Recording Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1

Ulrike Schwarz, Skywalker, photo by Jim Anderson

In our previous blog post A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom, we spoke to recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom about their relationship with sound and music, and the inspiration behind their new album Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1. Here, we discuss the extraordinary recording story behind this album which was recorded remotely during the pandemic. 

The album was recorded remotely in Stereo and 5.1 Surround Ultra High Resolution (384kHz/32bit) using Merging Technology Horus/Pyramix recording systems and the Merging+Clock U by grammy-nominated recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz with mixing engineer Jim Anderson, and mastering engineers Ulrike Schwarz and Morten Lindberg (immersive). The album was co-produced by Jane Ira Bloom and Ulrike Schwarz.

Mobile control room at Miya Masaoka’s home, Sonobus on the iPad Pro and Pyramix on a PC Audio Labs laptop with Acousta LE03 interface. Photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: This album was performed in real time connected remotely from your homes in NYC. Please can you tell us about the recording process? It seems to have been very successful. If there were elements of improvisation, how did you manage this unique process remotely? 

Ulrike: Once we had decided that this should be done in the highest possible recording quality that we could get, I set up my Merging Technologies Pyramix v12 recording system at Jane’s apartment. We set up the Neumann TLM 170 and Sanken CU-41 microphones in her office. Then I went to Alison’s house and set up my Pyramix v14. Through my main recording system at Alison’s I could run Jane’s remotely and connect them.

For the musicians to hear each other I had a second set of computers and interfaces. The microphone signals were split analog after the mic preamplifiers and went to the Pyramix systems (in 384kHz) and the Acousta LE03 interfaces (in 192kHz). The LE03 works in a very ‘broadcasty’ and analog way by providing an n-1 where each musician gets their own microphone signal analog (that means without any latency) and the other musicians feed with only the delay that the transmission and the communication program provides. As latency is created in samples a higher sampling frequency will effectively cut down latency. However, one needs a higher data transmission rate (better internet connection).

For communication we used the program Sonobus which Jane recorded her first album with Alison and Mark with. Jane was used to it, I wasn’t. I had to run a lot of tests to make this as fast, and with as little latency, as we could. In order to do this, I brought in high speed gaming routers. Jane and Alison had very good internet, however the weakest was Mark’s. Jane and Mark were so used to playing with each other that even a bigger latency works.

The experimental part of it was matching the internet to the speed that all the devices could take for the communication lines. The interesting part was to establish communication between the musicians and to get the latency down.

Jane: If you think about it, less on a technical level, just how many platforms we’re trying to use to communicate with each other. The musicians are using zoom with no sounds, just looking at each other to feel each other. Then we’re using this Sonobus platform to actually communicate sound and improvise with each other. 

Ulrike is trying to keep the latency as low as possible, but when you think about it you’re playing with jazz musicians who you’ve improvised with for a long time, there’s a lot of mysterious anticipation that you use. You almost make decisions before you hear them, people in sport know all about this. You make split second decisions, it’s a marvelous thing that your mind does when you make things up. 

So that’s all going on with all the technical clarity. At the other end of it is Ulrike’s recording, which is separate, which is another platform and time relationship. It is interesting all these different ways our ears are trying to reach out to try and find one another.

Ulrike: There were different computers for everything so that things wouldn’t slow down the oral communication. Zoom, although it was very out of time, was so important just to see that the other person was still there. I’ve done fifteen years in broadcasting, the process wasn’t new for me, but what was new was that I couldn’t demand a fixed analog line. The costs for booking a fixed internet rate were too much so we had to be more adventurous.

Allison Miller in her basement practice studio, photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: How did you manage the acoustics? Did you make any changes to the room?

Jane: Yes, I put a towel on my desk! 

Ulrike: We put jackets on the sofa! I am really amazed at Jane’s office. It is a very small room equipped with several microphones. That could have created some unwanted effects. But at Skywalker we spread the microphones fully and had wonderful results. It is fascinating how we were able to shut out that room and replace it with the big sound stage of Skywalker. Jane lives in a quiet apartment building. At Mark’s it was a little louder. He has some acoustic treatment in his room, but the bass is not as loud as the saxophone or drums, so his recording was the most difficult. Alison has her drum set setup in her basement room. The great thing was that she got to play her drums, they are so well tuned and set exactly how she wanted. 

Jane: When you asked what is special about these musicians, and why this recording, these musicians have a sound, a voice, on their instruments that is extraordinary. It is a testament to all the audio engineering that it captures it, however, try to remember that in the craziest space in the world if you don’t have a sound what’s the point. 

Mark has an extraordinary bass sound, Miya will make you want to cry when she’s expressing a single note on the koto, and Alison has an extraordinary sound on her own drums. Usually a drummer has to go to a studio and play somebody else’s drums, instead she is playing her own set and her own percussion instruments. 

Ulrike: Anything Alison wanted to pick up was there. With Mark we selected basses for a while, there was a freedom in the choice of weapons you usually don’t have in a studio. 

Jane: When you think about the strange concept of taking something from a small room and putting it into a palatial sound space, the core of what is at the center of that is a musician with a sound, and how important that is. That’s what is at the center of a recording, and that is what translates into the microphone that Ulrike is capturing with great technique and great skill, to then amplify in terms of its sonic space and how it’s perceived.

Miya Masaoka’s koto in Miya’s home, photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: This album was all mixed at Skywalker studios. Can you tell us why you chose that studio and the recording system used? Were there specific techniques in the mix to prepare the album for mastering?

Yes, we flew our Merging Technologies Pyramix v14, Horus system, and Clock U to Skywalker. We used my recording system not theirs. Jim and I love to work at Skywalker. The control room is set up in a way that whatever we mix we know it works. If it sounds good in there it will translate to every other system in the world. 

The most important thing with all these recordings in small single spaces is that Skywalker has this fantastic sound stage. We turned the big sound stage into a live chamber, and this is how all these instruments get this enormous space. They are fed into the live chamber, and re-recorded in some ways and then mixed with the original instruments, and that’s how they become so big and free. The room at Skywalker is where the silence comes from and the space that everybody lives in. 

Jane: We wish we could have played in that chamber so we did the next best thing.

Ulrike: We (Jim) mixed in stereo, 5.1 and 3D. I mastered stereo and 5.1, Morten Lindberg brought all masters together with his 3D mastering in order to make them correlate on all platforms. 

Coming back to the recording and the latencies, I had two systems running that had to be synced. I had Jane record her side of the Sonobus system, and I recorded the other side. I always knew what the latency was by comparing those two, and if any corrections needed to be made. Sometimes even they locked in to their latency and it sounds like they were standing together. This is because of their anticipation. So I only had changes for a few milliseconds to make it totally lock in, and only in very few places.

Jane: It still amazes me how we do it, it’s mysterious even to us. We are playing as if we are together.

Ulrike: Even on stage you don’t know. We had 8 milliseconds latency at our best. If you translate that into distance, 3 milliseconds is about a meter. On stage it is very easy to have ten feet distance, and bad monitoring, so in certain ways you heard more of each other than on stage, with less latency. So once we had a stable delay, it’s just like playing with someone on a bigger stage, but with a clean headphone system. 

Jane: There are two of us, there’s no place to hide in a duet, you either have a sound and an idea or you don’t. A lot is exposed. 

Ulrike: The same for recording techniques, if something went wrong it would be very exposed. Something either takes or it doesn’t. Some things were actually better than on stage, but without the feeling you’re in the same place. We tried to create that with the headphones and zoom, but in many ways it wasn’t that bad.

Jane: If you think about the absence of the other during the pandemic, we haven’t been able to physically be with one another. Something happens, I’ve found over several years with remote recording – you find that your ears reach out even more to the person you’re playing with. It’s almost like hyper ultra-hearing. You’re so wanting to connect that it’s like your ears go into overdrive. 

There is something really interesting, neurologically, and emotionally going on about how tuned in you are to listening and responding this way.

