I once knew someone who when invited to a party would make it his fiendish duty sometime during the evening to locate the host’s music collection, find their singularly most embarrassing album and put it on the player. Suddenly the room would be flooded with the sounds of – insert your own guilty pleasure here – and then shortly thereafter raucous cackles of laughter.
The only excuse for some of the really dreadful albums I have enjoyed hearing at varying people’s homes – my own included – is that people of a certain age once held onto their vinyl much more passionately than CDs which seem so much more disposable just by their very nature. And the mp3 file is even more so. Years ago a record collection was very visible, an open window into the owner’s taste and soul. These days the mp3 player’s song index is not easily viewed by others and even the music itself is enjoyed in a solitary way.
The debate about compact discs and downloads versus vinyl has never really gone away and with good reason. Even though in many circles people who openly defend vinyl have been dismissed as eccentric freaks (cool DJs aside of course) nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, in recent news there has been a huge trend towards a return to this sound and many, many respected artists (Radiohead and Elvis Costello just to name two) have made a point of releasing/reissuing material on top quality vinyl. This isn’t just for effect: Mainstream stores are suddenly stocking USB turntables and record players are being ferreted out of attics and thrift stores. The sound on vinyl has always reported to be a much richer, warmer sound; some people even respond to the sound of the tiny imperfections. The compact disc sound on the other hand is often considered too perfect, too sterile – the resulting sound can come across as cold, stark and glaring, much like the harsh lighting in a big box store. And poor quality downloads are a whole other issue, particularly when listened to with cheap, primitive earbuds. Convenient, obviously, but unacceptable to a serious listener.
Nowhere has vinyl been more venerated than among discriminating jazz collectors. Concord Music Group has now devoted a section of its website (click on 'Collector's Corner') to highlight rare records and collectibles and provides helpful information not only to seasoned jazz listeners but also to new enthusiasts on a budget! Jazz can be incredibly intimidating, so I find this approach both refreshing and timely. So many people have been turned off by what they consider to be a bad jazz ‘experience’ and thereby stubbornly close their minds to listening to anything else under the same genre and frankly, this is not only sad but also unnecessary when there are so many wonderful choices out there.
Concord caters to a broad selection of tastes as well as providing helpful suggestions on how to start building a collection. Incidentally, the vinyl on sale here is superb value and particularly for what you will find, such as John Coltrane’s Soultrane or vintage Django Reindhardt. Oh and in case you were wondering, you can also buy the cd versions – without judgment …
Whether you are i) nostalgic (I remember being just as excited about the artwork or liner notes of a new record!) ii) cynical (vinyl is merely the latest hype to make up for revenue currently being lost to downloads) or iii) openly hostile (“Records are a product of petroleum. How can that be good?”) one thing is clear. Like it or not, baby – vinyl is back.