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No. 123 August 2014

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A TRIBUTE TO THE 1970s.
LED ZEPPELIN, SUPER DELUXE BOX SET: I, II, III



But first: Gabriel’s concert

ave you ever lost the tickets to an event that’s really important to you? And have you ever lost them just as you enter the event? If you have, then you probably remember the overwhelming panic, that incapacitating feeling when all the color drains from your face and your legs suddenly feel like they’re made of lead. Your mind goes completely blank and you’re going round in circles, frantically searching through all of your pockets, even asking all the people around you whether they had seen your lost tickets. I wouldn’t like to imagine my own face when something like that happened to me.

I drove to Łódź for Peter Gabriel’s concert with my son and our friend, Andrzej. We were meant to meet up there with another friend – also named Andrzej – who offered to be our tour guide around the city, who’d show us around a little and take us to the best places to grab something to eat and drink. He did a really great job – I certainly hadn’t seen that side of Łódź ever before, I didn’t even think anything like that existed. I remembered it previously as a city of abandoned buildings and dangerous streets, but it has evolved into a bustling city with modern apartment lofts, restaurants, offices, amazing food and awesome places to get a couple of drinks. It’s a city of culture, and you can really feel it, it’s not just some self-announced, false title. Incidentally, a short while after our trip to Łódź, there was an article in a Polish home deco magazine about one of the pubs we visited that evening, called Zmiana Tematu – Changing the Topic (Lena Szydłowska, Zmiana Tematu, “Dom & Wnętrze”, no. 6, June 2014, pg. 129-130). The pub is located in the area along Piotrkowska Street, which was not previously associated with good food but has been changing rapidly in recent years. It’s called Off Piotrowska.
The Manufaktura shopping and commerce center makes a truly amazing impression, but since it’s the biggest mall in Poland and one of the largest ones in Europe, there’s a chance you’ve heard of it before. The only dissonance for me – but perhaps I was the only one who had an issue with it – was our visit to the Arthur Rubinstein Music Gallery in Łódź, where you can find exhibits and personal effects of the legendary pianist. He’s a character as deeply entwined in the cultural image of Łódź as the famous Polish writer Jerzy Kosiński (whom I wrote my master thesis about, so it was kind of a big deal to me), Marek Edelman, Władysław Stanisław Reymont and Julian Tuwim. The exhibits include a cast of the pianist’s hands, golden and platinum records and a gramophone with a built-in speaker from before WWII, humming away in the corner. There was only one thing missing: the albums that the master recorded, and an audio device which could play them back. To preserve the memory of a musician, it’s essential to play back his albums. It’s as if you were trying to talk about a writer without his books, right? As you can see, not only home deco magazines seem to have a problem with audio components that are, after all, an important part of many people’s lives.

Slightly tired, but with a positive, buzzed mindset before the concert, we dashed for the Atlas Arena venue. When we entered the grounds, right before walking through the gates, my son passed me the tickets, asking me to hold them. Two steps later, they were gone. I was holding an empty paper “envelope” in which the tickets had arrived via mail. I must’ve been holding it in a way that let them slip out. We immediately returned to the place we had been standing but the tickets obviously weren’t there anymore. I must’ve looked as if I were about to die then and there. Humans are strange creatures – instead of thinking, I gave up instantly and said, “Let’s just go get drunk and let Andrzej drive us back to Kraków.”
But suddenly, near the exit, a few guys jumped at us, offering tickets for sale. Ah, hell – if we came all the way here, we might as well see Gabriel after all! We chose similar seats to the ones we had just lost, and we returned to the hall. We were partly defeated, but somewhat relaxed, too – like the nut-shot we were about to receive missed by a few inches. It had its price, but it beat a direct hit to the nuts any day.
A small, metal booth in front of the entrance got our attention. The concert’s organizer set it up as a contact point with customers. I didn’t quite believe that miracles happen, but I still went up to the booth and asked whether someone returned two lost tickets, by any chance. Idiotic – I knew it just as well back then as I do now. A few heads turned in my direction with a look of awe and respect on their faces – it seemed they hadn’t dealt with such honesty there before. Yet something in my facial expression must’ve moved the young man on the other side of the booth window, because when I turned around to go to the concert in my bittersweet mood, he asked whether I had bought my ticket online. I did. “Then I can print out a copy of it for you. I just checked and nobody has entered the concert using your lost tickets yet.” We printed out our original tickets and thus had four tickets to use for two people. We made a quick decision for my son to dash to the guy we had bought our “rescue” tickets from. After some short negotiations, he bought them back for half the price we had paid him. This way we minimalized our loss.