Ulrike: It will be great when you get back together with them on stage, but there is still something in when you first played with Mark with bad zoom with bad delays, just the possibility to make music again was so overreaching. 

Jane: We were euphoric to play together again. 

Ulrike: It was a very interesting time, and thankfully music could still exist.

Merging Technology mobile Horus/Hapi AoIP setup with MT Clock – U. Powered by Essential Sound Products Eloquence Power chords.

In our previous blog post A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom we discussed Jane and Ulrike’s relationship with music and sound.

Listen to Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 on TIDAL or Qobuz.

Listen to our playlist Jane Ira Bloom in Playlists by Roon on your Roon Home Screen.

A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom

Jane Ira Bloom, picture by Brigitte Lacombe.

We had the pleasure of speaking to recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom about their relationship with sound and music, and the inspiration behind their new album Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1. This album features award-winning saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, percussionist Allison Miller, koto player Miya Masaoka, and bassist Mark Helias. 

Editor: The music on Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 was inspired by the science photography of Berenice Abbott. Please can you tell us more about this inspiration and how it is reflected in the music? 

Jane: If you look at the photographs, even though they’re about scientific subjects, they are beautiful. Probably one of the biggest influences I had from looking at these images was the stark contrast of dark and light. If that translates to your ear to the idea of sound and silence having equal weight in your audio field, then that’s the music that I honed in on for this project. The other thing is, if you look at the images, they’re all about momentum and physics, and light waves and patterns of sound waves being visualized. Motion and flow of melodic lines is something that I’ve always been interested in. You’ll hear a little bit of that influence as a composer, translating the visual motion and flow into audio motion and flow.

Ulrike: I always thought that these patterns are usually in science books, or books we studied for acoustics, they look like interferences. Like the water drops and filters. They can also be interpreted like audio phenomenon. So that’s also an image I had in my head. That’s also why I thought that going at the highest possible recording resolution that we had would probably display this best.

Miya Masaoka, photo by Heike Liss

Editor: Did this particular music inspire your choice in musicians? Can you tell us more about your choice to use the traditional Japanese instrument Koto?

Jane: It’s really about the koto player Miya. Miya could play anything, and I’d be interested in playing duets with her. She happens to be a master performer on the koto, but it’s really the musicians and their improvisational minds. These are people I’ve collaborated with in the past, so I have a history with them. I know how they feel about improvising music together. Alison Miller is an amazing creative mind for creating sounds spontaneously. Miya is a master on her instrument so when I talk about sound and silence – that’s her thing. It’s all a part not only of the instruments they play, but also their musical imagination. 

Ulrike: I would say that none of the musicians played traditionally. Miya is not only playing Koto, she was doing things to her Koto I’d never heard before, and that were a little difficult to capture. Alison doesn’t just play drums, it was more percussion – it was really creating these sounds that go so far beyond traditional playing of the instrument, as Jane does. They didn’t just play their instruments – it went far beyond that.

Ulrike Schwarz

Editor: Sound quality is clearly important to you, and you have had the album encoded in MQA. Can you tell us more about this? 

Ulrike: The sheer data rate of what we recorded is not very consumer friendly. There are some people who buy native DSD and want an incredible data rate that doesn’t even get them anything. 

I’ve found that with encoding it into MQA when the consumer has an MQA ready system, it will unfold back into the 384khz in this case. But it is a file of 48kHz which is of course much more manageable which can be streamed and downloaded easily. For me it is a great way of transporting super high audio quality in a manageable means. 

I was acquainted with it when we mastered some other albums with Bob Ludwig – he always sent it over as MQA. Since we purchased this enormous clock, the Merging Technologies Clock U, which is true to ten parts of a billion, our clocking has improved, and I find the MQA works really well. Since then, every album I’ve done has been MQA and I really like it a lot.

Jane: From a listener’s perspective, listening to sound at this level of quality has a richness and a depth that’s so extraordinary for the ear. You don’t have to play a lot of notes when you have this kind of quality of sound to your ear, to listen and luxuriate in. It’s almost like a single note becomes a whole full course dinner. It’s like one note sounds absolutely breathtaking, and it’s because of this quality of sound. 

When people listen, they don’t even know why they feel the way they feel when they hear it, but there’s a whole emotional response to hearing music this way in this type of quality. People don’t even understand what they’re hearing, it’s just this incredible breadth of sound that can make a single note sound like a symphony. 

Ulrike: I think the emotional response is actually very interesting. As with the super high quality, you also respond well to the immersive sound when it comes at you in 3D. When you add the next level to surround, it becomes a very different story emotionally. 

Jane: For the artist, it is so euphoric. We’re used to hearing sound around us on stage, but for an artist to hear themselves in relation to other musicians coming back at them in a completely immersive way, that’s completely new and very intoxicating. That’s why it’s so emotional to hear music that you’ve made come back at you in this way.

Picturing The Invisible, cover art by Assen Semov

Editor: Sound is important, how do you view the link between sound quality and the music? Is it about communication, nuance or helping listeners understand or get involved in the music? Or something else?

Jane: It’s a wonderful collaboration of these two things that are operating at an extremely high level and ultimately become indistinguishable. It’s such a joy, and this is the essence of my collaboration with Ulrike. We’re trying to combine art and science together to create a unique emotional experience for the listener.

Ulrike: It’s so much joy when you get the chance to record people on that level. You think, this is what they can do musically, and I think about what I can do to capture this and bring all of this across. The joy of it is to get the chance to work with people on this level and then think about what I can do to make them communicate even better and create those soundscapes that I’m hearing, and then turn this into something that everyone just loves to listen to. 

Jane: This is the essence of producing, we’re imagining taking the music and its audio capture to the highest level we can imagine, and then some. That’s a creative decision. 

Ulrike: A recorded product is always different from a live performance. Jane is very good at cutting things down, which means it is good quality music. That makes the whole thing so joyful.

They are seasoned musicians who know what to do. They command the room, and don’t wait for me to say whether it’s a great take. In the end, the musicians make the composition come alive or not. We do not keep a take that is not special. 

Improvisers are spontaneous composers, it’s very different to interpreting in an orchestral sense. When you get used to having a sphere where you make things up, you wind up collaborating with people who have a feeling for this process – who make composition come out of the air. You make it up right in the moment, but it feels like you composed it. The lines between improvisation and composition get blurred, and that’s a skill that improvisers in the jazz tradition spend a whole lifetime and career developing. Alison, Miya, Mark, these are pros at the highest level at this process.

Allison Miller

Editor: You received a grant from the New York City Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theater for this project, can you tell us more about how this came about and any personal significance of this particular grant.

Jane: There’s no question in my mind that the ‘Women’s Fund’ was the key inspiration. Look at the powerful women involved in this project: Ulrike on the audio engineering side, Berenice Abbot legend in the photographic world as the inspiration, Alison an unbelievable improviser on drums and percussion, and Miya, a complete contemporary musician. These are women who really excel in their worlds. When Ulrike and I first talked about this, it just started making so much sense. Look at all this girl power, let’s face it! 

Ulrike: We did accept Jim Anderson, the mixing engineer, and Mark into our world as honorary members of our group. Morten Lindberg was also involved in turning it into Dolby. The fund was about the combination of all these wonderful women and our original plan to bring in the media aspect – before the pandemic hit it was all supposed to take place in a great room.

Jane: The music was originally written for 5, 6, 7 instrumentalists. We didn’t record a lot of the music that I composed and we had to hone down our ideas a lot.

Ulrike: There might be Picturing the Invisible: Focus 2 at some point!

Editor: How did you form your taste in sounds and music? Did anything change or influence your taste in music during childhood or since, such as music played in the home on hi-fi or a piano, starting a musical instrument, friends at Yale University, or training at Yale College of Music?

