SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Hi-Res Disc Reviews, Part 1 of 3 Jazz
Published on March 1, 2004
61 SACD and DVD-A Reviews This Month!
March 2004, Pt. 1 of 3 – Jazz
Billy Cobham – Spectrum; Rhino R9 78408 DVD-A:
The music on this disc is thematic. Early tracks utilize electric guitar and are fast-paced, reminiscent of Joe Satriani’s Surfing With the Alien. Track 2 is much more straight ahead 70s style jazz with good horn/flute presence and even some psychedelic keyboard for flavor. Drum solos pervade the early tracks and present later in the album as well. Track 4 sounds like something by Popol Vuh or a sci-fi film soundtrack. The predominance of electronic sounds adds a weirdness/uniqueness factor that will appeal to some and turn others away. Although I found this album a bit shaky for me in the start, by the middle of track 4 and into track 5 I was won over. Track 6 starts off strangely but segues into a smooth jazz/funk tune that I really liked. This disc is not for everyone, but those who dig it will have found their groove.
This DVD comes 2-sided with one side stereo and one side surround. I really like this arrangement, because it allows you to pop the disc in the player without having to select the stereo track from a menu that would require a video display to do so. In addition to the Dolby Digital track, there is a DTS track as well for those who want to listen without DVD-A capability. Sound quality is like that of a really good CD. There is heavy use of the surrounds. Track 2, for example, pans sound left and right and front and back, with percussion that circles around the listener. Still pictures (in the form of mosaics) are displayed over the music, and there is a photo gallery and video interview as well. In the interview, Cobham give some excellent information about the album’s conception, and talks about the speediness of the recording (10 days), and the purpose being the expression of an idea through the use of drums. Selections included are: Quadrant 4; Searching For The Right Door; Spectrum; Anxiety; Taurian Matador; Stratus; To The Women In My Life; Le Lis; Snoopy’s Search; Red Baron.
Marian McPartland with Strings – Silent Pool – Concord Jazz multichannel SACD-1023-6:
This was a dream project for the leading female jazz pianist today. Now in her 80s and still continuing her long-running NPR radio series Piano Jazz, MCPartland has penned many lovely lyrical compositions over the years, and here gets to have them spotlit in a lush setting of a 22-member string orchestra with arrangements by the equally acclaimed Alan Broadbent. The arranger spoke of the classical qualities of McPartland’s tunes, comparing them to art songs. He said he approached them as with a piano concerto, dealing with relationships between the soloist and orchestra. In some of the tracks one of the string instruments – such as a single cello or violin – is brought forward into the musical conversation almost like a classical double concerto. The CD version of this album came out in l997 and the new multichannel version allows the strings to really sing and provide a much more enveloping stage on which the piano can strut. And the piano comes thru with improved clarity and impact with the higher res format as well. A couple of these tunes have been done on earlier discs by Marian and it’s interesting to hear their transformations. Jazz purists turn up their noses at “with strings” album sessions but not me. In fact my favorite modern jazz album is the Stan Getz/Eddie Sauter partnership “Focus.” I pick this as the McPartland disc sure to get the most re-hearings of the several I have in my collection.
Tracks: For Dizzy, Twilight World, Stranger in a Dream, A Delicate Balance, Ambiance, Silent Pool, Castles in the Sand, Melancholy Mood, Threnody, Time and Time Again, There’ll Be Other Times, With You in Mind.
Jane Monheit – Never Never Land – with Kenny Barron, Piano / David “Fathead” Newman, Tenor Sax and Flute / Hank Crawford, Alto Sax / Lewis Nash, Drums / Ron Carter, Bass / Silverline 288218-9 – DVD-Audio:
Jane Monheit – Come Dream With Me – with Kenny Barron, Piano / Richard Bona, Guitar / Michael Brecker, Saxophone / Tom Harrell, Trumpet / Gregory Hutchinson, Drums / Christian McBride, Bass / Silverline 288219-9 – DVD-Audio Disc:
Jane Monheit is one of a score of new young jazz vocalists vying for the spotlight, and her ascendance and all the accompanying buzz has not come without some measure of controversy, with most of the naysayers asking the question “Is it really jazz?” Some curious song selections have been made on these discs (“If” definitely comes to mind) – but isn’t one of the hallmarks of jazz improvisation taking that obscure gem of an unlikely song and giving it a uniquely jazzy rendition? Jane Monheit finds herself in a sea of jazz singers all trying to find their own unique voice by offering up eclectic stylings of often-dabbled with songs – sometimes it works, sometimes not. Take a look at the album credits – judging by the accompaniment, it’s definitely got to be jazz. And I can’t help but draw a parallel here to Diana Krall’s situation, where there’s way too many “hair and make-up” shots that really only serve to detract from our perception of a talent that could easily stand on its own without the publicity machine gone out of control.
