Direct-to-Disc Vinyl Explosion!

(Review Explosion is usually a recurring AnalogPlanet feature covering recent releases for which we either don’t have sufficient time to fully explore, or that are not worthy of it. Normally curated by AnalogPlanet contributing editor Malachi Lui, this particular Review Explosion has been hijacked by AnalogPlanet editor Michael Fremer and covers in capsule form Direct-to-Disc releases).

The reel-to-reel tape comeback is interesting and there are some great titles but given the cost of a good deck and the paucity of titles, not to mention their cost, it’s not yet a particularly worthwhile investment in my opinion unless you’ve got the money to spare. And if you do, by all means go for it!

When and if the major labels let the tapes out of the vaults (which they should, since their “masters” are now high resolution 192/24 transfers), the reissue floodgates will open and then we can revisit R2R.

Meanwhile, some amazing sounding and musically worthwhile Direct-to-Disc LPs have been released over the last few years, including some very recent ones. Some older D2D titles had simultaneously recorded to tape versions turned into LPs and and there’s really no contest: the D2Ds are unmistakably superior so consider picking up at least a few of these titles.

Gary Bartz and Maisha-Gary Bartz and Maisha

Night Dreamer ND007 D2D

Produced by: Gilles Peterson, George Camdonius and Neal Birnie
Recorded, Mixed, Mastered and Cut by: Rinus Hooning, & Martijn Schouten

Music: 9
Sound: 9

Night Dreamer began recording direct-to-disc sessions last fall at Artone Studios, located above the Record Industry pressing plant in Haarlem, The Netherlands using a “wide range of vintage mastering and recording equipment assembled and painstakingly restored over seven years.”

The gear includes one of four remaining RCA 76D mixing boards—another one of which was used at Sun Studios in Memphis—using Neumann microphones and Neumann lathe, along with Westrex Capitol cutting amps designed specifically for Capitol studios and used, the liner notes say to cut The Beach Boys and The Beatles albums. The label name springs from Wayne Shorter’s 1964 album of the same name.

This one, features veteran soprano and alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, who’s performed with Miles, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and McCoy Tyner among others and the London-based Afro-funk/jazz group Maisha (drums, percussion, trumpet, electric guitar, bass, keyboards), with whom Bartz has been live-gigging for quite some time (if I didn’t tell you, you’d quickly figure out this wasn’t a “chance encounter”).

The toe tappingly funky, serpentine-like set features three collaborative compositions and Bartz classics “Uhuru Sasa” originally on Gary Bartz Ntu Troop’s 1971 Milestone album Harlem Bush Music—Uhuru (Milestone MSP 9032) and “Dr Follow’s Dance” from the group’s Follow, The Medicine Man (Prestige PRST 10068) from 11973.

The sound is rich, full, warm, well-textured and of course “direct-vintage”. The louder you crank it, the better it sounds. Plenty here for the mind, soul, feet and whole-body. Record Industry presses consistently great records and this one was one and well-packaged to.

To order and for more information go to Night Dreamer’s Bandcamp page. And watch this:

Seun Anikulapo-Kuti & Egypt 80 - Seun Anikulapo-Kuti & Egypt 80

Night Dreamer ND001 D2D

Produced by: Seun Kuti
Recorded, Mixed, Mastered by: Martijn Schouten

Cutting engineer: Patrick Scholtens

Music: 10
Sound: 10

Night Dreamer debuted its D2D series with Fela’s youngest son Seun Kuti leading his father’s fourteen piece group Egypt 80 in an exciting set of politically charged numbers. I’m surprised the Neumann VMS70 lathe survived this super-hot, Afro-Beat session punctuated by churning saxophones, blaring brass and multiple percussionists. This one sounds even better than the Bartz recording, good as that one is, especially this recording’s more open top end. Also available on the Bandcamp website.