As it soon turned out, the tickets were worth any price. The concert was phenomenal. It was separated into three parts, preceded by an introductory mini-concert by two young support artists, Jennie Abrahamson & Linnea Olsson. The former plays an electronic vibraphone, the latter plays the cello, and they are both singers, too. During the third part of the concert, which was a performance of the album So, the first of the support artists sang Kate Bush’s parts. And it was great – I’d say she was a good, fresh version of Bush. Kate is classic, and nobody could ever surpass her, but Abrahamson sang exceptionally well. Since Linnea Olsson has already released her debut album, Ah!, I ordered it the day after the concert. She has a beautiful, lyrical outlook on music, with long sounds that reminded me of 4AD from This Mortal Coil phase. Maybe just a tad too long. The duet was much more interesting. But it’s still worth listening to.

And a few more words about a Yes concert

In Łódź, Gabriel performed something that could be called a “live re-mastering” – with the original line-up (including Tony Levin on bass, who we’ve recently seen in a small club in Kraków!) he played his whole 1986 album So from start to finish. He did it marvelously –in his case, the older he gets the better he becomes.

The very idea behind such performances is interesting, though. It might not be new, but it’s becoming increasingly popular recently. Not much later, on June 2nd 2014, in the Warsaw Congress Hall three full albums were played live: The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Going for the One. I have not seen anything so well-played, well-sung and well-engineered in a long time. Yes, a band that had its debut in 1968 (!), is now a group of old guys. But I wish everyone to have as much fire at this age as Steve Howe, the band’s guitarist who joined before the recording of 1971’s The Yes Album. He's a real master, a guitar genius with magic fingers. And Chris Squire, who founded the band together with Jon Anderson, on bass. I didn't know that Steve and Chris could sing so great! The drummer Alan White was equally amazing, although he was in the shadow of Geoff Downes, the keyboard player. One thing made me wonder: the co-founder of Yes, Jon Anderson, doesn't sing with the band anymore. The new lead vocalist is Jon Davison who joined the band two years ago. I know and like the original Yes lineup. I love Jon Anderson's voice, also in a duet with Vangelis. But the things that were happening on stage, and the power that the young – in comparison with the other musicians on stage – vocalist Davison brought into the act just can't be described. His vocal timbre is incredibly similar to Anderson's, and at the same time it's different enough for there to be no need to make comparisons. And then there was the new vocalist's behavior – as if he was thrown onto the stage straight from the beginning of the 1970s, with a trail of smoke and characteristic smell behind him.

The 1970s.

It’s because the 1970s are associated with drugs. But also with the birth of the best kinds of rock music that exists to date: progressive rock and heavy rock, whose later “child” would be heavy metal. Although it's still hard to perceive, the 1970s were probably the most fertile decade in rock music, similar to how the 1950s were for jazz. The period of time between 1970 and 1979 is still somewhat of a “guilty pleasure”, though. While the 1950s and 1960s are glorified for their interior design and even architecture, what came afterwards is often considered “spoiled” and tasteless. I think that it's still too recent a time for us to judge it objectively. And yet when correctly portrayed, it's fantastic. Have you already seen the movie X-Men: Days of Future Past? If you like this kind of movies it's a mandatory, if not best, part of the whole series (X-Men: Days of Future Past, dir. Bryan Singer, 2014). The movie straddles two different time periods, with the 1970s being the starting point. Aside from different gadgets which are characteristic to these times, it’s worth paying attention to the turntables in the room of a young Charles Xavier, played by the great actor James McAvoy, a reel to reel tape recorder in his study and LPs and tapes scattered around the place – the telltale signs that music was a very important part of his life. The screenplay writers definitely showed that. But it has to be said that they sure had some good music to play on their first systems. And the soundtrack features some really great songs (even if the original score isn’t that great): Roberta Flack and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Alice Cooper and Hello Hooray, and finally the one that really sticks in your memory, Jim Croce’s Time In a Bottle.

