SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Hi-Res Disc Reviews, Part 1 of 3 Jazz
Published on July 1, 2004
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet – LAGQ’s Guitar Heros – Telarc SACD-60598:
Previous LAGQ albums have been more solidly in the classical genre, but since the quartet’s guitar heros turn out to be from rock, jazz and fingerstyle playing, it seems more appropriate to put this disc in the hi-res jazz section. The other unusual thing about this SACD is that recording engineer Robert Friedrich has duplicated the approach of the Tacet DVD-A label in placing each of the four musicians one-to-a-speaker. After listing the four members spread across the front for the stereo version, the liner notes identify that Andrew York is heard at the left front speaker, William Kanengiser at the right front, John Dearman at the left surround and Scott Tennant at the right surround. So it’s as though the quartet of guitarists surrounds you in your listening room – very exciting!
Some of their heros are Django Reinhardt, Ralph Towner, David Bromberg, John McLaughlin, Jimi Hendrix, Pat Metheny, Los Romeros, Michael Hedges, The Assad Brothers, Frank Zappa and Chet Atkins. The opening track is Ralph Towner’s striking New Age anthem for the group Oregon, which with the addition of Brazilian and African percussion takes on a world-music feeling.The flamenco-influenced number for Steve Howe includes two palmas performers (clapping), and doublebass is added for the bluegrass number honoring Norman Black and David Bromberg. The Django selection is based on a musical fragment from one of his improvisations and is named after the celluloid flowers that ignited the caravan fire which cost the guitarist the use of the the two fingers on his left hand. This SACD is going to get a lot of playing in my multichannel system, I can tell you.
- John Henry
Two by sometime Django-emulator Martin Taylor…
Martin Taylor – Spirit of Django – Linn SACD AKD 237:
Martin Taylor – Artistry – Linn SACD AKD 235:
We covered the first of these in its original CD version back in December 2002. British guitarist Taylor is one of the best-known purveyors of Django Reinhardt’s Jazz Manouche style in the world today. He started out early listening to the Hot Club 78s and paid no attention to the fact the electric guitar had been hi-jacked by rock n’ roll. At age 23 he debuted in Stephane Grappelli’s band – the same position Django had in the original Hot Club of France. He’s now done a series of albums which beautifully honor some of the originals as well as carrying on Django’s style into the present day. He has both a rhythm guitar and a bass guitar behind him, plus accordion, sax and snare drum. The original sessions in l994 were evidently multitracked, so an enveloping multichannel SACD mix was possible. I really dug this disc before, now it dig it deeper! The tracks are; Chez Fernand, Minor Swing, Night and Day, Nuages, James, Double Top, Django’s Dream, Swing, Lady Be Good, Honeysuckle Rose, Johnny and Mary.
I was slightly disappointed to find that the second Taylor SACD was not a hi-res version of his second Django-style CD but a straight-ahead solo guitar outing concentrating on jazz standards. However, a close listen allayed my disappointment. He seems to have developed a rather different sound which he says is inspired by great pianists such as Art Tatum and Bill Evans. He chose some great tunes and the sonic impact of the unadorned solo acoustic guitar is a kick. The instrument is described as a Yamaha AEX “Martin Taylor” Stereo Guitar. Would like to know what a stereo guitar is – in the cover photo the instrument has much wider “hips” than a normal acoustic guitar. This effort is like the solo unaccompanied piano sessions by performers such as Brubeck – it’s just Taylor and his guitar and every note is rendered in bold relief. Tracks: Polka Dots And Moonbeams, Stella By Starlight, Teach Me Tonight, The Dolphin, Georgia On My Mind, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Here There And Everywhere / Day Tripper, Just Squeeze Me, Gentle Rain, Cherokee, Certain Smile.
- John Henry
Benoit Delbecq, piano and prepared piano – Nu-turn – Songlines SACD SGL SA 1543-2:
Delbecq is a French keyboardist and composer who employs techniques from the contemporary music world (leaning toward Cage and Ligeti), from jazz, African music, European improvisation and other myriad sources. He prepares the piano, as did Cage for his Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, by inserting between the strings various pieces of rubber and wood to give a more percussive and varied sound to his improvisations. The effect in the nine multichannel tracks is almost as though your head is inside the 8-ft. concert grand with the lid up. However, for the stereo mix the channels are reversed and the acoustic perspective is as though the listener were sitting at the keyboard oneself. While the other tracks were recorded directly to DSD, “Into White” is a complex 12-minute recomposition from earlier materials heavily manipulated and processed in two channels and then re-mixed to six channels with the sixth being a height channel for a more “ambient” remix.
