Author Topic: "A Different Time" - John Medeski  (Read 3668 times)

Offline richidoo

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"A Different Time" - John Medeski
« on: June 27, 2013, 06:00:24 PM »
An Album Review of John Medeski's "A Different Time"

Medium - 180g Vinyl LP. This is the first release on the revived O'Keh Records label, now a subsidiary of Sony Music Group. Full page ad in Stereophile magazine caught my eye when I was in a vinyl mood, so I ordered a copy for my birday. It arrived well packed in Amazon printed cardboard LP shipper, inside another box with other order items. I would order more LPs from Amazon just to have the safety of this LP shipping box.

The disc is flat, surface looks pristine as new records should. The label is very plain, white on one side, light blue on the other, with plain black text. Almost like a test pressing. Kinda charming, but minimalist.

The jacket is beautiful. Folds open with a artsy photoshop montage of the guts of the old piano used in the session. Some small text hidden in the photo art including Medeski's own notes. He is an intellectual and has a lot to say about music, I wished the notes were longer and more consequential.

I cleaned the hell out of it before playing the first time, and found the 2nd side to be very quiet, quiet enough to hear all kinds of wooden piano mechanicals. Unfortunately the first side of my copy has some pressing defects, loud 1/2 second long buzzes, along with more pops and ticks than should be on a 180g advertised in Stereophile. Other than the pressing defects, the noise floor of the recording itself is extremely quiet. This bodes well for future O'Keh releases. The jacket says "Made in the EU." On subsequent listenings the pressing noises were less noticeable, as I become more engrossed in the music.

The spindle hole has a rough edge and I needed to trim away some vinyl flash in the hole.

Production - The recording is certainly audiophile quality. Piano recordings are challenging, and transferring it to vinyl just adds another chance to screw it up, but they got it right on this one. Top to bottom the EQ sounds great, bass is very powerful, bring your biggest fastest woofers to do justice to this piano. Compression is very minimal, the piano sounds and feels very alive. A ribbon mic and 24 track analog tape recorder were used. Maybe some other room mics were used for stereo ambiance, but not mentioned in the notes. I noticed some good old fashioned print through on the lead in of one of the tracks, which is fun to hear on a new issue in this digital age, but it is a careless mistake, caused by not rewinding the master tails out. I couldn't hear any tape hiss. The soundstage is big, but the performance feels intimate. Acoustics in the recording space are excellent. It is a very big room as can be seen in the video linked above.

The tone of the piano is excellent. Kudos to the recordist, this is a very beautiful piano recording, a notoriously difficult instrument to record solo. The piano is a 1924 French Gaveau, an it was chosen for it's extreme sensitivity to the player's touch, and it's beautiful tone. John makes good use of this. The recordings are not extremely dynamic, but the quietest notes are barely audible, in contrast to the main melody notes, making the melodies expressive in the extreme. The piano tone is fantastic, it is deep and rich, very solid, but not bigger than life and "overly beautiful" like a Bosendorfer. Listening to a Bosendorfer can be distracting because the beautiful tone is stimulating in ways not intended by the composer. Kinda like a SET tube amp, it adds its own thing. The Gaveau sounds like a normal concert grand sounds, rounder and fuller perhaps, more sensitive, more expressive. The low notes sound awesome. They don't need to be pounded to sound powerful, so the low end can be very emotional without resorting to dynamic extremes.

Music - This is mood music for intellectual, open minded music lovers. In his liner notes John suggests listening at the end of the day when all concerns can be left behind so you can surrender to the musical journey. John goes into some deep improvisations, but he is limited by the theme of the record which is introspective and cool. The music is tonal, with tempo and self informing context. It is not hard to follow at all. But it also ventures off the path, innovating and surprising within the theme as is Medeski's artistic strength. I was anticipating more heat, more courage, more risk, based on what I have seen him play in years past. Instead, I found more depth, more sense of place, more humanity, maturity, more realism in John's playing than I've heard before.

Hard to believe, but this is John's first solo piano recording. His solo piano is so exceptional, I knew I had to grab this record, even though I only own one of his MMW records. When we used to play together I would ask John to play extended solo piano intros on recordings or at gigs. The audiences loved it. I wrote tunes that featured his solo piano. I still have some of those on tape and in some ways they are similar sound to this, but in many ways they are different. He was young and brave and there was no commercial considerations back then.  His playing was raw,  explosive and genius. I still hear a lot of that magic, especially in the composition and ability to channel something bigger than himself and the listeners, his ability to surprise, but now it is somewhat tempered and vastly more refined. The adept has become the master.

Song titles like Ran (Blake), Otis (Lake) and others harken back to his early days in MA, maybe that was the "Different Time?" I like to think those days were as important to him as they were to me.

I have known John since 1982. He is a wise, old soul. He is seeking something very special in life and he thinks it is to be found in the music, or found somewhere along the path that the music takes him. He has made immense sacrifices in following his inner voice and his quest has carried him very far from "home." To listen to this music I can hear how much closer he is to finding what he is looking for.

I am proud that he has accomplished so much, and so much that I could not accomplish for myself. His music is a pure view of the soul of a great, and kind person. The deepest part of the soul, the part which we all share. This is what makes music the universal language.