SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews, Part 1 of 4
Published on September 1, 2004
September 2004, Pt. 1 of 4 – Jazz [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]
Click on any cover to go directly to its reviews
Claire Martin – Too Darn Hot! – with Gareth Williams, piano; Geoff Gascoyne, double bass; Clark Tracey, drums; Nigel Hitchcock, saxes; many others, featuring the Tapestry String Quartet, arranged by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett – Linn AKD 243 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD ****:
As soon as I heard the saxophone burst that powers the opening of Something’s Coming (from West Side Story), I knew this disc was something very special, and not just another rehashing of tired old standards given quirky treatments by some new upstart trying to make a name for herself. The tune swings hard – during the instrumental break during the bridge, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to get up and dance! The brashness, confidence and total control that Claire Martin exudes suits the song perfectly – it’s still faithful to the Bernstein/Sondheim tradition, but she sings it like she owns it!
My incredible reaction to this disc (and we’re only just past the first track) serves to remind me of how narrow our view here in the U.S. tends to be, and how our exposure to international acts is sometimes so limited, and perhaps even a little jaded. Linn (the company) is a household name among audiophiles, and their reputation is above reproach – but Linn Records has a limited presence here, and with the sorry state of disarray in the recorded music industry and with record shelves filling with more and more generic schmaltz, the situation probably won’t see much improvement anytime soon. Which is a real shame, because Too Darn Hot! needs to find its way to the masses – you need to hear this disc.
And, by the way, who is Claire Martin? I have to admit that prior to the advent of the SACD, I’d never really heard anything by her, and never seen any of her discs in any record stores here – but I do frequent some of the hi-res oriented web forums (which tend to have more of an international flavor among the participants), and her name would pop up occasionally. Somebody’s obviously listening, because this is her ninth album for Linn; she’s been named top jazz singer in the UK, and she even hosts a radio program, Jazz Line Up, on BBC Radio 3. She’s definitely been around; her music serves as the proof.
And, back to that music: the tracks here are an eclectic mix, ranging from the familiar to the obscure, with well- and lesser-known songs from Broadway and Tin Pan Alley, along with jazz standards; even covers of tunes made popular by artists as diverse as Buddy Holly to Nat King Cole and Joni Mitchell, with a few originals thrown in for good measure. The clever arrangements the songs are given only serve to add to your enjoyment, and elevate them far beyond the usual fare. When this album swings, as is often the case, it swings hard – due in no small part to the snappy piano playing of Gareth Williams and the excellent rhythm section featuring bassist Geoff Gascoyne and drummer Clark Tracey, who anchor most of the tracks. And Claire Martin’s voice – oh, what a voice! From sweet, to sassy and sultry – when she tells you its too darn hot, you feel the temperature rise.
There are tender moments – who would have expected a cover of the old Buddy Holly tune It’s Raining In My Heart? Richard Rodney Bennett, whose jazz credentials make him the perfect arranger, gives it a string quartet treatment that’s sheer perfection. He offers a similarly sympathetic arrangement on the chestnut When I Fall In Love, that, along with Gareth Williams achingly beautiful piano solo and Claire Martin’s heartfelt vocal, lifts the song above the more maudlin treatment it’s often given. These Foolish Things, another song most often associated with Nat King Cole, is given a snappy – rather than the more commonly – sappy arrangement, and bassist Gascoyne and drummer Tracey each take several nice bars during the bridge.
The album’s centerpiece and blockbuster is the old standard Black Coffee, but Ms. Martin is not content to sit around and bemoan her sad predicament ala Peggy Lee or Ella Fitzgerald – she’s been done wrong by her man, and she lets you know it in no uncertain terms! Richard Cottle gets a nice turn on Hammond B-3, along with some excellent tenor sax work by Nigel Hitchcock. An absolute knockout, this tune alone is worth the price of admission of this superb disc.
