SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Hi-Res Disc Reviews, Part 1 of 4
Published on February 1, 2004
January/February 2004, Pt. 1 of 4 – Jazz
Although the attraction of their surround sound capability is probably responsible for the very small inroads both new hi-res audio formats have made with the general population, many fans of SACD are strictly two-channel people, and in fact audiophiles continue to shell out considerable sums for periodic refurbishings of mono recordings by jazz greats such as Miles and Coltrane. So since we seem to have received a large batch of both mono and stereo SACDs at AUDIOPHILE AUDITION , let’s get this issue’s four-part! Hi-Res Section underway with some of them. And by the way, you’ll notice that most of these discs can be purchased at online outlet Elusive Disc. If you’ve experienced the blank look you get at most CD stores when requesting SACDs or DVD-As, you’ll appreciate the advantage of ordering directly at the Elusive Disc site. At the same time you will be helping to support AUDIOPHILE AUDITION and our unique review service to audiophiles.
John Coltrane – Lush Life (with Earl May, bass; Donald Byrd, trumpet; Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Louis Hayes, Arthur Taylor, and Albert Tootie Heath, drums on various tracks) Prestige Mono SACD PRSA 7188-6: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This disc is part of the initial Fantasy Records SACD release – all of which are either one or two-channel and all hybrid (with a standard CD layer). This session is similar to Miles’ Kind of Blue in being a quintissential Coltrane album that has been reissued in several different forms. These are Rudy Gelder “deep mono” recordings dating from l957 and 58. Although the stereodisc LP was introduced in that latter year, Prestige was one of the last labels to begin recording or issuing stereo discs. The increased resolution of SACD makes it possible to hear further into the original mono master tapes, being able to pick out the individual instruments more easily, and appreciating the often subtle variations heard in Coltrane’s solos. The first three tracks are without pianist Garland, allowing Coltrane – free of the harmonic foundation of the keyboard – to be even more creative in his solos than he was in the Miles Davis Quintet. In the album’s title tune and the closer Garland comes on the scene. Trane’s solos are packed with dense improvisation at a general level of high anxiety, in spite of the ballad-like nature of most of the tunes here. The disc has a Hybrid Stereo sticker in spite of being obviously mono. Since the next Fantasy mono SACD has a sticker which only says Hybrid and no further designation, I’ll just figure someone grabbed the wrong sticker to stick on this jewel box. Tracks: Like Someone in Love, I Love You, Trane’s Slo Blues, Lush Life, I Hear a Rhapsody.
– John Henry
The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Jazz at Oberlin – Fantasy FSA-3245-6 Mono SACD: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This was the very first Brubeck LP I owned, with the same green cover photo as on this reissue of the 1953 recording. When the band was just starting out they didn’t have a lot of gigs, and Iola Brubeck came up with the idea of getting more work for her husband by scheduling the group at various college campuses. This was one of the first, and it started a trend. The chapel at Oberlin College had great acoustics and the quartet was at their best here. The game of musical badminton between Brubeck and Desmond is something to behold, and one hears more of its depth and intimate subtleties than ever before with the higher resolution of DSD/SACD bringing the listener closer to the master tapes. Being designed for LP release, there’s only 38 minutes here, but it’s a terrific 38 minutes. [There’s another quite different Brubeck hi-res album reviewed in the classical hi-res section this issue…Ed.] Tracks are: These Foolish Things, Perdido, Stardust, The Way You Look Tonight, How High the Moon.
– John Henry
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (on two tracks Ray Copeland, trumpet; Gigi Gryce, alto sax; and Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax are added) – Jazzland/Fantasy JZSA-946-6 – Stereo/Mono SACD: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
Coltrane played with Monk at the Five Spot Cafe in NYC for six months in 1957 and said he learned a lot from the experience. The duo of the two was considered as masterful as those of Charlie Parker and Dizzy. Both artists came into their own with the public and critics during that date. Due to contractual requirements, Jazzland/Riverside was not allowed to record the two live at the Five Spot, but later got these tracks at Reeves Sound Studios. Two of them – the ones with the added players – are even in stereo. All six tunes are Monk originals and the last track features his solo piano in a nearly ten minute alternate treatment of one of his tunes he also did on his Thelonious Alone in San Francisco album. Tracks: Ruby, My Dear; Trinkle, Tinkle; Off Minor; Nutty; Epistrophy; Functional.