The Locrian Ensemble of London - Binaural Baroque

Chasing the Dragon ValdC005 180g LP

Produced by: Mike and Francoise Valentine
Engineered by: N/A
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: John Webber? at Air Studios

Music: 10
Sound: 10

One of many worthwhile and fine sounding Chasing the Dragon D2D records, this one adds the attraction of a Neumann binaural “dummy head” microphone set-up at AIR Studios. You needn’t listen on headphones to get the recording’s intense three-dimensionality and purity though on ‘phones it’s even more pronounced.

Though these are baroque “warhorses”: “Vivaldi Guitar Concerto”, Pachelbel “Canon”, Handel “Harp Concerto” and Mozart “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” (all but the “Canon” excerpted to fit the limited disc size), both the playing and recording are delicate and immersive. If you think you’ve heard enough of “Canon” to last a lifetime of weddings (and divorces) this one might change your thinking. If your system doesn’t “disappear” reproducing this record, you’ve got some work to do.

Chasing the Dragon simultaneously records to high resolution PCM and DSD as well as double DSD and these files can be purchased on the Chasing the Dragon Download Shop and in America all of the Chasing the Dragon Direct-to-Disc vinyl titles are available at Elusive Disc.

Eleanor McEvoy - Forgotten Dreams

Chasing the Dragon ValdC006 180g LP

Produced by: Mike and Francoise Valentine
Engineered by: Jake Jackson
Mixed by: Jake Jackson
Mastered by: John Webber at Air Studios

Music: 10
Sound: 10

Eleanor McEvoy opens this D2D recorded in a corner of cavernous AIR Studios with a version of “The Spanish Word For Heart is Corazon”, which is probably her best known song, originally found on her album A Woman’s Heart, which at one time was the best- selling Irish album in Irish history, and may still be.

She plays electric guitar accompanied by Damon Butcher on piano. The recording is remarkably transparent. Everything in the chain from the microphone, to the mic preamp to the cutting system is so remarkably transparent that you’ll easily think the duo is performing in your room—if your system is up to it.

Ten charming, heartfeld performances by a pro unafraid of and perhaps inspired by the direct-to-disc process. As direct and basic a recording as can be imagined and thoroughly enjoyable too.

Two other easy to recommend Chasing the Dragon D2Ds are the Clare Teal Ella Fitzgerald Tribute reviewed on this site as well as the double elpee Big Band Spectacular featuring The Syd Lawrence Orchestra (assuming you like big bands and even if you don’t think you do, you might be surprised!).

Ruth Palmer-Johann Sebastian Bach

Berliner Meister Schallplatten BMS 1816 V 180g LP

Produced by: Philip Krause
Engineered by: Lukas Kowalski and Philip Krause
Mixed by: Lukas Kowalski
Mastered by: Rainer Maillard

Music: 10
Sound: 10

Violinist Ruth Palmer has been described as “the most distinctive violinist of her generation” ( Independent), and praised by audiences and critics alike for her “intensity” and “poetic grandeur” (The Guardian).

The story goes that Palmer wanted to record Bach’s Sonata in C major with only the Partita in E major. The coupling is perfect for an LP but too short a running time for CD. Thus was born this Direct-to-Disc project, which on one side runs 27 minutes. Yes, that’s a very long LP side but not a problem for a solo violin recording.

Rainer Maillard and Stephen Flock co-executive produced this production, recorded at Meistersaal adjacent to Emil Berliner Studios and of course formerly the site of Hansa Tonstudio where so many legendary records were made by U2, Iggy Pop, Depeche Mode and of course David Bowie who recorded there Heroes.

Palmer recorded the Sonata on April 22, 2018 recorded by Krause and the Partita on June 3rd engineered by Kowalski. The set up featured Josephson C722 microphones and DGG custom-made microphone preamps. Set the volume correctly and you’ll be in the room. The sound is sweet and transparent as you’d expect with no tape or digital processors between Palmer and the cutting head.

And don’t forget this other Berliner Meister Schallplatten production: Katie Mahan Plays Gershwin.