Sonically, this disc is nothing short of stunning – the surround mix is just splendid, with all the instruments spread nicely in an arc across the soundstage from front to sides. The individual instruments have a very palpable realism, but the real star here is Claire Martin’s voice, which is mixed perfectly between front and center channels – the illusion is uncanny, and her voice just seems to float in space in front of you, such that you’d swear she was in the room with you – it’s the most realistic center channel presentation I’ve heard yet, and easily betters any of the hundreds of SACDs in my current collection. The album isn’t entirely acoustic, either – electric bass and piano (and the aforementioned Hammond B-3) are used on a few songs, and there’s obviously some judicious use of reverb (mostly noticeable on the opening track) – everything is tastefully incorporated into the final mix. There isn’t much in the way of source information for the tapes, but with a reference-quality disc such as this one, that doesn’t even need to be a consideration. Very, very highly recommended!
Tracks: Something’s Coming; Love At Last; The Gentleman Is A Dope; These Foolish Things; It’s Raining In My Heart; Too Darn Hot; Black Coffee; Noir; Love Is A Necessary Evil; When I Fall In Love; I Can Let Go Now; Four Walls; Blue Motel Room.
– Tom Gibbs
Diana Krall – The Girl in the Other Room (with Anthony Wilson, guitar; Christian McBride & John Clayton, bass; Jeff Hamilton & Peter Erskine, drums; & others) – Verve multichannel hybrid SACD B0002293-36 ****:
The beautiful Canadian vocalist, jazz pianist and songwriter is in a brand new bag with this album. The smoky voice is still there some of the time, but it’s grown more versatile and expressive – even bordering on the gutsy on some tracks. And the tunes are different from the romantic love songs heard on previous albums. There’s more passion and life now. What accounts for the branching out? Well, it has to be Krall’s marriage to Elvis Costello, who wrote the lyrics for six of her original songs on this dozen-track album, including the title tune. Other tunes come from new hubby directly, from Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits and Mose Allison. A funky B3 livens up the proceedings for the Tom Waits tune, Temptation. You would have never heard that on earlier Krall discs. The surround mix is fun, with various percussive sounds often at channels 4 & 5. All the Costello lyrics are printed in the booklet. This is the first Krall album I can say I honestly enjoyed. The tunes are: Stop the World, The Girl in the Other Room, Temptation, Almost Blue, I’ve Changed My Address, Love Me Like a Man, I’m Pulling Through, Black Crow, Narrow Daylight, Abandoned Masquerade, I’m Coming Through, Departure Bay
– John Henry
The Modern Jazz Quartet – Django – Prestige/Fantasy Mono SACD PRSA-7057-6 ****:
This album, recorded in l953 thru 1955, was one of the first for the long-running leaderless chamber jazz quartet and has remained one of their most popular. Rudy Van Gelder engineered and no one should miss that it isn’t in stereo. It introduced jazz fans to one of pianist John Lewis’ finest compositions – the title tune inspired by guitarist Django Reinhardt. As with many of their pieces, it reflected Lewis’ interest in Bach and music of the Italian Renaissance. Two numbers of the eight here came from film scores which Lewis wrote – both independently and with the MJQ.