Five great female jazz singers in newly-minted hi-res…
Karrin Allyson – Sweet Home Cookin’ – with Alan Broadbent, piano; Putter Smith, bass; Sherman Ferguson, drums; Bob Cooper, tenor sax; Danny Embrey, guitar and Randy Sandke, trumpet – Concord SACD 1010-6 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
Karrin Allyson has been gaining a much-deserved reputation over the last decade for the special touch she brings to her interpretation of standards, and also for the way she elevates lesser-known songs to standard status. Her voice has a husky, slightly-smoky quality to it that really works with her chosen material. This album was her second release on the Concord label, and with the superb treatment it’s been given on SACD, let’s hope Concord will soon release her equally exciting, more recent works in high-res.
The songs, save one, are arranged by pianist Alan Broadbent (who arranged and conducted Diana Krall’s super-successful recent European tour); his playing and that of the other instrumentalists just absolutely sparkles throughout. The multichannel surround mix forms an arc in front of you, and places the piano on your left, drums to your right and anchors Karrin’s voice in the center. Bass, guitar and horns are scattered across the front channels. This material was not originally recorded with surround in mind, but was mixed seamlessly into multichannel entirely in DSD from the original tapes. There are zero traces of any noise or hiss – Concord has done this disc right. Very entertaining, and very highly recommended!
Tracks: One Note Samba, I Cover the Waterfront, Can’t We Be Friends, Yeh! Yeh!, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, No Moon At All, Sweet Home Cookin’ Man, You Are Too Beautiful, Social Call, Dindi, In a Sentimental Mood, I Love Paris.
— Tom Gibbs
Nnenna Freelon – Shaking Free – with Bill Anschell, piano; John Brown, bass; Woody Williams, drums; Alex Acuna, congas; Scott Sawyer, guitar and Rickey Woodard, saxes – Concord SACD 1012-6 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
I must admit that I was not particularly overly impressed with my first exposure to Concord’s offerings on SACD; I was really expecting great things from the direct to DSD-recorded Rendezvous In New York from Chick Corea, but found it’s sound flat and uninvolving. I was also underimpressed with aspects of a recent Rosemary Clooney disc from them as well, so I didn’t really expect much from their next batch of SACDs.
What a surprise, then to play this truly excellent disc and become totally involved – musically and sonically, this disc, as with the Karrin Allyson disc above, just transports you to another place. The recorded sound is to die for; the band, which was her touring band for two years prior to this disc (her debut recording for Concord), really stretches out and rocks on many of the numbers played here. This ensemble is so tight – it just doesn’t get much better than this.
As with the Karrin Allyson disc above, the multichannel mix places the instruments in an arc side to side and in front of you, and this works perfectly, with none of the “disembodied instrument effect” coming from behind you. The song choices are a mix of standards and more contemporary tunes that lend themselves well to a jazz interpretation. Very, very highly recommended.
Tracks: Out of This World, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, I Live to Love You, Shaking Free, Stories We Hold, Birk’s Works, My Shining Hour, Visions, I Thought About You, What Am I Here For?, Nature Boy, Blue Daughter.
— Tom Gibbs
Sarah Vaughan – (with Clifford Brown, trumpet; Herbie Mann, flute; Paul Quinichette, tenor sax; Jimmy jones, piano; Joe Benjamin, bass; Roy Haynes, drums; Ernie Wilkins, arranger/conductor) – Verve Mono SACD B0001127-06: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This original l954 session is on a CD whose label side replicates the label for EmArcy LPs of that time (a sublabel of Mercury). The note booklet also replicates the original LP cover and inside reprints the reduced-size back cover photos and notes. This was a high water mark album for one of the greatest female jazz singers ever. The choice of tunes, the backing and her delivery all worked together to produce a masterpiece. I’ve never been a huge Vaughan fan due to what sound to me as often exaggerated vocal tricks, but on this session she sounded somehow more sincere and real than on other of her albums. The only added track here over the original LP issue is the last one, a partial alternate take of the opening Lullaby of Birdland. Trumpeter Brown is an integral part of the success of this session; he’s the perfect foil for Vaughan’s vocal stylings. Tracks: Lullaby of Birdland, April in Paris, He’s My Guy, Jim, You’re Not the Kind, Embraceable You, I’m Glad There is You, September Song, It’s Crazy, Lullaby of Birdland.
