SOME STUFFS: Audio Fidelity remaster albums by Herbie Hancock and Billy Cobham

AF: Herbie Hancock/BillY Cobham photo AF_HancockCobham_covers_zpsvktqhkpk.jpg
Audio Fidelity are exploring the world of 70’s jazz with two new SACD remasters due out on February 26th.

  • Thrust was Herbie Hancock’s follow-up to his massively successful Head Hunters album so after making an impact with that, he decided to go even furhter. The year was 1974 and with everyone waiting to see what he and his band would do, he went there and then went further than that into a soothing and funky vibe that has been loved by jazz, funk, soul and years later, hip-hop fans alike. Like Head Hunters, Thrust shines the spotlight on nothing but four cuts but each one displays a sense of power and warmth that still holds up. This is the album that also includes the song “Butterfly”.
  • It was with Spectrum that drummer Billy Cobham moved to a higher level than he was before as a member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Released on Atlantic Records, Cobham is joiuned by Jan Hammer, Lee Sklar, Tommy Bolin, and Ray Barretto for a set of music that moved him within his Mahavishnu groove but also helped make people realize he’s much more than just part of the maniacal fusion machine of his band. This one managed to be more accessible than what he did with his group, which allowed the album to make it to the #1 spot on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.

    Both of these albums were also released in quadraphonic counterparts, and they will be released as part of the hybrid SACD, which means everyone will be able to hear newly remastered versions of each album on one side while those with SACD players can listen to the quad mix as well. This is the first time the quad mix of Thrust has been released digitally, while the quad mix of Spectrum had come out as a DVD-Audio disc 15 years ago so it’s a chance to pick it up to hear the surround sound mix if you missed it before.

  • BOOK REVIEW: Herbie Hancock’s “Possibilities” (with Lisa Dickey)

    Herbie Hancock photo HancockPBook_cover_zpsdbd6bb7c-1.jpg When I heard Herbie Hancock did an autobiography, I had to read it. I’ve been listening to his music for over 30 years and have enjoyed exploring his catalog, going back and forth and enjoying much of what he has shared with the world, but I always wanted to know more about the man behind the music, and Possibilities (Viking) is an excellent way to read about his story from the man himself.

    Written along with Lisa Dickey, Hancock goes throughout his life from his childhood in Chicago, the importance of family and friends, and what lead to him playing piano at the age of 7. His mom wanted to be sure he was classically trained and he was, and in time he would learn and embrace other musical styles too, although how he was introduced to jazz is a unique one for him. Once he fell in love with jazz, he wanted to know how much more he could do, where his talents may lead him, and what the world can offer him, which is part of why this book is named after one of his own albums.

    The book explores what lead to him getting involved with Miles Davis to become a part of his “second” cherished quintet and while he played along with other musicians, he would gather information along the way that would help him with some tips that would lead to a very strong career, one that has now lasted 55 years. It’s great to read the stories on how playing behind Davis was an education in itself, but also how it made him stronger as a musician and as a person, which would eventually lead to him moving out of the quintet and into creating his own bands. What I enjoyed was reading his experience through the Mwandishi period which covered three albums on Warner Bros., the struggles and satisfaction of performing that music to crowds, and what lead to what ended up being a satisfactory jump to a new label, Columbia Records. It is his Columbia years that lead to at least two of his greatest celebrations, 1973’s Head Hunters album and 1983’s “Rockit” single.

    In between he talks about exploring his limitations with his instrument, only to find himself discovering electronic gadgets and instruments that would take his talents a few steps further, if not higher. His girlfriend, who would become his wife, is very much along with his journey, along with their first child Jessica. With success came more challenges, including soundtrack opportunities, which managed to keep him busy. Hancock also covers being introduced to technology that we now taken for granted these days, including digital recording in 1976, a computer modem and computer chatting in 1979, and a compact disc in 1981, along with being told in the early 80’s that it may be possible for anyone to sell music through computers. For gearheads and tech nerds, he gets into how he and Stevie Wonder would occasionally battle over having the first editions of newly made keyboards and synth but for the most part, the book is not deep into the creations of his compositions and recordings. He touches on all of it throughout but it’s not to where only the diehard music fans will appreciate.

    I was aware that he is a Buddhist, which is why I always loved how he once said he is not a musician, but a human first that happens to perform and play music, showing that there is a consciousness first before any sense of talent. What I wasn’t aware of was that he not only had a bit of cocaine throughout his life, but that he also had a bit of a crack problem. I had never looked that deeply into his life so this was new to me and most likely to everyone else, as he states that this dark chapter of his life was something he kept to himself, family, and close friends, only revealing it for the first time in the book. Through strength and determination, he was able to pull himself through.