The 1970s saw Yes at their artistic and creative peak and their albums from this period are considered their best work. Although there wouldn’t be The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1972) or Close to the Edge (1972) without their two previous albums, the 1969 debut Yes and the 1970 decade-opener, Time and a Word. A very similar story can be told of Led Zeppelin, who paved the way for all hard rock about as much as Yes did for progressive rock.
Their 1969 debut, marked with the Roman numeral I, wasn’t only a prelude but part of a greater whole, with the three subsequent albums – II, III, IV - which defined the band’s style. Why am I linking 1969 to the 1970s, though? This is a fragment of a Polish book titled Polski New Look. Ceramika użytkowa lat 50. i 60. by Barbara Banaś, which shows clearly that the true beginning of the 7th decade of the 20th century’s took place a year prior:

In Western Europe, the 1950s and 1960s were the two decades with visibly different characters. The former was a pioneering phase of transitioning the Western European societies to a new model of activity, that of an American consumerism. The huge demand for all sorts of goods stimulated people’s interest in new products. The Cold War atmosphere of fear-mongering was definitely a factor for the young generation to break free of their parents’ war-time traumas and seek pleasure in the little things offered by life. Industrial design during this time period was dominated by the organic trend, which was represented by smooth shapes and vivid colors that appealed to the consumers. The new style was identified with the notion of modernity that was part of everyday life. The dynamic technological progress gave people the tools to learn the secrets of their bodies, to see microorganisms which had previously been invisible to their eyes, but also allowed the futuristic visions of exploring the world to come true. Passenger planes allowed people to travel around the globe, and the first satellites reached the Earth orbit. The USA and USSR, the world’s two leading superpowers, were involved in the space race. The decade that followed, the 1960s, can be enclosed in two related events: on April 12th, 1961, Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space aboard his Vostok 1 spacecraft; on July 20th, 1969 the Apollo 11 spacecraft reached the Moon and Neil Armstrong took that historic “small step for a man”.

Barbara Banaś, Polski New Look. Ceramika użytkowa lat 50. i 60., Wrocław 2013, pg. 201.

Led Zeppelin, SUPER DELUXE BOX SET: I, II, III

On January 12th, 1969, Led Zeppelin – founded by Jimmy Page – released their debut album in the USA, followed by II in October of the same year. Exactly one year later, in 1970, the world saw the release of III.
On June 2nd, 2014, Atlantic presented the fans with completely refreshed versions of the albums. They are available in various formats and configurations, with the Super Deluxe Box Set at the top. The beautiful boxes include:
• remastered material from the original albums on CD,
• remastered extras on CD:
- the first album comes with the previously unreleased concert Led Zeppelin Live at the Olympia from October 1969, recorded in Paris
- the second one comes with alternate mixes of five songs from II, backing tracks to Thank You and Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman), as well as the previously unreleased track titled La La
- the third one comes with seven studio outtakes of songs from the album (studio rejects), as well as three previously unknown compositions - Jennings Farm Blues, an instrumental predecessor to Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, Bathroom Sound, an instrumental version of Out On The Tiles and the band’s take on the blues classic Keys To The Highway/Trouble In Mind
• a printed album, over seventy pages long
• numbered (the first 30,000 copies) cover art
• a code for downloading hi-res audio files.

The sound of the new versions is wonderful. I compared it with some older digital releases, both European and Japanese. The A.D. 2014 remaster is much clearer, but not bright. The most noticeable improvement can be seen in the bass extension and vocals. The latter finally sound on I the way I always thought they should. But the improved resolution is best manifested on II and III, especially in the unrivalled sonic differentiation and less clamor, with better coherence. Everything is clearer now, but also warmer. There’s less dirt in it. I understand that some people might not like this. But you can tell that this dirt came from some incorrectness in the transfer and problems with the medium. I’m yet to audition the vinyl version, as well as give a longer listen to the audio files. The latter sound very good from the limited bits I got to hear.
I’m just wondering why the albums are available in 24/96, if the whole thing was remastered in 24/192? This is how Yes released their albums. And why is the extra material limited to only 48 kHz sample frequency? That I really cannot understand. The boxes look fantastic and they will be the pride of any collector. Small problems that I noticed are the lousy tagging of the audio files and their poor description, as well as the lack of digital artwork. It’s also a shame that there was no separate LP remastering – the LPs were cut from the 24/192 digital master tapes.
The remasters have been prepared in cooperation with Jimmy Page. I’ve heard rumors that would suggest that Jimmy is practically deaf and wasn’t really capable of helping much with the remastering. But let’s remember that the consensus in book publishing and, to a large extent, in music releases is that in hierarchy of importance the most important, after the original work, is the last one prepared with the artist working together with the sound engineer. Which is precisely what this case is. Is this an attempt at taking our money? Well, I don’t think anybody is denying that, including myself. But I gladly paid for all three box sets. It’s a huge chunk of music history, and it’s really well released. It’s obviously not perfect and some problems – like cutting the vinyl from a digital source (OK, that’s actually a pretty big problem), poor file tagging and their downsampling – could’ve been avoided. But nothing is perfect. As with every compromise, we need to make a decision here. And in my opinion – it’s worth getting.