Dinah Washington – What a Difference a Day Makes! (With Belford Hendricks’ Orchestra) – Mercury/Verve Stereo SACD B0001128-06: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This l959 session is in full stereo with some top-level backup instrumentalists in the band – including Jerome Richardson on reeds, Joe Zawinul on piano and Milt Hinton on bass. The final three tracks of the 15 here are bonus tracks that were not heard on the original LP release. Washington was a great lady of jazz with a strong personality, as revealed in some of the note booklet observations by people who worked with her – such as Richardson. Her story bears some similarities to that of Billie Holiday; she had a poor origin in the South, had both ups and downs in her career, and did herself in with drugs and alcohol in l962. There was even a musical about her life – Dinah Was. She enunciated very carefully and presented the lyrics as though she really lived them – also much like Holiday. Washington sang quite a few forgettable songs that were foisted on her by record companies and producers, but on this session the song choices are superb and she really shines with the orchestra backing (which includes a string section).
Tracks: I Remember You, I Thought About You, That’s All There is to That, I Won’t Cry Any More, I’m Through with Love, Cry Me a River, What a Diff’rence a Day Makes, Nothing in the World, Manhattan, Time After Time, It’s Magic, A Sunday Kind of Love.
– John Henry
Susannah McCorkle – From Bessie to Brazil (with Allen Farnham, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Kiyoshi Kitagawa, bass; Chuck Redd, drums; Randy Sandke, trumpet/Flugelhorn; Dick Oatts, alto sax/flute; Ken Peplowski, tenor sax/clarinet; Robert Trowers, trombone) – Concord Records multichannel SACD 1017-6: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This session from a decade ago has the late jazz vocalist venturing a bit out of her usual Great American Songbook repertory and into the two areas hinted at in the disc’s title. She winds her intimate but ardent voice (much missed by fans) around such Bessie Smith material as My Sweetie Went Away, and turns in a hypnotic treatment of the lovely Jobim bossa nova standard The Waters of March. And any singer who does a Dave Frishberg tune (Quality Time) automatically gets my full attention and approval. Plus you get 14 tunes! Cool backup arrangements and playing too.
Tracks: Love, The People That You Never Get to Love, Thief in the Night, The Waters of March, Accenttchuate the Positive, How Deep is the Ocean?, The Lady is a Tramp, Quality Time, My Sweetie Went Away, Still Crazy After All These Years, Adeus America, That Ole Devil Called Love, Hit the Road to Dreamland, You Go to my Head.
– John Henry
Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (Original soundtrack to the CBS-TV Special) – Fantasy Stereo SACD FSA-8431-6: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
Though received a bit late for our December issue, I don’t want to let this wonderful SACD wait around til Christmas 2004 to be reviewed. Pianist Guaraldi was already well-known for his work with Cal Tjader and the success of his Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus LP when he was hired by Charles Schultz to do the music for the l965 TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. The show has been repeated countless holiday seasons since then and introduced Guaraldi to a much wider audience. His music is simple but jazzy, and the themes for each of the Peanuts characters seem to fit them even better than did Wagner’s leitmotifs. There’s a bit of children’s voices here and there but basically this is just Vince and his rhythm section doing their thing with absolutely no pretention about it. And it’s never sounded as clean and rich as on this SACD.
– John Henry
Marc Vallé Trio – Hamadryade (Valle, acoustic guitar; David Hughes, stick and didgeridoo; Christian Paré, tabla and percussion) Fidelio Audio stereo SACD FACD010: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
By the instrumentation you can immediately see that this is not your typical jazz guitar trio. The French Canadian label is based in Montreal and does most of their recording with custom tube mics and an analog Nagra recorder. All their SACDs so far are stereo only. The stick is an electric guitar variant with only a fingerboard and no body. Percussionist Pare employs many exotic noise-makers, making this a strongly world- music-influenced session. The music ranges from East Indian-sounding raga-ish improvisations, to spacy plucking that reminded my of Sandy Bull back in the 60s, to Pat Metheny-esque atmospheric sounds. The sonics are very clean and natural-sounding, with a smooth blend of the acoustic and electric guitars. Don’t know how much help the titles of the nine tracks will be, but here goes: Tandara, Lights of Barcelona, Hamadryade, Cameleon, Harmattan, Telescope, Marcheurs D’Espoir, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for, Mariposa de Noche.