Six years ago JVC issued this jazz classic on xrcd, so it was a natural to set up an A/B comparison. The balance between the instruments was entirely different on the two different formats – which was something of a surprise. Percy Heath’s acoustic bass sounded gigantic on the xrcd, Lewis’ piano sounded more in the background, and Milt Jackson’s vibes came across cleanly but with a bit of a “thud” timbre about them. The SACD has not quite as emphatic a string bass sound, but the the instrument is of a much more realistic and natural physical size and it is better balanced with the other three instruments. Decay and ambience of the piano sound is audible for the first time and the piano is moved more to the foreground with a cleaner sound to it. A more metallic timbre is heard from the vibes, replacing the thuddy sort of sound of the xrcd. On the SACD extremely quite passages retain their clarity and realism whereas on the xrcd they tend to recede unnaturally into the background. Tracks: Django, One Bass Hit, La Ronde Suite, The Queen’s Fancy, Delaunay’s Dilemma, Autumn in New York, But Not for Me, Milano
– John Henry
Will & Rainbow – Over Crystal Green (Will Boulware, piano/B3/synth; Will Lee, bass; Steve Gadd, drums; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Jon Werking, synthesizers; Michael Brecker, tenor sax; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Bob Berg, tenor sax) – Eighty-Eight’s Stereo SACD-only VRGL 8801 ****:
This is the first SACD I’ve auditioned from the Japanese label Eighty-Eight’s. The series features both U.S. and Japanese jazz artists, is stereo only, evidently not hybrid, and packaged in standard CD jewel boxes with very little notation that they are SACDs. However, on the strength of this one I would say they have some excellent product. Among their artists are Joe Chambers, Roy Haynes, The Great Jazz Trio, Clark Terry, Max Roach, Eddie Henderson and Marlena Shaw. Label owner is Yasohachi Itoh who was formerly with the East Wind Label. Recordings originate both from the U.S. and Japan and the label’s intent is to release in all three formats – SACD, analog LP and standard CD. Mastering is usually done on both DSD and half-inch analog tape simultaneously, with the DSD sourcing the optical discs and the analog tape the vinyl releases. Eighty-Eight’s state that everything in their catalog will be released in all three formats. (I guess that explains why this is not a hybrid SACD.) Acoustic Sounds is the exclusive U.S. distributor for the label’s SACDs.
The Boulware disc was recorded in Tokyo and features a stellar lineup of some of today’s top jazzmen. Michael Brecker is heard on only three tracks and his brother on one. Keyboardist Boulware wrote four of the tunes and also did all the arrangements save one, and the variety of approaches, not to mention the variety of soloists, provides plenty of interest during the nine tracks. I especially dug his B3 and synth on Voyage and wished for more. Never get tired of Waltz for Debby, and this one with Michael Brecker’s high tenor solo is a delight. His solo on the first track is at such high register that I at first thought he was playing soprano. I’ll Fly Away is not the well-known tune but a Boulware original, and sounds like an early Miles ballad. Guitarist Bernstein turns in a right-on solo in Seascape. The synth touches are generally subtle and contribute to the sound of a bigger band than it really is without adding a gimmicky sound. Tunes are: A Song for You, I’ll Fly Away, Seascape, Appearance, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, Scenery, Waltz for Debby, Voyage, Bells
– John Henry
Deacon John’s Jump Blues; AIX Records AIX 81004 DVD-A ****:
This is one of the few two-sided discs I’ve come across—one side is DVD-V and the other is DVD-A. [All Aix discs employ this…Ed.] The DVD-Video disc has a photo gallery, two videos of “Jumpin’ In The Morning” and “Any Day Now” (both in widescreen), and the entire album that is on the DVD-A side with the options of a DD 5.1 “Stage” mix, a DD 5.1 “Audience” mix, a DTS 5.1 “Stage” mix, or a 48kHz 24-bit PCM 2.0 track. Both sides offer a display that lists all the musicians on the particular track. In addition, on the DVD-A side there is access to extensive liner notes on each song. The “Stage” mix option is more laid back and toned down, while the “Audience” mix utilizes the surround channels more, has heavier bass, and feels more up front. The recordings took place in April of 2001. Fidelity is better than CD and you get the option of lots of different audio formats to play back the music. Not all the songs feature “The Deacon” as I like to call him. For instance, track 4 is a song sung a cappella by the Harmonizers. The music is the blues as the title would have it (as in “Losing Battle” with Allen Toussaint on piano). Others incorporate swing and other musical styles that would work well at an old 50s dance hall. Songs like “Let The Good Times Roll/Feel So Good” are boogie woogie/jump blues numbers—there’s even a soulful rendition of “Piece of My Heart.” “Someday” is a slower swingin’ tune that is one of my favorites.
I really enjoyed this disc and it would serve as great background music for a mixer (and I mean that in the most complimentary sort of way!) Songs included are: Jumpin’ In The Morning; Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out; I Didn’t Want To Do It; Jesus On The Main Line; Someday; Hook, Line And Sinker/Go On Fool; Losing Battle; Let The Good Times Roll/Feel So Good; piece Of My Heart; Tipitina; Going Back To New Orleans; Nobody Knows You (Reprise).
Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall; Audio Fidelity AFZ 020 Hybrid Stereo/Mono SACD ****:
This album was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 for darn good reason. Aside from the fact that this is a stellar blues record, its influence will carry on into other genres and has been known to influence the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and many others. The disc is a greatest hits package with 23 amazing songs! Reed had hits on the R&B charts and 11 times the songs crossed over to the Billboard Top 100 chart. It’s hard to find a bad song in this set and it should be a part of anyone’s blues collection. Even for those not in touch with the blues, songs like “Bright Lights Big City,” “Big Boss Man,” and “Baby What You Want Me To Do”–a song that was recently inducted into the blues Hall of Fame–should sound familiar. The fidelity is high–just listen to that sweet harmonica and how realistic the cymbals sound on most of the tracks. This is an excellent showcase for this material and should not be missed. In the insert you can read the high praise given to and the background on this blues legend.
Almost all of the stereo recordings on this disc have hard panned images in the left and right channels. This another Steve Hoffman masterpiece that makes you wonder how modern recordings can sound so bad when old recordings like this sound so good. Songs included are: Bright Lights Big City; I’m Mr. Luck; What’s Wrong, Baby; Found Joy; Kind Of Lonesome; Aw Shucks, Hush Your Mouth; Tell Me You Love Me; Blue Carnegie; I’m A Love You; Hold Me Close; Blue Blue Water; Baby What You Want Me To Do; You Don’t Have To Go; Hush Hush; Found Love; Honest I Do; You Got Me Dizzy; Big Boss Man; Take Out Some Insurance; Boogie In The Dark; Going To New York; Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby; The Sun Is Shining.
Carey Bell – Harpslinger; JSP Records JSP5102 Multichannel Hybrid SACD ****:
This is one of those few albums regardless of genre that I knew I liked from the first note. Bell plays with an energy and consistency that is admirable, and his harmonica is first rate. The insert tells an interesting story that began back in 1988. John Stedman, one of the main people at JSP, talks about enticing Bell during an UK tour to record a blues album exclusively for release on CD. The recording was made on 2″ 24-track tape. This allowed them to go back and use some of the drum tracks to put the listener in the middle of the music. Four of the tracks were cut later in Manchester, in 1989, with Lurrie Bell, Carey’s son. Like the Peterson disc reviewed, this father and son group work extremely well together. The earlier tracks include bass, drums, guitar, and vocal/harmonica by Bell. The latter tracks add a saxophone and keyboard to the mix. “85%” is a wonderful track to hear the harmonica skill possessed by Bell. The jam is grooving and thankfully, there is no end in sight.
The larger band in the later tracks gives them a different feel, but they are equally good–just in a different way. This is one I’ll be listening to a lot. The highs on this record are a big sizzly and overall the sound quality is close to the best CDs if not as good in some cases. Some instruments are present in the surround, but the focus is primarily up front. Songs included are: What My Mama Told Me; Pretty Baby; Blues With A Feeling; 85%; Sweet Little Woman; It’s So Easy To Love You; Strange Woman; Last Night; Blues With A Feeling (Alternative); I’m Your 44; Going Back To Louisiana; Everybody Wants To Win; I’m Your 44 (Alternative).
Jamie Cullum – Twentysomething; Verve B0002534-36 Hybrid Multichannel SACD ****:
This album was a very pleasant surprise. The album cover is a little misleading as the material is primarily jazz and vocal standards—it shows the artist jumping high in the air in a leather jacket and tennis shoes above a piano with his mouth wide open (as if screaming). Now that I think of it…maybe it is absolutely perfect for this record. He could be a fan of Harry Connick, Jr. or Chet Baker. And the material chosen for the songs comes from the likes of Lerner & Lowe, Cole Porter, and Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead! But never fear, there are some original tunes like “Twentysomething” that are really cooking.