Frankly I found Delbecq’s previous Songlines SACD with clarinetist Francois Houle (“Dice Thrown”) of more interest than this one. Many of the sound creations are very interesting, but they mostly lack the rhythmic interest of Cage’s prepared piano work and seem to meander a bit too much. I have a height-channel setup with a pair of side-height speakers and Track 9 (“Into White”) did have more spatial/structural interest than the others, but it didn’t rescue the musical interest. It is extremely intellectual stuff which does push a lot of musical boundaries, but I didn’t feel it held up for an entire disc – especially in the two-channel mix. At least there’s more going on in the multichannel version, and the 44.1 stereo option loses most of this. One critic called the music “nocturnal choreography” – well, fine if you like to dance in your sleep. Tracks: In Rainbows, In Lilac, On Ne Dit Pas Regarder La Lune, On Laterite, Into Neon, On Embers, Etude de Nu, In Funfairs, Into White.
- John Sunier
Laurindo Almeida & Charlie Byrd, guitars (with Joe Byrd, bass; Chuck Redd, drums) – Tango – Concord/Groove Note stereo SACD – GRV1021-3:
Coming from a l985 recording session in Arizona, this is one of several Concord Jazz classics which the Singapore-based audiophile label Groove Note has reissued. I found it interesting that all of the major SACD series coming from Concord are multichannel SACD but all of the Groove Note SACDs are stereo only; however there doesn’t appear to be duplication of repertory. (Some Concord material has also been reissued on two-channel DVD-As from Hi-Res Music.) It appears that the thinking of both labels is that most of the audiophile purists who have invested in an SACD player probably have one of the high end stereo-only models, since they are the favorites of dyed-in-wool two-channel ‘philes. (Oddly enough there are even a couple of stereo-only DVD-A players.)
Basically there’s just two guitarists here, one to a channel, so who needs multichannel? Both artists made lots of Latin-flavored albums and it wasn’t difficult to come up with nine tracks that fit into the Tango theme of this one. I wish they had included at least one Piazzolla tune, but this was recorded before the popularity of that inventor of the New Tango. So some major tango chestnuts such as Hernando’s Hideaway and Jalousie are here, but in such creative and imaginative arrangements by both guitarists that one doesn’t mind a bit. (I remember a friend who led a dance band in college outrageously hamming up Leroy Anderson’s Blue Tango when my date and I got out on the dance floor.) It’s clear that Byrd comes to the music more from the blues and Almeida more from the world of the classical guitar, but that adds to the contrasts in their styles that gives the arrangements their pizzaz. I still had this one on the original LP, and the SACD is clearly better. Tracks: Orchids in the Moonlight, Blue Tango, Jalousie, Los Enamorados, La Rosita, Tango Alegre, La Cumparsita, Adios Muchachos, The Moon Was Yellow, Hernando’s Hideway, Tanguero
- John Henry
Stan Getz – Spring Is Here (with Lou Levy, piano; Monty Budwig, bass; Victor Lewis, drums) – Concord/Groove Note stereo SACD GRV1020-3:
The title doesn’t say it, but this is one of a pair of live recordings made in l981 during performances at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. Getz was less chemically dependent at the time, was in fine fettle, the club audience was appreciative, and Phil Edward’s engineering for Concord Jazz was superb as always in capturing the moment. Getz’ silky tone was always his big calling card, and with this great hi-res reissue it can be heard close up just how fantastic it was. All seven tracks are standards, with a couple (How About Your & Old Devil Moon) receiving almost ten-minute creative improvisations. I found a little Pro Logic II on a multichannel system added a terrific feeling of being right in that club in SF. Tracks: How About You, You’re Blasé, Easy Living, Sweet Lorraine, Old Devil Moon, I’m Old Fashioned, Spring Is Here.
