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September 13, 2012

Music of the Cosmos, meet headphones of the Spaceways

[Full Discloser: my brother works for the company that makes Polk Audio products.  He sent these headphones to me.]
UltraFocus 8000 Headphones
A few things have prompted me to write about Sun Ra.  One: last week Portland's KMHD Jazz Radio featured Sun Ra's music all week long as part of their Artist Spotlight series.  Two: this summer I took up reading more Sci-Fi novels, and I feel this has reconnected me with Sun Ra's intergalactic themes.  And three: these new Polk Audio headphones sound fucking great.
"Sun Ra and his band from outer space will entertain you now"

What I am listening to here is Sun Ra's College Tour: The Complete Nothing Is.  The original ESP-Disk' LP contained 39 minutes of audio from a live set at St. Lawrence University in Potsdam, NY.  This two disc CD version contains the full 70 minute set along with a "partial second set from the same evening."  We can thank Sun Ra archivist Michael D. Anderson for all this new material.  Overall, the Nothing Is... is a feast to the ears.  Total ear candy in the highest Avant-Garde sense.  Great arrangements, great sound, great solos, and just plain-great Jazz music.
CD cover left, original LP cover right
Audio engineer David B. Jones captured a wonderful performance here, and this remastered version fills the role using my UltraFocus 8000 headphones.  The 8000's drivers provide a sound quality that allows the highs and lows to come through individually without conflicting with one another.  Along with the natural sounding mid-range tones, the highs, mids, and lows create a true harmonious listening experience.  For example, Ronnie Boykins bass slapping sounds killer on It Is Eternal.  There's a lot of room for the audio to breath, yet picking up little noise from the outside world thanks to the noise cancellation; which cleared out the hum from my window A/C and Mac Pro Fans.

Ok.  So listening to 320kbs MP3 files is one thing... But the proper question is, how do these sound with Vinyl?

Keeping with the intergalactic themes, I tethered myself to the receiver with the company of Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction.  Particularly to the cuts Civilization Day and Street Woman.  The two tracks containing the [original] original Quartet line up.  
Agnes Martin scoping the UltraFocus 8000 Headphones
There was once a time when young folks wanted the loudest stereos.  Now, we keep the music to ourselves thanks to iPods and Smartphones.  However, I can't remember the last time I sat with headphones while listening to an actual piece of Wax.  For one, I sit and what else is there to do but read the liner notes?  I just said to my wife the other day, "people don't read liner notes these days."  Which I followed up with, "do people even write liner notes for new music?"

To answer my question, Howard Mandel has work doing so, but I don't know the answer in the "Pop" music sense.  However, my original point is that I am thankful these new headphones gave me the chance to read some liner notes oppose to just having music in the background.  And boy, does Ornette's Quartet sound good on these puppies.  Of course I still hear the snap, crackle, and pop of the LP, but I don't think I have ever heard Billy Higgins sound so good.  I mean, I can really differentiate between each drum head and cymbal.  And along with Charlie Haden's chromatic use of his finger board on Street Woman, the Quartet appeared more unstoppable than ever before.
The Complete Nothing Is... 1966 - ESP-Disk'
Sun Ra - piano; John Gilmore - tenor sax; Marshall Allen - alto sax; Pat Patrick - baritone sax; Robert Cummings - baritone clarinet; Teddy Nance - trombone; Ali Hassan - trombone; Clifford Jarvis - drums; Ronnie Boykins - bass, tuba; James Jackson - log drum, flute; Carl Nimrod: sun horn, gong. 

Science Fiction, Civilization Day & Street Woman. 1972 - Columbia
Ornette Coleman - alto sax; Don Cherry - pocket trumpet; Billy Higgins - drums; Charlie Haden - bass.