Jane: I can remember from my earliest moments of consciousness loving musical instruments. I was just fascinated with them, with sound and what they looked like, I don’t know why. In terms of my journey as a musician, I think the most interesting aspect of how I’ve shaped a sonic identity is that I’ve been very interested in the sounds of other instruments other than soprano saxophone. I’ve learnt a lot from vocalists, trumpet players, violin players, shakuhachi players. I’ve gotten inspiration for my ideas about sound from places other than my instrument, and I think that’s affected how I come up with the sound that I do. 

Editor: What system do you use for playback of music?

Jane: You’re going to laugh because I don’t have any of the high-end equipment Ulrike uses. I have a set of AKG headphones I’ve been using for years. I listen on my headphones. They are not the greatest, but when you get used to listening on something it’s like a standard of listening that you get used to.

Ulrike: We got her a really nice headphone amp! [I have old AKG headphones, I know them, they’re honest. I use them in the studio and at home.]

Ulrike: In my editing suite I have Wilson speakers, Wilson CUBs, and an Eclipse TD725sw subwoofer. When I’m working, I’m listening through the Pyramix and sometimes have our clock there as well to really see what’s going on. I have a selection of headphones. The amps are Benchmark ABH2 Mono blocks and HPA4 pre amplifier. My favorite headphones are actually B&W P5s, the small ones. I took them with me to the recordings, I like them very much for work. I have a selection of Sennheiser’s but in the field I prefer the P5. 

Downstairs we have set up our other studio. For work Jim prefers to have his old Meyer HD1s. He’s had them for 30 years and these are the speakers he trusts for mixing. For listening we have Wilson WATT Puppies, and a Mark Levinson system with a 23.5 amplifier and 26S pre amplifier. In the dining room we have the surround 7.1 system of Eclipse TD712z MK2 speakers, the TD725sw and a Marantz A/V unit. For our wedding party we dragged a couple of those speakers out on the deck and entertained. We exclusively power all units – remote or at home – with Essential Sound Products MusicCord cables and Power Distributors.

In our next blog post Recording Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1, we discuss the extraordinary recording story behind the album, recorded remotely during the pandemic. 

Listen to Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 on TIDAL or Qobuz.

Listen to our playlist Jane Ira Bloom in Playlists by Roon on your Roon Home Screen.

The Blues: Founders & Followers

The Blues had a baby, and they named the baby Rock-n-Roll.

Muddy Waters

Community Connections

One of my favorite things to do during a workday is to take a short break and check out the lively music discussions that are percolating in our Roon Community. The reason I find them so engaging is in their resemblance to conversations I had decades ago when I worked in music shops. Whenever a favorite music sage walked in the door, the day instantly transformed, and I knew that some hidden corner of sonic knowledge was about to be illuminated for my benefit. Many of those customers were exceptionally generous in sharing their wisdom, and I soaked it up gratefully. There’s nothing like having your feet placed on the path by one who has traveled the same road. 

There are several examples of similar mentorship in Community; one is a majestically prolific survey of Blues-Rock and the Blues titans that inspired its genesis. I would have given anything for a primer of this quality back when I first approached the genre. It’s a masterpiece of stories and sound curated by forum member 7NoteScale and enriched with selections from dozens of his fellow blues-hounds.

It provides an outstanding introduction to one of America’s most influential and enduring musical forms. Jazz, Rock-n-Roll, Rock, R&B, Country, Soul, Rap, and myriad other genres took root in The Blues’ fertile soil. Its primary instrument is unrivaled in conveying emotion and the vagaries of our existence; the human voice, lifted in song and accompanied by the preferred tools of itinerant musicians – the harmonica and guitar. 

Muddy Waters & Howlin’ Wolf

We’ve taken some of our personal Blues favs and paired them with suggestions from the Blues or Blues-based Rock thread to create two consummate playlists. These playlists, combined with Roon’s unparalleled understanding of the relationships that unite these forms, provide a perfect springboard for discovery. If you’ve synced a TIDAL or Qobuz subscription with Roon, you have everything you need to follow the deep river of song straight into the heart of The Blues. The first playlist is dedicated to the founders of Blues-Rock; it’s chock-full of tunes from the early 1960s to 1972 that define the genre. The second celebrates the Blues masters and songs that their acolytes emulated. 

Blues-Rock Founders

If you’re relatively new to this music, it may come as a surprise to learn that Blues-Rock first coalesced in England. The Blues was positively exotic to young Brits who first heard snippets of it on BBC Radio and then scoured music shops searching for the sounds they had heard. Blues fanatics were adept at recognizing the characteristics of like-minded listeners, and small gangs of aficionados formed in admiration of their muse.

The Blues became so popular in the UK that Melody Maker magazine teamed up with promoters to host a Blues package tour in 1962, consisting of Chess Records legends Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Many of them had never played outside of The United States. They couldn’t believe the welcome they received from young white audiences who sat in rapt attention, hungry for the music and hanging on every word and blue note. 

Attending the concerts were young disciples who would leave their mark on music, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Jimmy Page, Eric Burdon, Eric Clapton, and Steve Winwood

‘We didn’t think we were ever going to do anything much, except turn other people on to Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Jimmy Reed. We had no aspirations bigger than that’. 

Keith Richards, The Human Riff, and Rolling Stone
The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, who took their name from the Muddy Waters song, were devout students who sought no greater purpose than to spread the word. Their founder, Brian Jones, worked tirelessly to unlock the secrets of Elmore James‘ slide playing before leaving home to form a band and play revved-up versions of blues standards. The Animals, The Yardbirds, and The Pretty Things all followed their lead. Blues elders like John Mayall helped develop guitar heroes; Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor each served stints with The Bluesbreakers.

Young American listeners, swept up in The British Invasion, didn’t realize that the ‘new sound’ had essentially been created in their backyard and was being carried back to its birthplace.

In The States, a similar phenomenon emerged as music fans Paul Butterfield, Nick Gravenites, Michael Bloomfield, and Elvin Bishop haunted the Blues clubs of Chicago’s Southside, enthralled by what they heard. They slowly summoned the courage to approach their musical heroes, which eventually led to invitations to jam with the very players they idolized. 

The Butterfield Blues Band

Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, and Otis Rush provided advice and encouragement, and The Butterfield Blues Band was born. They were a powerhouse outfit that left an indelible mark on listeners. Bob Dylan asked them to back him up when he went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Their lead guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, was an incendiary player and as influential in The U.S. as Clapton was in England. Fellow blues upstarts like John Hammond, Canned Heat, and Charlie Musselwhite soon appeared. The erudite Folk Music Boom of the late ’50s and early ’60s was giving way to a tougher, more visceral, sound that shunned Pop’s triviality.

Blues-Rock hit its high water mark when heavies like Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Jeff Beck Group, Fleetwood Mac, and Led Zeppelin fused the blues with thunderous amplification and improvisational intensity that staggered the imagination. Meanwhile, in The American South, Johnny Winter, The Allman Brothers Band, and ZZ Top crafted a unique Blues-Rock variant that was equally potent. 

Fleetwood Mac

Even bands like The Doors and The Grateful Dead, who are much more closely associated with Psychedelic Rock, had a strong affinity for raw blues. The Dead’s singer Rod “Pigpen” McKernan was the son of a Rhythm & Blues radio DJ and was conversant in The Blues. The Doors’ live cover of Little Red Rooster features stinging lead guitar from Albert King. All the bands mentioned, plus many more, are waiting for you in our Blues-Rock Founders playlist on your Roon home page. 

Blues Origins

When diving into a devoted study of The Blues one begins to wonder if the name is a description of the emotional impact it carries or a plural term that hopes to contain its many forms. There’s no single inclusive characteristic that sums up the music. Some point to its prominent 12-bar structure, but there were plenty of legendary bluesmen who rarely utilized it. 

Our Blues Origins playlist follows the same track sequencing as its Blues-Rock Founders off-shoot and allows the listener to trace the cover version back to its source. Just as Blues-Rock Founders provides an in-road into that form, Blue Origins takes you to ground zero and facilitates an opportunity to follow the thread from one blues legend to another with Roon’s similar artists and recommended album features. No crossroads deal required; we’ve done the work for you. 

