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Cleveland, OH!

Space is the place

Have you ever seen the film Space is the Place written by and starring Sun Ra? If you haven’t, you should. If you have, you’ll recall that Sun Ra travels through space in a music-powered spaceship.

Yup, Sun Ra collapses the space-time duality with nothing but tunes which makes about as much sense to me as any other theory put forth so far - and this one has the added benefit of sounding beautiful.

At four hundred and twenty eight miles (give or take a barn or two), this was the most road covered by any of my RoadTours to date. Fellow travelers included Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports, John DeVore of Devore Fidelity and Andrew Klein of vast and numerous music-loving mind-expanding experiences. The attraction that pulled us across some of the most mind-numbingly generic scenery that is the PA leg of Interstate 80 was organized by Don Better of Don Better Audio. The premise was straightforward with a twist – classical guitarist Jason Vieaux would perform live for a small group of supremely fortunate listeners after which we’d listen to the same track on CD through a hifi.

Don Better Audio
Don Better is an accomplished guitarist, an instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the proprietor of Don Better Audio. The audio shop is located in a spectacular ca. 1908 home in Cleveland Heights in a neighborhood filled with the most wonderful assortment of equally amazing turn-of-the-century homes I’ve ever had the pleasure to get lost among. We can thank John D. Rockefeller, industry (pardon the redundancy) and the street car for this beautiful suburban opulence. And we can thank the decline (disappearance?) of Cleveland’s industry and the general state of our economy (hijacking?) for making these kinds of places affordable for non-robber barons.

While we’re touching on history, Don played guitar with a number of bands including Pacific Gas & Electric (not the utility) and Don’s father owned one of Cleveland’s first audio stores carrying such now collectible lines as Bozak, Fisher, Sherwood and McIntosh. Carrying on in the family tradition, Don carries a wide variety of gear including Shindo Laboratory, DeVore Fidelity, Naim, Audio Research, Well Tempered Lab, Spiral Groove, EMT, Ortofon, Dynavector, Rega, dCS and more. If you’re picking up on an analog emphasis, you’d be correct.


Jason Vieaux

Let me begin by doing something I rarely if ever do: I’d like to ask you to stop reading, click here and buy one or more of Jason Vieaux’s CDs. Just do it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’ll be happy you did and you’ll be supporting a very musical cause. If you need further prodding (come on, I hardly ever ask you guys to do anything), watch Jason perform or better yet, go see him live.

Beyond being the youngest recipient of the Guitar Foundation of America’s International Competition and the head of the Guitar Department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Jason Vieuax’s most recent release, Bach: Volume I Works for Lute reached #13 on Billboard’s Classical Music Chart the first week of its release. His bio, some sound clips and many of the rave reviews he’s received are available on his website and I encourage you to visit. What I can add to the many professionally penned words of praise is that Jason also happens to be one helluva nice guy.

Jason’s guitar comes from the hands of master luthier Gernot Wagner of Germany. This beautiful instrument is a spruce/cedar composite double (sandwich) top Brazilian rosewood classical guitar with a slightly elevated neck and it easily filled but never over-powered our generous yet intimate listening room. Jason shared that he uses this same guitar when performing in large halls and that it also fills these spaces effortlessly without amplification.

The Event

In attendance for Tuesday evening’s event were Doug Barr, Demetrius Steinmetz, Dick Ingersoll, Kip Reed, Monica Houghton, Drew Rothman, Aldo Crisante, Steve Lolly, Mike Crider, Mike Pranka and Bruce Egre. I have to say that this was a very relaxed and congenial crowd that included a composer, many musicians, audiophiles and even some of those rarest of rare species who combine these seemingly disparate pleasures. In between the pieces of Jason’s performance, we were treated to some comments on the recording process by Azica Records Engineer Bruce Egre. One thing we learned is that every track we listened to was recorded in Cleveland’s St. Stanislaus Church using two microphones. The intent was to capture the performance and recording venue in as simple and faithful a way as possible.

Jason performed three pieces - “Sevilla” from Sevilla: The Music of Isaac Albéniz [Azica B0000AUHQQ], “The Bat” from Images of Metheny [Azica B000BKSJA2] and “Lute Suite in G minor, BWV 995: I. Prelude” from Bach: Works for Lute, Vol. 1 [Azica B001OBT3HA]. After each performance, we listened to the same piece on CD. While I’m no music critic, I can say with utmost certainty that Jason Vieaux is also one helluva guitarist. He is one of those rare musicians, at least in my experience, who combines startling technical proficiency with heartfelt soul-stirring musicality while coloring everything he plays with human warmth and character.

There were times and moments within each piece where emotions stirred to the surface so strongly, I had to choke them down. An inflection, a pause, a note suddenly and softly caressed from string by skin, nail or ping pong ball (no kidding, but I’m not giving away any secrets) that touched something deep beyond the confines of the moment. I was moved. I also did not see one cup or bottle raised to lips for as much as a sip during the performance. Everyone sat enrapt, fully sated and in appreciative awe of the music being made.