SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Jazz/Pop/Rock, Pt. 3 of Hi-Res Reviews
Published on May 1, 2005
46 SACD & DVD-A Reviews This Month May 2005 – Pt. 3 of 3
(Jazz, Pop & Rock)click on any cover to go directly to its review
4 + Four – Turtle Island String Quartet + Ying Quartet – Telarc multichannel SACD-60630 ****:
A number of classical string quartets have been actively redefining the form for some years now. The Kronos Quartet probably started the whole thing 40 years ago, but Turtle Island has been around 20 years and going about it their own way. Actually, what they have been doing in blending the classical quartet tradition with 20th century American vernacular styles is very similar to the very first Kronos recording – a 45 rpm 12-inch for Reference Recordings. Such wide-ranging influences as bluegrass, folk, pop, swing, bebop, funk, R&B, new age, rock, hip-hop, Latin American, and East Indian have been integrated into Turtle Island’s repertory. And unlike the Kronos, TISQ originates most of its own music.
At a music event, TISQ leader David Balakrishnan began talking to Ying Quartet lead violinist Timothy Ying about some sort of collaboration between their two quartets. The Ying is the faculty quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music and was nominated for a Grammy award in chamber music. The collaboration took some time and hard work, but this disc is the final result. It opens with an Oliver Nelson big band tune arranged by the TISQ’s second violinist Evan Price. Next is a duet by the cellists from the two quartets. Mara’s Garden of False Delights is a three-movement original suite by Balakrishnan, inspired by the three states of being in Hindu philosophy. The first successful attempt to combine jazz and classical music in a concert work was Darius Milhaud’s ballet The Creation of the World in 1923. That orchestral work undergoes quite a transformation to fit the octet. The featured string bass in the original is now replaced by the two cellos. By the time the 11-minute work is over one feels perhaps this version could be Milhaud’s original – it works that well. Variations on an Unoriginal Theme is a sort of battle of the bands, as the two quartets toss the theme back and forth, changing it into a jig, scherzo, gospel tune or mambo. Lennon & McCartney’s Because closes the disc in four-part harmony with a taste of tango thrown in. The surround mix keeps the entire octet up front and is not that different from the stereo mix, aside from more “air.” This would have been a trip done via Tacet’s “Real Surround” method of putting the listener in the center of the octet!
Buzz Bros. Band – Castle in the Air – (Marnix Busstra, guitar/electric sitar & bouzouki; Berthil Busstra, Fender Rhodes & keyboards; Rene Dissel, doublebass; Chris Strik, drums; Guest on 2 tracks: Gevorg Veranian, duduk) Turtle Records multichannel SACD TRSA0019, 50:36 **** (Dist. by May Audio):
Tracks: Castle in the air (short version), First class seat, Pearl diver, Nut case, Frog country, Grandma and the wolf, She’s gone, Buzz battle, Authentic turtle, Castle in the air (long version).
Poncho Sanchez – Out of Sight! – Concord Picante multichannel SACD-1031-6 ***:
Tracks: One Mint Julep, El Shing-A-Ling, Hitch It to the Horse, Saints & Sinners, Mary Ann, Not Necessarily, Conmigo, JB’s Strut, Out of Sight, El Tambor del Mongo.
Paquito D’Rivera, reeds – Portraits of Cuba – Arranged and conducted by Carlos Franzetti – Chesky multichannel SACD298, 60:36 ****:
In collaborating on the project, D’Rivera and Franzetti had as a model Miles & Gil Evans’ Sketches of Spain. The idea was a jazz tribute to Cuban music, rather than a medley of actual Cuban music. D’Rivera helped select some of the tunes. One of them, Tu, was the very first tune he had played as a child with his father. There’s a photo of them performing together. Others that I was familiar with were the familiar The Peanut Vendor, a tune by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, and the closing – the theme from I Love Lucy!
Yellowjackets – Altered State – Heads Up multichannel SACD HUSA 9097 ****:
Tracks: Suite 15, March Majestic, The Hope, Hunter’s Point, Mother Earth, Youth Eternal, Free Day, Cross Current, Aha, 57 Chevy, Unity.
Oscar Peterson, piano – Exclusively for my Friends, Volumes I, II & III – ****
Feeling that the tapes were often even more exciting than the commercial recordings, MPS worked out the legal details to release them. Now they feel they are good enough to reissue on these stereo SACDs, and the sound is exceptional. Those in attendance are very quiet, and Peterson sounds very relaxed in the home setting. His bassists are either Ray Brown or Sam Jones, and his drummers either Ed Thigpen, Bob Durham or Louis Hayes. The piano tone is fine, and the balance with the bass and drums is good. The original detailed liner notes are reduced and reproduced in the note booklets but they are unreadable. But there’s one strange thing in the mix: The bass and drums are confined entirely to the far left of the soundstage – there is no hint of them on the right channel. The treble end of the keyboard is strong in the right channel, with the lower end centered between the speakers. A small quirk in this wonderfully intimate collection of performances by the greatest living jazz pianist!
Vol. I Tracks: At Long Last Love, Easy Walker, Tin Tin Deo, I’ve Got a Crush on You, A Foggy Day, Like Someone in Love
Shania Twain: UP! – Mercury B0000788-36 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD, 74 min. *:
In many respects, Shania Twain is to be commended – she writes her own songs, conquered Nashville and made it to the top – even if very little of what she does really resembles traditional country music. Unfortunately, with her latest release, UP!, what seems to be mostly up is the volume, and the heavy processing and over-production of all elements of the recorded sound. What’s definitely down are the really clever and snappy “woman-on-top of a man’s world” lyrics and posturing that in the recent past made her such a novel act with so much appeal to so many. Maybe the novelty has just worn off, but I found very little here that offered any appeal at all on any level, and if you’re looking for a veritable garden of audiophile delights, this isn’t it! Only for extremely die-hard fans.