Sound quality of this record is excellent and mimics the quality of great CD recording or sounds slightly better. There is a note about the recording process: recorded and mixed entirely in the analog domain without extensive multitrack recording techniques—no doubt the reason why this recording has such a “natural” feel. Many of the songs are standards, but draw from many different genres. Cullum has a rougher voice than what you normal expect from people in the vocal/jazz category, but it works well for him. This is the kind of record that you can’t stop listening to, and at the same time are waiting for the follow-up record. In this way, Cullum reminds me of Norah Jones. This album may not have the exposure of that record, but it should. Certain tracks on the disc have more content in the surrounds than others (like #12). Songs included are: These Are the Days; Twentysomething; Wind Cries Mary; All at Sea; Lover, You Should’ve come Over; Singin’ in the Rain; I Get a Kick Out Of You; Blame It on My Youth; High and Dry; It’s About Time; But For Now; I Could Have Danced All Night; Next Year, Baby; What a Difference a Day Made; Frontin’.
Pieces Of A Dream – No Assembly Required; Heads Up HUSA 9080 Hybrid Multichannel SACD ****:
Like the previously reviewed disc from Pieces Of A Dream, this disc is light jazz with an R&B flavor including both vocal and instrumental tracks. On a few tracks bass was very impressive. Track 3, with its horns and funky bass grooves, quickly got my attention. Instruments are placed both in front and in back–the recording engineers weren’t shy about mixing percussion in the surround channels giving the listener the effect of being in the center of the music. Most of the album is mellow and would be great music to unwind to at the end of the day. A noteworthy exception to this is track 9—it’s more upbeat and playful as the title (“Want A Piece of This?”) suggests. Sound quality is better than CD. The disc is a hybrid, so you can comfortably pop it into your car for a Sunday afternoon drive as easily as putting it in your SACD player for higher quality listening. Songs included are: It’s Go Time; Devotion; Dyse It Up; Yeah Baby; Swerve; Who U Wit?; Oh Her Wings; Summer; Want A Piece Of This?; No Assembly Required; Lunar Lullaby.
Henry Kaiser & Wadada Leo Smith – Yo Miles! SKY GARDEN; Cuneiform Records Rune 191/192 Hybrid Stereo SACD ****:
Kaiser and Smith co-lead this band dedicated to the electric music of Miles Davis from 1969-1975. But this is not only a tribute two-disc set. A good part of the songs are new compositions in the same style leading to an interesting new/old comparison. Truth is, there is nothing old about the music of Miles Davis. A quick listen to any of this tracks shows a root in tradition and extension to the future of modern electronic jazz music. Some of the artists present on this set include Greg Osby, Zakir Hussain, John Tchicai, Michael Manring, and Tom Coster among others. One of the new tracks, “Shinjuku,” starts off like some of the Miles tunes and then erupts into a drum solo that is immediately backed by a hard electric bass guitar sound and spins into a mass of sonic energy. The track is 22 minutes long, and as the middle approaches there is another transformation to a milder, slower pulsing. This changes into a swirling saxophone tour de force. There are brief pauses in between the jolts of electric sounds and heavy bass that ultimately funnel into a mellow slide down in tempo and intensity towards the end of the track. Woah–I’m getting dizzy just listening to it.
Another original tune, “Miles Star,” could easily be mistaken for a tune by Davis. It starts off mellow and ethereal, and instruments come in and out of the song like passerbys on the street. For a bit of craziness and a taste of the avant garde, check out “Who’s Targeted,” another over 20 minute long song. Aside from the nice covers of the Miles material, there is some good material on here worth checking out. Audio performance of this disc is as good as or slightly better than the best CDs. Songs included are: Disc 1 – It’s About That Time/The Mask; Jabali (part I); Shinjuku; Great Expectations; Directions; Disc 2 – Sivad; Gemini Double Image; Little Church; Miles Star; Who’s Targeted?; Jabali (part II); Willie Dixon; Cozy Pete.