    Despite the ups and downs, Hancock has lead a satisfying life by being able to do the thing he loves along with the people he loves and adores, and explains that no matter what life has thrown him (or whatever he has come across in life), the idea of dealing with possibilities is what keeps him and his mind going. Outside of being a great read for jazz and music fans, Possibilities is very much about a life lived and lessons learned, in the hopes people will go through life while dealing with the differences in our time of existence.

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    DUST IT OFF: Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters”…40 Years Later

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    It was not my first exposure to jazz. My dad was the jazz fan who enjoyed the music of Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess album. These guys were fairly tame compared to the album I was listening to at my uncle’s place: Miles Davis’ Live Evil. I liked it because it featured an illustrated album cover with a nude, pregnant woman. Surprisingly, my parents didn’t shield my eyes from this and perhaps because I had already been a child raised on Santana’s Abraxas, another cover with not one, but two beautiful nude women. Yes, these covers were considered naughty even though I wasn’t quite sure what made them bad, other than the fact that they showed drawings of a woman’s chichi’s. It was the music that brought me in, so getting into songs like “Sivad”, “Selim”, “Funky Tonk”, and “Inamorata and Narration by Conrad Roberts” was very cool, even this type of jazz was louder, noisier, and nothing like what my dad was into. It was weird, zany, and wacky, and I loved it.

    As I got older and started looking at records as much more than the containers of sounds I enjoyed, I would read the back cover, go over the album credits, or look at the photos on the inner sleeves. If you bought an album on Columbia or Epic, it would come with record company sleeves advertising other albums the label wanted to suggest. One album that always seemed to come up was Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. The cover image was just a thumbnail so it was hard to figure out what was the face on it. I don’t remember searching for it before the age of ten, but after moving from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest, I found a great resource for music: the public library. I had already borrowed records and cassettes from the Honolulu library so doing this in a new place was not strange, I just had to see what kind of records were there. One of the albums I found was the album with the weird face, and I believe it was the first time I picked it up. I now realized it was some kind of robot mask, but why? I looked at the cover and saw that it had only four songs. This meant there were some long songs and as someone raised along a good share of rock and jazz, I felt these long songs were little mini-journeys someone could take with a record and stereo. By this time, Hancock’s music was only familiar to me through “Rockit”, “Automatic”, “Hardrock”, and “Karabali”. I didn’t yet make the connection between Hancock and Miles Davis, in fact I wasn’t listening to Davis’ music at all at the time. Yet Hancock seemed… no, it didn’t seem, it was available to me at the library and I could borrow it. I was probably 15 or 16 when I borrowed it along with John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things (Atlantic), another artist I had heard of but not really explored. I borrowed them and had taken them home. I was blown away by both. Coltrane’s music and playing seemed very calming, while Hancock’s sound was funky and on the same level of Lewis’ Sun Goddess, but quite different. It was this visit to the library that truly opened the door to the vast world of jazz that I had brief hints of when I would visit record stores in Honolulu, but I had absolutely no idea how deep or lost one could get. I didn’t know if I was ready or not, but I wanted in the room.

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  • Head Hunters was my introduction to what I may have called the “true” Hancock, the “real” Hancock. That’s not saying “Rockit” or “Automatic” was not his real music, but I felt the album was much closer to what he was about as a musician. Keep in mind that I had yet to discover the Mwandishi period, his Blue Note work, or his vast work with Davis’ quintet. Head Hunters represented the funky style of jazz I loved. The album begins with “Chameleon” with one of the most recognizable riffs in the world of electric jazz. It has a nice and calm flow before the song reaches the halfway point and before the synth solo is shrill and twisted and completely different. Was this the music played by the robot? By then, I had the cover in my hand so I knew the man within the can was Hancock himself, but the futuristic mask was meant to repersent the music in some way. I found this song to be more powerful than “Rockit”, but as I’m listening to “Chameleon”, the song seems to end but moves on to a completely different mood and feel. Where was this leading to? I don’t know, but I got into it and enjoyed it when the song went back into the vamp and then the melody which started the song. Close to 16 minutes of bliss and I had to have more.
  • “Watermelon Man” was beyond funky, I loved the African feel but I wondered if it was meant to sound tribal? A ritual? Or just a gathering of musicians playing for the love of music and life? The song felt…slinky. In other words, it was literally like a Slinky toy going down a flight of stairs, where everything grooved and had its own rhythm. There’s a part of the song I was always drawn to, and it was great when Puff Daddy did a remix of a Super Cat song and included that exact segment as the core of “Dolly My Baby”.
  • “Sly” seemed too much to me at first, and not because of how fast the band plays throughout, but there seemed to be too much information going on in the song. The song begins at a calm page, but then it stops and they come out of it fully recharged and ready to play with brilliance. Hancock’s piano solo is incredible, and the band stop not once but a few times before returning to the melody which opened the song.
  • “Vein Melter” was the album closer and upon first listen, it seemed way too slow, or that the song was going nowhere. I didn’t understand it and yet when I played the album, I would never shut the song off. With continued listens, the song then sounded like a return home to the city or home after a long voyage through the unknown, and everyone is going back into the comforts of slumber, or they’re all returning to normality through calm and peace. Again, multiple plays lead to me loving this song along with the rest of the album, and it is a mandatory listen when I put on Head Hunters, I must play it from start to finish.