BB King

The playlist is a who’s-who of The Blues. Giants like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson, and Albert King weigh in with several selections, highlighting their influence. Lesser-known figures like Sam Collins, Willie Cobbs, Robert Wilkins, Floyd Jones, and Wilbert Harrison demonstrate that the hidden corners of the music proved to be just as abundant as the dominant strains. 

Albert King

There’s so much more that I could say about the musicians in this list and the music they created. But, I’m not confident that any of it would be as effective as the feeling one gets from listening to it. The quote below speaks to the sensation of first hearing it with near biblical reverence.

When I first heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’

Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records.

Could a more compelling summation than that be articulated? I don’t think so, but we welcome you to spin up our Blues Origins playlist and take a crack at it!

If you’d like to know more about Roon, simply get in touch with us. We’d love to help you get set up. If you’re ready to get started, you can try our free 14-day trial here.

A Celebration of Jazz – Contemporary Jazz

In our previous blog post A Celebration of Jazz – A Global Journey we explored a variety of regional jazz scenes. We continue our blog series to celebrate International Jazz Day with an exploration of the contemporary jazz scene. For International Women’s Day we created our playlist Women in Jazz to celebrate the women leading the way today. We explore the international contemporary jazz scene further in our playlists Expansive Jazz and Contemporary ECM. 

Kokoroko

Expansive Jazz

Explore the expansive and experimental sounds of the genre-bending contemporary jazz scene where a new generation of artists are continuously reinventing the sound of jazz. 

It has been a strong start to the year with contemporary jazz releases. We feature new releases from Bassist Derrick Hodge, Kokoroko, Immanuel Wilkins, Sons of Kemet, Ebi Soda, Kamasi Washington, Julius Rodriguez, and Ezra Collective along with some strong leaders in the genre – Robert Glasper’s supergroup R&R = Now and Christian Scott.

The London-based Afrobeat band Kokoroko have released two stand out tracks in their new debut album Could We Be More. In this playlist we feature Something’s Going On with its influences of psychedelic jazz and funk combining African roots and London sounds. In our playlist Sarah Pick’s we feature We Give Thanks, written with the idea of recapturing the energy you get when you get to the end of shows.

Another highlight is Brighton-based jazz quintet Ebi Soda’s Chandler from their new album Honk if You’re Sad which combines psychedelia, dissonance, hip hop, jazz, and electronic music. Chandler features their truly unique sound combined with guest trumpet and flugelhorn player Yazz Ahmed playing an ambient melody.

Oded Tzur

Contemporary ECM

German label ECM has, since 1969, been one of the most influential labels for jazz and classical music. ECM soon became known as the ‘gold standard for sound, presence and pressing’, applying precision and focus to improvised music. We’ve put together some of the more recent jazz masterpieces from their catalog. 

We open with Noam from Saxophonist Oded Tzur’s Isabela. Tzur’s background in the Tel Aviv jazz scene of the 2000’s, included a variety of musical training. An interest in Indian classical music plays into Tzur’s interest in the relationship between ancient and modern musical traditions. Throughout the album, Tzur uses a raga, a melodic framework for improvisation similar to a Chalan in Indian Classical Music.

We highlight Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen twice, with The Circle from his new album Opening, and again with the fantastic The Tunnel from The Other Side. The Tord Gustavsen Trio are known for exploring Scandinavian hymns, jazz, and choral music in their work. In Opening, they explore Norwegian classical and Scandinavian folk songs whilst introducing the artistry of their new bassist Steinar Raknes.

The stand out track comes from Danish guitarist Jakob Bro with his new trio featuring Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen and Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy. There is a sense of a dignified slowness – a solemnity characteristic of ECM recordings.

Elina Duni

Women in Jazz

A celebration of the women paving the way in the contemporary jazz scene, including Grammy award-winning Esperanza Spalding, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and harpist Brandee Younger.

A highlight of this playlist are the rich vocals of Swiss-Albanian singer Elina Duni. Born into an artistic family in Tirana, Duni began singing at a young age, later settling in Geneva, Switzerland where she discovered jazz alongside her classical piano training. We feature the hauntingly sad Meu Amor from Duni’s solo project Partir where she accompanies herself on guitar. Partir, meaning departure, features songs sung in nine different languages reflecting on movement and her own departure from her homeland. 

Leading the way in the international contemporary jazz scene are five times Grammy-Award winning American jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, British-Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, Yazmin Lacey, and jazz harpist Brandee Younger.

From Norway, we have bassist and singer Ellen Andrea-Wang with Fjord Ferry from her album Diving. Andrea-Wang’s genre-defying style features in Fjord Ferry with her prominent bass fused with ethereal vocals.

To learn more about how to explore Jazz in Roon, revisit last year’s blog piece A New Way to Discover Jazz from our Founder and CEO Enno Vandermeer. All of our playlists are available in Playlists by Roon on your Roon home page.

A Celebration of Jazz – A Global Journey

To celebrate International Jazz Day we would like to introduce you to our jazz playlists in Roon. Through this jazz blog series we hope to showcase the variety of sounds and styles in jazz, and introduce you to the unique ways in which cultures and music traditions are incorporated into jazz. First, we explore the unique sounds coming from different countries and cities with our playlists Icelandic Jazz, Kenyan Jazz, South African Jazz, Cuban Jazz, London Jazz Explosion, and Mountain Jazz.

Icelandic Jazz

Agnar Már Magnússon

Here we explore Icelandic jazz, with its unique combination of influences from Afro-American jazz to Scandinavian jazz and Icelandic folk influences.

To understand the history of jazz in Iceland, it is important to recognise the impact which music had as part of diplomatic relations between the US and Iceland in the 1950s in a time when black artists such as Dizzy Gillepsie and Thelonious Monk held great fame. 

During the cold war, Iceland had a policy banning black soldiers from the Keflavik US air base. Opera singers were allowed to come to Iceland, but jazz musicians were limited both in performance and on the radio. Nevertheless, Afro-American jazz had a huge influence on Icelandic jazz musicians over the years, likely in part due to the American air base present from World War II.

Iceland is geographically closer to the US and the UK, yet culturally aligned with Scandinavia. This unique blend of cultures has produced an interesting and varied sound amongst Icelandic jazz musicians who cover a variety of jazz sub-genres.

Our playlist features contemporary Icelandic musicians, many appearing over the years at the increasingly popular Reykjavik Jazz Festival. We feature Gunnar Gunnarson’s melodic chamber jazz, an example of the mixed influences found in Icelandic jazz from Icelandic folk music, classical music, and jazz. Another highlight is pianist-composer Agnar Már Magnússon who draws on the openness of Icelandic folk music and nature for inspiration.

Nduduzo Makhathini 

South African Jazz

Building on South Africa’s rich and unique musical traditions a new generation of jazz artists are flourishing with a fresh expansive sound. Leading the way are Nduduzo Makhathini, the first South African to be signed onto Blue Note records, keyboardist/singer Thandi Ntuli, and trombonist/singer Siya Makuzeni.

To understand the contemporary jazz scene in South Africa it is important to first understand the historical influences which bred genres such as Cape jazz and Soweto blues. 

African-American jazz started to reach South Africa in the early 20th Century. During the 1960s and 1970s South African jazz was internationally acclaimed, with its unique blend of township dance music with hard bop and free jazz. Artists such as the Jazz Epistles and the Blue Notes produced their own bebop.

During apartheid, black musicians were forced to go underground or perform behind screens to white audiences. Many unique South African genres such as Kwela, mbaqanga and marabi emerged during this time from the influences of American ragtime and dixieland combined with African trance-like rhythm, the pennywhistle, and combining guitar with brass. 

Forced to emerge underground, these genres such as marabi were often not recorded. As with speakeasies in the prohibition era in America, marabi sounds were designed to draw people into the bars or ‘shebeens’. Paul Simon’s Graceland brought attention to marabi in 1986.