Thelonious Monk Septet – Monk’s Music (Monk, piano; John Coltrane & Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxes; Ray Copeland, trumpet; Gigi Gryce, alto sax; Wilbur Ware, bass; Art Blakey, drums) – Riverside Hybrid Stereo SACD RISA-1102-6 ****:
Though dating from 1957 – a year before the stereodisc came out – this session was taped in stereo. It’s quite different from Monk’s later quartets, not only in size but by bringing together both Coltrane and Hawkins, not to mention the great Art Blakey on drums. The opening track never ceases to make me smile; who would expect to put the needle down – whoops, press play, and get a little Salvation Army-sounding brass ensemble playing Abide With Me? If only for under a minute. Actually, I did still have the original LP of this and the SACD is hands down cleaner, wider range and without surface noise. Plus you get two bonus tracks – alternate takes of both Off Minor and Crepuscule with Nellie. I really took a shine to the latter – it turns this bit of French impressionism transferred to Harlem into a little nine-minute tone poem. I could visualize Monk in one of his odd hats sitting there with his wife Nellie on the front stoop of his brownstone at dusk. Tracks: Abide With Me; Well, You Needn’t; Ruby, My Dear; Off Minor (2); Epistrophy; Crepuscule with Nellie (2)
– John Henry
Bill Evans Trio – Explorations (with Scott LaFaro, bass; Paul Motian, drums) – Riverside Hybrid Stereo SACD RISA-9351-6 51 minutes ****:
By 1961 when this session was taped, Evans had been working with his dream trio for a couple years and they had become as one in their improvisational empathy. Evans highly-developed but subtle harmonic language demanded focused listening or some might just think it was a very excellent cocktail pianist doing his thing. The 100% support given by LaFaro and Motian made the trio one of the most important small groups in the entire history of jazz, which lasted until the untimely death of bassist LaFaro. The enhanced clarity and transparency of this SACD lets us hear back to the master tapes and fully appreciate the depth of Evan’s explorations. Two of the tracks are bonuses vs. the original LP release.
Tracks: Israel, Haunted Heart, Beautiful Love takes 2 & 1, Elsa, Nardis, How Deep is the Ocean?, I Wish I Knew, Sweet and Lovely, The Boy Next Door.
– John Henry
Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Boy Named Charlie Brown (Original Soundtrack from the CBS TV Special) – (with Monty Budwig, bass; Colin Bailey, drums) – Fantasy Hybrid Stereo SACD FSA-8430-6 43 minutes ****:
Recorded in l964, this was music for the very first of the Charles Schulz Peanuts characters animations for television. Guaraldi was a pianist of quite a different sort from Bill Evans. Simplicity and directness was his forte, and that worked out smashingly for accompanying the exploits of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and all the other kids of the comic strip. The be-mustached pianist had a unique gift of finding very simple but catchy melodic hooks which didn’t mind a lot of repetition. You may not know the titles of some of these tracks but when you hear them you’ll be snapping your fingers and humming along with familiarity in no time. Fortunately, the CD layer lets you take the disc with you most anywhere, but the hi-res layer definitely rates an A+ for best sound in its class. The final track is a bonus over the original vinyl release.
Tracks: Oh Good Grief, Pebble Beach, Happiness Is, Schroeder, Charlie Brown Theme, Linus and Lucy, Blue Charlie Brown, Baseball Theme, Freda with the Naturally Curly Hair, Fly Me to the Moon.
– John Henry
The Grant Geissman Quintet – There and Back Again (Geissman, guitar; Gordon Goodwin, saxes; Jim Cox, piano; Jimmy Johnson, elec. bass; Gregg Bissonette, drums) – AIX Records DVD-A and DVD-V – AIX 80027 ****:
This recent release from the multi-source-providing Aix label brings us a session with LA-based contemporary jazz guitarist Geissman, who has eleven solo albums to his credit and has been a sideman with such as Quincy Jones, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Eight of the ten tracks here are his original compositions, with the remaining two coming from saxist Goodwin. As on nearly all DVD-As from this label, there are two different surround mixes. The “Audience” mix is Dolby Digital 5.1 and the “Stage” mix – which puts you right up there with the musicians – is DTS encoded. There is also a complete and very viewable video of the entire recording session, with split screens and all the trimmings. I tend, at least the first time, to want to see the performers in action and hear them via the DTS stage mix, even though its not as super-clean and detailed as the no-picture 96K DVD-A side of the disc. You could say that label founder Mark Waldrep has been offering Dual Discs all along! Geissman has a nice straight-ahead style and his tunes mostly hit the mark, though I would have liked to hear what he could do with just one standard tune. Judging by the titles alone, I think it would be safe to say Geissman likes sci-fi and music of the Caribbean.
