SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Hi-Res Reviews, Part 1 of 3 Jazz
Published on October 2, 2004
****** MULTICHANNEL DISC OF THE MONTH *******
Larry Chernicoff – October – 12-member chamber jazz ensemble – Windy Planet multichannel SACD 4511, 63:44 *****:
I had to review this one rather than giving it to the other John because classical/jazz fusion is my thing, and more than that what floats my boat is exactly this sort of swinging chamber ensemble with woodwinds. The sticker on the front calls it a unique conception – that may be true today but it wasn’t back in the 50s and 60s, when there were a number of such creative efforts. The one that sticks in my mind (and I still have in its scratchy presence on a cassette somewhere) was Emil Richard’s Annotations of the Muses. Anyway, the rest of the sticker is true – “you can’t compare this to anything else you might be listening to these days.”
All ten compositions here are by composer/pianist/vibist/melodica-player/percussionist Chernicoff, and his ensemble includes harp, violin, cello, tables and various percussion in addition to those woodwinds. No electronics are used and the session was engineered to capture a 360-degree ensemble sound that puts the listener right in the middle of the group in the studio. The effect is similar to the completely surround classical efforts on DVD-A from the Tacet label. There are elements of world music, classical chamber music, and genre-bending improvisation here. You may hear reminders of Oregon, Paul Winter and even the Modern Jazz Quartet, but Chernicoff isn’t lifting styles from others – he has his own individual style, and it’s a thorough delight. He says the Lydian mode is his favorite scale, and perhaps that’s why I was also thinking of George Russell’s music which also plays around with that modality. The music alternates jazzy improv with quieter and more contemplative passages, sometimes colored exotically with Tibetan chimes, gongs and bowed cymbals. Among the ensemble members are noted French horn virtuoso Tom Varner and the tablaist from the world music group Ancient Future, Benjy Wertheimer. The conductor of the “Windhorse” ensemble is Karl Berger, and he also heard on piano. This SACD just won an award for “Best Made for Surround” at the annual Surround Music Awards in Hollywood, and certainly deserves it. Being a small independent label, you won’t find it everywhere [in fact as readers well know, you don’t find SACDs everywhere!] So find it at www.cdbaby.com/cd/lchernicoff
– John Sunier
David Sánchez, tenor sax – Coral (with Miguel Zenon, alto sax; Edsel Gomez, piano; John Benitez, bass; Ben Street, bass; Adam Cruz, drums; Pernell Saturnino, percussion; City of Prague Philharmonic Orch./Carlos Franzetti) – Columbia multichannel SACD CK 90313, ****:
I hadn’t heard of Sanchez before, but the Puerto Rican native certainly has made a big multichannel splash with this disc – his first recording with a symphony orchestra. (It’s the same talented Czech orchestra that records most of the new movie soundtrack material for Silva America Records.) The album blends symphonic, jazz and Latin elements in a different take on the crossover idea. The fine saxist is joined by fellow countryman alto saxist Zenon, a pianist and a rhythm section. Sanchez’ original thought was stimulated by an admiration of Brazil’s great composer Villa-Lobos (the album title is one of his works). He wanted to play works by Latin-American composers who had been influenced by French impressionism. But the idea grew into the present exploration of Latin classical masterworks.
Two Ginastera works are presented – one a solo sax treatment of a theme from his energetic ballet score Panambi, two by Antonio Carlos Jobim and three originals by Sanchez himself. All the arrangements are by Franzetti, who conducts the Prague orchestra on all nine tracks. They are fine arrangements – commercial, yet not of the corny sax-with-strings style of many past such ventures. The spread of the various percussion effects into the surrounds aids in the enveloping experience of this unique album. Tracks: Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar, Matita Peré, Vidala, Coral, Panambi, The Elements II, Vexilla Regis, Song of the Carnaval.