Our playlist focuses on the new generation of South African jazz artists emerging with a new fresh sound, combining traditional elements with an experimental sound. 

We open with Keleketla!’s International Love affair from Keleketla!, meaning “response” in Sepedi. Using a call and response style this genre-defying song is a ‘celebration of our need to come together as one and the healing power of music.’ It is an international collaboration featuring musicians from South Africa, Nigeria, UK and USA. The album was recorded in Soweto and mixed in London. 

Another highlight is internationally renowned Nduduzo Makhathini. Makhathini grew up in the hillscapes of umGungundlovu, surrounded by music and ritual practices. Influenced by the church and South African jazz giants such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Makhathini is conscious that South African jazz should retain its unique sounds.

Lisa Uduor-Noah

Kenyan Jazz

Explore the rich variety of sounds coming from Kenya’s jazz musicians, from the new generation pushing the boundaries of jazz to Mzee Ngala, the founder of the popular kenyan genre bango which combines jazz and Kenyan traditional music. 

Kenya has a relatively small but exciting emerging jazz scene. In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, artists are blending contemporary jazz with traditional local music. 

We open the playlist with Lisa Oduor-Noah, a Kenyan singer who grew up surrounded by a variety of musical styles from Lingala to R&B and blues. Michael Ongaro brings a distinct sound on guitar and flute, fusing jazz, folk and classical traditions. 

Kato Change embraces a variety of influences, from flamenco, blues and rock to African traditions. We feature African Woman from his debut album The Change Experience. Inspired by videos of musicians on YouTube, Kato Change taught himself guitar. Change is part of a global community of musical exchange via platforms such as YouTube, something which has influenced his sound.

Sons of Kemet

London Jazz Explosion

Explore the thriving London jazz scene with this contemporary jazz playlist. Multi-genre and multi-cultural influences are brought together by an emerging scene of collaborative young, fresh artists. 

Shabaka Hutchings has established himself as a core member of the London jazz scene. His group Sons of Kemet draws on influences from the diverse sounds of London’s club culture from house, grime, and jungle, to dub. 

As part of the Caribbean diaspora, Hutchings wants to recreate the jubilant community celebration of music as he experienced with the calypso and soca music of Barbados’ Carnival. Here we feature My Queen is Anna Julia Cooper from Your Queen Is a Reptile, blending funky tuba bass lines from Theon Cross with Hutchings on the saxophone.

Theon Cross features again with deep bass lines on Activate with Moses Boyd Exodus and saxophonist Nubya Garcia.

Other highlights include Ill Considered, Tom Green Septet, Misha Mullov Abbado, and also featured on our Women in Jazz playlist are Yazz Ahmed, Yazmin Lacey and Zara McFarlane.

David Virelles, photo by John Rogers

Cuban Jazz

Explore the variety and richness of Cuban jazz. From traditional influences of Afro-Cuban mambo, cha-cha and salsa, to timba and songo bands Havana D’Primera and Los Van Van, Rumba from Changüí de Guantánamo to genre-bending artist Daymé Arocena.

Highlights include Yissy Garcia and Afro-Cuban pianist-composer David Virelles. We feature Virelles’ Bodas de Oro from his album Igbó Alákọrin, a Yoruba phrase meaning The Singer’s Grove. This album champions the roots and singers from Santiago de Cuba.

Along with Daymé Arocena, composer and drummer Yissy Garcia is leading the way in this new generation of Cuban jazz artists. Known for her versatility, Garcia combines tradition and experimentation in a powerful way, fusing latin jazz, electronics and traditional Cuban music.

Last year we had the privilege of speaking to Daymé Arocena about Cuba’s rich musical history, challenges, and her music in our two-part blog Daymé Arocena: Cuban Music Breakout. Part 1 and Daymé Arocena: Music Roots & Creative Process. Part 2..

Trygve Seim, photo by Antonio Armentano

Mountain Jazz

Mountain Jazz is a selection of the finest tracks from the jazz traditions of the Nordics. Transparent, floating, dreamy and with a constant undercurrent of folk music and dramatic scenery. 

Norway has a proud jazz tradition, from Jan Garbarek’s breakthrough in the 1970s to the fresh sounds of experimental jazz band Pixel and trio Gurls – all featured in this playlist.

Many of the leading contemporary Norwegian jazz recordings come from ECM, introducing many of these artists such as Tord Gustavsen and Mathias Eick to an international audience.

Highlights include Trygve Seim’s beautiful Sol’s Song from Helsinki Songs, and jazz violinist Ola Kvernberg’s Liarbird.

Our next blog post A Celebration of Jazz – Contemporary Jazz will explore our contemporary jazz playlists Expansive Jazz, Women in Jazz, and Contemporary ECM.

To learn more about how to explore Jazz in Roon, revisit last year’s blog piece A New Way to Discover Jazz from our Founder and CEO Enno Vandermeer. 

All of our playlists are available in Playlists by Roon on your Roon home page.

Weekend Playlists

As we described in our post Playlists in Roon, this year our music team started curating more playlists available only in Roon. Our playlists cover a range of genres, seasons, artist profiles, and sounds from around the world. We’ve created a selection of lifestyle playlists for the weekend: Uncorked, Hazy, Pour Over, Sauté, and EDM Party. 

Album cover – Shina Williams & his African Percussionists: African Dances

Uncorked

To accompany your evening drinks, Uncorked is our expansive playlist of afrobeat, disco-funk, electronic pop and jazz funk. Highlights include Nu Guinea, Terrace Martin and iconic 70s Nigerian artist Shina Williams with his fusion of afrobeat, electronics, boogie and disco.

The playlist opens with Quantic, a pseudonym for British producer, DJ and musician Will Holland. Taking its inspiration from Holland’s global travels and move across the Atlantic to New York, Atlantic Oscillations brings out dance oriented sounds with Holland’s world-renowned sound, blending house, disco, soul and jazz.

Lagos-based Shina Williams’ Agboju Logun is the highlight of this playlist. First released on Phonodisk in 1979 on the African Dances album, then in 1984 as an alternative mix on Earthworks, Rough Trade. The track became an Afro disco classic with its innovative fusion of afrobeat, electronics, boogie and disco. 

Williams brought together the best of Nigeria’s percussionists stating “I want to show the whole wide world that Africa is alive with modern musicians to reckon with anywhere”. The album gained little international attention until the 1984 album release. 

We continue with Afrobeat fusion from the Canadian group The Souljazz Orchestra who blend soul, jazz, funk, Afrobeat and Latin-American styles, and Marumo’s, a collaboration of South African blind musicians with Khomo Tsaka Deile Kae, a funk rock setting of a pastoral story of a herder boy who loses his father’s cattle.

Other highlights include French house-electronic duo Polo & Pan and Italian funk, disco, electronic, world music producer duo Nu Guinea (now Nu Genea) from Naples. Nu Guinea draws on 70s and 80s Neopolitan artists such as Tullio de Piscopo’s fusion of jazz, funk, disco and African rhythms. We feature Ddoje Facce from their album Nuovo Napoli which reflects this sound as well as the Neopolitan music scene and local dialect.

Kerala Dust, photo by Orhan Olgar

Hazy

Begin your evening with Hazy, a downtempo playlist of atmospheric favorites. Explore the diversity of sound from deep house to bands such as Kerala Dust who combine influences of psychedelic rock, blues and techno. 

We open with Kerala Dust, formed in London in 2016 and now based in Berlin. Kerala dust blends electronic music with traditional and experimental songwriting, drawing on influences from Tom Waits to CAN and The Velvet Underground. 

Ninze follows with their experimental Ketapop sound, mixing downtempo atmospheric sounds with melancholy melodies. 

A highlight of this playlist is Palomita from the Ouïe imprint release Endup from NU, a Germany-based production outfit. Palomita moves from a mid tempo vibe to a Latin dance influence. 

