This last year has been rough, but it has also been enlightening in some ways and forced us to regroup, rethink and relearn many things, including listening to music. For most of us, music was often a passive listening experience filled with playlists streaming into oblivion. Then suddenly, with more time and isolation on our hands, we started to listen differently, more actively or what we like to call Lucid Listening.
Vinyl sales have soared, turntables are suddenly out of stock, and hundreds of thousands of people have realized how dope it is to sit down and just listen to a record from start to finish. We decided to team up with some of our favorite brands to present our readers with a monthly selection of vinyl recordings and tips for getting your home audio experience dialed in.
So let's start with the turntable you are probably wondering about and the one we use for all our Lucid Listening sessions. The Gearbox Automatic Mkii turntable, custom-built by Pro-ject is a piece of functional art. Its compact footprint, sleek design, and fantastic audio output are hard to beat, and it's attainable at $595. What also sets the Mkii apart is the high-fidelity built-in valve phono stage (the first in the world to have one), designed and tuned for moving magnet cartridges such as the pre-fitted Ortofon OM10. This means that you can plug the turntable straight into any line input and enjoy the warm and open acoustics right from the box. Not only does Gearbox obsessively release excellent albums on vinyl, from reissued jazz to fresh new artists from various genres, but they also made their own turntable - so we had to work with them. Check our label profile out HERE
Now, what about those insane-looking headphones? We have been fans of Audeze for a couple of years now and have put several of their headphones to the test and use them to mix in Magnetic Studios. We will be putting three different models into the rotation and recommend them for particular genres and listening styles. These will include the LCD-3 (Open Back), The LCD-2 (Closed Back), and the LCD-1 (Open Back) headphones. What sets Audeze apart from other headphones is that instead of traditional cones, they use planar magnetic drivers, which bring an incredibly fast response that delivers beautiful sound. For this month, we paired up all our vinyl with the LCD-3.
Since the LCD-3 higher impedance of 110 Ohms, you will need an amp to drive them; we use the Schiit MAGNI, a great little no-nonsense unit that drives these cans nicely and comes in at a very affordable $99, because hey, you have vinyl to buy.
Finally, to keep the vibrations to an absolute minimum, we use the zaZen I. This unit creates a buffer between the turntable and the surface it's placed on so that any vibration is halted - giving you the best possible listening experience. You can read our full review HERE.
So before we get to the vinyl selections for the month, we want to throw in some reference guides that will help up your academic game and overall knowledge of the genres we cover. The Rough Guide series has been around for a while and are great companions for any music lover looking to dive a little deeper. They detail the artists, their life, and discography that brings you a little bit closer to the creators. They are available on Amazon, and some of the older ones are out of print but pretty easy to find and cover many genres, including Techno, House, Jazz, Hip Hop, etc.
So for March, we have selected three albums across Jazz and Ambient. All are wonderful in their own right and simply magical in the headphones.
Magnetic Notes - This is a stellar time capsule of a record, as it's a recording from 1965 that has been reissued, which is one of Gearbox Records' specialties. The thing about jazz is that it's meant to see live; it feeds off an audience and creates improvisational moments that are not always duplicated on a recorded piece of music from a studio. Cherry Jam puts time in a bottle and transports you back to 1965 to catch Don Cherry and his band weaving together intimate and intricate moments that you can't help but get lost in. Imagine yourself there, a martini in hand, bobbing your head in the smoke.
LCD-3 Experience - With an older live recording, you will get those tasty minor artifacts and sounds, which these cans bring to life ideally. The open backs let the sound breathe, giving you the wide soundstage that makes you feel like you are almost there.
After having released Don Cherry's Cherry Jam as a limited Record Store Day title in the Autumn of 2020, Gearbox presents this essential release on specialist Japanese Edition vinyl and CD.
'Cherry Jam' sets the scene in Copenhagen, a city that proved instrumental in hosting and developing jazz musicians, both local and American. Cherry had performed and recorded there with Archie Shepp in 1963, toured with Albert Ayler in the autumn of 1964, and would go on to have a residency at the hip Cafe Montmartre in 1966.
The recording is taken from the original tape of a 1965 radio broadcast, programmed by Denmark's national radio station (Danmarks Radio.) It was in this same year that Cherry would record his landmark Blue Note recording, 'Complete Communion', with Leandro 'Gato' Barbieri on tenor saxophone, Henry Grimes on double bass, and Edward Blackwell on drums, as well as feature on fellow American expatriate George Russell's live album 'George Russell Sextet at Beethoven Hall'. However, this particular line-up, consisting of Danish musicians, has never been heard after its original broadcast date, and neither have the three original Don Cherry compositions featured on the recording credits.
A1 The Ambassador from Greenland
A2 You Took Advantage of Me
Recorded at Danmarks Radio Studio 2, Copenhagen, October 1965
Mastered in-house at Gearbox Records
Magnetic - This is the kind of jazz that just pulls you in, perfectly melodic and meandering at the same time. Never dissonant or off-kilter, just a smooth journey of blowing, bass, and percussion. Charles Tolliver breathes that New York energy into his horn, and you can't help but be transported to the vibrant streets of the West Village on a hot summer night, with the sweet and funky smells of hot dog vendors mixed with the humid night air. This is a record that takes you on a journey, so settle in and go along for the ride.