  • I wasn’t just a kid who enjoyed listening, this is the type of music I wanted to learn how to play. I wanted to be the rock star and play the guitar, then I felt the drums were cooler, especially when it became the instrument my parents refused to buy me. I didn’t want to be just a rock or jazz musician, I simply wanted to play music and if it included jazz, so be it. Head Hunters seemed to be an album that was of importance because of how it always seemed to be available, unlike before where labels would make a release out of print when it would collect dust in the racks. When compact discs were made, labels were slow in releasing popular releases. Eventually, labels realized that fans did want to buy old music if it sounded clean and crisp. Columbia Records were initially slow in opening their catalog but once they did, the jazz releases would eventually flood the market. One of the first Columbia jazz releases I ever saw was Head Hunters, so I bought it and loved the clarity. I would later buy the Legacy remaster, and later the SACD so I could hear the surround sound mix. It wouldn’t be later until I tracked down the original 4.0 quadraphonic mixes and loved all of the differences between the stereo and the quad. When Warner Bros. dipped into their vaults, they released a compilation featuring the three albums Hancock released for the label, so I got into Fat Albert Rotunda, Mwandishi, and Crossings. By then, I was getting heavy into Davis and also finding Hancock’s other records, including the work he did with The V.S.O.P. Quintet, and as with most jazz, one release leads to another, which leads to full catalogs, which leads to exploring sessionographies, the search and listening process is endless.

    Yet despite all of the excursions I would go on with jazz, I always found myself returning to Head Hunters as much as I had already returned to Sun Goddess, and it would become one of my default jazz albums. One can hear this album and imagine its influence on thousands of musicians. One can listen to a lot of hip-hop and hear what this album provided to everyone. One can play this and hear what a lot of artists today are missing and/or overlooking.

    For me, when I started my one-man music project known as Crut, I drew four non-existent members of the non-existent group as a way to describe the aspects of me and the different things I listened to. The DJ of the group was Jeffrey Duduho, a/k/a DJ Tungmaduduho, and he was represented by the robot mask on Head Hunters. In many ways, it described the mentality I had with my music at the time: cover up with masks and maybe people will be more open to listening instead of looking. I just wanted to say “I like Hancock, and I can music this funky, in my own way.”

    Was Head Hunters meant to be important music made specifically for the head? Mind expanding sounds? If so, were Paul Jackson, Victor Moscoso, Bill Summers, Harvey Mason, and Hancock the true rebel hunters of sound for the head? Unsure.

    What I am certain of is. I had once inquired about an extended Legacy edition of Head Hunters, complete with any existing outtakes and/or alternate takes, and the answer I received was that there weren’t any, which could have easily meant that there wasn’t anything worth releasing from what may or may not exist. “Chameleon” does fade out, so why not release a mix of the song that comes to a proper (or improper) ending? Same for “Watermelon Man”. The quadraphonic mix of “Sly” features a few notes that aren’t in the stereo mix, how about any existing count-ins or studio dialogue. Then again, if you entered a recording studio were time is of the essence and money, maybe if there were any false takes, the tape reel was rewound to the beginning and everything that was put on tape was immediately erased with the next take. It is also very much possible that Hancock and friends did single takes of each song and perfection was made in 42 minutes. At least there are existing live recordings, for those who wish to hear how some of these songs were explored in a live setting.

  • What will be the legacy of Head Hunters in 40 years? 20 years? Five years from now? I think its legacy will remain strong and will grow stronger as more people discover this masterpiece, and older musicians rediscover it, while others will discover it for the first time, perhaps leading some to say “why did I ignore hearing this?” It shows the diversity of Hancock and everything he has made in the 50+ years as someone who loves and enjoys music. I hope those who will discover it for the first time will become their own “head hunters” as well.