We feature Modir from Seb Wildblood, co-founder of London club night and label Church. Modir, from his first album and first release on his own label SW Foreign Parts features Wildblood’s hazy organic sound. Wildblood states “This track has a really warm & nostalgic feel for me. It was made using a Juno 106, TR909 & Field Recording sampled at home. Móðir translates to Mother in Icelandic, so shouts to my mum on this one.”

Another highlight is Sueño en Paraguay from Argentine producer Chancha Vía Circuito, known for his fusion of electronic music and cumbia – a complex blend of traditional Latin American rhythms.

Tomberlin, photo by Ebru Yildiz

Pour Over

Enjoy your morning coffee with our mellow selection of indie artists. We feature Iron & Wine’s new melancholic release Calm on the Valley, from an unearthed album of lost recordings Archive Series Volume No.5: Tallahassee recorded in the late 90’s. 

Tomberlin brings the sound of the influences of her first pandemic winter in New York on idkwntht (“I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This”), exploring themes of connection and disconnection with guest vocals from Told Slant’s Felix Walworth.

A highlight of this playlist is the moody soft vocals of Adrienne Lenker, lead singer of Big Thief. This song explores the transitions in the natural world, and the importance of embracing change.

We highlight Adrienne Lenker again with her track Heavy Focus from her solo album songs. Lenker recorded songs early in the pandemic, alone in a one-room cabin in the woods. Heavy Focus reveals a folksy sound with honest lyrics, encouraging the listener to focus in.

Another highlight is Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun’s cover of Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind from her album Leave me Breathless, an album full of unique re-interpretations and covers. 

Arooj Aftab, photo by Blythe Thomas

Sauté

Sauté provides an uplifting yet mellow selection for cooking or eating. We begin with Brazilian singer-songwriter Leo Middea who brings together influences of samba, bossa, and soul.

We follow with funk from Swedish duo Duoya, Gustav Horneij and Dimitrios Karatzios, disco vibes from Jungle, and retro-soul from Durand Jones & The Indications with Love Will Work it Out from Private Space. Private Space pulls on classic soul and themes of longing for post-pandemic connection.

Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-raised, songwriter Aaron Frazer features in our playlist with his retro soulful sound both as co-lead singer of Durand Jones & The Indications and on his debut solo album Introducing… with Ride with Me. 

The highlight of this playlist is Grammy award-winning Pakistani-born, New York-based, vocalist Arooj Aftab. Aftab blends jazz, trance, and traditional Pakistani classical music for her unique and mesmerizing sound. Here we feature Mohabbat, Aftab’s stripped down version of a famous ghazal and song originally written by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri.

R3HAB by weraveyou

EDM Party, by Noris Onea.

Get ready for the weekend with our high energy EDM party mix from our Senior Technical Support Specialist Noris Onea. Noris tells us about his playlist:

Right from the start of the playlist, we kick off with several well known Big-room House artists such as Armin van Buuren, Dimitri Vegas, R3HAB and David Guetta with their highly energetic tracks. Later on we dive into Tiësto, Avicii, and Martin Garrix.

As we progress through the playlist, we have some notable mentions from Electro House, Progressive House, Trap, Club and Deep House music to keep the blood pumping through your veins and your subwoofers vibrating.

The playlist contains a few really unique tracks, such as Dimitri Vegas’ “Opa”, which features a Greek Zorba theme, New World Sound’s “Flute” which features a flute-heavy EDM beat, German DJ Tujamo’s down-and-dirty “Who”, and of course plenty of DJ remixes such as RL Grime’s “Satisfaction”, Coldplay’s “Paradise”, and Major Lazer + MOSKA’s “Despacito”.

This playlist has also been optimized for track-to-track transitions, so if you just hit play (or shuffle, it is up to you!) you’re sure to have a great experience from start to finish. This is one playlist where the DJ can “Save My Night”, as mentioned in the intro track from the playlist and keep the memories alive for the following “Years”!

Listen to Uncorked, Hazy, Pour Over, Sauté, and EDM Party in Playlists in Roon on your Roon Home Page.

44 Days in ’91

Music flashpoints are an exceedingly rare phenomenon. Even when considering a mainstream genre like Rock you can count these transformational convulsions on a single hand. Some of the reason for their scarcity comes from the difficulty involved in packing all the necessary ingredients into a single coalescent moment. The required elements are a creative environment that has gone stale, the sudden emergence of a new sound, a large audience, and a means for reaching them.

Historically, television has exploited those moments more effectively than any competing medium. A few examples spring instantly to mind: Elvis‘ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, The Beatles‘ first Sullivan performance… and the day in 1991 that Nirvana‘s Smells Like Teen Spirit broke on MTV. 

Those who experienced that debut in real-time remember it vividly. ‘Everything will be different now…’, the screen seemed to convey with mysterious certainty. A new era had sprung to life before our eyes.

I was at the top of the rock world… then next thing I know it’s ‘Hey Joe’s Crab Shack, it’s great to be here!!’ Really, it was that fast, man. Nirvana murdered my career, and everyone else’s. Everything that came before was over.

Sebastian Bach, Lead Singer of Skid Row

The Long Winter of Hair Metal

If you weren’t of a certain age in the early 1990s, it may be difficult to understand the dominance that MTV enjoyed when it came to defining music trends. It was the most powerful visual platform music had ever seen. The problem was that it had become a wasteland of cheesy sound-alike hair bands. The programing had slowly devolved into a relentless parade of awful music and vapid videos filled with men in makeup, hairspray drenched teased hair, scantily clad women, spandex, studded leather, pointy guitars, and musical cliché. It had been that way for what felt like a lifetime, with no end in sight.

Then suddenly, in the waning days of the summer of 1991, seven landmark albums were released within 44 days of each other; with startling immediacy Rock was reborn!

  • Metallica – Metallica (The Black Album), August 12, 1991
  • Pearl Jam – Ten, August 27, 1991
  • Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II, September 17, 1991
  • Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik, September 24, 1991
  • Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger, September 24, 1991
  • Nirvana – Nevermind, September 24, 1991

An interview scene from the recent SXSW premiere of the Ronnie James Dio documentary Dio: Dreamers Never Die captured the moment perfectly. Veteran Rock-radio DJ, and former host of VH1’s Metal Mania, Eddie Trunk, recounted how the program director of WDHA, ‘The Rock of New Jersey’, walked into the booth minutes before the start of his show. Trunk was told to put all the Metal discs on the console in a cardboard box. After doing so, he was handed Nirvana’s Nevermind.; “This is what we play now,” the program director said as he walked away. Trunk recalled that he had never seen a moment like that in Rock music before or since. 

Sebastian Bach of Skid Row displayed self-effacing humor after the film screening as he shared a memory of that period. “We had just released an album and were huge! I was at the top of the rock world… then next thing I know it’s ‘Hey Joe’s Crab Shack, it’s great to be here!!’ Really, it was that fast, man. Nirvana murdered my career, and everyone else’s. Everything that came before was over.” 

But Nirvana didn’t do all of this single-handedly; it was a unique joint effort from a truly unlikely confederacy of albums.

Seven Albums

Metallica‘s eponymous album was first, accompanied by a series of darkly themed videos beginning with the nightmare hell-ride, Enter SandmanThe band had previously enjoyed a committed cult following, but all that changed after The Black Album. They made the hair metal bands that preceded them look ridiculous. Their breed of metal was pulverizing, ominous, and entirely unlike the sound that had saturated the airwaves for years on end. And it was suddenly mainstream; one had the feeling that something was stirring. 

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/ysw33p1clm4kb
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/197137267

Pearl Jam‘s Ten was branded “grunge” but there’s a substantial classic-rock aesthetic to their sound. The spirit of Hendrix, Page, and other late ’60s / early ’70’s guitar heroes can clearly be felt. Eddie Vedder’s words resonated with a whole new generation of listeners looking for deeper subject matter to identify with. Their video for Even Flow captured the raw energy of the new sound and scene.

