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Talking tape: ‘Thelonious Monk Live in Milan’ from Open Reel Records

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  • Talking tape: ‘Thelonious Monk Live in Milan’ from Open Reel Records

    As an audiophile, your love of music is almost matched by your passion for great sound and so sometimes you come across a recording that leaves you cold musically, but involves such hi-fidelity recording wizardry and a sound so divine, you just have to have it. More often, you discover a piece of music that lights up your soul but on a technical level the recording’s a tad lacking. It’s pretty rare to lay your hands on something that scores a full ten out of ten on both counts but when you do, you get a bit excited. I did and I am.

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    Open Reel Records is a specialist Italian label led by artistic director Marco Taio, who strives to make the very best recordings of gifted musical artists available to the discerning public. I met Marco and his colleague Mauro earlier this year at the Munich High End Show and collected a sampler tape, ‘Demo Reel 2015 Anthology’. I’ve already expounded (in an earlier post) on the tape’s exquisite packaging (albeit slightly OTT for my personal taste) and its phenomenal sound.

    Listening to the tape again recently, I felt moved to delve a little deeper into what for me are the outright stars of the show: two Thelonius Monk tracks recorded live in Milan. The two tracks in question are ‘Bemsha Swing’ and ‘Straight No Chaser’ and they’re both absolute blinders musically and technically. Turns out there’s a rather interesting little story behind them too…

    All but two of Open Reel Records’ recordings were made by Marco Taio himself, using his singular skills in microphone use, choice of venue and selection of artist and music. A notable exception? Thelonius Monk’s Live in Milan.

    Two questions were rattling around in my mind. How and did Taio learn his craft, and who made the Monk recording? Little did I know that both questions had the same answer: one Alberto Albertini.

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    Alberto Albertini in Rome, 1955

    Albertini was born in 1927 and worked as an inventor, an engineer and a producer. A bit of a 20th century renaissance man, then. He worked with Fonoroma designing recording studios and importing brands such as Studer and Schoeps. Then later on, as digital technology emerged, he became the Italian distributor for Weiss and various other renowned professional studio brands. By that time he had pretty much dedicated his life to music and movie soundtracks.

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    Albertini at Fonoroma

    Somewhere along the way, Albertini met a young Marco Taio and the former became the latter’s mentor. The pair also became firm friends. Years later, the two of them found, in Albertini’s attic, three tapes that Albertini had made at Monk’s Milan concert.

    The first Milan concert performed by Monk was about to take place at the Teatro Lirico, just at a time when Albertini was experimenting with a new state-of-the-art rig. As luck would have it, he was asked by the event’s organisers to record the show and so it was the perfect opportunity to put the new rig to the test.

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    Thelonius Monk & his band, Teatro Lirico, Milan, 21/4/1965

    The Monk recording was made using 12 Schoeps CM65 microphones, a 12-to-3 channel mixer developed and built by Barry Blesser and a pair of Ampex 300/3 recorders. Additionally, Albertini used an Ampex 300/2 recorder on which he made a back-up two-channel master.

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    Schoeps CM65 used to record 'Monk in Milan'

    All in all, a real slice of musical history – and it sounds absolutely breathtaking!

    Last edited by Dave Denyer; 09-24-2016, 09:13 AM.

  • #2
    What was the recording date of these Monk performances?
    Magnepan 1.6 QR Loudspeakers, Amherst A-2000 MOSFET 150 WPC Amp, Conrad Johnson PV-10A Modded Tube Line & Phono Stage, Electrocompaniet MC II Class A Head Amp, Audio Technica AT-OC9XML Cart (Stereo) , Graham Engineering 2.2 Tonearm (Stereo) , VPI Aries-1 Turntable (Stereo) , VPI Clamp, Denon DL-102 Cart, (Mono) , Luxman Tonearm (Mono) , Kenwood KD-500 Turntable (Mono) , Michell Clamp, Marantz 20B Analog FM Tuner, Pioneer SACD, Onkyo DX-6800 CD Transport, DIY 24B/192K DAC, Sennheiser HD-650 Headphones, Headroom Max Balanced Headphone Amp, DIY Silver Interconnects


    • JCOConnell
      JCOConnell commented
      Editing a comment
      nevermind, I see it in the caption, april '65

  • #3
    The recordings date was 21th of June 1961, a real amazing recording considering the really pioneering technlogy used !