Selections: There and Back Again, Good Stuff, L.A. Blues, The Sirens of Titan, Outré, The 53rd Calypso, Slightly Out of Town, Ballad to the Cosmic Wind, The Hipso Calypso, Blowin’ Out the Orbit Floor
– John Henry
In Concert Screener DVD – 13 x 26 minutes Ongoing Series – Sampler of Metaxas Audio ultrahigh resolution analog recordings on 96K PCM stereo with accompanying videos – Exero Media, Australia (www.thestylist.tv) ***:
The latest DVD from Kostas Metaxas is just as much a video as an audio product, but since all the previous ones were audio only and that is still the main focus of this compilation, I’m covering it here. It turns out that most of the classical, folk and jazz performances Metaxas has been recording on analog tape with his pro mics and trusty hot-rodded Stellavox SM8 open reel portable recorder have in recent years also been captured by cohorts on videotape at the same time. The “13 x 26 minutes” is “TV-speak” referring to each of the eight performers or performing ensembles represented here having 13 concert recordings of about a half-hour length in the can. These concerts will be released shortly by Exero Media – the video side of Metaxas’ audio work.
You can find my earlier reviews of this series by putting Metaxas in our site search engine, but in a nutshell the main idea is that recording with a purist setup of two mics direct to analog two-channel recorder (often a pair of B&K 4135s about 15ft. apart on the stage), a naturalness in soundstaging, spatiality and especially in the apparent size of the instruments is preserved. The realism is far beyond that of most commercially-produced recordings. Metaxas then found that the computer processing to which most original recordings – analog or digital – are subjected prior to mastering optical discs can be seriously detrimental to the original excellent sound quality. He found sound cards of the best fidelity and eschewed any further processing such as EQ or reverb – transferring the analog tapes straight to 96K digital, which is what is heard on these DVDs.
The various performers on this sampler were recorded and videotaped not just in Australia and New Zealand but also in New York and Belgium. There are two tracks from most of them. The videos are not terribly professional. The lighting is very murky and obviously just the stage lighting that was in each venue – often going all blue or all red for long periods. Images are low resolution and often with strange angles of view. Not up to the level of the studio videos that come with most Aix DVD-As. But then the audio is the main thing here after all, and some of that is spectacular, as on the earlier DVDs without videos.
There is little information provided on what instruments some of the performers are playing, and strangely none of the selections’ titles are given at all. The tracks are only identified by their timings. The first two tracks, recorded live in New York, feature a jazz quartet but only two of the performers are listed. The audio pickup is rather distant but serves up a great soundstage. Pianist (I think) Paul Grabowsky is featured on two tracks recorded in Sydney. He is a fine keyboardist but his piano sounds a bit off mic and the video is oddly shot from an above perspective. Andrea Keller proves a promising jazz pianist in her one selection, aided by very close up and realistic piano reproduction. Unfortunately the video is marred by murky lighting. On Track 12 there’s an unidentified jazz vocalist, but she’s off mic. However the soprano sax soloist here is terrific, and on mic. Eric Griswold is a highly original and experimental pianist-composer who benefits from better video coverage. His two pieces for solo prepared piano are melodic but minimalist, sounding a bit like Thelonious Monk crossed with John Cage. The video would be better if it included at least one closeup of what items he put between and on the strings. New Zealand pianist Aron Ottignon provides the final track on the compilation, featuring two drum sets, his piano and guitar. The piece is basically a long buildup of an ostinato rhythm pattern, sure to please percussion-oriented audiophiles. More information on all the Metaxas DVD recordings are available from: firstname.lastname@example.org
– John Sunier