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

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

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

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

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

Alberto Albertini in Rome, 1955
Alberto Albertini in Rome, 1955

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

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

Albertini at Fonoroma
Albertini at Fonoroma

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

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

One of the actual Schoeps CM65 microphones used for the recording
One of the actual Schoeps CM65 microphones used for the recording

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

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

Thelonious Monk & his band - Teatro Lirico - Milan 21-Apr-1961
Thelonious Monk & his band – Teatro Lirico – Milan 21-Apr-1961