Tony Andrews (contributing editor - jazz) writes:
Back in the 1980 and 90s if you were in to Hi-Fi there were some great shows around in the London area. I can remember many happy hours spent at various locations near Heathrow and also at The Novotel in Hammersmith. As venue costs soared and demand dropped away these prestigious events got smaller and were dispatched to more isolated country locations miles from anywhere and I stopped going.
I did venture to Bristol several times but these paled in to insignificance compared to the London events. My main reason for going along to theses shows - apart from listening to the hype given out by some of the Hi-Fi makers - was to listen to which CDs were being used to demonstrate the equipment. There were usually some excellent CD/Record retailers with stalls at these shows where you could purchase items not available in your normal record store and before the days of Amazon and related online retail services.
Searching through these racks of CDs kept me looking at their wares for many happy hours. Two CDs which were always thought of as Audiophile Classics at this time were Fairytales by Norwegian Singer Radka Toneff https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radka_Toneff and Cafe Blue by Patricia Barber. Both are musically superb and despite being in the formative years of digital recording development were truly stunning recordings.
Unfortunately Radka Toneff died in 1982 of a suspected drug related incident but she did leave several highly collectable CDs before departing this world and Fairytales is the one for me. Patricia Barber has also made lots of CDs but once again Cafe Blue is the jewel in the crown.
Patricia was in London recently performing at The Pizza Express in Dean Street and my friend and amazing jazz singer Catherine Lima reported that Patricia was fantastic and did a wide range of material across all her CDs. She also did a concert at The Watermill in Dorking where my friend and professional jazz photographer Brian O'Connor (please see credits at the foot of this post) attended as the official photographer and reported similar remarks to those from Catherine Lima. You can see his images below.
Both Fairytales and Cafe Blue have been re-released in various remastered versions over the years which has improved the audiophile quality even further than the original releases.
About 12 years ago ODIN Records from Norway tried to release an SACD version of Fairytales but failed due to issues with the master tapes; a great shame. More recently it was released on SACD as a co-operation between ODIN and the German Label Stockfish.
I had tried to find more copies of this version and failed miserably therefore really thrilled I got my copy when I did. There is also a version released on ODIN but in XRCD24 which is excellent and even better than the original straight CD versions - but not as good as the SACD version which is breathtaking in clarity, amazing sound-stage and just being there in the studio.
Cafe Blue set up Patricia Barber up as the Queen of Audiophilia in The US and she appeared at Hi-Fi Shows and Audiophile Conferences for many years on the strength of it.
Once again there are so many versions of Cafe Blue starting with the original Gold Plated version on Premonition Records, then a version on Blue Note which was inferior. Mobile Fidelity then remastered this in to SACD which is stunning and I have seen these sell for up to £600 even as used.
More recently Premonition have re-released Cafe Blue as The Un-Mastered Capitol Studios Mix at a bargain price. I paid around £18 via Amazon.com rather than .co.uk and it appears to now be fluctuating around £35 - still a bargain compare with The Mobile Fidelity version.
I am not quite sure how you Un-Master something but the result is fantastic and the recording via my Sony SCD1 SACD Player is more forward and even more realistic than any of the other versions so ….. go treat yourself.
I am a great fan of SACD and I believe the conspiracy to undermine this medium really is a travesty. A great friend of mine, who wants to remain anonymous, but owns a leading Recording Studio in New York one told me that SACD frightens the life out of many Recording/Mastering Engineers which implies there was a conspiracy to damage this amazing format.
Both Fairytales and Cafe Blue in any version is worth owning and providing you truly like real music and not contrived trash then go and buy them. If you are fortunate enough to have purchased an SACD player then try to get the SACD versions and rekindle the magic in your Hi-Fi. Both these SACD discs are amongst of my most highly treasured musical possessions and would be lost without them. What more can I say.
Additional links you might like:
Photo credits and information:
Patricia Barber Trio,
Watermill Jazz Club,
Betchworth Park Golf Club,
Patricia Barber, vocals, piano
Patrick Mulcahy, bass
Nate Friedman, drums
A pleasant surprise. A good mixture of standards, bossa novas, jazz classics, and originals. From the early, Touch of Trash, via Thelonius Monk, lovely ballads (You’re My Everything) and a deliciously slow ‘Light My Fire’ Patricia Barber played her way through a wide range of styles. She was very ably assisted by Patrick Mulcahy on bass and Nate Friedman on drums. Unexpectedly enjoyable as I was not aware of her later recordings and compositions.