These discs represent her first two albums, and it’s obvious right out of the gate that she chooses the path less taken when, rather than straight takes of most of these songs, she alters tempos and bends notes throughout to try and impart an individuality to the songs. As I said above, sometimes it works, but a frequent comment from my wife (who joins me for many listening sessions) was “Well, she just ruined that song!” Sometimes the note-bending embellishments were a little excessive – for example the end of an otherwise superb “Over the Rainbow,” where the ending gets a little out of whack – not quite Mariah Carey territory, but you get the picture. For every head-scratch, though, there’s a highlight, and I got much more pleasure listening to these discs than I really expected.
One aspect that never gets out of whack is the superb playing of the bands, both all-star groups including Kenny Barron on piano and superb bass playing from Ron Carter and Christian McBride. Each ensemble plays exceptionally tight arrangements throughout both discs.
Sound quality of these DVD-A discs is truly superb also, and thank goodness, the default setting starts playing the hi-res surround tracks right out of the gate, so there’s no need for a monitor unless you want to choose another option. The surround mix is excellent, with the instruments spread in an arc across the soundstage and mostly ambiance coming from the rears. Jane Monheit’s voice is front and center – right where it needs to be. The sound quality really sparkles throughout – once again, I found myself really thinking hard about any biases I have against DVD-A that are solely based on sound quality alone.
Tracks: “Never Never Land”: Please Be Kind; Detour Ahead; More Than You Know; Dindi; Save Your Love For Me; Never Let Me Go; My Foolish Heart; I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good); Twisted; Never Never Land.
“Come Dream With Me”: Over The Rainbow; Hit The Road to Dreamland; Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most; Waters of March; I’m Through With Love; I’ll Be Seeing You; Something to Live For; So Many Stars; If; Blame It On My Youth; A Case of You.
Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers (with Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, George Mraz & Grady Tate) – Pablo stereo SACD PASA-2310-744-6:
Nothing to complain about here for the two-channel SACD connoisseur. It’s a band of five of the finest players in jazz from the 70s playing nothing but music of George Gershwin, and how can you possibly lose with that combination? While tenorman Sims is featured, every player here is a winner and they’re all playing at the top of their art. The session happened in l975 and now 28 years later we’re finally able to really hear it right. I Got Rhythm has long been a jazz standard to stretch out on and the quintet goes just that here, making it at seven minutes the longest track on the album and probably the most enjoyable too. Tracks: The Man I Love, How Long Has This Been Going On?, Oh Lady Be Good, I’ve Got a Crush on You, I Got Rhythm, Embraceable You, ‘S Wonderful, Someone to Watch Over Me, Isn’t It a Pity, Summertime, They Can’t Take That Away From Me.
John Pizzarelli – My Blue Heaven (with Dave McKenna, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Clark Terry, Trumpet; Milt Hinton, bass; Connie Kay, drums) – Chesky multichannel SACD 254:
Yet another John Pizzarelli release, close on the heels of his entertaining double-disc live session on Telarc SACD. And just look at this lineup- what a handful of all-stars! Thirty-year-old Pizzarelli Jr. has really made a name for himself as a cool and hip vocalist and guitarist. With the 16 terrific tunes packing this album, pop Bucky on his seven-string and the rest of the jazz masters doing their thing, this had to be thoroughgoing success from start to finish. Terry is still up to his tongue-in-cheek bits at his advanced age (remember his Mumbles?) – listen to his subtle background vocal on Oh Me, Oh My, Oh Gosh. Zoot Walked In is a tribute to Zoot Sims, and the hip lyrics are from Dave Frishberg – one of two Frishberg tracks on the SACD. You’re right there in the jazz club with these cats via the superb multichannel mix.