– John Henry
James Carter – Gardenias for Lady Day (Carter, Saxes & clarinets; John Hicks, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Victor Lewis, drums; string section arr. By Greg Cohen & Cassius Richmond) – Columbia multichannel SACD CH 89032: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
Not the first tribute to Billie Holiday, but a most enjoyable one (except for one track). This is the saxophonist’s first recording with Sony, and he recently won the Downbeat Critics Poll in the baritone sax category for the third year in a row. Carter pays homage to the spirit of Holiday, including the sadness and painful challenges of her life and era. Half of the eight tunes are from Billie’s recorded repertory. Great integration of the band with the strings and arrangements and production obviously designed for optimum display in multichannel mode. Carter plays lots of reeds but is partial to the baritone sax. He also achieves some low-down sounds out of contrabass and bass clarinets and saxes. Single and multiple celli are heard in some of the arrangements and even a pair of French horns in another, resulting in a semi-Gil Evans sound. At the center of the album is the most harrowing version of Billie’s powerful “Strange Fruit” ever recorded – it includes a sextet of celli plus a wind machine. The vocal here and on the final track is from the excellent Miche Braden. Tracks: Gloria, Sunset, Where Our Love Has Gone, I’m in a Low Down Groove, Strange Fruit, A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, Indian Summer, More Than You Know.
– John Henry
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Keystone 3 (Blakey, drums; Branford Marsalis, alto sax; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Bill Pierce, tenor sax; Donald Brown, piano; Charles Fambrough, bass) – Concord Records multichannel SACD 1001-6: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
I didn’t know the hard-driving drummer had ever recorded for Concord – he seems more like a Blue Note sort of artist. But in l982 he did and the live event was an important one on several counts. It took place at a popular SF jazz club in North Beach known for setting musical standards ahead of commercial ones, it included both Marsalis brothers on the bandstand and was the recording debut of younger bro Branford on sax, and it was evidently recorded multitrack even then so it could be mixed for 5.1 herewith. Live recordings – if well done – nearly always have an extra spark that sets up a higher excitement level, and even those originating as plain vanilla stereo usually possess considerable ambient information which can be decoded to an involving surround field with Pro Logic II or its equivalent. But discrete multichannel is even better and that’s what engineer Phil Edwards did back in 1982 and we can fully enjoy now. Only five tracks, with the last two coming in at 11 and 10 minutes respectively with plenty of time for some hot solos. Tracks: In Walked Bud, In a Sentimental Mood, Fuller Love, Waterfalls, A La Mode.
– John Henry
Peter Whitman’s X-Tet – Where’s When? (Whitman, tenor sax & alto flute; David Milne, alto & sop. sax; Dave Karr, bar. Sax & flute; Joe Cosgrove, trumpet & Flugelhorn; Jeff Rinear, trombone; Dave Jensen, trumpet & Flugelhorn; Phil Hey, drums; Dave Hagedorn, vibes & percussion; Gordon Johnson, bass; Laura Caviani, piano) – Artegra multichannel SACD ART2005:
[Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This mini big band brings together some of the top jazz players and writers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and it stands up beautifully to anything from the bigger coastal jazz centers. Except for Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way and the standard Star Eyes the ten tracks are all originals and the arrangements are fresh and swinging. Reedman Whitman has done previous SACD sessions for Artegra and now his X-Tet is playing regular live dates and building an audience in the area. I dug the pair of flutes in some of the arrangements and vibist Hagedorn is also a standout. The tune Child’s Play really stuck with me – shouldn’t be confined to Minnesota. The use of the surround channels is fairly subtle but involving.
– John Henry
Hakan Lewin, alto sax; Johannes Landgren, pipe organ; Kjeld Lauritsen, Hammond B3 – Freedom, the Vision – Linx Music multichannel SACD LXD 115:
Europeans have long been partial to the combination of saxophone and pipe organ and there are several such recordings. This new Swedish recording goes beyond that instrumentation by adding a second keyboard – a B3 organ – which adds a whole lotta soul to the spiritual sound of the king of instruments. The 11 tunes are nearly all Negro spirituals and while there are no vocals, the arrangements have been made with an ear to the meaning of the mostly familiar words. Organist Landgren is also a choral director and in tune with those lyrics. Only the pipe organ/sax duo is heard on three of the tracks and on another one sax is accompanied only by the B3 without the big pipes. The multichannel mix clearly separates the three unlikely instruments of the trio, yet joins them in the acoustic space of the cathedral. The album’s title was inspired by the theme of one of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, when he said: “The word freedom is used for many purposes. It is sometimes even used in the interest of freedom.”
