Review

by David Thomson

Yarlung Records received three prestigious awards in 2015, the year of their 10th anniversary: Dr. David W. Robinson’s Brutus Award, Brian Moura’s 2015 Writer’s Choice Award — both, mainly, for their astonishing analog tape conversions to Direct Stream Digital (DSD) files while, locally, owner Bob Attiyeh received the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society’s (LAOCAS) Humanitarian Award for offering opportunity, and worldwide exposure, to the gifted young musicians who perform within the very diverse Yarlung catalog.

At RCN, we are here to honor vinyl … and its continuing resurgence. At Yarlung, not only is Bob, also as the label’s recording engineer, acknowledging technology’s curve and converting his library to DSD files, he’s delving into his decade of analog archives to demonstrate the depth of some of their more celebrated and astounding sounding CD releases on 33 and 45 rpm, 180 gram virgin vinyl.
You may remember reading — in RCN Jan/Feb 2011 — that Yarlung had won a Latin Grammy for the Lalo Schifrin composition, Pampas, released on Antonio Lysy, Live at the Broad. Antonio’s cello driven rendition, actually captured in 2009, became the first Yarlung exploration into vinyl; it stunned the analog community. Fortunately, there was more material from that session and, when funding became available in 2014, a follow-up LP was delivered — Te Amo Argentina.

Usually, secondary releases are second rate as the primary platter has all the “hits.” With Te Amo Argentina, this is not the case. From the opening “Bragato Graciela y Buenos Aires,” I was absorbed. While ogling the gracious tango dancer imagery adorning the cover, the seductive melody took hold and the resonance of Antonio’s cello became so present in my living room, I was reminded of Disney’s Fantasia as the dancers came alive to twirl and swirl as I melted into my armchair.

As with all of Bob’s productions, by the end of each recording, I’m satiated, overhauled, healed from the day. But this one was different. With the closing track, I recognized the award winning Pampas. Why release it again? I dug out the original LP. Ah ha, the vinyl was mastered by two different individuals.

As impressed as I was with the Doug Sax’s superb mastering merits on the original, in this recent version, Bernie Grundman’s ear offered a beefier, more robust presentation. I asked Bob, “What gives?”

“Both versions of Pampas have their advantages. The differences between the two are cutting amplifiers, lathes, and pressing plants. Also, Bernie’s is a tad louder, which always makes things sound ‘better,’ I suspect: Fun to have two versions, yes?“

It sure is: Bernie’s version seems much more “in the room,” while Doug’s is more spacious, ethereal. Either way, none is better than the other, just different. As are the vinyl masters’ “ears” and sensibilities.

Mentioning Bernie also makes a perfect segue for me to make a correction. In my recent Ciaramella – Dances on Movable Grounds review, I erroneously credited mastering engineer, Steve Hoffman and, inadvertently, omitted mentioning that Bernie was responsible for the vinyl mastering.

Bernie’s resume includes remastering everyone from Armstrong to Zappa, which transmutes into “must-have” LPs for any musicologists’ library. Need an example? Check out the Classic Records, 12-inch, 45-rpm single of Louis Armstrong’s St. James Infirmary!

Te Amo, ArgentinaSpeaking of 45s, Yarlung’s latest release, Janaki String Trio, is excerpted from their 2006 recording that was so well received, and respected as cutting edge, that the aforementioned Hoffman is still asked at audiophile shows to autograph the CD.

As Steve claims on the liner notes, “It’s because it combines lifelike sound with hair-raising performances…”

Executive Producer Elliot Midwood concurs. “It is not often that you experience a performance that is both electrifying and gives you goosebumps at the same time.”

Violinist Serena McKinney, violist Katie Kadarauch and cellist Arnold Choi met at The Colburn Music School in Los Angeles. Now they perform, mid-living room, on my “holographic” soundstage. Three separate beings swaying as their bows swerve across the wooden bellies of their instruments.

The musicianship is so precocious plus, their modern approach to appreciating contemporary musical composition is downright inspiring…way ahead of where I was at that age. I was still listening to the Beatles, the Stones, a little Bitches Brew and, occasionally, Louis and Ella. Okay, I wasn’t “exposed,” as a Colburn pupil should be. Now, decades later, I’m glad that I am.

Janaki (rhymes with Jedi) manifest, and demonstrate, the extraordinary potential of youth. Though Mozart certainly was precocious as a composer, maybe, he was just as gifted a performer, who really knows? I certainly wasn’t there. Today, enjoying this trio’s flawless renditions, their gifts are timeless. Their choice of repertoire reveals not only their passion for modern composers like Penderecki, and Barabba but, as a bonus, the airy 45 allows the magnificent tone and warmth of their priceless instruments which date back to early 1700.

Bob elaborated: “For accurate capture, I chose the AKG C-24 tube stereo microphone and recorded directly to two tracks through our tube microphone preamps and custom cables. We recorded analog tape, as well as high definition 24-bit PCM digital media at 176,400 samples per second.”

The results are staggering–and as fresh as if recorded yesterday. Listening to the LP leaves me, as usual, satiated; bathed in the remnant ambience; mood elevated yet, serene.

Soon, I am aroused from my reverie by the repetitive click at the end of the run-off on the record. It’s actually one of the many benefits of owning a turntable, It insists that I extricate myself from the comforts of my couch and … turn it over.

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