Archive for December, 2010

23
Dec
10

Happy Holidays from HiFi

Wishing the HiFi Readers a very nice holiday season and a happy new year!

23
Dec
10

Captain Beefheart RIP

Sadly here at HiFi Central we needed to be reminded by legendary blogger and HiFi reader Rob Sama (Samablog) about posting something about the passing of legendary musician and poet Captain Beefheart.

Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) passed away in his Northern California home from complications associated with MS.  Beefheart was highly influential (although this might be the first time YOU have heard of him sadly) for many musicians heard today.

Beefheart was a wacky character, always riding outside the lines of society and forging his own path of creativity and artisitic expression.  Both Beefheart and Zappa attended high school together and later collaborated on several albums.  Although both talented in their own right they were one of those “best of friends, worst of enemies” type relationships, which ultimately left the two on non-speaking terms for remaining years.  If you have not had the pleasure of listening to the marvelous Zappa-Beefheart chemistry I highly recommend the live album Bongo Fury (1975). 

Click here to read more on Beefheart’s passing.

22
Dec
10

A HiFi Tech Geek Moment

Normally when you read this blog it doesn’t really go very deep in regard to technology or geeky computer stuff, with the exception of the random post about Rush.  Today, however, I felt compelled to post something a bit geeky, techy, and of course related to music. 

My wife finally gave me the green light on getting a new television after many months (if not years) of drooling at the latest technology.  I’m glad though that we waited until this time for two reasons: 1. LED / LCD technology and 2. very low prices.  I’m a rather frugal guy and when it comes to anything expensive I’m all about waiting to see what comes out next and ultimately waiting until it is no longer expensive (all things being relative).  I decided to get the Sony NX800 46″ LED wireless flat panel and could not be happier on so many levels.  Granted anything would be an improvement over our previous 15  year old 27″ Sony Wega (ground breaking for its time too, but now ancient history).

One of the main things that appealed to me was that it had a USB port so that I could either plug in my 500G portable hard drive or 8G flash drive for photos, movies, and of course music.  Well, truth be told it does play those things, but not all formats; something the salesperson at Best Buy promised it could do with no problem, clearly he doesn’t know his product as well as he thinks he does.

How does this tech talk relate to a blog about music, well, the issue is that the music stored on my flash drive is in a .wav (Waveform Audio File) format that most PC computers use in addition to other formats.  Well, Sony only likes MP3, so that means that much of my electronic music collection is unplayable on this system, bummer yes, end of the line? no.

For those of you that may need to convert .wav files to Mp3 often it has been a laborious process and somewhat complicated (especially if you are using converters like Winamp), luckily there is a very easy program that you can download for free and only takes seconds rather than minutes or hours to convert your exisiting music files.  The only drawback is that you cannot convert an entire file of mulitiple albums, you still must open the album file (press CNTL-A to highlight your entire track list rather than one song at a time), choose the destination file for your newly converted files, and click convert, viola!

If you have an Ipod you are in luck with Sony televisions; everything Apple  music files are all in MP3 file format so there are no issues with compatability.  Windows Media Player converts compact discs to either .wav or .wma formats, whether Sony plays .wma is yet to be seen.  I will try tonight and update this blog accordingly in the coming days.  I do not have my hopes up, and the thought of having to convert my entire digital library seems absurd in these times.

If you are interested in downloading a very easy to use .wav to Mp3 converter, click here.

I am also exploring the web for an easy to use .avi to mp4 converter for video; this Sony model also does not support .avi file formats.  If you have this Sony product, please feel free to comment about file formats you’ve found work and those that do not; not to mention any tricks you may have discovered along the way.

21
Dec
10

Happy Birthday, Frank Zappa!

Musical genius, anti-censorship crusader and all-around wacky dude Frank Zappa would have turned 70 years old today.  As you read in our previous posts, Frank’s son Dweezil is currently on tour playing incredible Zappa tunes, and certainly there could be no better way to celebrate Frank’s creativity, humor and brilliance.  The Hi-Fi crew extends our happiest b-day wishes to Frank’s ghost, which is no doubt lurking in the shadows somewhere.  Cheers to Frank Zappa!

17
Dec
10

Zappa Plays Zappa – Show Review (The Egg 12/16)

Ever since seeing a televised performance a couple of years ago of Dweezil Zappa playing his father Frank’s music, I have been relishing the chance to see this spectacle in person.  Last night at the Egg in Albany, I got that chance, and disappointment was the farthest thing from my mind. 

Dweezil and his incredible ensemble of musicians blew the doors off the theater with the opening number “Gumbo Variations,” a 15-minute instrumental piece from the album “Hot Rats.”  They could have stopped playing after this song and I would have felt I got my money’s worth.  It was so tight, so spot on that it may as well have been Frank and his old cohorts up on stage.  The band then played the entire “Apostrophe” album to perfection, a quite bluesy record with the highlights being the title track, “Uncle Remus,” and “Stink Foot.”  Vocalist Ben Thomas sounded almost identical to Frank Zappa, and Dweezil’s ability to play the complex and amazing guitar licks composed by his father is second to none.  During “Cosmik Debris,” the guitar and vocals were turned over to Frank himself, via a video clip of Frank performing.  His vocals and guitar were supported live by the rest of Dweezil’s band, allowing for a unique experience.  This merging of past and present continued later in the show during portions of “Inca Roads” and “Muffin Man.” 