– John Sunier
Buster Williams, bass – Griot Liberté (with George Colligan, piano; Stefon Harris, vibes; Lenny White, drums) – High Note Multichannel SACD HCD 7123, ****:
Though Buster Williams has been a valued sideman in jazz since the early 60s – playing with Herbie Hancock, Sonny Stitt and others – many of us have probably not heard of him. Stefon Harris might be the name that stands out here due to his terrific recent albums swinging those mallets. However, another name involved in this project will be immediately recognizable to audiophile jazz lovers – Rudy Van Gelder. This is the first multichannel 5.0 surround sound SACD to come from his historic studio in New Jersey! Van Gelder squeezed some amazing sound onto those mono tapes back in the 50s, which are still regaling audio buffs in various high-end reissues, including SACD. He turns his attention here to achieving the best possible use of the new hi-res surround medium, and succeeds handsomely.
The griot is an African storyteller, and Williams has a story to tell in the eight tracks (six of which are his own compositions). He likes to make connections between the tunes on an album and the general gist of these tales has to do with liberty and freedom. Going successfully thru a difficult medical situation with his wife was a stimulus to some of the musical ideas. The combination of piano and vibes is central to Williams’ ensemble sound. He has previously worked with such as Bobby Hutcherson and Roy Ayres. The absence of horns brings a more refined sort of sound to the quartet, but this is no Shearing Quartet or MJQ by any means. Things often swing madly, and sometimes Williams’ work in the jazz-rock area colors the sound. His version of the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez movement sounds like it could be from the above David Sanchez SACD, except with Williams playing the lovely solo part on his piccolo bass (such as Ron Carter frequently uses) instead of sax. Altogether one of the best jazz SACDs to date!
Tracks: Nomads, Related to One, The Triumphant Dance of the Butterfly, The Wind of an Immortal Soul, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Joined at the Hip, Concierto de Aranjuez, After the Ninth Wave.
– John Henry
Kitaro – Kojiki – Domo Stereo SACD 7 9401 73019 21 ***:
The Japanese performer Kitaro has been creating extravagant musical events mixing New Age and world music, electronic and exotic Asian percussion, and even electric guitar for many decades now. This album was recorded both at the artists own studio in Japan and at Skywalker Studio in San Francisco, using a large string section and the usual assortment of gongs and Taiko drums. I noticed the names of several New Age performers on the list of participants in this seven-chapter musical portrayal of an ancient chronicle describing the creation of Japan. The story is told in the note booklet. Slow building of instrumental forces on the same repeating ecstatic theme is a standard compositional technique of Kitaro, and the climaxes are frequently awe-inspiring. The themes are usually very compelling melodically. If you don’t like this sort of thing, you really don’t like it. And if you do you probably also like performers such as Yanni and maybe even John Tesh (although I consider Kitaro a step above that). Sonics are good, but it’s unfortunate this isn’t multichannel, since the music is so applicable to surround sound. The jewel box says Multichannel; also unfortunate. The Dolby Surround on a recent Kitaro DVD I reviewed was a more enjoyable experience.
– John Sunier
Diana Krall – Love Scenes (with Russell Malone, guitar; Christian McBride, bass) – Impulse multichannel SACD B0002841-36, ****:
I’m not a huge Krall fan but enjoyed this effort a great deal. Of course her fans will go nuts – probably already have for the CD version. Good choice of love songs – entries from Dave Frishberg and Luis Bonfa among the expected Gershwin, Warren, Berlin and so on. I couldn’t help thinking of Mose Allison treatment of Percy Mayfield’s Lost Mind when listening to Krall on this one. Somehow this lady just doesn’t sound like she loses her mind for anything, dig it? And Blossom Dearie does a much more humorous treatment of Peel Me a Grape than Krall. Krall’s piano style never draws attention away from her vocals, but there is a different sort of integration of voice and accompaniment when the singer is a singer/pianist. However, I wouldn’t mind a bit if she occasionally tore off on a wild instrumental foray as did Mose; but that doesn’t happen. The lack of drums is a good idea with a soft voice such as Krall’s. There’s not much use of the surrounds but they do add a bit of realism to the front soundstage. Tracks: All or Nothing at All, Peel Me a Grape, I Don’t Know Enough About You, I Miss You So, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Lost Mind, I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You, You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me, Gentle Rain, How Deep is the Ocean, My Love Is, Garden in the Rain.
