We live in a day and age when we can instantaneously obtain pretty much any song that we wish on demand through services like iTunes Store. And we can listen to songs on streaming services like Spotify till our ears bleed. So there may be some out there who feel that CDs have become obsolete.
However, the music you can get your hands on through platforms like these are often subpar in terms of sound quality; many of them deal chiefly in music data that is MP3 quality or equivalent. MP3s are about 1/10th the size of the music files on CDs, meaning the sound quality is compromised—although when listening through the type of in-ear headphones that come with smartphones or a computer’s internal speakers, it’s difficult to notice anything amiss. In other words, the sound quality is the bare minimum required for the music to be listened to without any issues. Like background music at a restaurant, you are only passively listening, but if you’re more of an active listener, MP3s will not cut it for music.
Have you ever listened to music on one of these streaming services and then later had trouble remembering what exactly you listened to? These days when I ask people what kind of music they listen to, I get many answers along the lines of “I listen to a lot of different music, but it’s on a streaming service, so I don’t have a specific musician or song title..." The extent of the conversation becomes “I’ve heard this somewhere before."
Unlike a radio DJ—who chooses new records and unleashes them onto the airwaves as if they were secrets they couldn’t keep to themselves any longer, or who goes to the trouble of digging up old gems that audiences need to know—the internet, while it wins out in terms of sheer volume of music, lacks the discerning eye to separate the wheat from the chaff.
CD music compilations don’t suffer from either of these problems: in most cases they are chosen (or to use a more current term, “curated") by a professional who is knowledgeable in the genre, and the sound quality is considerably superior to MP3. Depending on the disc, a CD can hold up to 79 minutes and 30 seconds of music. That number may seem pointless in an internet of ostensibly infinite capacity, but it serves as a quality control mechanism: there is space only for what is necessary.
Good compilations are a collection of music that should be considered required listening. They are enlightening, enriching experiences that educate the listener and refine their taste in music.
2.On good music and good sound quality
Let’s begin with some classical music and jazz compilation CDs.
What is good music? What is good sound quality? These are eternal questions. Ultimately, I suppose the answer depends on a person’s preferences. But in order to have tastes in music in the first place, you need a baseline—a certain amount of listening experience, a reliable standard by which to judge other music.
If you want to get a sense of what good music and good sound quality is, my recommendation is familiarizing yourself with classical music and jazz, both traditional yet universal genres.
Of course, both classical music and jazz have their own pantheons of music and musicians that would take a lifetime to get through, and for someone new to the genre it is difficult to know where to start.
That’s where compilations come in. Listen and compare, and get a sense of what you may like.
Japanese record companies and record stores like Tower Records (which lives on in Japan...) put out a range of compilations that are surprisingly well thought out.
To those visiting Japan, I recommend seeking out some of these CD compilations; these Japan-only releases make great souvenirs.
3.Classical music compilations
For beginners, listening to full-on symphonies may not be the best place to start. Symphonies are long, and as a point of entry will not do anything to dispel the notion that classical music is “boring".
Compilations lower the bar for entry by bringing together the “best" (read: catchiest) parts of different classical music pieces, making it easier for listeners to get a general sense of what kind of composers and what kind of forms (symphonies, concertos, opera, etc.) they might be into.
At its best, classical music is food for the soul, a waterfall of sensual pleasures. Once you fall down the rabbit hole, you start to pick up on subtle differences between different performances of the same piece by different musicians in different venues.
Conductors: Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Ozawa Seiji, and others
Orchestras: I Musici, Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and others
Musicians: Luciano Pavarotti, Uchida Mitsuko, Seong-Jin Cho, Martha Argerich, and others
Composers: Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Liszt
Musicians: Sorita Kyohei, Takagi Ryoma, Niu Niu, Juliette Journaux, Szymon Nehring, and others
Musicians: Hakase Taro, Takashima Chisako, Furusawa Iwao
Composers: Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Liszt, Chopin, Satie, and others
Orchestras: Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Slovak Philharmonic, Schwanen Salon Orchestra, Slovak Philharmonic, and others
Composers: Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Wagner
Musicians/Performers: Maria Callas, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras, Franco Corelli, Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda
Composers: Liszt, Beethoven, Chopin Mozart, Debussy, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Gershwin, Satie, Rachmaninoff, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, and others
Musicians: Mikhail Pletnev, Jeanne-Marie Darré, Alexis Weissenberg, Moura Lympany, Martha Argerich, Aldo Ciccolini, Maurizio Pollini, and others
Conductors: Herbert von Karajan, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Rudolf Kempe, Riccardo Muti, André Cluytens, Malcolm Sargent
Orchestras: Vienna Philharmonic, Vienna State Opera Chorus
Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Orchestras: London Philharmonia Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic
Composers: Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Grieg, Brahms, Falla, Ravel, and others
Conductors: Libor Pešek, Lawrence Foster, Hans Vonk, Michel Plasson, György Cziffra, Mariss Jansons, Dmitri Kitayenko, Andrew Davis, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Richard Hickox, and others
Musicians:Mikhail Pletnev, Jean-Bernard Pommier, Christian Zacharias, François-René Duchâble, György Cziffra, Leif Ove Andsnes, Stephen Hough, Gonzalo Soriano, Andrew Litton, Wayne Marshall, and others
4.Getting into jazz music and vocal jazz
Jazz music is a time-honored tradition, its own kind of classical music, in a sense.