Tracks: My Blue Heaven, I’m An Errand Boy for Rhythm, It Could Happen to You, Lady Be Good, The Touch of Your Lips, Can’t Take You Nowhere, Take My Smile, That’s What, Stray Horn, Best Man, Oh Me Oh My Oh Gosh, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You, Passion Flower, Zoot Walked In/Morning Fun, Candy.
Jack McDuff and Joey DeFrancesco, B3 organs (with Paul Bollenback, guitar; John Hart, guitar; Andrew Beals, alto sax; Jerry Weldon, tenor sax; Rudolph Petschauer, drums; Byron Landham, drums & percussion) – Concord Jazz multichannel SACD-1022-6:
The Jazz B3 Renaissance continues and blooms with another duo-B3 album from DeFrancesco – to add to the previous one with McDuff which was a live session. This was a 1966 CD and is now coming across in full bloom with the additions of hi-res and multichannel reproduction. The studio situation allowed greater planning and artistic control. The current quintet with Jack and the trio with Joey were combined to back the two organists. Concord’s mainstay recording engineer Phil Edwards did the 5.1 mix and he had fun – placing the horns frequently in the surround channels so the two B3s really stand out in the front channels and are clearly separated left and right. Certainly a better choice than the B3s in the surrounds, since most of us don’t have as good low bass reproduction on the surrounds and these B3s can really shake things up in the low end.
Tracks: Pork Chops & Pasta, Please Send me Someone to Love, Secret Love, Our Delight, Yesterdays, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, Rock Candy, Funk Pie, Black Jack.
Gil Evans & Ten – Prestige/Fantasy stereo SACD PRSA-7120-6:
Speaking of Gil Evans, here he is in l957. i didn’t realize Rudy Van Gelder was recording stereo that early, especially for Prestige who were the last to release in stereo, but six of the seven tracks here are stereo. Among the illustrious ten players here were Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Willie Ruff on French horn, Lee Konitz on alto, Steve Lacy on soprano sax and Paul Chambers on bass. Miles Davis arranged for the sessions at Prestige following his success with the first of his collaboration with Evans for Columbia. The unique voicings which Evans had developed with the Claude Thornhill Band and with Davis’ Birth of the Cool sessions were here extended into the creation of a new sound which seemed much larger and richer than the 11 musicians involved. Such complex and sophisticated orchestral textures were too much for CD; in fact I’m not sure this even was issued on CD because the master tapes were thought lost for decades. Anyway, now it can be heard pretty much the way it must have sounded in Van Gelder home studio. Bravo to all concerned in bringing these groovy hi-res sounds to us! Tracks: Remember, Ella Speed, Big Stuff, Nobody’s Heart, Just One of Those Things, If You Could See Me Now, Jambangle.
Dorian Michael, guitar – Acoustic Blues (with Albert Lee, Laurence Juber & Harry Orlove, guitars; Danny Timms, piano; Domenic Genova, bass; Tom Walsh, drums) – AIX Records DVD-A 80016:
The DVD-A side of this two-sided disc (as are all AIXs) dispenses with the long list of audio options, setup, bios, photos and other special features of the DVD-V side and starts right out with a terrific 5.1 96K stage mix of the first track. There’s no need for a video display if you don’t have one. The DTS stage mix on the DVD-V side is great and it’s a kick to watch the performers on the screen – AIX’s video work has gotten more sophisticated than on their first albums and is now quite watchable. There are frequent closeups of the guitarists’ fingering, One track (El Morro) even has different angles available. Watching the three guitarists play together is a delight and the DTS mix is only slightly less transparent than the 96K MLP side without the video. One quickly forgets the difference due to the added impact of the visuals, even if you just auditioned the DVD-A side of the disc. See the guitarists in action on All Blues is really lovely. Along with all the other extras on this disc is one I hadn’t seen anywhere before: Something called “Chord Change Subtitles.” This option brings up a symbol display of all the chord changes the guitars are making. Michael also gives a Blues Master Class instructional session and the disc includes a complete 5.1 system setup and checking section, as do all the AIX DVD-As.
