) will choose the music, and write the arrangments, he will run fairly tight ship, in this case he gives a lot of creative freedom to Wayne Shorter, and the rhythm section, the music is so tightly controlled, and rhythmically accurate, that I have a feeling that there is not too much improvisation on this LP. If I could see what these guys were doing at the time of the recording of this album, I could probably see a lot of sheet music on everyone’s music stand.
The addition of a eyphonium to the band is very interesting – at times it sounds almost like a valve trombone!

Arietis: This is the first cut and a very lively piece of music, where Freddie starts things off quickly, and Shorter answers on the right channel with a whole bunch of variations on Freddie’s main theme. This composition is a Freddie Hubbard original, and the word Arietis is a zodiac sign in which Freddie was born! There are many demanding musical challenges thrown to McKinney on the euphonium, and he responds resoundly and quickly.

Weaver of Dreams: a medium to slow tempo composition, that sounds a lot like the Kerner & Mercer song “I am old Fashioned”. Just when you think “that’s what it is”, the music changes, and you are taken away somewhere else. This song was composed by Jack Elliott and Victor Young, a composing duo unknown to me. Freddie gives this composition an excellent emotional interpretation and deep tone. Shorter comes in on the right channel, giving it an almost “off-hand” kind of treatment, but not in a way that he ‘doesn’t care’ about the composition, but as if he is almost saying – ‘yeah, I am chill with this Freddie’. Although it starts of fairly slowly, about a quarter way it picks up tempo somewhat encouraged by Elvin Jones’ drums – he was given a short solo, and he took the opportunity to take the rest of the band elsewhere musically.

Marie Antoinette: this is a Wayne Shorter composition meant to allude to a light and playful time the royalty had before the revolution. This is one of the few times that Art Davis gets a solo on this album – too short in my opinion.

Birdlike: A fairly quick and jagged almost theme, based on Charlie Parker’s musical tradition, Freddie here does very flashy solos, while Wayne Shorter emphasizes his blues roots to answer Freddie’s theme. Wayne gives one of the longest, and most insightful solos on this album on this composition. This whole composition is a tribute to the one and only Charlie Parker.

Crisis: As art helps us express the world we live in, Crisis is meant to express feelings of anxiety with people in the ’60s living under the threat of “The Nuclear Bomb”.  As this art expresses their reality, this composition starts as a slow and meandering piece, it ends in an “explosion”.  The solos are all very thoughtful and expressive. 

From an audiophile perspective, this is a very forward and lively sounding LP. It has a lot of detail, and air around the instruments – Freddie is on the left, Wayne shorter on the right with Elvin. The piano of McCoy Tyner is in the middle, and as with all Van Gelder recordings, it appears somewhat small. The bass of Elvin Jones is in the deep right area of the sound stage.

This album is a traditional hard-bop piece – if you want to introduce somebody to jazz, this may be a good album to start off with. I have friends that have told me “well, I don’t really like jazz, but I do like this”. And “this” in my case was always hard-bop composition of trumpet or tenor sax players.

Ben Allison and Think Free, Green Mill, Chicago – April 16th, 2016

Awesome Jazz concert in Northern Chicago. Band leader Ben Allison combined Jazz standards with his own material.

The group was in excellent form.

Ben Allison – bass
Jeremy Pelt – trumpet
Steve Cardenas – guitar
Allan Mednard – drums








Antarctica – Vangelis

The movie “Chariots of Fire” from 1981 featured a very unique score by Greek born Vangelis (Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou). The score was composed and mainly performed on electronic instruments and featured orchestra and choir. The main theme became an instant hit and was played all over. Madonna walked down the aisle to the theme song (when she married Sean Penn). The interesting thing about the musical score was the unorthodox approach by director Hugh Hudson that chose electronics over traditional orchestra to score a film about athletes in 1924. The overnight success as well as the academy recognition caught the eyes of two directors, Britain’s Ridley Scott and Japan’s Koreyoshi Kurahara who were both able to get Vangelis to commit to their projects. Vangelis moved on to score Blade Runner for Ridley Scott, a score that should be studied by all aspiring film composers and one of my top scores ever. The second film, was Antarctica.

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Vangelis built his own studio to have total freedom and control on his work. He named the studio “Nemo”. The movie came out in Japan in 1983. It deals with rescue dogs getting lost and found in the south Pole. There are very long scenes if dogs wandering the ice and snow. I watch the movie once in a Cinemateque in Tel Aviv and was impressed by the music. If memory serves my right, I went to the movie knowing it was scored by Vangelis. Following the movie, I bought the soundtrack album on Vinyl (Polydor ‎– 815 732-1). That was 1988. The album was issued by Polydor in (back then) West Germany. I remember listening to it a lot. The music is very Vangelis. It has his house sound courtesy of the Yamaha and Roland electronics. Since Vangelis performed everything solo, he had to record many tracks on analog tape and then mix them down all the way to the final stereo mix. Later on I also got the CD (Polydor ‎– 815 732-2), again, made in West Germany.