– John Henry
Now for a number of jazz sides from Riverside…
Sonny Rollins, tenor sax – The Sound of Sonny (with Sonny Clark, piano; Percy Heath or Paul Chambers, bass; Roy Haynes, drums) – Riverside Mono SACD, 43:59 ****:
This was the first Riverside album for the noted saxist, who had already worked with Monk, Miles and Clifford Brown. The year was l957 and although Riverside was beginning to record in stereo, they didn’t do this session that way. No matter, the rich sound of Rollins’ tenor is preserved with all its raw energy on these mono recordings. While I lean more toward a Stan Getz sort of sax sound, I love the humorous touch Rollins often seems to have. One track is a completely unaccompanied sax solo, and it sounds so great I don’t know how stereo or multichannel could add that much to it. This album introduced Rollins’ distinctive sound to many listeners, and has been reissued in a few audiophile forms. One was a DCC gold CD, which I had and compared to the new SACD. While the differences were subtle in this case, there was definitely a veil lifted with the SACD – more clarity and “air” around the sax. On Just in Time the piano sounds more forward and less wooden than on the gold CD – which also imparted a slightly hooded sound to Rollins’ sax.
Tracks: The Last Time I Saw Paris, Just in Time, Toot Toot Tootsie, What is There to Say?, Dearly Beloved, Evry Time We Say Goodbye, Cutie, It Could Happen to You, Mangoes, Funky Hotel Blues.
– John Henry
Cannonball Adderley with Milt Jackson – Things Are Getting Better (also Wynton Kelly, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Art Blakey, drums) – Riverside Stereo SACD RISA-1128-6, 52:33 ****:
From a 1958 stereo date by the Florida-born alto saxist. He was hitting it big in NYC with his part in the Miles Davis Sextet and for the great fun he seemed to communicate in his playing. (In fact he was so big I remember at the time I named my cat after him.) Of course Milt Jackson was Mr. Vibes of the time and the bassist on the session was his compatriot in the recently-formed MJQ. The blues were at the basis of Cannonball’s approach, but that doesn’t mean he sounded a bit blue. This is good time jazz all the way (in spite of that phrase being associated with Dixieland). The original LP’s seven tracks are here expanded to nine with two alternate takes. Acclaimed producer Orrin Keepnews put them one after the other; wish he had put them at the end instead. Also, they are only in mono. That seems to be a standard practice at the time; I would like to know if they somehow knew in advance which take would be used and taped only that one in stereo, or did they make mono dubs of the outtakes and then destroy the stereo masters? Oh well…
Tracks: Blues Oriental, Things Are Getting Better, Serves Me Right (takes 5 & 4), Groovin’ High, The Sidewalks of New York (takes 5 & 4), Sounds for Sid, Just One of Those Things.
– John Henry
The Wes Montgomery Trio (Wes, guitar; Melvin Rhyne, B3; Paul Parker, drums) – Riverside Stereo SACD RISA-1156-6, 48:33 ****:
The subtitle of this album was “A Dynamic New Sound: Guitar/Organ/Drums.” Well, maybe new in the white jazz world but not in the black blues clubs all over the U.S. The B3 plus guitar, and sometimes with drums too, was a mainstay that could rock the joint with the best of ‘em. Montgomery, best known of the very musical Montgomery Brothers, was discovered by Cannonball in an after-hours club in Indianapolis and brought to Riverside. He quickly became the most influential and popular jazz guitarist since Charlie Christian. On this 1959 session – his first album of a dozen for the label – he tears into strongly melodic single lines plus octaves and block chords. His style was immediately identifiable, unique, and registered with a wide public – just as the Shearing Quintet’s style with locked hands and unison piano & vibes had also done. Wes did some lovely albums later with CTI but they were more commercial and this one is the real and gutsy stuff. His guitar never sounded better, but I do wonder why Fantasy has decided not to remix any of their SACD reissues for multichannel while Concord does all of theirs multichannel with a stereo option.
Tracks: ‘Round Midnight, Yesterdays, The End of a Love Affair, Whisper Not, Ecaroh, Satin Doll (two takes), Missile Blues (two takes), Too Late Now, Jingles.