Tracks: Jam on This, Broad Street Blues, All Blues, Gardenia Shuffle, Easy Does It, All Dressed Up, Oakdale Special, Very Blue Hawaii, Slow Blues in C, El Morro, Gravel Flats.
Cheryl Bentyne, vocalist – Among Friends (with Corey Allen, piano; Grant Geissman, guitar; Kevin Axt, bass; David Tull, drums) – AIX Records DVD-A 80020:
Bentyne is a member Manhattan Transfer and appears here with her regular quintet. Again, one side of the disc is hi-res 96K 5.1 multichannel DVD-A and the other video with either Dolby Digital or DTS tracks and many other extras – including a photo gallery, bios, and a system setup and checking section. Two-channel freaks can select the 96K stereo mix, and there are two different 5.1 mixes – one from an audience acoustic perspective and the other from a right-into-it stage perspective. The video work is improved over earlier AIX discs and is very watchable – perhaps even more so with a vocalist than with strictly instrumental performers. The song choices are mostly standards, with the possible exceptions of the offbeat Annie Ross classic Farmer’s Market and the original Love’s River. Tracks: They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Love Me Or Leave Me, The Very Thought of You, Farmer’s Market, It Might As Well Be Spring, These Foolish Things, Still Good Friends, Love’s River, Senor Blues, Get Out of Town.
The Ray Brown Trio – Summer Wind – (Live at the Loa) – Concord Jazz multichannel SACD-1027-6:
The Ray Brown discography has expanded greatly since his death and the much-recorded bassist’s appeal to audiophiles hasn’t hurt this a bit. This album originally came out on CD in l990 and the Santa Monica club where it was recorded live is no more, but it is a very worthwhile record of an evening when Ray and his trio were really burning. This cohorts, by the way, were Gene Harris on piano and Jeff Hamilton on drums. I found it interesting that even for a fairly informal live taping in a club 14 years ago Concord was already recording multichannel to have more to work with in producing a perfect stereo mix, as well as being prepared for any future multichannel format. It’s certainly to the advantage of those us fans of surround sound in music. Gene Harris is not a Basie-type ivory-tickler – he plays all over the keyboard and the little trio sets up a sizable sound at times. Drummer Hamilton observed that he found out quickly that the trio ws really a little big band. The audience is clearly present, but not as annoying as on many live concert tapings. Applause has long been a good test of fidelity, and Concord’s 5.1 mix passes the test easily here. Tracks: Summer Wind, The Real Blues, Li’l Darlin,’ It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing, Mona Lisa, Buhaina Buhaina, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Bluesology.
Mongo Santamaria – Live At Jazz Alley – with Ray Vega, Trumpet / Bobby Porcelli, Saxes, Flute / Mitch Frohman, Saxes, Flute / Bob Quaranta, Piano / Bernie Minoso, Bass / John Andreu Almendra, Drums, Timbales / Eddie Rodriguez, Percussion, Vocals / Concord SACD 1016-6 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD:
Mongo Santamaria’s “Live At Jazz Alley” is another really excellent SACD from Concord that takes the original stereo recording and remixes it to multichannel, and takes the performance to the next level. The disc offers a really good representation of the players positioned in an arc across the soundstage, with mostly crowd noise and ambiance coming from the rears. The effect of all that Latin percussion is really quite dramatic, with most of the tunes offering a driving, pulsating beat that just doesn’t want to stop. If this is your cup of tea, then power on, but I could only take it in measured doses.
Tracks: Home; Bonita; Philadelphia; Para Ti; Manteca; Ponce; Come Candela; Ibiano; Juan Jose; Afro Blue.