- John Henry
Acoustic Triangle – Catalyst (Malcolm Creese, bass; Tim Garland, reeds; Gwilym Simcock, grand piano) – Audio-B Limited SACD ABCD 5015:
We have here the second SACD from the UK-based piano trio, this time with a new member – pianist Simcock. The Trio blends with a melodic modern jazz approach the influence of modern classical styles found with so many European jazz ensembles. Six of the 11 tracks are contributed by members of the trio and compositions of Kenny Wheeler, Cole Porter and John Taylor round out the program. Sea Suite is a three-movement work by pianist Simcock which strongly displays the classical approach. A classical rondo is heard in the nine-minute original by saxist Garland, Beyond the City. Like Opus 3 and several other small European labels, Audio-B is obsessed with the natural sound quality of recording in a venue with just-right acoustics that don’t require adding artificial reverb in the mix. They returned for this album to a past recording site, a church in Bristol, England. Another indication of their sonic concern is the notice on the actual disc: “This recording is designed to be played with bass boost and loudness controls switched off, and tone controls set to zero level.” They also have issued this as a Single Inventory Disc, meaning since it contains a standard CD layer in addition to the stereo and multichannel SACD layers; there is no need for stores to stock a separate CD-only version. And it is priced the same as standard CDs.
- John Henry
Jimmy Witherspoon – Big Blues – (featuring Hal Singer, tenor sax & vocal; Peter King, alto sax; Mike Carr, keyboards; Jim Mullen, guitar; Harold Smith, drums) – JSP Records SACD JSPS101:
Recorded in London in l981, this is a great session from a blues singer who never hit the top of commercial success but had/has many fans for his unique voice and delivery. And that includes me: I’ll admit I’m not really even a blues fan, but Witherspoon has been one of my few favorites of the genre ever since I heard him years ago at the Monterey Jazz Festival. (My others: Joe Williams and the Butterfield Blues Band.) I think the key is his amazing versatility as well as the greater injection of jazz into the traditional blues form in most of his performances. His voice communicates on a more human, modest and personal level that that of most blues shouters. His lyrics are also varied, smart and totally intelligible – something ya’ can’t say about many blues singers.
‘Spoon had a great quintet with him on this session. Keyboardist Carr is plenty versatile himself, switching between B3 organ, electric piano and standard grand piano on the dozen tracks. Singer plays tenor sax on tracks 8 thru 12 and also sings on the final track. (Which seems to illustrate ‘Spoon’s modesty – letting another singer do the final track on his album!) The jacket says the stereo mix was done back in l981 but the surround mix was done this year especially for the SACD. And is it ever surround! It’s a very spatial 5.1 mix with Witherspoon’s voice at the center channel and various instruments placed specifically at the surround channels – mostly guitar on the right surround and saxes at the left surround. This is a much more involving and exciting mix than the usual practice of having just the ambience of the space in the surround channels. This is gem – get it and swing on it! Tracks: You Got Me Running, Whiskey-Drinking Woman, Once There Live a Fool, Just a Dream, Lotus Blossom, Big Boss Man, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, That’s the One, Let’s Think Awhile, Swing On It, The Point, The Snow Was Falling
- John Henry
Arne Domnérus, saxophone & Gustaf Sjökvist, pipe organ – Antiphone Blues – Proprius/First Impression Music Stereo HDCD/SACD 050:
In their search for great audiophile-quality recordings of the past to reissue in hi-res, F.I.M. has brought us one of my personal long-time favorites. The unusual combination of saxophone and pipe organ has been a European phenomenon going back quite a while. The closest thing to it in the U.S. has been the recordings saxist Jan Garbarek has made with classical ensembles such as the Hilliards. Domnérus was the saxist on the Jazz at the Pawnshop sessions (also reissued by F.I.M.). He made most of this recording for the Swedish Proprius label two and a half decades ago, with five tracks added in l994. The recordings were made in a church in Spanga, Sweden and the voluminous acoustics of the church are like a third player in this ensemble. Only the title number is an original complete improvisation; there are classical favorites, spirituals, hymns, and three tunes by Duke Ellington. If you don’t have SACD playback as yet but do have HDCD decoding in either your player or preamp/receiver, you will be able to extract some of the higher-res quality of this terrific remastering by Paul Stubblebine – the CD layer is HDCD-encoded. Also, if you have Pro Logic II I strong suggest you use it to create more of a church-like envelopment of the sounds. Tracks: Träumerei (SCHUMANN), Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Antiphone Blues, Jag Vet en Dejiig Rosa, Entonigt Klingar Den Lilla Klockank, Heaven, Come Sunday, Den Signade Dag, Almighty God, Largo, The Shepherd, Hymn to Freedom, Dedication, Tonight I Shall Sleep
- John Sunier
Autumn in Seattle (Tsujoshi Yamamoto, piano; Ken Kaneko, bass; Toshio Osumi, drums) – First Impression Music Stereo HDCD/SACD 040:
Yamamoto’s trio is well-known to jazz-collecting audiophiles for his many recordings of some years ago on Japan’s Three Blind Mice label. Those LPs were truly fine, and since FIM had previously released a reissue of his album “Girl Talk” I had assumed this new disc was another in the series of reissues. Not at all: this is a brand new studio session recorded direct to two-channel DSD – probably in Vancouver B.C. Pianist Yamamoto reprieves some of his hits such as Misty and The Way We Were, as well as having written an original work just for the new project, which is the title tune of this SACD. There are also standards by Bacharach, Garner, Rodgers, Rota and the love theme from Khachaturian’s Spartacus. One of my personal favs is No Problem, from the soundtrack to Liasions Dangerous (credited to Duke Jordan but my understanding was that the entire soundtrack was Thelonious Monk’s and he was somehow not credited). The note booklet is beautifully rendered in the style of a Japanese booklet with artistic overlays and lovely artwork. The sonics are precise and of astounding clarity. The piano sound is very natural; my only beef is that it is again far too wide, probably due to too-close micing. Tracks: The Way We Were, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Autumn in Seattle, Misty, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Theme from Spartacus, No Problem, As Time Goes By, Sound of Music Medley, A Time for Us.