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0884977724745
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/195069318

Guns N’ Roses rewarded fans who had patiently waited for a follow-up to their debut Appetite for Destruction with two full-length releases, Use You Illusion I & II. G&R wasn’t new to the scene. They were frequent fixtures on MTV and rock radio who withstood the sea change thanks to their skill at cranking out pure unadulterated Rock. Use Your Illusion I & II debuted at the Number 1 and 2 slots of Billboard’s Album Chart. Several songs from the record morphed into some of the most cinematic, and expensive, rock videos to ever appear on MTV. 

Use Your Illusion I
Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0072064244152
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/629051

Use Your Illusion II
Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/b5huv2vxfiqcc
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/89413071

September 24, 1991, delivered a devastating triumvirate of albums whose combined impact, and individual merits, are unlikely to be repeated. 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood, Sugar, Sex, Majik sees the funk-rock tribe expand their sonic horizons thanks to production from Rick Rubin. The video releases for Breaking the GirlGive It Away, and Under the Bridge are surreal scenes plucked straight from an Orange Sunshine fueled reverie. They played music with a warrior’s intensity, the RHCP were the only band who sounded like that.    

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0093624932147
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/288404

Soundgarden was always too singular sonically to fit comfortably under the “grunge” banner. On Badmotorfinger, their eclectic influences and musicianship are on full display. Full of inventive arrangements, unusual time signatures, and sludgy guitar heaviness – the album cuts its own trail across the musical landscape of that summer. The crazed neon desert visuals of Jesus Christ Pose proved too controversial for MTV, earning a ban from the network. MTV hasn’t played the video in its entirety to this day.

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0060255722974
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/67019132

Nirvana‘s Nevermind struck the final deadly blow. I don’t know if I’ll ever see another album redirect the arc of rock music the way that one did. No doubt, the six albums that preceded it had done their work in weakening the target; but Nirvana’s heavy sonic attack and subject matter recalled punk’s go-to-hell abandon with delirious ferocity. But it was the imagery of their videos that proved lethal. 

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0060253749865
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/77610756

The final nail: Smells Like Teen Spirit

On September 10th, 1991, Nevermind‘s first video Smells Like Teen Spirit exploded before an unprepared audience. Everything in that 4 minutes and 39 seconds was the mirror opposite of the soul-sucking drek we had endured in the long winter of Hair-Metal. The only makeup and spandex seen were buried in the greenish mire that obscured the Anarchy Cheerleaders thrashing in the foreground. Nirvana wore striped shirts, torn jeans, doc martens, and converse, with guitars slung low and set to destroy. Kobain with hair in his face tearing away at the guitar, Novoselic head down, driving the bass, Grohl a hurricane of blurred arms and bass drumming. The kids rocking out in the video were representative of the musical liberation we all felt. Everything that had previously assailed us musically was swept away in its aftermath.

In celebration of these records, we’ve built 44 Days in ’91; a playlist featuring the heaviest tracks from these albums. Together again, just as they were on MTV and the airwaves in the days that followed. You can find it on your Home Page in Roon.

If you were a member of Hair Nation who was sad to see those earlier Metal bands go, we want to hear your side of the story. Head over to Roon Community and submit your favorite metal songs of the mid-’80s to early ’90s to our thread entitled Glam-Metal: Roon Listeners’ Playlist. We’ll compile the best and share a playlist of your favorites. 

Black Trailblazers


At Roon our passion for music is illustrated by a growing selection of eclectic playlists featuring a diverse mix of genres, instrumentation, and voices from around the globe. As music lovers we’re fortunate to live in a time when music is so plentiful and easily accessible; when you sync a Qobuz or TIDAL membership with your Roon subscription the selection is practically limitless. An all encompassing palette of sound is at your fingertips, accompanied by the freedom to listen to, and enjoy, anything you desire. 

It’s easy to forget that this wasn’t always the case. But we’re not talking about the relatively new emergence of streaming music and its transformation of the music industry; we’re talking about a time in history when there were strict racial boundaries in music. When black music was heard only in black churches, black clubs and theaters, black radio stations, and when black musicians were relegated to Race Records Charts and Race Label catalogs. American Music was just as segregated as American society and culture.  But Black Jazz, Blues, Folk, and Gospel music was relentlessly working their magic; building enclaves in white record collections, fighting rhythmically for acceptance. Beauty, determined to be appreciated – like a rose growing through concrete to find the sunshine. 

The list below is a roster of the black trailblazing musicians who broke through the race barrier with music that was too beautiful to be ignored or denied. It makes sense that music would be a force that helped tear down racial discrimination in The United States. Music is a universal language, but one that speaks to us in ways that exceed our full understanding. Tonal color, pitch, tempo, texture, timbre, harmony, melody, rhythm, they communicate something deeper than language. They resonate with an emotional core that recognizes and reminds us of our commonalities – it’s a nonverbal language of brotherhood.

Racial division doesn’t have a chance when one group of people can recognize themselves in the art of another group of people. We’ve all had our lives enriched through that musical kinship. We hope you’ll find something that resonates with you in our Black Trailblazers playlist in Roon, Qobuz, and TIDAL music; offered in honor of the musical visionaries who first opened our ears, and our hearts.

Ethel Waters

Firsts in Black Music:

  • First African-American Ensemble to play at The White House (1882) – 
    • The Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choir from the Fisk School in Nashville, Tennessee became the first African American choir to perform at the White House for President Chester Arthur.
  • First Commercially Recorded African-American Singer (1890) – 
    • George W. Johnson – The Whistling Coon
  • First Black Musicians in a Motion Picture (1923) – 
    • Eubie Blake & Noble Sissle in Noble Sissle & Eubie Blake performing Affectionate Dan.
  • First Black Performer on US Television (June 14, 1939) – 
    • Ethel Waters on The Ethel Waters Show
Fisk Jubilee Singers
  • First Black Emmy Award Winner
    • Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series (1959) – Harry Belafonte for Tonight with Belafonte 
  • First Black Grammy Recipients
    • Best Jazz Performance, Soloist (1958) – Ella Fitzgerald for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook
    • Best Female, Pop Vocal Performance (1958) – Ella Fitzgerald for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook
    • Best Jazz Performance, Jazz Group (1958) – Count Basie for Basie (The Atomic Mr. Basie)
    • Best Performance by a Dance Band (1958) – Count Basie for Basie (The Atomic Mr. Basie)
    • Album of the Year (1974) – Stevie Wonder for Innervisions
  • First Black Oscar Winners
    • Best Music, Original Song (1972) – Isaac Hayes for Theme From Shaft – First African-American winner for Best Original Song. First African-American to win a non-acting award.
    • Best Original Song Score (1984) – Prince for Purple Rain.
Prince
  • First Black Tony Award Winner 
    • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (1954) – Harry    Belafonte for John Murray Anderson’s Almanac
  • First Black Musician to achieve an E.G.O.T (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) (2018) – 
    • John Legend
  • Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, First Black Inductees (1986)
    • Chuck Berry
    • James Brown
    • Ray Charles
    • Sam Cooke
    • Fats Domino
    • Little Richard
  • Country Music Hame of Fame, First Black Inductee (2000)
    • Charley Pride
  • MTV
    • First All Black Band to Appear on MTV (1982) – Musical Youth with Pass the Dutchie
Musical Youth
  • First Black Billboard Record Chart Toppers
    • Best Selling Popular Record Albums Chart Number 1 (Billboard’s First Album Chart) (March 24, 1945) – The Nat King Cole Trio
    • Billboard Hot 100 Number 1 (September 29, 1958) – Tommy Edwards with It’s All In The Game

Due to the scarcity of some of the recordings in this list, some selections had to be substituted for representative pieces from the same time period.

If you’d like to know more about Roon, simply get in touch with us. We’d love to help you get set up.

Alternatively, you can try the free 14 day trial here.

