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Two Citadels of Sound and Performance – Exquisite New Vinyl Releases from Kirsten Edkins and Patricia Barber

02-25-2023 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 126

Kirsten Edkins, Shapes & Sounds, Cohearent Records (33 RPM LP)

There are many talented people involved with this project, but let's start with Kevin Gray. As many might know, Kevin is universally renowned and respected for his skills as a Mastering Engineer. This includes reissues and new releases on virtually every label and every analog and digital format imaginable—LP, CD, SACD, etc. Kevin is well known for his work along with producer Joe Harley and their hundreds of acclaimed Blue Note jazz LP reissues. This includes the Music Matters, Blue Note Tone Poet, and Blue Note Classic series.

Kevin's reach goes well beyond jazz. His resume includes Blues, Folk, Rock, Metal, Punk, Funk, Classical, and many more genres. He has worked on recordings from some of our most renowned artists like The Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, Billy Joel, The Who, and Madonna. The list goes on and on. Currently, he has over 2800 credits on Discogs alone! I have hundreds of LPs with his initials in the dead wax. My current favorite that will just not leave my turntable is War - Greatest Hits (2021 RSD from Rhino Records). Check it out! You have never heard the hit song "Low Rider" sound like this!

As mentioned above, if you are familiar with Kevin's mastering work at Cohearent Audio, this release by Kirsten Edkins is the first on Kevin's very own new label, Cohearent Records. Kevin's long term dream has always been to build his own recording studio utilizing his own custom components and designs. After over 15 years of planning and never giving up, he has now officially realized these dreams as Cohearent Recording. Shapes and Sounds is the first release to be recorded there. The studio includes a new recording space with Neumann microphones and cutter-heads, Studer recorders, playback electronics and transports, and Cohearent custom mastering consoles and cutting electronics. Even McIntosh MI-350 cutting amplifiers were utilized. Only the best! Kevin has described this studio as "all-valve from microphones to cutter-head."

One might even call this new studio "Hackensack West," in reference to the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey and of Blue Note Records fame. Cohearent Audio is located in the heart of L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. In addition to the ever fastidious high gloss gatefold cover with its outstanding internal artwork and pictures (much like your typical Blue Note Tone Poet offering), there is a fascinating two sided insert that is included with the LP that describes the studio in much more detail. There is also a fantastic Youtube video that provides some additional history and insight for what Kevin has accomplished. Please see the following link HERE.

I'm sure that Kevin is not all that happy with me that I began this review with comments about him and not the music and the musicians. As I said earlier, this is one extremely talented team of contributors—from the studio to the sound stage. Kirsten Edkins and her entire group of musicians have really made something special here and deserve to be highly praised.

Kirsten has a most interesting and varied career as a faculty member at The Pasadena Conservatory of Music. She is also a semi-regular on NBC's The Voice and performs frequently with the esteemed saxophonist, composer, and band leader Bill Holman. I love the mellow sensuous tone and timbre of her saxophone, though on occasion she blows with a strength and sophistication that will have you sitting up in attention. She clearly has the range and technique that allows the instrument to be a natural extension of her musical expression and feelings. All of this comes through wonderfully on this recording (thank you Kevin).

A fabulous rhythm section of Ahmet Turkmenoglu on bass and Chris Wabich on drums set the stage and direction, yet both step forward when needed and when the music calls for it. I was particularly enamored with Lemar Guilary on trombone, and especially on the first two tracks of side two—"Sweet Pickles" and "Wuhoo." I would not call it rare, but these days it is quite enjoyable to find a trombone player with his solo skills that is given several opportunities to shine, and he takes full advantage of it here.

Lastly, we have the silky smooth Gerald Clayton on piano. Again, the timbre, tone, and weight of this instrument is properly presented in a way that is a true highlight of the entire recording. If Rudy Van Gelder and his Hackensack Studio were the models, Kevin has far exceeded those benchmarks. Though the gold standard for most instruments, Rudy was not exactly known for his recording skills when it came to piano reproduction.

In contrast here, Gerald Clayton is right there in the room with an amazing amount of clarity and dynamic expression. When he hits those piano keys, they have just the right amount of both sweetness and authority. Without a proper range of harmonics, a piano can often sound very flat and one dimensional. This recording has the purity and bloom of the real thing!

From a musical perspective, I feel strongly that this is a very impressive first offering from Cohearent Records and Kirsten Edkins. Some might describe the overall feel as a slight variation of Hard Bop and classic Riverside or Blue Note. The overall performance is extremely accessible and somewhat understated in a very refined and elegant way. But, this does not provide an adequate description to my ears and taste. Though not an example of intense free jazz or fusion, I found a delightful level of innovation and creativity that should attract both new players to the genre and satisfy the jazz purists who are always demanding something more new and exciting.

All of the songs were written by Kirsten with the exception of the standard "Dedicated to You," which was the real highlight for me on Side 1. All of the tracks on Side 1 were very well presented with superb renderings from all the musicians, and all were a good introduction for what was next to come. For whatever reason, I found Side 2 to be much more playful and interesting. Kirsten's writing skills were now firing on all cylinders. Something was unleashed within the group and each musician reached out a bit more for something extra. The last track, "Hula Hoop," hit the finishing line with an energy and joyous level of interplay that had me smiling from ear to ear.

In summary, I have to tip my hat to Kevin Gray, Kirsten Edkins and the entire ensemble! Shapes and Sounds is not only highly entertaining, it had me yearning for more as I have to wonder what might be next as this quintet continues to evolve and mature. The writing skills and musicianship are clearly all there. The sound quality is top notch and possibly one of the most impressive LPs in my entire collection. This is a studio and a group to keep your eyes and ears on for what might be presented in the future!

