In Sheep’s Clothing — for listening. Courtesy photo.

SOME GOOD THINGS BEAR REPEATING

Especially when they are gone but not forgotten, coronavirus crushed but brought back to virtual life.

My alternative great music correspondent Nicole always surprises and delights me with her weekly recommendations, things I probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise. This time she surprised me by writing about something she had mentioned twice before, but it’s such a fantastic concept that its virtual world revival is worth your attention.

Just after WWII, the Japanese, rabid music aficionados and especially for American jazz, started opening up jazz-kissas, mostly in Tokyo and Kyoto, small cafes devoted to playing the latest releases, on high quality recordings. People came to listen to the music as their first activity, not as background.

There were no jazz radio stations at first, few big name touring musicians, and at that time instruments were hard to come by, as were local musicians who were up to the level of the best American players. They were starting to manufacture sound equipment that the whole world would covet, but it was still too expensive for most to enjoy at home. As were imported American albums.

VIRGIN VINYL

But they, along with the Germans and British, opted to press LPs on virgin vinyl, and I can tell you, that makes a big difference. American records were made of crap, scrap vinyl. I eventually collected Japanese and German and some English pressings of what I considered the best albums by Hendrix, the Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, a few others, and some classical. What a joy to crank the volume up and have the needle drop down and hear absolute silence, no hissing, no crackling, until the crystal clear music came roaring out of the speakers. Between cuts, also not a sound.

THEY STILL EXIST

The kissas, though considerably fewer than the peak number of some 600 in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Digital music took its toll, and now most Japanese can enjoy great sound and an almost infinite selection of recordings at home. Jazz stations now abound and all the best tours go through Japan. (Well, they did, and will again.)

But a couple of Angelenos, Brian Ling and Zach Cowie, found they had a mutual love of a culture that valued listening, really listening to music and decided to open up such a place in Little Tokyo. In Sheep’s Clothing is elegant in a very minimal style, with warm, polished blond woods, amazing sound equipment (a pair of $6K Klipsch speakers, a pair of $5K vintage Gerrard turntables, for starters) and attention to all details. A placard tented on every table sums it up: “To Hear More, Say Less.” A few months later a second similar setup emerged in Highland Park, the Gold Line, with a library of some 7500 LPs.

But it’s In Sheep’s Clothing that got Nicole’s attention, and she wrote about it or recommended their shows twice before. Of course they are shuttered for now, but she writes below about what they’ve launched online, and it definitely sounds worth looking into. She also tells you about their expanded editorial archives, which I haven’t yet perused, but I will.

To give you a better idea, here’s what she wrote about it a few months ago:

“CLASSIC ALBUM SUNDAYS Presents: ALICE COLTRANE’S ‘PTAH THE EL DAOUD’ (For all you audiophiles, this is an ongoing series that is part lecture, part listening, focusing on one album per event, combining listening examples with a contextualizing lecture, culminating in a listening of the album in its entirety on a world-class hi-fi sound system — all vinyl, no BS. I attended December’s presentation of Nina Simone’s ‘Black Gold’ and I still think about it often.)”

Then in Feb., based on what she described and my exceptional experiences with LA’s Lyris Quartet, I recommended: “— LYRIS QUARTET & Mezzo-Soprano JESSICA RAUCH — (perform New String Quartets by LA-Based Composers, I love the Lyris Quartet from their many performances in SM [through the Jacaranda series], but they play all over in all kinds of settings, such musicianship, and daring, and this one should be memorable) — Tues 6:30 p.m., In Sheep’s Clothing, DTLA, $25.”

I am distraught that I did not get myself over to In Sheep’s Clothing before the pandemic pooped on everything. Their coffee was a work of art, even the way they presented it, and they had an amazing list of Japanese whiskies, some of the best in the world.

For this alone, I will wait out this damnable pandemic. Nothing gets between me and great music, coffee and whisky.

NICOLE RECOMMENDS:

EXPLORE IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING (ISCHiFi) ONLINE — I have written before about the In Sheep’s Clothing-hosted Classic Album Sundays series, an in-person experience that was part lecture, part listening on a world-class hi-fi sound system (“all vinyl, no bs”). Unfortunately, that kind of event is not possible right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still make the time for dedicated music listening in our own homes!

In Sheep’s Clothing was modeled after the great jazz-kissas and listening bars of Japan: establishments designed to maximize the patron’s deep listening experience, often set in an intimate, tucked-away space, equipped with precision audio equipment and respected, knowledgeable DJs at the helm.

While it would be foolish to equate this physical experience to anything attempted virtually, ISCHiFi has come pretty close with their new website, which includes high quality room recordings of full albums captured in their listening space.

Even in its infancy, the site is already fairly comprehensive, with options to browse their carefully curated collection that is searchable by genre, alphabetical order, release date and more. And each album has a high resolution scan of the album jacket and liner notes, a brief summary written by the staff, music credits, and various platforms to stream from.

You can also browse their growing editorial section, as well as listen to weekly mixes put out by the ISCHiFi team. As co-founder Bryan Ling writes in his introductory feature “A Message From the Team Behind ISCHiFi”:

“You won’t find ‘best of’ or ‘top ever’ lists on this site. Music shouldn’t be a competition. Instead, this platform will aim to offer pure joy through a variety of ways to discover, share, and enjoy music.”

Visit the website and keep checking back for updates: https://insheepsclothinghifi.com/

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,500 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com