In 2014 JVC Japan decided to remaster the soundtrack with current technologies and their K2 process. The job was given to Takeshi Hakamata who did a splendid job in enhancing the original. This is noticeable in the high frequencies. I suspect the original tapes were / are in an excellent condition as the difference is minimal. Also, with electronic music, it is impossible to tell how “real” the sound is. Echo, reverberation, depth, soundstage, etc… all are manipulated in the studio and are basically fake. I am still trying to see how and when they got access to the original tapes. Vangelis is known to be difficult when it comes to issuing his scores (See Blade Runner, The Bounty, Missing, Bitter moon…..).  The sticker on the new remastered CD has “Analogue”, “100kHz” and “24bit” on it. I am pretty sure that music info on this album in nowhere near 100kHz and the need for 24bit is not necessary as the dynamic range on the recording does not justify this high number.

The JVC / K2 Remastered CD


The vinyl sounds similar to the CD in its overall tonality and since they are both printed in the same place / year, it may have been that the master had the same “father”. I give the new remastered version the edge but not by a lot. This is an important album and a must for any Vangelis fan. It is from a strong era in the composer’s life and a showcase of what was possible with electronic instruments back then.

A Guide to Decca Labels By Rick Mak


1) The Labels
When we talk about DECCAs, we are not referring to just anything with the word DECCA written on it.   By Decca, we are referring to the first 4 UK labels which look like this:
ED 1: The grooved ORIGINAL RECORDING BY label.   & the ED 2, Made in England Grooved Label.   These two labels are the best sounding.
ED3:  The Made in England, non-grooved Label & ED4, The narrow band label.
ED3s are still very high quality, while ED4 is falls behind.
If 100% is the best, then ED1 and ED2s would be 100%.    ED3s would be 85%, and ED4s would be 70%
Reissues ?   30%.
2) Should I buy ED 1 or ED 4 ?
Buy which ever one you can afford the most.
For recordings which are released under all 4 labels, the quality of ED1 and ED2 are always better.    ED1 may not be better than ED2, but ED1 will always fetch the most money.       ED3 is pressed on slightly thinner vinyl, and the quality is slightly inferior to ED2.     ED4 is on very thin Vinyl and quality is again inferior to ED3 but by a bigger margin.
However, keep in mind that not everything is released under ED 1 and ED 2.   Some of DECCAs are only available on ED3, and some only on ED4.    The Solti – Right of Spring is a prime example of a phenomenal recording which was only released in ED4.  At least I have never seen a ED3 on it.
This LP is a MUST BUY, please do yourself a favour and buy a copy because this is still selling for cheap.
3) The Blue Backs / Pan Cakes
Some of the earliest ED1 are blue backs, which denotes the blue ring on the back on the record cover.   These will ALWAYS fetch more money, but are not necessarily better sounding.
Some early ED1s also come in  what you call the “Pancake” version, with the groove positioned near the outer rim.   These are very early pressings, and are produced in a different DECCA factory.   Sonically, regular ED1s vs Pancake ED1s are somewhat different, but Pancakes often fetches more money, they are not necessarily better sounding though.
4) Do they really sound Good ?
The DECCAs are about dynamic contrast, and dynamic swings.  They will squeeze the last drop of energy from your system.  Many systems are incapable of playing these LPs because they are simply shitty.  These LP demand a big soundstage, and high quality analog equipment to properly present them.     Make no mistake about it, the DECCAs render dynamics which only some Mercury’s can come close.     They are SIGNIFICANTLY better than the best of ALL high resolution digital recordings.   The famed “Tutti” high res recording is Mickey Mouse compared to the Kenneth Alwyn Decca SXL 2001 1812.    The difference is so huge you cannot even compare the two.
To this day, I have not heard anything more dynamic under the sun vs the DECCAs (save the Open Reel Tape Decks).    Some very high end digital players may be able to give a run at it but they still lose out by a big margin in my book.    This is why, in my opinion, analog is a far superior format.    Want to challenge this ?  Simply find me a digital recording which can beat a wide band DECCA.
If you cannot hear a difference, IMHO it reflects more about the listener than on the quality of the DECCAs.
5) What about the Reissues ?
I own about 30 reissues, and all 30 of them sound significantly inferior to the originals.    That is not to say they are bad sounding, they just do not posses the very qualities which makes DECCA special.
* The reissue does not have the “texture” which the original does
* The reissue does not have the dynamic swings
* The reissue is tonally different than the original, it has a noticeable dryness which makes the sound sterile and hard sounding
If you do not want to buy the ED1~ED3s, please buy an ED4, because the E4s are better.     And if you do not want to buy an ED4, then please do yourself a favour and buy a LONDON ED1.
6) What about Londons ?
The Wide Band Londons do sound VERY GOOD., but are different sounding than DECCAs.       Wide Band Londons are fetching very little money on EBAY right now, and for those who do not want to get into the buying frenzy, please do yourself a favour and buy every LONDON BLUE BACK you can find under the sun.    London Blue Backs are selling from $ 1 dollar to $ 70 dollars (max) on 90% of the London LPs that’s out there.
And if you think London Blue Backs are still to much, then please do yourself a favour and start buying ACE of Diamonds ED1s, rather than reissues.  Some Ace of Diamond ED1s are fetching as little as $ 2-3 bucks each.     Only a schmuck will buy a reissue when you can buy all the London Blueback and Ace of Diamonds to your heart’s content on EBAY.
If my prediction is correct, in 10 years time, the London Bluebacks will be selling for 5-10x their worth on EBAY, because when 50 million chinese start bidding on them there is only 1 direction they can go, and that is UP.
But make no mistake about it.   The London Blue Backs rarely have the two qualities which makes the DECCA famous.
Those two qualities are:
1) Dynamic Swing and Contrast
2) The right tonality which is not dry and sterile.
7) Finally – the CRAP
You pay for what you get, and some DECCAs are expensive for a reason.      There are some pretty shitty sounding DECCAs, and by shitty I don;t mean bad.  They are not terrible but are not special either.     So you really have to know what you are buying.
This one for instance, is a pretty shitting sounding DECCA which is worth about $ 15 bucks on a good day.        So be warned, not all of them are superb sounding.    But the ones which are superb, are TO DIE FOR.