Like classical music, the pantheon of jazz music is expansive, which is both a blessing and a curse: the barrier to entry is high. It’s difficult to know where to start—which musician, which CD.
Subgenres in jazz have developed and fluctuated along with the times, and musicians likewise can sound completely different depending on the era (case in point, Miles Davis).
Getting into jazz is like casting out into the vast expanse of sea. Start your journey by venturing out into shallow waters: buy a variety of jazz compilations and get a sense of the tides and the direction.
For absolute beginners (those who’ve mainly been into pop music), vocal jazz is a great place to start.
Thankfully, Tower Records has been putting out a great series of jazz and vocal jazz compilations. Consider them your initiation into the world of jazz music.
●Jazz compilation picks
Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Red Garland, Ahmad Jamal, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Sonny Clark, and others
John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, and others
Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Freddy Hubbard, Chet Baker, and others
Curtis Fuller, J. J. Johnson, Bob Brookmeyer, and others
Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Tommy Flanagan, Eddie Higgins, Norman Simmons, and others
Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Bobby Timmons, Red Garland, Barry Harris, Chris Anderson, Joyce Collins, and others
Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, and others
Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Tal Farlow, Mundell Lowe, and others
Gary Burton, Milt Jackson, Cal Tjader, Victor Feldman, Terry Gibbs, and others
●Vocal jazz compilation picks
Sarah Menescal, Karen Souza, Cassandra Beck, The Cooltrane Quartet, Flora Martínez, and others
Karen Souza, Sarah Menescal, Flora Martínez, The Cooltrane Quartet, Michelle Simonal, and others
Karen Souza, Flora Martínez, The Cooltrane Quartet, Michelle Simonal, and others
Karen Souza, The Cooltrane Quartet, Cassandra Beck, Michelle Simonal, Sarah Menescal, and others
In the 80s and 90s, a jazz fusion and crossover craze swept across Japan.
Jazz fusion is a genre characterized by “fusing" jazz music—which originated in African-American communities in New Orleans—with a variety of musical elements from other ethnic and folk music. The borderless feel and mix of genres resonated with Japanese audiences, perhaps because Japanese culture itself is an amalgamation of different elements.
The genre came to be known under other names, such as smooth jazz, and continues to have a dedicated following in the U.S. (It is even more popular in Japan.)
In recent years Tower Records has been releasing a series of jazz fusion compilations.
Whether you’re a long time fan of the genre or have chosen to keep your distance, these CDs deserve a listen.
●Jazz fusion compilation picks
Azymuth, Shakatak, Fruitcake, Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, Watanabe Sado, Eric Gale, Richard Tee, Hino Terumasa, Bob James, Ohno Yuji, and others
Stuff, Larry Carlton, Grover Washington Jr., Pat Metheny, Watanabe Sadao, George Benson, David Sanborn, Michael Franks, Al Jarreau, Yellowjackets, Manhattan Transfer, and others
Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Spyro Gyra, Brecker Brothers, Kenny G, Miles Davis, and others
Cassiopea, Kon Tsuyoshi, Matsubara Masaki, Toriyama Yuji, Parachute, Miyazaki Takahiro, Ichihara Hikari, and others
Watanabe Sadao, Takanaka Masayoshi, Cassiopea, The Square, Watanabe Kakzumi, Naniwa Exp, and others
Many of these types of compilations are Japan-only releases, so I encourage all jazz fans visiting Japan to swing by Tower Records in Shibuya to check out some of the CDs I’ve listed in this article.