Tierney Sutton – Dancing In The Dark – with Christian Jacob, Piano / Trey Henry, Bass / Ray Brinker, Drums – Orchestra conducted by Christian Jacob – Telarc SACD 63592 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD:
From the opening notes of this disc, it’s perfectly obvious that Michael Bishop of Telarc has created another immensely satisfying surround sound listening experience – the instruments are perfectly placed in the soundfield, bass is deep and tight, and Tierney Sutton’s liquid voice hovers dead-center in front of you. This is one of those discs that so superbly captures the moment, that you’re instantly transported away to the studio – you really feel that you’re right there with the musicians making the magic as Tierney casts her spell over all. Once this disc begins, its 55 minute playing time passes all too quickly.
The album was inspired by Frank Sinatra’s readings of these songs, but don’t get the wrong idea – this is anything but a stale rehashing of often-traversed material. The chosen songs are, as Tierney Sutton says “from the dark corners of his work,” and most are infrequently played and haven’t been covered to death – you won’t find “New York, New York” here. Instead, everything flows in a more subdued tone throughout the proceedings, offering a perfect vehicle for Tierney’s sultry stylings.
The musicians here have played together for the last ten years, and it shows; the playing and arrangements are always tight, and the orchestra (also conducted by pianist Christian Jacob) adds lush support throughout. Very highly recommended, and an excellent taste for the uninitiated of the delights to be found on her other outstanding Telarc releases.
Tracks: What’ll I Do; Only The Lonely; I’ll Be Around; All The Way; I Think Of You; Where Or When; Without A Song; I Could Have Told You; Emily; Last Night When We Were Young; Fly Me To The Moon; Last Dance/Dancing In The Dark.
Jim Hall – Concierto – with Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd and Roland Hanna; Don Sebesky, musical director – CTI/Mobile Fidelity stereo SACD:
This 1975 effort was one of the best productions Creed Taylor and CTI ever did, one of Hall’s best album, and among my personal top ten favorite jazz discs. Sebesky is one of the finest arrangers in the business, and he didn’t add strings or other gee-gaws here – just made a few chord changes to allow these masterful musicians to do their thing with the greatest clarity. And that was the obvious route to take with a guitarist who plays with the tasteful clarity of Jim Hall. This was the first time Chet Baker had played with him, and Hanna’s piano work is just superb – often supporting the classically-influenced style of Hall’s electric guitar playing. I like their 20-minute version of the Concierto de Aranjuez theme just as much as the famous Miles Davis version; after all Miles/Gil Evans’ version lacks a guitar altogether, so this one sounds somehow more authentic. Rudy Van Gelder was the engineer and to his original four tracks this SACD adds both a pair of additional ones plus three alternate takes. The transparency and clarity of Mo-Fi’s Ultradisc UHR Gain2 approach plus SACD uncovers whole new layers of subtle detail in this recording that even the original LP on a quality turntable tends to gloss over. Tracks: You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, Two’s Blues, The Answer is Yes, Concierto de Aranjuez, Rock Skippin’, Unfinished Business, Alternate takes of: You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, The Answer Is Yes, Rock Skippin’
Tommy Turrentine, trumpet – Plus the Max Roach Quintet featuring Stanley Turrentine – Audio Fidelity stereo SACD AFZ 007:
Recorded just 44 years ago, this session featured the older brother of Stanley Turrentine, who played in the bands of Count Basie, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie and Earl Bostic. The other sextet members were no slouches: Julian Priester on trombone, Horace Parlan on piano, Bob Boswell on bass and the great Max Roach on drums. The general groove here is relaxed and unpretentious writing and playing. The sound of Parlan’s piano is smooth and natural while remaining well-balanced with the three lead horns – in spite of their strongly forward sound. Coming from early in the stereo era, the “This is in Stereo Dummy” mix places all the horns on the left channel and the piano and drums on the right; I was wishing I still had my old Apt-Holman preamp with its left/right mixing control. The SACD brings out all the details in the music as well as cranking up the sonic impact to direct-disc levels.6w
Tracks: Gunga Din, Webb City, Time’s Up, Long as You’re Living, Too Clean, Two Three One Oh!, Blues of J.P.
