Report: Tower of Power – Direct

In which foolishness turns into a blog post. Never let it be said I don’t follow jokes to the bitter end.

So a text conversation I had yesterday  went something like this:

[General chit chat about the holidays, games, the vomiting bug, El Sistema Scotland, and then:]
Me: I just got a CD there in a second hand shop – tower of power direct, an audiophile recording from the seventies from a label set up specifically to make high quality live studio recordings of bands.
Peter: Holy crap. I want a full report on my desk in the morning.

And so we have:

Report: Tower of Power Direct

Background: Seminal funk band Tower of Power recorded this album for the Sheffield Lab record label, a company specialising in live studio recordings, recorded directly to disc without post-production or editing. Sheffield Lab’s aim was to provide high-quality audiophile standard recordings that captured the feel of live performance with the quality of studio sessions.

Report: Musically this album is impeccable. Tower of Power are famous for delivering energetic funk, and this record is a fine cross-section of their output, with songs displaying their skill at ballads (Never Let Go of Love), driving dance tracks (What is Hip?), and jazzy instrumentals (Squib Cakes). The musicianship of every individual member is top class; the band’s famous brass section stand out particularly. The arrangements are excellent. The live recording process adds a feeling of spontaneity to the recordings without ever becoming messy or unfocused; for example, fan favourite What Is Hip? gets an outing here in a version that is clearly different from the original album recording, but remains a fresh and recognizable take on the classic song. Possibly the most notable moment on the record is the lengthy saxophone solo Squib Cakes, ending with a sharp leap to the extreme of the instrument’s altissimo register.

In terms of audiophilia, I’m far from an expert. However, the production is crisp and every instrument has its place in the mix. If some instruments, such as the bass or electric organ, are more audible than other Tower of Power records, it only serves to highlight these instruments’ importance in the arrangement and never diminishes the sound of the other players. This is a remarkable feat given that the album was recorded live to a two-track recorder, with no mixing or mastering taking place. The greatest difference between this album and other records is the dynamic level – perhaps due to being produced for audiophiles, or because it was released before the loudness war took off, but for whatever reason this album, on average, is noticably quieter than modern releases. This is not a criticism – turn the CD player up a little and you’ll hear it just fine – and it may in fact be a strength, as lower overall volume can give recordings greater dynamic range.

Conclusion: This album was an excellent buy, and serves well as an introduction to their music, another entry in the collection of a long-time fan, or as an example of skilled high-level audio recording.



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