– John Henry
Chet Baker in New York (Baker, trumpet; Johnny Griffin, tenor sax; Al Haig, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums) – Riverside Stereo SACD RISA-1119-6, 51:48 ****:
Handsome trumpet star Baker had been selected by both Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan to play with their bands. He showed that West Coast Jazz could be just as hot as that of the East Coast style. This 1958 session was before he became more of a vocalist than a trumpet player, and he doesn’t sing a note here, but he does play up a storm with a cool and clean sound that comes across via SACD better than we’ve ever heard it before. Tenorman Griffin only plays on three of the seven tracks, so this is mainly a Baker on Trumpet vehicle. It’s a kick and half. Tracks: Fair Weather, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Hotel 49, Solar, Blue Thoughts, When Lights Are Low, Soft Winds.
– John Henry
Seigen Ono Septet 2003 Live – Saidera Records multichannel SACD SD-1025H ***:
Ono is a composer and electric guitarist whose music encompasses both wild loft jazz flights as well as hauntingly tuneful ballads and everything between. In this set recorded at Tokyo’s Blue Note he is joined by an acoustic guitar, alto sax, electric violin, piano, drums and bass. There’s not only no notes on the music but not even identification of the tracks and tune titles. The beginning of the concert is pretty hard-edged free jazz, but it mellows about halfway thru and even spots a vocal on the one tune named; Enishie. The last couple tracks are very attractive, with some sensual melodies that made me think briefly of Kitaro. Great live sound that puts the listener right in that Tokyo club. Just wish we knew a bit more about what was going on there…
– John Henry
************ xrcds **************
Helen Merrill – Screen Favorites – Takeshi Inomata and Westliners plus All Stars – JVC XRCD 24 SVCD 1045 – 38 minutes – Rating: * *
Prior to the arrival of SACD, JVC’s XRCD discs were pretty much the audiophile’s Redbook CD of choice, offering excellent sound across the board. As SACD became more entrenched, JVC came out with the XRCD24, which offered the promise of improved sonics and continued competition with the higher-res medium. It was greeted by audiophiles with much anticipation. Unfortunately, with the exception of the much-praised RCA Living Stereo series, the XRCD 24 releases have caused head scratching among potential buyers. An XRCD’s gotta be something I can’t live without before I’ll generally part with the cash – and the recent batch of releases have seemed to be pretty much aimed at the Japanese market – not necessarily translating well to the rest of us. Advance reports on the first batch of Living Stereo SACD releases seem to have them trouncing all other available digital-disc versions.
These recordings by Helen Merrill are pleasant enough, but they’re really nothing special sonically or artistically – and they seem to have a slight metallic quality to the sound, especially Ms. Merrill’s vocals. There are a few exceptions, with poignant renditions of “Forbidden Games,” “I Will Wait for You” and “Under Paris Skies,” but even these suffer from sonic anomalies. The running time is particularly short at only 38 minutes, and this isn’t an album I’d spend much repeat time with.
Tracks: Three Coins in the Fountain, To Love Again; Theme from “Picnic”; The Third Man Theme; East of Eden; Boy on a Dolphin; Forbidden Games; Under Paris Skies; I Will Wait for You; Love Theme from “La Strada”; Mack the Knife; Summertime in Venice.
– Tom Gibbs
Perez Prado Orchestra – The Best Of Mambo – JVC XRCD 24 SVCD 1046 – 63 minutes – Rating: * * *
These recordings from Perez Prado will often bring a smile to your face – although you may not know the names of the various tunes, you’ll undeniably recognize much of the music. It’s been ingrained into our psyches by constant usage in countless advertising campaigns, et al. The sound is much improved over the Helen Merrill disc above, however, I really tend to think of XRCDs as near-reference or very naturally-recorded archival material, and this disc is neither.
At 63 minutes, the running time for this disc is generous – unfortunately, that brings up my biggest problem with the disc, that being – exactly how much Mambo can one take at one sitting? Personally, I need it dished out in relatively small portions. At least, for the price, you get a whole lotta Mambo for your buck. Recommended, but for die hard fans only.
Tracks: Mambo No. 5; Mambo Jambo; Taboo; Mambo Latino; Besame Mucho; Locas Por el Mambo; Cerezo Rosa; La Macarena; Mambo Lupita; Quizas, Quizas, Quizas; El Manicero; Mambo Taxi Driver; Mambo No. 8; Quien Sera; Patricia; Mambo en Sax; Tropical Fantasy-Caballo Negro; Historia de un Amor; El Mambo de la Merced; Mambo Pachuco.
– Tom Gibbs