Hipster’s Heaven
                                                                                                                          Nelson Brill

February 2004

Take note all audiophiles who love a challenging sonic and musical adventure mining the essence of jazz, blues and rock: this gem of a recording is for you! On one side of the performance stage we have the rock n’ roll guru, Ginger Baker, whose virtuosity on the drum kit is beautifully rendered in this recording. On the other side of the stage, we have the artistry of James Carter, a musician who can blow on anything from a baritone sax to a bass clarinet and create a unique brew of improv that is a joy to behold. Other players in the Denver Jazz Quintet-To-Octet (DJQ2O) include Artie Moore on bass, Fred Hess on tenor, composer/trumpeter Ron Miles and pianist Eric Gunnison. The chemistry that this group brings to bear on this particular recording is something divine and inexplicable, a work of art that not only challenges the listener but rewards with something new each and every time it is played. The sessions were recorded direct to two tracks by Danny Kopelson at Colorado Sound Recording Studios in September, 1998 and the sonics meet the creative challenges of this recording in fine and pristine form. This recording is one of my personal favorites for testing a system’s ability to capture “image dimensionality” that is, providing the sensation of being able to walk around and behind players or the ability to make a particular sound, like a trumpet or bass clarinet, take on life. In this recording, everything from Carter’s compelling way with bass wind instruments to Ginger’s shimmering cymbal work should come alive in your listening space, lending a beautiful embracing soundstage for you to explore again and again. 

The compositions themselves are wondrous creations of polyrhythms and syncopation that keep coming with creative force, as fast as Ginger Baker can swing. My personal favorite is the opening track, “Cyril Davies,” named for the late harmonica player that inspired Ginger in his own life. The track begins with an elementary kick-drum pattern that should pressurize any listening room with the message: Ready or Not, Here We Come! The theme is unveiled and then broken into wondrous bluesy pieces by solos taken by trumpet, then piano, then Carter on baritone sax, all deliciously closed by a decay of Ginger’s cymbals that seems to last forever. Next up is “Ginger Spice,” a rollicking complex number done in “9/8 and 12/8 time,” according to Ginger in the liner notes. The piece starts with Todd Ayers on guitar and Glenn Taylor on pedal steel creating a whirl of color to the rhythm section. Layered over this cacophony is the beautiful theme first explored by the saxes and then trumpet. This piece will test your audio system’s ability to keep pace with all of the colors and textures presented by the wondrous layers of instrumentation and how well it can present transparency into this window of sound. Another gorgeous piece is the title number, a ballad of aching simplicity composed by Ron Miles, which Ginger states is to convey “the sadness we all feel for a coward.” The piece begins with a brilliant and moving percussive solo, shimmering with light cymbals, bells and brushwork proving Baker to be a master at his art. You should be able to follow this same percussive motion from Ginger powering forward the entire piece, like a freight train, until its glorious end with a single, lone bell from Ginger’s kit. Finally, in “Jesus I Just Want To Sleep,” James Carter shines on bass clarinet, (one of my favorite instruments to test a system’s tonal balance) from the squawks of his highest registers to his determined breathy lows. Carter ranges from blows, grunts to guffaws, all moving to the gospel and blues rhythm established by organ, bass and drums. At the end of this piece there is a sense that we have ventured far and wide and still feel renewed in spirit, due to what Ginger rightly calls Carter’s “astounding display of virtuosity.” 

We welcome any readers’ comments or suggestions for other audiophile CD favorites for upcoming Stereo Times reviews. Please contact Nelson 


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