Patricia Barber, Nightclub, IMPEX Records (45 RPM LP)

Nightclub is the second IMPEX Records 1Step release from the Patricia Barber catalog, and it is simply brilliant. If you missed Café Blue, I suggest that you strongly consider this one before it's too late. I can only hope that this series will continue as Patricia Barber and her music certainly deserve this level of attention and celebration.

This is a numbered limited edition 45 RPM double LP via a 180 gram pressing on VR-900 Super Vinyl. Production will be limited to 7500. The album slip cover, outer sleeve, and inserts are all of the finest materials and printing quality. IMPEX has also included a beautifully laid out booklet with additional information and pictures. As always, IMPEX has provided a five-star product from beginning to end.

This reissue also comes with an impressive pedigree. Like many of her releases, Nightclub was engineered and recorded by the multi-Grammy award winning Jim Anderson on a Sony 3348 digital multi-track, and mixed through a Neve analog console to both digital and analog mix-down masters. Another industry icon and multi-Grammy Award winner, Bernie Grundman, then used the analog mix-down tapes to assemble a new analog cutting master exclusively for the 1STEP. Last but not least, the vinyl was pressed at RTI Records which also has an excellent track record as one of the industry's best.

Released in 2000, Nightclub was a slight change in direction for Patricia when compared to her earlier albums like Café Blue (1994) and Modern Cool (1998). As the title indicates, the feel of the recording and venue is much like a live Nightclub atmosphere and performance. However, this was actually recorded in a studio despite the more intimate if not immediate presentation. The focus here is on the classics and the simplicity and passion of the delivery—not the wonderfully eclectic and grand arrangements of her earlier work. You can almost visualize Patricia sitting with piano in the corner of a small smoky café with glasses and silverware clinking in the background, a minimal supporting cast, and just one or two microphones at best.

Primary band members at the time included Michael Arnopol on bass and Adam Cruz on drums. Additional musicians on several tracks included guitarist Charlie Hunter, bassist Marc Johnson, and drummer Adam Nussbaum. For most of the album, Patricia sits dead center along with her piano—her image and voice are tightly locked in and almost bigger than life. Musicians are nicely spread across the soundstage with the air and three dimensionality of the real thing.

My favorite tracks include "You Don't Know Me," "Bye, Bye Blackbird," and "Alfie." I also greatly enjoyed the never-before-released bonus track "Wild Is The Wind." I have mentioned it several times, and I will say it again, as a vocalist, Patricia can compete with the very best, and her skills are so underrated. Not that this is a competition, but many audiophiles buy these records for the incredible sound quality and just don't take the time to really appreciate what a superb entertainer that she really is. Patricia's timing and articulation are amazing, with a style and restraint that is clearly her own unique signature. As her lovely voice hovers over her superb efforts on piano, you get a one-two punch that really provides an emotional connection.

Don't let anyone tell you that a digital source and LP pressing cannot compete with an all analog source and LP pressing. Jim Anderson and Bernie Grundman have done their magic again. I have the original Premonition 33 RPM single LP (2000), the follow-up Premonition 33 RPM double LP (2013), and the MoFi 45 RPM double LP (2000). Many fans consider Nightclub as the best sounding release in her entire discography. That says a bunch, as all of her albums are some of the best ever for sound quality regardless of genre and format.

Let me be clear from the get go. Remember, all things are subjective, but all of these pressings sound spectacular in my system and in my listening room. I would not discount the two Premonition pressings, as in some ways, they are the most detailed and airy of the three. On certain tracks and depending on your system and setup, there can be a slight edge and some mild sibilance, but I'm also confident that some folks will totally disagree. The MoFi has been my "go to" for many years, and I thought that it could never get any better. The MoFi provides an additional sense of natural harmonics and weight to the sound that is very appealing. Almost like an additional palate or tapestry of color. This is especially true of the vocals.

The new IMPEX 1Step is a distinct improvement and the differences are not subtle. I have all the Patricia Barber 45 RPM MoFi reissues, which are all fantastic. However, for me, they all have one common issue. The vinyl can be noisy—at least a touch more noise than what is expected on such an expensive reissue. This is not a huge deal for albums like Café Blue and Modern Cool, where the expansive arrangements and sound levels can often hide the problem. For Nightclub, this is critical as this LP has such an intimate and quiet presentation.

The Supervinyl and 45 RPM pressing used on the 1Step really does make a difference. Backgrounds are super quiet and jet black. This allows for vocals and instruments to really pop out into the listening space and to be presented in a much more compelling way. My audio buds like to call this "assertive immediacy." My big three (timbre, tone, and pitch), are so much more realistic and tangible that it is very easy to differentiate. You can really hear into the vibrato of Patricia's voice, the inner woody texture of the acoustic bass, and the splashy brassy sizzle of the hi-hat cymbals. Again, it's hard to believe that this is possible considering the quality of the other pressings, but I had these improvements verified over and over again by other visitors to my listening room.

In summary, we have a real winner here with the IMPEX 1Step. Just a quick look at Discogs indicates that the MoFi reissue has several listings for above $400 and the two LP Premonition reissue has several for over $250. With the IMPEX 1Step, you get a first class product from virtually every perspective—production value, sound quality, and performance. Congrats to Abey Fonn at IMPEX Records for another fine addition to their catalog. I can only hope that my two favorite Patricia Barber albums are next up at the plate. Modern Cool or Companion would make for a sensational next step in the lineup (or should I say 1Step)! Highly, highly recommended!


After discussing the new Kristen Edkins release with an audiophile friend and also mentioning the War - Greatest Hits LP referenced above, I was told that Kevin Gray utilized his all tube cutting system on the later as a first trial to test the process for the first time. This all makes sense, as again, this LP has quickly become a classic for both sound and performance.