Reel-to-reel review: Greetje Kauffeld & Band – ‘On My Way To The 30th Analog Forum Anniversary’ from STS Digital

Don’t let the name of Dutch high-end recording label STS Digital confuse you. Yes, they’re called ‘Digital’ but even so, they produce vinyl records and reel-to-reel tapes as well as CDs.

While we’re in clarification mode, let’s start with a brief explanation of the name of this particular album, which is also a tad unusual. The Analog Forum is a real event, an annual get-together of the Analogue Audio Association (AAA) held in Krefeld, north-west Germany. (And yes, it’s ‘Analogue Association’ but ‘Analog Forum’, apparently).

Still with me? Great. So now cast your mind back, if you will, to 2015, when the members of the Association were enjoying their 29th Forum. No doubt over a glass of wine or two, the question of how to commemorate the following year’s 30th anniversary Forum was raised. Naturally, given the business at hand, the idea of a music release was mooted and so the wheels started turning and they kept on turning until the outcome was an album: titled (you guessed it) ‘On My Way To The 30th Analog Forum Anniversary’…. 

Greetje Kauffeld & Band’s ‘On My Way To The 30th Analog Forum Anniversary’ from STS Digital
Greetje Kauffeld & Band’s ‘On My Way To The 30th Analog Forum Anniversary’ from STS Digital

The artist is Greetje Kauffeld (not to be confused with Krefeld, the town where the Forum takes place), a former Eurovision entrant and pop star who moved into the jazz scene around 1970 following her marriage to music producer Joop de Roo (credited as producer of this recording). Kauffeld is backed by a four-piece band comprising Henk Elkerbout on piano, Jan Menu on sax, Peter Nieuwerf on guitar and Peter Ypma on drums.

Produced by STS Digital, the album was created as a very limited release of just 2,000 vinyl LPs and 100 reel-to-reel tapes (hence all analogue).

sts-30th-aaa-forum_original-masterIt should also be noted here that the album wasn’t recorded for the 30th Analog Forum as such. It was actually originally recorded in 1979, hence pre-dates both the AAA and STS Digital. More on the original recording (pictured right) as well as the making of this anniversary version later. First, let’s have a listen…

As a jazz fan, and having previously bought a couple of reel-to-reel tapes from STS Digital, I already knew them to be excellent analogue producers (check out for example Ben Webster’s utterly superb album, ‘Old Betsy’), so I was keen to sample this one.

“A very, very analogue sound”

As with other STS Digital tapes, this is a very, very analogue sound. It’s incredibly smooth and natural – perfectly suited to the AAA and quite evocative of the jazz clubs of the era.

Kicking off with Mendes’ ‘So Many Stars’ and Gershwin’s ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, we open with just vocals, guitar and sax. The soundstage is narrow, intimate, tonally silky smooth, yet deep with a smoky richness. If it had a colour and a sense it would be the touch of warm grey velvet.

With the third song (Rodgers’ ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’), Elkerbout joins in on piano just to the left of the singer, while on the far left we have Ypma’s drums, as the sax moves out to the far right. The band opens up and draws you in, and for the next half hour or so, swings with a joyful bounce yet never losing that oh-so-laidback relaxed feel.

By the time we get to track 7, ‘Nice ‘n’ Easy’, Kauffeld’s vocals are smouldering with a gentle fire that you just don’t ever want to put out. If she got any more intimate, she’d be singing from somewhere inside you!

This is the sort of jazz that’s extremely easy listening (and I mean that in the best possible way). The performance is so natural that you can almost feel the air in the venue. I’ve always fancied being one of those people who, when having a few folks over for drinks or dinner, somehow manages to book a small jazz ensemble for the evening’s entertainment. Sadly, I’m neither rich nor sophisticated enough to pull it off. Still, I’m not too downhearted, since each time I put this tape on I get to imagine for a while how it might be to have this particular jazz troupe ‘chez moi’ and at my disposal. As an analogue die-hard, that’ll do very nicely for me.

More on ‘the making of’

Honingstraat Phonogram Studios
Honingstraat Phonogram Studios

The original 1979 recording of the album was made at the Honingstraat Phonogram Studios in Hilversum using a Phillips EL3501 master recorder.   In producing the current version, STS Digital used an example of the same machine (below left) to play back the original master, recording at 15ips onto their Telefunken M15A (below right). Then, to produce the 100 copies, this tape was then replayed on the Telefunken feeding a bank of six Philips N4522 recorders, onto brand new ‘Recording the Masters’ LPR35 tape.

One final point to note: this particular release comes on what could possibly be the most drool-worthy reel tape I’ve ever seen! It’s exquisitely made – even the central NAB part looks finely machined rather than the usual plastic casting. It sits more centrally on the NAB adapters than other reels, acting more as a flywheel to smooth the whole tape transport. And design-wise, it’s a stunner. Just seeing this glorious blue reel revolving on your tape machine might be enough to tempt you…

sts-30th-aaa-forum-2Since it’s a strictly limited release, snap up a copy while you can: http://sts-digitalshop.nl/reel-to-reel/