Get Back to The Beatles with Roon

The last few months have been an interesting time for 60s music fans. After all, how often do we see a decades-old sour story about a band or album evolve in such a way that history, and our beliefs, are permanently reconstructed? Rarely. All the more so when it involves a band like The Beatles and their final (released) studio album Let it Be. When it comes to Beatle lore, the icey saga of Let it Be was chiseled into stone as cold as the West London film studio where the band that created The 60s had allegedly unraveled. Those of us who saw the original film remember what it was like all too well. Dreadful stuff: frustrated and agitated Beatles bickering with each other. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I, like many Beatles fans, was certain that it would never see an expanded reissue, let alone a deluxe treatment. The album title itself seemed to confirm it! 

And yet, the word got out that they were doing just that. A multi-disc box set was released last October, and about a month later there they were, in restored color, for Get Back – a three-part documentary series. It’s been absolutely dizzying, mesmerizing, and revelatory to witness. Still a bit uncomfortable to watch, in places, but, on the whole, a complete regenesis with plenty of musical and brotherly love. It’s certainly the most revealing and most human vista we’ve ever gotten of them. Seeing the Rooftop Concert in its triumphant entirety had me immediately Focusing on the Fab corner of my Roon Library, and I wasn’t the only one.

TIDAL: Get Back (Rooftop Performance) https://tidal.com/browse/album/213891547

Qobuz: Get Back (Rooftop Performance) https://open.qobuz.com/album/x9pgg6gsai8vc

Roon, as a microcosm, reflected the impact those releases had on dedicated fans and curious onlookers alike. Within days, The Beatles were the most listened-to band in Roon. Admittedly, they’re never too far outside the top ten anyhow; but, as John Lennon once said, they were toppermost of the poppermost again. It was easy to understand why, the Let it Be Super Deluxe Set remastering is very tastefully done, and sonically rewarding – as expected. But it’s the twenty-seven previously unreleased studio jams, outtakes, and rehearsals that provide a fascinating wellspring of ‘what-ifs’. What if All Things Must Pass had been born with three Beatle voices instead of just George’s alone? What if John Lennon’s brooding broadside Gimme Some Truth had landed on Let it Be instead of kicking off side two of Imagine?! What if Glyn Johns’ raw mixes had emerged as the finished product instead of Phil Spector’s strings and high sheen approach? The head swims, and those are just a few of many questions the set spawns! And it would be rude not to take a moment to just say the words, “thank you Billy Preston”, and smile. His contribution was such a transformational force in the entire proceedings.

The Roon ripples reverberated from Let it Be into the other Super Deluxe sets in the band’s reissue roster. Abbey Road, The Beatles (aka The White Album), and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band were getting a lot of residual play time on customer systems. But, in true Roon fashion, it was the stuff that was percolating under those sets that was most fascinating. 

The Beatles were/are masters of marketing and product. Over the years there’s been a staggering parade of Beatles releases, some official, some not – all of it well documented, meticulously indexed, and obsessively collected. Those factors make for a catalog that is perfectly irresistible to Roon customers and naturally suited for Roon’s music library superpowers. Much of The Beatles’ massive discography isn’t available on streaming sites. But because of how easy it is to import a personal music library, it was on full display in Roon and getting loads of play time: The Beatles in Mono, The E.P. Collection, The US Albums Box Set, Beatles Ballads, Love Songs, Anthology 2, Twist and Shout, The Lost Album, Reel Music, Hey Jude, Beatles Bop – Hamburg Days, Introducing… The Beatles – just to name a crate full.

Most people with digital music files will tell you that the bugbear of owning large collections has always been figuring out how to organize and use them in an intuitive and enjoyable way. Our customers have discovered that Roon solves the problem. Let me explain, for the non-Rooner, how this is done with just a few mouse clicks.

Scene opens: you’ve launched your Roon trial, installed the Roon software, synced your streaming services, detected and enabled all the audio devices that are connected to your local internet network, you’ve queued up some music to play and everything sounds great! But there’s your external hard drive with several terabytes of music on it. ‘Ugh’, you think, ‘I’ll mess with that later’. But, with Roon, there’s no need for dread. Especially not in your scenario, you’re importing an extensive collection of Beatles files and albums. This is heavily documented and easily recognized music. Roon utilizes data from several metadata providers and adds some secret magic that makes this process painless. When you link your collection in Roon, the metadata engine goes into high gear comparing your files against our data and in less time than you can imagine your music is in Roon, identified and ready to enjoy. And none of that processing alters a single bit or byte on your hard drive; Roon metadata is simply a nice set of clothes for your music files.

Roon does the same thing with all the other music on your drive. If an obscure vinyl rip or import compilation isn’t recognized, simply tell Roon to use your embedded artwork and file tags instead. It’s that easy. Your streaming favorites, digital music library, and live radio station presets are all integrated and ready to explore & enjoy in bit-perfect, high-resolution, lossless audio. That’s Roon through the fish-eye lens of a Beatle collection, but it functions the same way no matter what you listen to. If this sounds like something that would help you bring order to your digital collection and facilitate filling your listening space with your favorite music then we invite you to take a look at Roon. If you’d like to know more, simply get in touch with us. We’d love to help you get set up.

Alternatively, you can try the free 14 day trial here.

Playlists in Roon

At Roon our team of self-proclaimed music fanatics have a broad range of musical interests and a shared goal of creating the best experiences for our community of music lovers. 

We started sharing playlists of our favorite music with our community in partnership with our streaming partners TIDAL and Qobuz. We collaborated with artists and our own music team to bring you editorial content and playlists over the past year. 

We’ve worked with artists including Patricia Barber, Daymé Arocena, AHI, and Stephen Moccio to bring you exclusive interviews and editorial, as well as producing weekly playlists with a particular genre or theme.

Up until now, our playlists have only been available on TIDAL and Qobuz, and haven’t been accessible in Roon. In our latest 1.8 Fall 2021 release, you can now access everything our music team has curated, directly from your Home Screen on both streaming platforms. 

This year our music team started curating more playlists available only in Roon, along with our playlists made in collaboration with Qobuz and TIDAL. We will also feature guest playlists, such as our recent playlists Jazz Waltz Decades by one of our founders Brian Luczkiewicz and Maestros of the Screen by composer Matt Wang.

Here are some of our recent playlists which you can find in the home screen of Roon.

Simphiwe Dana

Welcome to Joburg explores the sounds coming from Johannesburg’s progressive music scene. Enjoy the unique South African blend of electronic house, traditional African percussion, multilingual vocals, jazz, soul, reggae, R&B and rap.

HiFi JoyRide explores old and new music with a significant sound that shows how your hifi responds to different types of music. Some obvious, some out there. Take your system for a joyride and discover new favorites.

Phoebe Pearls explores Phoebe Bridgers steady climb from indie artist to icon. This playlist includes some of the pearls in the collection of well crafted songs that makes Phoebe Bridgers the tour guide of her generation.

Last Train to Lagos takes you on a musical journey to Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, for an introduction to Afropop, a style of music that is dominating in global influence.

Future Icons highlights new music from new artists poised to reach iconic status.

Jazz Waltz Decades ​​focuses on the art of the jazz waltz, with a playlist of recordings spanning the 1950s to the 2010s.

Jonas Nordberg

Melancholic Lute explores music for the lute family, from the Renaissance lute to the theorbo. We highlight works by Hurel, Dowland, Josquin Des Prez, Kapsberger, Piccinini and J.S. Bach.

Maestros of the Screen is a collection of brilliant film and tv scores from composers Hildur Guðnadóttir, Shirley Walker, Mandy Hoffman, Thomas Newman, and more.

Eclectic Spirit is a mix of spiritual and electronic tunes for chilling, relaxation, or reading. Overall an electronic chill mood with a few pop pick me ups!

Mountain Jazz highlights a selection of the finest tracks from the jazz traditions of the Nordics. Transparent, floating, dreamy and with a constant undercurrent of folk music and dramatic scenery. 

Lieder A selection of songs from the Romantic era. We highlight German composers Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Schubert, Mahler, Swedish composers Peterson-Berger, Rangström and Alfvén, and Czech composer Korngold.

All of our playlists can be found in the Home Screen in Roon.