Romero, Live at Trinity Church (with Mario Rodriguez, Oscar Feldman, Gilad) – 333 Entertainment multichannel SACD 333ESA002:
More of the new flamenco stylings of Romero in SACD, with the added excitement of a live recording in a wonderfully reverberant acoustic that adds snap to the zapateados and the other percussion created by instruments. The use of saxophone and flute adds a different and jazzier feeling to the music, making it a sort of jazzy world music based on flamenco. Romero has a pleasant voice and doesn’t strain his voice as does the typical flamenco cantor. He is joined on some of the vocals by bassist Rodriguez. The impact of the closely-miked guitars is strong and gutsy. Very precise and clean sonics brings the full experience of the music to the listener in either multichannel or stereo. The seven-selection program ends with an 8-minute medley using themes from the Concierto Aranjuez of Rodrigo. Tracks: El Reynado, Ausencias, La Sofia, Romance, Emocion, Vai, El Concierto.
Diana Krall – The Look of Love (with orchestra arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman) – Verve DVD-A B0001604-19:
We reviewed this in its SACD version back in December 2002. [Link Here.]
It is one of several albums which Universal originally released on SACD and now is also offering on DVD-A. Both the multichannel and stereo options here are 96K sampling and 24-bit. The one item not found on the SACD release is a Gallery of fetching still photos of Ms. Krall which can displayed on the screen. There is also a bio of the vocalist. As for comparing the sonics of the two competing formats, I can’t say I can hear any appreciable difference between them.
Here are a pair of highly unusual and ear-opening 96K audio DVDs:
Reference DVD Recordings from Metaxas Audio (no #):
Adam Simmons – Three Concerts – Metaxas Audio (no #):
Kostas Metaxas is based in Australia and has been active in the audio business for some years. He has done a great deal of recording on his own in the purist style of the 50s and 60s – using a Stellavox portable tape deck at 15 or 30 ips with a single pair of B&K omni mics. He decided to transfer some of this recordings to digital to protect and preserve the analog originals. He discovered that while the software for working with and editing music files in computers provided good results if only used for a straight-across copy to digital, if the various abilities to equalize, mix and modify the original analog signal were employed, the final quality of his purist recordings took a nosedive.
Both of these discs come in DVD-video-type cases and are DVD-Rs. Thus they were only playable on the lesser quality of my two DVD players, but even at that the realism and clarity of most of these recordings was astounding. Both discs are stereo, using the standard video PCM sound at 48K/16bit – similar to the DAT format. No processing of any kind was used. The first DVD is a compendium of various classical and jazz selections Metaxas recorded over the years. The 20 tracks usually alternate between a classical selection and a jazz. The opening and longest track is the complete Liszt Piano Concerto in E Flat, performed by a local amateur ensemble but sounding quite professional. There are various female solo and choral selections alternated with many tracks from a small jazz ensemble. While the fidelity was exceptional on many of them, it was also easy to detect a number of tape recording artifacts. As Metaxas himself says, these selections were transferred “warts and all.” There is some flutter, tape ruffle – tape seeming to pull away from the heads from time to time, bad splices and distracting noises in the halls during the music. And one of the female vocalists could have better pitch consistency than she does.
The second disc, however, jumps ahead in both performances and sonic quality. This is a lengthy program – I didn’t clock it but I would guess over 90 minutes. Simmons is a very eclectic multi-instrumentalist who plays every sort of reed instrument and has performed with such as Odeon Pope and Max Roach. There are nine tracks and five of them feature Simmons own quartet. On one track he performs on soprano sax with female jazz pianist Ursel Schlicht’s Quartet, and on three others he is one-half of a duo with pianist Schlicht. Several of the tracks feature Simmons on the Japanese shakuhachi and are riveting in their clarity and spatial presence as well as in the superb improvisatory skills of the performer. All of the tracks were recorded live in front of any audience and are all therefore “first takes.” The excitement and edgy feeling conveyed by these recordings is completely different from most commercial recordings – however good their sonic quality.
The DVDs can be ordered directly from the Metaxas Audio web site at www.metaxas.com, and you can learn more about Adam Simmons at www.adamsimmons.com Tracks are: You’re Wearing My Shirt, Improvisation, Plight of the Humble Bee, Warzawa, Travelling, Miloscz, Noah’s Dream, Potato Love, Poles Apart.
– John Sunier
[To continue to Part 2 of Hi-Res Disc Reviews]