For Dweezil to have learned all of his father’s music is impressive enough, considering the elder Zappa recorded over 80 albums in his career.  But to take his father’s music on tour, to attempt to recreate his diverse style, sense of humor and intricate compositions really takes courage.  But Dweezil obviously knows what he’s doing, and he surrounded himself with truly gifted musicians.  Scheila Gonzales is an amazing saxophone player, as well as providing marvelous backing vocals throughout the show, and took the lead on the goofy 80’s Zappa hit “Valley Girl” (with a slightly modern treatment as she made references to Twitter and Facebook).  Not only can Ben Thomas sing like Frank, but he also played trumpet and various hand-held percussion instruments.  Bassist Pete Griffin’s fingers were flying during the intense and amazing “RDNZL,” which also featured great work by percussionist Billy Hulting.  Chris Norton shined on “City of Tiny Lights” with his keyboards and vocals, and guitarist Jamie Kime ripped through tunes like “Dinah Moe Hum” and played the part of The Devil during the low-brow humor of “Chrissy Puked Twice (Titties and Beer).”  Joe Travers rounded out the group, pounding the drums competently, although his brief but unnecessary drum solo halfway through the show was not a highlight.

Speaking of highlights, some were “RDNZL,” “Inca Roads,” and the unexpected audience-participation of “Keep it Greasy.”  Before that number, Dweezil invited all female audience members to join the band on stage to dance – about 20 or so ladies of all shapes and sizes did so, shaking their groove things during the sexual overtones of the song.  It was quite amusing.

If I had to find something negative about the show, it would be Dweezil’s stage presence, or lack thereof.  When he wasn’t blazing through a guitar section, he stood motionless, with a facial expression as though he were watching paint dry.  He had as much stage presence as a piece of wood.  But luckily his astounding ability to play Frank’s music note for note more than made up for it.

The band received standing ovations after about half of the songs throughout the show, and the crowd stood and cheered during the break before the encore.  The encore featured the short but awesome “Baby Snakes,” the aforementioned “Chrissy Pukes Twice” and closed with “Muffin Man.” 

Many of the fans were old enough to have seen Frank back in the day, and were joyous to see the songs performed so well again.  Others, like me, were big Frank fans who never got the chance to see the master perform, but I wouldn’t say that seeing Zappa Plays Zappa was “settling.”  Frank would no doubt be beyond proud and impressed with what Dweezil has been doing, and would be thrilled that so many people still love his music so much.  Even the biggest Frank Zappa purist could not deny the talent and precision of Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa.  If you can catch this show, you will not be disappointed.

This Zappa Plays Zappa concert gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!

16
Dec
10

Zappa plays Zappa – Tonight!

Well, tonight is the night your HiFi reviewers have been salivating for over the past few months, Zappa Plays Zappa will visit our fair city of Albany, NY to play at the oddest looking venue on Earth, The Egg. 

The show has been sold out for over a month and I guess would make it the hottest ticket in town, especially since this concert will feature the album Apostrophe in its entirety (no easy feat I’m sure).

I’m personally curious how well Dweezil will cover St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast and Father O’blivion; so far he has done a rather impressive job of surrounding himself with very capable young musicians in past shows.  Since this tour focuses on celebrating the “would-have-been 70th birthday” of his father I’m also curious to see who Dweezil may have show up for a special cameo’s.  Napoleon Murphy Brock has accompanied him on past tours, but I’m not sure if guys likes of George Duke, Vinny Colaiuta, and Steve Vai will randomly appear on this tour; certainly would be very cool if they do.

Luckily there are no bad seats in The Egg due to it’s unique design, also the acoustics are top rate, so I’m sure that this will be a show to remember.  Check back tomorrow morning for a full review of the show.

14
Dec
10

Robert Walters 20th Congress – B3 Groove Reborn

Riding the wave of my newly found favorite website (Nugs.net) I have been having a field day exploring the vast quantity of good music from both musicians I have been very acquainted with and those that I’ve never heard before.  There are some artists that I have heard about  but honestly had never been presented the opportunity to learn more about; luckily Nugs.net offers you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the artists and their music.

One such band that I feel compelled to enlighten the masses about is Robert Walters 20th Congress, simply the the best Hammond B3 groove I’ve had the pleasure to listen to compared to the likes of Joey DeFrancesco, Galactic, and the late great B3 groove masters Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff.

Robert Walters sound is a culmination of both Jimmy Smith and late Cannonball Adderly; soulful groove with a twist of Herbie Mann (on the song Fathom Five).  You can catch an incredible live show on Nugs.net for free streaming audio or better yet, free download for your personal music stash.

There are two shows avialable on Nugs.net and I highly recommend the Funkyard Festival (Long Beach, CA) recorded in 2001.  Highlights on this set are Fathom Five, Almendra, and Orange Peel, honestly they’re all really good and I’m sure you will find your favorites. The show is a non-stop groove fest, check it out and tell us what you think!

Robert Walter might be a name familiar with some who have listened to The Greyboy Allstars.