Chris Cutler/Thomas Dimuzio/Fred Frith
Golden State


I have to admit that it was with a strong sense of curiosity and anticipation that I waited for the moment when I could finally listen to the album (as in, "vinyl-only") called Golden State. And my wait was destined to last a bit longer than I expected, for reasons I'll briefly discuss in a moment.

I was quite intrigued by the possibilities that were potentially entailed by this meeting. In fact, provided I'm not mistaken, this is the first time that a physical item is available on sale to the general public, involving these three players: Chris Cutler on drums, etc.; Thomas Dimuzio on sampling, manipulation, etc.; and Fred Frith on guitars; of course, we already know about the four albums released by the Cutler-Frith long-standing duo, and the two albums by the Cutler-Dimuzio duo: all fine albums, those, offering multiple points of interest.

Looking quite majestic, Golden State is a limited-edition album: only 1969 180 grams vinyl copies were pressed, 500 copies in translucent gold, 500 in white vinyl (for this writer, it's always the most elegant look), the others in the usual "classic black". Though the press release talks about all material having been recorded in California in 1999, the actual liner notes date the four tracks featured here to the years 1999, 2000, and 2002. No details to be found about the nature of the tracks, so we don't know if they come from live or studio sessions, though a certain "ambience" that I think it's possible to "feel" here and there makes me think of concert recordings, though later edited by Thomas Dimuzio, who also did the album's pre-mastering.

The reason for my long wait is quite simple indeed: It was my intention to listen to this new album after mounting my brand-new cartridge on my faithful turntable, the old one having seen better days. But since what one wishes for and reality are very different items...

Side 1 features just one long track (about 18') performed by the trio. Strange but true, a word that often came to me while listening to this track was "psychedelic", even if the word has not to be seen in its literal sense - though the lead guitar passage performed by Frith at about 5' has a definite "raga rock" flavour; there's also another very fine guitar passage, about 5' later. Lotsa space and a highly skilled use of dynamics, the trio never making use of the more predictable "wall of sound". Quite strange, this: just when I was getting really involved in the music, the side ended.

Side 2 features three tracks: a brief piece for trio; a 6' track featuring both the trio and Beth Custer on vocals and bass clarinet; and a last trio track, of about 10'. To me track #1 sounded just like a very good intro, while track #2 greatly benefits by the dark-sounding, woody timbre of the clarinet; again, the track ended just I was really getting into the music; track #3 features some "dark" colours that I regard as being peculiar of Dimuzio's work; I have to confess that this is my favourite track on the album; sure, I would have liked a few more minutes of this, too.

So it's all perfect. Well, not quite. But here I have to add a few points.

In the last twenty years I have listened to just a few vinyl releases - here I'm referring to vinyl versions of recently released, digitally sourced, albums; and to re-releases of old & famous albums in a new, digitally-sourced, pressing; once in a while I buy "mint", or "sealed", original pressings of vintage albums. So I don't really know what the current acceptable/tolerated quality standard is when it comes to new vinyl editions, though I have to say that the few LPs I've received as promos in the course of the last ten years or so told me I was in the right when I decided to stay away from all this.

Funny thing: While I happen to read some comments about this or that new pressing as being quite faulty when it comes to a certain number of technical issues (it's specialized "fan" blogs I'm talking about), most conversations I happen to hear, and most "professional" reviews I happen to read, never mention this stuff. Here readers are invited to draw their own conclusions.

Pressed by MorphiusDisc, the copy I received had a bit of a warp: nothing really terrible, but it was enough to partially ruin my enjoyment of the first track on Side 2; the hole placed on Side 2 was a bit off-centre, with the typical "seasick" effect in the outer portion of the side; there was noise, too: the vinyl itself was quite silent, but pops and tocs abounded, this especially (but by no means limited only) on the first part of track 1/Side 1; such problems are only made worse by the fact that the volume of the music is quite a bit lower than (what I regard as being) preferable: it goes without saying than any album featuring such clean, highly dynamic, music, will have, by necessity, very quiet moments; but I strongly believe that - since both sides aren't that long - a bit more level should not have been a source of grief when it comes to the dreadful "jumpin' stylus" phenomenon; of course, the fact of one having to turn the volume knob to the right will make those pops sound quite dramatic.

Of course, it's entirely possible that those faults are well inside the range of what's "average" today when it comes to vinyl releases, so I'll invite readers to judge for themselves: it would really be a pity if such fine music were not listened to due to those technical issues - I don't really expect most new vinyl albums to sound any better than this.

In closing, I'll add this: While listening to Golden State I asked myself if my daily listening to digital media could maybe make me exaggerate what are, in effect, the usual characteristics of vinyl "as it's always been right from the start". And I have to say that it's only with a sense of horror that Italian readers will think about those old Italian pressings of Matching Mole's Little Red Record on CBS or King Crimson's Larks' Tongues In Aspic on Ricordi. But before listening to Golden State, in order to "calibrate" my hearing to the new cartridge, I listened to a whole bunch of albums pressed between 1970 and 1984, the quality of the vinyl going from very good to superb. To silence my doubts, I also listened to the original UK LPs from 1973 of Leg End by Henry Cow and IV by Faust, both on Virgin: in this day and age, truly stuff from another world.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2010 | Sept. 30, 2010