Speakers Corner distributes Berlin Meister Schallplatten LPs so in America they are available through Elusive Disc. You can also find them for sale in Europe on the Pure Pleasure website.

That’s it for now, but in the near future expect a Part II because there really is a D2D explosion!

MalachiLui's picture

i have no doubts about the excellence of the sound and your enjoyment of the music, but those chasing the dragon album covers are disgusting. in an age where basic quality design can be easily achieved through free websites and apps, whoever designed those record covers chose to use the ugliest font and generic stock images from 2001. rant over.

culturcide's picture

I bought the recently reviewed ‘Má vlast‘ on the strength of the cover design... I don’t even like classical!

MalachiLui's picture

looked it up, the cover on that one looks fine. i was specifically referring to the chasing the dragon label records, with the hideous covers

Old Zorki II's picture

Hilary Hann "Retrospective" also have first disc (Mozart Sonata K.379) as direct-to-disc.

rich d's picture

I bought the Seun Kuti record earlier this year and have listened to it several times. Yes, it's a fine recording and yes the music is good. However, the material is not dissimilar to that produced by his father, and a quick listen to any Fela record will leave no doubt as to whose music contains more passion and raw talent. Which means this one should't be "10/10" for music.

And I hope everyone will forgive me for going off topic, but I have a couple hot tips for you: this excellent website can't possibly review everything and sadly three of the best LPs of the past year have slipped through the cracks. All are fine recordings (demonstration quality in the case of the Steve Harley) and all three will put a smile on your face:
Steve Harley / Uncovered (acoustic covers of rock standards)
Cosmo Sheldrake / The How How Much Much and I (no explanation is possible, just go listen to it)
LLoyd Cole / Guesswork (a clever synthesis of the types of music he's made over the years, from folky pop to German electronica)

Michael Fremer's picture
Thanks for the tips. As for the 10/10. I chose to not compare to father. But the band is still really great...and the son gets the spirit of it IMO...
AnalogJ's picture

Having heard and owned many direct to disk records, I have found them to have performances that are overly safe. The Tower Of Power record, and For Duke is another example, where you can hear the artists being careful rather really letting loose. A big mistake, and all those lacquers getting cut need to be discarded.

timware's picture

I’d not heard any of the 3 artists you mentioned but I’ve listened and they are, to a man, brilliant... Particularly Cosmo Sheldrake... wow! Thanks.

And, yeah, those CtD covers are pretty lame which is really too bad considering the contents.

timware's picture

who criticized them :)

rich d's picture

and you can see why I found it difficult to describe the Cosmo Sheldrake record. I could say it's somewhere between Jonathan Richman and Esquivel but that's not much to go on for most folks...

timware's picture

It embodies so much of what I love in music and art. Very organic, sophisticated yet simple, creative, unpretentious, &c &c. Reminds me of Sufjan Stevens, Incredible String Band, as well as a number of contemporary artists using looping tech to build layers. Simply magical. And I love Bernie Krause from whom Mr Sheldrake gets many of his sounds. Can’t thank you enough.

latinaudio's picture

Your comments guided me to 3 excellents records, with a musicianship and sound beyond the mostly boring and repetitive "artistry" of today autotune singers...
BTW, are you the same Rich D of Grahan Slee forum?

rich d's picture

So pleased that I was able to steer some good music your way! And your comment perfectly illustrates what I like about those three records.

rich d's picture

I'm not the rich d on the Graham Slee forum. I may check out that forum but I'm not sure the internet is big enough for 2 rich d's.

Intermediate Listener's picture

Comments made me laugh. The early, pathbreaking Chesky reissues of Reiner and others were much worse! Good article on Chasing the Dragon recording session in TAS 300 btw.

davip's picture

"...Normally 'curated' by AnalogPlanet contributing editor Malachi Lui, this particular Review Explosion has been hijacked by AnalogPlanet editor Michael Fremer"

As such, we didn't have to hear about how Kanye West / Charli-X / Whoever are better than Mozart or Bach ever were...

analogdw's picture


Glotz's picture

You're hijacking my good mood.