My top 10 “other-worldly” music by David Chan

I hope you will find this topic interesting.

I would define the captioned as music that is tranquil, sweet, soothing, elegant, “heart-achingly” beautiful and carries an arresting power that drives your mind and spirit down the memory lane.

They will remind us about the happy times, and the not-so-happy times of our lives.

They will make us feel that time has stood still.

They will make us hope it goes on and on and on…….

They give us a sleepless night after.

They must be listened to alone.

They will make us feel all the time, $$$ and effort spent in our system are paying huge dividends.

Even though what works for one may not work for another, still, please share yours here.

And they shouldn’t be restricted to just classical.

Mine are, and in no particular order:

– Haydn cello concerto in C, 2nd movement (Jacqueline du Pre/Barenboim/EMI)
– Ravel G major piano concerto, 2nd movement (Michelangeli/EMI)
– Mozart Clarinet concerto, 2nd movement (Pay/Hogwood/Academy of Ancient Music/L’Oiseau-Lyre)
– Bach Violin concerto 1042, 2nd movement (Szeryng/Marriner/ASMF/Philips)
– Bach double Violin concerto 1043, 2nd movement (Grumiaux/Krebbers/Philips)
– Bach, Air from Suite #3 (Szeryng/Marriner/ASMF/Philips)
– Britten Simple Symphony, 3rd movement (Britten/ECO/Decca)
– Mahler #5, Adagietto (Bernstein/NYPO/CBS)
– Vaughan Williams Lark Ascending (Brown/Marriner/ASMF/Argo)
– 但願人長久,鄧麗君 (Polydor HK)

Top 10 Must Own RCA Living Stere dinifitive recording by Rick Mak

TOP 10 MUST OWN RCA / Living Stereo LPs (by sound quality and not by performance) so here they are;

No 1 Absoltely must own RCA LP:  Royal Ballet Gala Performance LDS 6065
* Selected highlights from the Nutcracker, La Botique Fantastique, Coppelia, Giselle, Swan Lake, Carnaval, Sleeping Beauty and Les Sylphides
* All of which are conducted by Ernest Ansermet, some of which are even pulled from DECCA recordings
* A Kenneth Wilkinson Recording
No. 2: The Power of the Orchestra
* I almost forgot about this Recording until this list, David, this may again redefine your system !
* Talk about having vibrations coming up the chair and into your kangaroo sack !
* A Kingsway Hall recording by Kenneth Wilkinson
No. 3 Must Own RCA Living Stereo:  Venice Solti LSC 2313
* Be careful not to mix up the Mono version which says LM-2313
No. 4 Buy Buy Buy RCA:  LSC 2326 Clair de Lune
* one of the most beautiful mass strings recording you can find on this planet
* Long out of print even for the 180G reissue, if you can find the 180g OR 200G, buy it !
* Another Kenneth Wilkinson Recording
No. 5:  Reiner CSO – SPAIN
No. 6: Albeniz Iberia
* Again long out of print even for the 180G, which fetches around $ 200-300
No. 7: The Witches Brew
* Another Kenneth Wilkinson Recording
No. 8: Lalo Symphonie Espagnole
No. 9: The Reiner Sound  LSC 2183
Fritz Reiner - The Reiner Sound
No. 10 Bizet L’Arlesienne Suites
* Another one by old Kenny Boy !
Bonus:  Non Classical –  Belafonte at Carnegie Hall
Harry Belafonte - At Carnegie Hall