LCD-3 Experience - The warm and larger-than-life sound stage brings Tolliver and his band front and center. Every detail can be heard with a clarity that is hard to explain; it's almost an out-of-body experience. Being able to feel like you are at a live show is pretty damn cool, already listened to this album four times front to back; a bottle of good Cabernet is highly recommended.
New York-based trumpeter, composer and educator Charles Tolliver presents Connect, his first album in 13 years.
Recorded to tape at RAK Studios last November and engineered by Tony Platt (Bob Marley, Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Abdullah Ibrahim), the line-up features top musicians from the New York jazz scene who have collectively played with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Nancy Wilson, and Chick Corea. Forming as the Charles Tolliver All Stars, the band includes Jesse Davis on alto saxophone, Keith Brown on piano, Buster Williams on double bass, and Lenny White on drums. The album also bridges New York and London by featuring leading British saxophonist Binker Golding on two tracks (Binker & Moses, Moses Boyd Exodus, Zara McFarlane.)
On recording with Gearbox, Charles said:
"...with both of our collective recording label expertise, a recording of my touring band could and would be done. I chose to CONNECT consummate artists whose performances represent absolutely 'THE' Real Deal in this Artform - Lenny White, Buster Williams, Jesse Davis, Keith Brown. The excellent artistry of Binker Golding was added for some tracks by Darrel."
A1. Blue Soul
A2. Emperor March
Recorded and mixed by Tony Platt at RAK Studios
Mastered and cut at Gearbox Studio
Magnetic Notes: If you are a fan of Future Islands, you already know Bassist William Cashion. For Postcard Music, he has gone solo and in a wholly different yet stellar direction. If you are a fan of melodic, slightly moody, and cinematic ambient, then Cashion will have you under his thumb from start to finish. Postcard Music feels like a personal album reminiscent of Eno's ambient works, yet with a feeling and flow that is all its own. Cashion's bass playing provides the spinal cord that all the other elements dance around, pulling you through his musical universe and into a heady musical trip.
LCD-3 Experience - The thing you will appreciate with these headphones on this album is the pure width and expanse. It's like you are floating out on a musical ocean, and the sounds just drift away into the clouds with each note gently pulling you in and then releasing you as it breathes. Purely fantastic, and yes, you will fall asleep.
Postcard Music, the debut solo album from Future Islands bassist William Cashion is a collection of songs influenced by meditation, traveling, and the ocean. In crafting his first solo record, Cashion experimented in the studio, driven by a potentially infinite riddle: "What is the sound of a song that has no beginning and no end?" Exploring music's unique ability to distort our sense of the passage of time or even take us outside it, Cashion's debut builds upon the most intriguing results of months of exploratory writing sessions.
Check out our Ambient Meditations Podcast with William Cashion doing an interview and guest mix HERE.
Audeze: Founded in 2008, Audeze is an award-winning premium technology company engineering the world's most advanced audio solutions. Centered on science, innovation, and craftsmanship, Audeze's precision audio extends from proprietary planar magnetic drivers and custom engineered transducers, to pristine sound reproduction and highly-unique audiocentric applications. From discerning audiophiles to Grammy-winning recording engineers, top esports athletes to specialized medical facilities, Audeze has become one of the most respected audio companies in the world.
Audeze is proudly owned and operated in the USA, designed and engineered in California.
Gearbox: Gearbox Records is an independent record label founded in 2009 and based in London and Tokyo. With a commitment to the highest quality pressings, Gearbox by extension also includes an analogue studio situated in King's Cross. In the early days of Gearbox and under the mentorship of famed engineer Sean Davies, founder Darrel Sheinman was inspired to build an all-analogue cutting and mastering studio based around vintage vacuum tube tape machines and a 1967 Haeco Scully lathe, to which one can attribute the signature "Gearbox sound." With the guiding ethic of "future analogue", label and third-party releases are cut and mastered for analogue and digital using the best combination of rare vintage and modern equipment inside the London studio. The label's dual output includes previously-unreleased historic recordings and genre-breaking new music by contemporary artists; you will come across music by Thelonious Monk, Don Cherry, and Nico as well Binker and Moses, Sarathy Korwar, Chihei Hatakeyama and Abdullah Ibrahim. Ever-motivated by this ideal of affordable high fidelity, the label is also responsible for the one-off, beautifully-designed Gearbox Automatic Mkii turntable, custom built by Pro-ject.
Vinyl Me Please: Vinyl Me, Please (VMP) is a community of explorers and storytellers who navigate between sounds that are lost and found to create transcendent tangible music experiences. VMP offers customers four different monthly vinyl subscriptions (Essentials, Classics, Hip Hop, and Country), an online record store with exclusive pressings, and a multitude of editorial content, storytelling, and events. Through these offerings we embark on explorations of familiar sounds from our past, and new sounds for our future. To learn more, visit vinylmeplease.com and follow @vinylmeplease on socials.