Tracks: Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Go Down Moses, It’s Freedom, A Child Is Born, Joshua F’it the Battle of Jericho, Lotus Blossom, Rainbow Reflection, Give Me That Old Time Religion, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, God Bless the Child, He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands.
Romero, guitar & voice – Un Segundo Una Vida (with ensemble) – 333 Entertainment multichannel SACD 333ESA001: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This passionate music is an example of the New Flamenco currently popular in Spain, which blends jazz, rock and all sorts of world music influences with the basic gypsy folk form. Romero was born in Argentina and raised in Andalucia. He studied with a disciple of Segovia and later played with such artists as Al DiMeola, Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin. Most of the tracks here have vocals and there is a variety of instrumentation, including a string ensemble on some tracks. The standout track to my ears was La Via Nueva, a song written by the performer’s mother – a noted Flamenco vocalist. I was miffed to discover only the Spanish words with no translation, but these lyrics aren’t difficult with a bit of help from Google: “The new life begins when you love…” The Arabic origins of Flamenco are pointed up in a song with a vocal by a Palestinian singer, and another blends Santeria songs with AfroCuban percussion plus the Flamenco guitar. Fans of the Gypsy Kings will love this disc. The multichannel effects are strong, making the listener feel like one is in the middle of the performance in the cave or cafe.
– John Sunier
Gary Burton – Like Minds (Burton, vibes; Chick Corea, piano; Pat Metheny, guitar; Roy Haynes, drums; Dave Holland, bass) – Concord Records multichannel SACD 1029-6: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This fairly recent recording by the leading vibist won a Grammy Award and has been hailed as one of his best albums ever. Burton and Corea had been touring together as a duo and it appears to have been an email suggestion by guitarist Metheny that the three of them get together to just play that launched this session. They retained their favorite drummer, Haynes and also called bassist Holland and they were ready to go. Burton himself says he was amazed by the interplay between Corea and Metheny, which is one of the highlights of this album. Aside from a Gershwin standard, all the tunes are by the three main members of the band. One of Burton’s contributions is Country Roads, which I believe was on his debut album over a quarter century ago. The multichannel sound is terrific – not only because of the recent date of the original tracks, but also because Concord transfers all the original materials to 24-channel DSD and mixes for 5.1 entirely in the digital DSD domain.
Dave Grusin – Two for the Road, The Music of Henry Mancini – GRP DVD Audio 440059865-9: [Purchase at Elusive Disc]
This l997 session featuring the keyboardist/composer/arranger sports a dozen top sidemen and women – including Diana Krall, Russell Malone, Harvey Mason, John Patitucci and Paulinho DaCosta. Two of the ten Mancini tunes have lyrics and Grusin is to be commended for included a number of Mancini tunes we don’t much hear, even if it meant skipping some you would expect – such as Moon River. This was originally released as a DTS-only disc, and the added transparency of the DVD-A surround mix is appreciated (even though it’s only 44.1K instead of 96K as is the separate stereo mix). There’s a good solid deep bass end and Grusin’s piano is usually front and center. Some of the extras are of special interest: the option “Music Makers” gives you the structure of each tune on the screen and changes as the music progresses. For example: Intro; Verse; Bridge; Solo Piano; etc. Timings for each section also aid following the music’s structure. DTS is one of the few DVD-A labels which pays the synchronization fees so that the lyrics on the screen for the two vocal numbers change when the verses require more than a single page to display. (Most displayed lyrics fail to do that.)
Tunes: Peter Gunn, Dreamsville, Mr. Lucky, Moment to Moment, Baby Elephant Walk, Two for the Road, Ddays of Wine and Roses, Hatari, Whistling Away the Dark, Soldier in the Rain.
– John Henry
[Continue on to Part 2 of 4-part feature on Hi-Res Disc Reviews]