The Poles abroad

I put a lot of emphasis on vinyl for a reason. It’s an increasingly “hot” topic. I’m sure that it’s going to “overheat” soon. But that will be many miles above sea level, when the vinyl business has been warmed up sufficiently. Until that moment comes, however, we’ve got a real flood of new releases. Since there are so many of them, record labels are looking for something fresh. And they find it for example in Russia – check the review of the Solaris movie soundtrack HERE – and in Poland. The Vinyl Factory record label whose tasteful and refined re-releases can be found in the Design Museum in London (see HERE), recently published quite an interesting article about the Polish band Skalpel who masterly combine retro sounds with modern grooves (Polish sample kings Skalpel dig into their record collections, The Vinyl Factory” May 28th, 2014, see HERE). The band’s members, Igor Pudło and Marcin Cichy, have thousands of vinyl records in their collections.
And let me just say that this isn’t The Vinyl Factory’s first publication of this kind – a year ago they published an article on the best 7″ record cover art, including some Polish releases: 30 stunning 7″ sleeves from the Former Eastern Bloc (read HERE).

One of the most interesting labels from Japan, Belle Antique, has also reached out towards Polish artists. The label, known for releasing krautrock classics, including forgotten bands from Italy, Canada and France, this time decided to delve into some of the more interesting Polish gems. Five of SBB albums were scheduled to be released on April 25th (the date was then pushed forward): Pamięć, Nowy horyzont, Ze słowem biegnę do ciebie, Wołanie o brzęk szkła and Welcome. I have no recollection of the Japanese ever treating a Polish artist this thoroughly in the past. The discs will be released in a mini-album format (Cardboard Sleeve, mini LP), with the OBI, and pressed as SHM-CDs, with an optional box for all the albums. Wonderful! As I’ve heard from Michał Wilczyński from GAD Records, he had some personal input in the release. I have to delve deeper into that.

And if we’re talking digital and Japan, let’s mention the fact that “High Fidelity” has been featured again in the “Stereo Sound” magazine. In a Reimyo advertisement, Mr. Kazuo Kiuchi decided to dedicate an entire page to a shortened version of our review of the Reimyo DAP-999EX Limited D/A converter, proudly referring to the Statement Award which the DAC had received. We found out about this from our Japanese friends who were also kind enough to translate fragments of the whole article. But even those of you who don’t know the language of the Samurai will notice the Latin alphabet characters which say the words High Fidelity and Statement Award.


Closing remarks

I didn’t manage to fit in everything I wanted to talk about this time. I didn’t want to disrupt the article’s flow, which was focused on the new Led Zeppelin box sets. I’ll just mention a few important things now. GAD Records released a re-edition of two Alex Band albums: Zderzenie myśli from 1979 and The Eccentric from 1980. The music is interesting and the albums sound very good. I’ll try to write a little more about it sometime soon.

A while back, IKEA announced that they would end production of their most popular shelving unit for 12” LPs, the Expedit. There was an instant uproar online – in Germany a special Facebook fan-page was founded, and it has gathered 8,000 likes thus far. The Swedish company instantly announced a new, similar bookshelf – the Kallax. And to truly finish it off, here’s an example of modern audio-related industrial design, the Vitruvio designer speaker – see HERE.

Wojciech Pacuła
Editor


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Our reviewers regularly contribute to “Audio”“Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

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