    You can find more info, sample and booklet at the link below ...

    Best artist, amazing location, analog recordings, outstanding master and everytime an emotional sound !

    Just in this days, until end of september, we offer free shipping cost from two titles or more !

    Thanks to Dave for the really nice review !


    • Dave Denyer
      Dave Denyer commented
      Editing a comment
      I noticed in the notes that the recording date is listed as 21st April 1961, and also as 21st June 1961. Which date is correct?

  • #4
    What are the track widths on these recordings?

    Sorry, but I can't remember the names of the standards (and their technical specs).

    I've replaced the repro butterfly heads (larger track width, smaller gap between the tracks) on my Studer with Flux Magnetics (NAB?) heads (smaller track width, larger gap) and, as a result, my machine is optimized for one type of recording.....
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    Digital: dCS Network Bridge, dCS Scarlatti DAC
    Tape: Studer A80 RC, Doshi V3.0


    • Dave Denyer
      Dave Denyer commented
      Editing a comment
      Hi Squasher, I'm, afraid I don't know the answer to that although I can tell you that I also have 2mm gap heads (i.e. not butterfly - 0.75mm gap) and these tapes play beautifully. As far as I'm aware (anyone with more knowledge on this please correct me if I'm wrong), it's ok to play 0.75mm gap recordings with 2mm gap heads as you're just missing a small portion of the recorded tape, thereby potentially resulting in very slightly lower output, whereas but playing a 2mm gap recording with 0.75mm gap (butterfly) head means that you're playing some of the unrecorded tape which could add noise to the playback. Seems logical to me anyway :-)

  • #5
    This is a really great review. Thanks for sharing. I need to add this to my want list.
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    • #6
      There's generally two answers to the question why do we own a stereo system and don't for instance use the money on concerts. One to explore musical genres and music we might not get the opportunity to hear (after all, not everyone lives in big urban city like NY, LA or SF with their abundant culture). Two, to hear artists that are no longer with us. There is also a sub-corollary to the second statement that applies to this recording: Monk's style wasn't truly appreciated during his lifetime and only many years after his passing did he finally receive the accolades he was due.

      This is a great recording done by Monk with what was to be his mainstay quartet in the '60s at the end of long European tour. It was also the last recording that Monk did for Riverside Records. This performance was apparently released on Riverside back in 1963 (?) but I've never run across the album.

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      This live recording is often overlooked and contains many standards among the 8 tracks.

      I am slightly confused though. You say it was done with 12 Schoeps mikes and mixed from 12-->3 tracks. Yet it sounds like a mono recording. Or am I missing something?
      Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
      Senior Editor,

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      • #7
        Originally posted by MylesBAstor View Post

        I am slightly confused though. You say it was done with 12 Schoeps mikes and mixed from 12-->3 tracks. Yet it sounds like a mono recording. Or am I missing something?
        Yes, I thought the same thing. It is either in mono, or a very narrow stereo recording.
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        • #8
          I just listened to the snippet on openreels site and it sure sounds like mono over my computer speakers.Given all of the 3 track decks and the 2 track deck that was used, it doesn't make sense that it was recorded in mono.
          Micro Seiki SX-8000 table with flywheel, SME 3012R arm, SME 312S arm, Lyra Etna SL and Dynavector XV-1S cartridges, ARC Ref 3 phono stage, Otari MX-55 tape deck, Ampex 350 repros, Roon Nucleus Plus server, PS Audio DSJ DAC, ARC Ref 6 pre, ARC Ref 75 amp, Parasound JC5 amp, JBL 4345 speakers, and Def Tech Ref subs.


          • #9
            The Riverside stereo version is the usual exaggerated early sixties stereo with piano in one channel, sax in the other channel, bass in the center. The tape is mono.
            UHA Phase 11S OPS-Otari 5050B2II-deHavilland 222-Mcintosh C500T-ARC DS450M-Magico V3-Avid Acutus-SME V-Lyra Kleos-Shunyata-Synergistic