Please don't 'trig off', especially when you aren't contributing positively otherwise.

(It comes off like you are letting a 14-year old get the best of you. Not a good look for an adult.)

Glotz's picture

These great releases seems to sell out months before I get a chance to read about them.

I should pay more attention to Michael's LP previews when they are there and populate my calendar more often. It's like a 2nd job though!

Thank gosh I got Amazon Music Unlimited to check new releases in full immediately. Sounds is so-so, music breadth is fantastic.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

I purchased the Eleanor McEvoy Chasing The Dragon release and can highly recommend it. The lady has always had an eye for top sound quality on her recordings.

charliepress's picture

This has been the best thing to happen to adventurous jazz lovers! I highly recommend getting the Etuk Ubong lp too--harder to find on this side of the pond but I think Mr. Bongo US store still has copies. the Seu Jorge lp is great too.

bdp24's picture

I love the sound of D-2-D LP's, the highest sound quality medium for music I've ever heard (I started collecting them after hearing the second Sheffield). The problem with them though, as we all know, is the risk of playing a bum note leads the musicians to "play it safe". That, and the choice of music is often, to my taste, not so hot. Good to learn of some D-2-D LP's containing music notable on it's own.

Michael, I have a question for you: In your mention of your young protege, you describe him as a contributing "editor". I've seen this term used for what I consider "mere" writers in Stereophile and TAS, and wonder why. Aren't you, Michael, THE editor, and everyone else contributing "writers"? I know it's only semantics, I'm just curious!

audiotom's picture

I think of direct to disc albums

Usually it is subpar music with “hi fi” dynamices

If I have to hear another Sheffield Labs recording I am going to puke

MonetsChemist's picture

WOW! I'm sorry to respond to this so belatedly, but THANK YOU for pointing this out.

I've been a Fela / Femi Kuti fan for a long time (well heck so have my dear wife and my wonderful kids - when the kids were much younger and Uncle Mur - does everyone have an Uncle Mur? - was over, we'd move the coffee table and put "Green Boobie Man" on and dance til we had to stop).

A couple of years ago I was delighted to discover Newen Afrobeat

and then even more delighted to discover Seun Kuti, Fela's youngest (maybe?) and Femi's baby brother, playing with Newen Afrobeat.

So fast forward to this recommendation and hearing Seun and Egypt 80, and I'm back to WOW!

Thanks Mr. Fremer. A super recommendation.

Rkray145's picture

First, I never write negative reviews. I always feel I don't have the authority to put negative statements out in public. I usually don't have all the facts and way to little experience. By the way Michael, this is why I admire your work as much as I do. You do say "fantastic, wow!" (you say wow a lot)and "meh" when you feel it needs to be said. I have never seen any evidence that your assessments aren't authoritative and sincere, and I have acted many times on them.

I have not weighed in on audiophile/music opinions until now.

I was so excited when I read the review of Night Dreamer and proceeded to find them on Discogs, saw the Seu Jorge session, took the recommendation on Gary Bartz and Seun Kuti - purchased all three with shipping costs from Night Dreamers and excitedly got ready for my AAA vinyl. That was almost three months ago. ND has not responded to any messages and request for status. After the money was accepted they only marked the order as shipped after Discogs had to shut down their site for non-responsiveness (so they could get their Discogs site open again). That was 6 weeks ago. I have not received anything yet. I have asked for status, asked for a tracking #, asked how they were doing, through Discogs and through Paypal, but have never heard a boo from them.

Honestly, if I'm out 90 quid because they are in financial trouble, so be it. I admire what they are doing, and these last 15+ months have been insane. A lot of businesses are struggling. But I wish they would communicate. I'd have a lot more empathy, and I wouldn't be on this page thinking I had the authority to say BUYER BEWARE!!!