- John Henry
The Dale Spalding Band – Downtown (Spalding, vocals, harmonica, percussion; Lon Price, sax; Bruce Malament, piano; Tomas Gargano, bass; Kenny Elliott, drums) AIX Records DVD-A, DVD-V, DTS, etc. (2 sides) 80025:
Southern Californian Spalding started out playing with some top blues musicians, had a band in the South Pacific, then returned to California to work with such artists as Otis Rush, Kenny Burrell, Doug MacLeod and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. He appear on vocals and harmonica on two Poncho Sanchez albums since 2000. Leading this quintet session of Aix he brings his distinctive sound to a dozen blues and jazz vocal numbers that include contributions from Ray Charles, Percy Mayfield, Benny Golson, Mose Allison, Fats Waller and Willie Dixon. The tunes by such distinctive voices as Mose and Fats sound like rather watered-down versions of the originals; Mose’ “Your Mind is On Vacation” losing most of the hip crustiness of its creator’s version.
The video of the recording session is excellent, often using double screen technique. You have choice of either the “Audience” 5.1 mix in surround or the closeup “Stage” mix, which I usually prefer – partly due to its greater immediacy and partly due to it being in DTS whereas the Audience mix is only Dolby Digital 5.1. Again, I tend to prefer the video (blue) side of the disc with the DTS tracks because it’s such fun to see the performers in action. Yes, the red side of the disc with its MLP 96K 5.1 DVD-Audio mix is somewhat cleaner and more transparent fidelity but then you have to just imagine the performers. As usual the disc is loading with extras, including a totally uncompressed 96K PCM stereo mix, bios on all the performers, a still photo gallery, comprehensive notes, setup information, test tones, and software for connecting to the Web using the DVD-ROM drive of your computer. Tracks: Knock Me a Kiss, Mary Ann, Your Mind Is On Vacation, Caladonia, Lost Mind, 24 Hours a Day, Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying, Killer Joe, Sabor a Mi, Honey Hush, At Last, Little Red Rooster
- John Henry
Monty Alexander’s Ivory & Steel Jamboree (Alexander, piano; Othello Molineaux, steel drums; Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, steel drums; Marshall Wood, bass; Bernard Montgomery, electric bass; Robert Thomas Jr., hand drums; Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums) – Concord Jazz SACD -1024-6:
We covered the CD release of this one back in November 2001. I concur completely with the earlier reviewer, so here’s the review, with my multichannel cadenza: Monty Alexander’s Ivory & Steel band incorporates Caribbean rhythms and two steel drums into a small jazz band context. Getting famed steel drummer Len “Boogsie” Sharp into the group for this 1988 session was a real plus. The only real minus is the self-indulgent, rather corny singing on “Sly Mongoose” and “Linstead Market.” (Harry Belefonte did it better.) The sunny jazz/reggae/pop fusion sound of these albums grows a tad predictable after a while, but this package is loads of fun nonetheless. Love those steel drums! The remix for hi-res 5.1 puts you right in the center of the festive Caribbean sounds. Hand me that Planter’s Punch and coconut oil! Tracks: Sly mongoose, Think twice, No woman no cry, Look up, Accompong, You can see, Big yellow taxi (yes – Joanie Mitchell), Reggae later, Crying, Linstead market.
- Stuart Kremsky/John Henry