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  • REVIEW: David Caceres’ self-titled album

    Photobucket “Holy crap!” may not be the most obvious way to start a review for a jazz album review, but David Caceres opens up his self-titled album (his fourth) with a cover of Maxwell’s “Symptom Unknown”, which is a bold move for any jazz artist. Some jazz purists will say “do nothing but the standards” but as someone who reviews a good amount of jazz, I want to hear something other than the accepted standards. In this case, Caceres shows his skills as a vocalist and saxophonist that brings the song back to its introspective home to create a bit of a temple of church, where you and only yourself becomes your own place of worship to figure out what you must do to get from here to there. I was blown away by his performance, as his voice shows qualities that remind me of the warmth of Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson and Corinne Bailey Rae. How about Maxwell? It’s very much a Maxwell song, but it sounds nothing like him and probably isn’t meant to. It’s a fantastic way to start the album, which then moves into a cover of Ray Lamontagne’s “You Can Bring Me Flowers”, bringing a jazzy New Orleans bravado into Lamontagne’s celebration of the American spirit, adding more spices into what’s already there. By Caceres singing the line “you can bring me flowers when I’m dead and gone” is his way of saying “yes, I have too much to do, don’t honor me now, I don’t want that. Put me to work, or let’s work together”. With two songs, he is bringing the listener into his community like a pied piper, hoping people will want to join him on his journey.

    Van Morrison gets the funky/Northern soul vibe with a nice rendition of his “The Way Young Lovers Do”, sure to become sample-fodder for select producers and DJ’s, while “Giving Up” (a Van McCoy original that was covered by both Gladys Knight & The Pips and Donna Hathaway) is one of those that will make those cold nights warm. When Caceres wants to, he could be a heartbreaker for the ladies with his voice, and one could easily see him beign up there with Robin Thicke and Remy Shand. However, Caceres hasn’t run off to a hidden corner in Canada nor does he want to be novel for the sake of trying to put value in other people’s relevance. This is Caceres on his own terms, someone who wants to display his skills into the words of others, an interpreter, an arranger, an artist with a lot of range and depth. While the majority of his album are covers, including tracks by Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock, he does offer two of his own compositions, “Gratitude” and “Sacred Path”, which brings things back to his jazzy roots, and it’s not a bad place to be in. One can then here how he was rooted to hearing more, or hearing other music inside and out to become who he is here, and what he may continue to do for the rest of his musical career.

    I must say, if more jazz vocal albums was like this, you’d hear a lot more of this everywhere and not just in a small pocket called jazz. Forget age barriers and whatnot, this is music for everyone. To everyone who does take time to hear David Caceres: take time to pass this along to the next man or woman and spread the word.

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    REVIEW: Herbie Hancock’s “The Imagine Project”

    Photobucket When it comes to the music of Herbie Hancock, you can’t help but just listen and enjoy pure beauty. So is the case with The Imagine Project (Hancock), an album where Hancock dips into the pop world and collaborates with a wide range of artists that help bring forth the last lines in the chorus of John Lennon‘s “Imagine”: “I hope some day you will join us, and the world will live as one”. Can one imagine a world without boundaries? That’s what Hancock attempts to do with this album, which features Anoushka Shankar, Los Lobos, Dave Matthews (whose approach to The Beatles‘ “Tomorrow Never Knows” sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel), India.Arie, P!nk, Juanes, and Chaka Khan among many others.

    Don’t expect for every song to be completely mindblowing, you can put on your elitist hat for a few songs or two but then allow yourself to open up and hear the album for what it is: a musical journey where artists, sounds, influences, and cultural divides come together for the sake of doing so, without thought of exploitation clauses in recording contracts. Hancock continues to show why he is a musician with a need to play and move people with his music, but as this is a pop-oriented album, there are times when the music is bigger than Hancock. Sure, I would’ve loved for him to freak the fuck out and get into Mwandishi mode with Dave Matthews as they turned “Tomorrow Never Knows” inside out, but what you hear is a more mainstream approach to the freak out, a lighter dose of the psychedelic haze that through Hancock makes the listener realize it’s all a mind game with no chemical enhancements whatsoever.

    The Imagine Project fits in with what Hancock has done in the last ten years, and with luck,fans of the collaborating artists will move them to explore Hancock’s catalog, currently six decades deep.

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    VIDEO: Herbie Hancock performs with Ravi Shankar & George Duke for new album

    http://www.hulu.com/embed/JJ7xAYDPQwD15coFxO6JGg

    Herbie Hancock recently released his new album, The Imagine Project (Hancock), featuring a diverse selection of musicians and singers, including Derek Trucks, India.Arie, Chaka Khan, Juanes, John Legend, and Los Lobos. Here, Hancock has a jam session of sorts with the legendary Indian musician, Pandit Ravi Shankar, with help from longtime associate and friend, George Duke.

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    FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD: Herbie Hancock’s “The Song Goes On”

    Herbie Hancock is celebrating his 70th birthday today, and we’re only a quarter of the way into the year. Hancock has not only a new album on the way called The Imagine Project, but will be going on tour in support of it. Tentative Grammy nomination? We’ll see.

    Here’s a video teaser for the new album, and you’re also able to download a free MP3 called “The Song Goes On”.

    If you want to celebrate and hear more of this man’s extensive/deep catalog, check out what’s on sale at Amazon.com.