The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East; Mercury Records B0000400-36 (2-discs) Hybrid Multichannel SACD, ****:
Some bands are good studio bands and some bands only perform their best in front of a live audience. The Allman Brothers are equally comfortable in both settings, but on this disc they just light it up! Thankfully, the recording quality is very good, so it doesn’t get in the way of the enjoyment of the record. There are only a handful of country/blues rock bands that I really dig, and this band is at the top of the list. Eat A Peach is a fantastic record, but if you want to hear the band (live) really open it up and jam with songs up to and over 20 minutes in length then this record is worthy of your time. Most of the songs are from other blues artists, although the lengthiest song, “Whipping Post,” is an Allman original. On the first disc there is an inspired version of “Stormy Monday”—mellow and smooth with great percussion and guitar work. It is easy to get lost in the musical experience on tunes like “You Don’t Love Me,” but there are shorter tunes in between to mix up the pace as well. If the album were half as long it would still be recommended, but with an hour and 20 minutes of music what you have here is a real winner. As for the multichannel sound, the focus is mainly up front with some effects and crowd noise in the back to help pull the sound out into the room. Songs included are: Statesboro Blues; Done Somebody Wrong; Stormy Monday; You Don’t Love Me; Hot ‘Lanta; In Memory of Elizabeth Reed; Whipping Post.
Byther Smith – Addressing The Nation with the Blues – JSP Records JSP5106 Hybrid Multichannel SACD ***:
The amount of surround used on this record creates a distinctive echo. Vocals are rough and you have to concentrate to make out some of the lyrics, but that is just Byther’s sound and doesn’t reflect on the quality of the recording. The soundfield is huge and cymbals have an amazingly natural metallic quality. Guitar is mixed into the surround channels which comes off as sounding a bit strange. As a whole, sound quality is excellent. Songs included are: What Have I Done; I’m Movin’ On; I Was Coming Home; What Is This; Looking For A Woman; Play The Blues On The Moon; I Wish My Mother Was Here; Hello Mrs Brown; Addressing The Nation With The Blues; You Should Be Proud Of Your Daughter; Put Your Arms Around Me.
Lowell Fulson – Think Twice Before You Speak – JSP Records JSP5103 Hybrid Multichannel SACD ****:
Poor Boy – Songs of Nick Drake Tribute Album; Songlines SGL SA4202-2 Hybrid Stereo SACD ***:
This brings us to this compilation which is full of unknown (to me) artists doing their interpretations of songs. In the liner notes for this disc even the producer questions whether the tribute album even made sense to produce. Many of the artists never heard of Drake (or barely knew his music), so their attempts to re-create his moods and ideas are fresh and based upon first impressions, rather than many years of admiration. In my opinion, the only good thing to come from most tribute albums is the attention given to a possibly forgotten artist or band. I’m not a big fan of movie remakes either, as I feel the original work should stand on its own even if the intent is not necessarily to imitate for the purpose of monetary gain, but solely as a tribute to the gift possessed by the artist, or reverence to the importance of the original work. You will have to judge for yourself which is the case regarding this particular record.
The sound of this disc is an example of what the format is capable. There is quite a mix of different interpretations ranging from jazz to folk to more eclectic sounds but in the end I’d rather listen to the originals. Songs included are: Cello Song (Bill Horist & Aiko Shimada); Clothes of Sand (Kate Hammett-Vaughan); One of These Things First (Chris Gestrin & Simon Fisk); Three Hours (Jason Michas & Chris Gestrin); Hanging on a Star (Robin Holcomb & Veda Hille); For Nick/Horn/Know (Francois Houle 6 + Danielle Hebert); Poor Boy (Kate Hammett-Vaughan); Fly (Mike Dumovich); Parasite (Friendly Science Orchestra); Road (Veda Hille & Robin Holcomb/Francois Houle); Things Behind the Sun (Bill Horist & Sam Mickens); River Man (Mount Analog with Jesse Sykes); Black Eyed Dog (Ian Moore & Eyvind Kang); From the Morning (Mike Dumovich).
The Kinks – A Soap Opera – Koch Records VEL-SC-79811 Hybrid Stereo SACD
In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Kinks’ first record, all 15 albums have been remastered on hybrid SACDs. This disc may not be the weirdest of them all, but it sure is a start in that direction. This record takes Davies’ storytelling to new levels and comes off as a rock opera ala The Who, but stranger. The record examines the pitfalls of stardom and the role of the concept of celebrity in the life of a commoner. The whole process was a difficult one for the band as the project seemed to be more of a solo effort by Ray Davies. At times the record is a musical comedy and at others it sounds like the soundtrack for This Is Spinal Tap. Either the playful meanderings grow on you or you can’t stand them—my co-worker made me take the disc out after the 2nd or 3rd track. After a few listens, you realize there is much more to be gleamed from the record, but it is still an effort on the listener’s part.
This disc is good sounding, but not great. Imaging is marginal on some songs–there is a big blob of sound in the center and not much more. The extras are nice for those who just can’t get enough of the music. They are well recorded and offer slightly different takes on the studio versions. If you are feeling adventurous, then check this one out. Songs included are: Everybody’s A Star (Starmaker); Ordinary People; Rush Hour Blues; Nine To Five; When Work Is Over; Have Another Drink; Underneath The Neon Sign; Holiday Romance; You Make It All Worthwhile; Ducks On The Wall; (A) Face In The Crowd; You Can’t Stop The Music. Bonus tracks: Everybody’s A Star (Starmaker) (Mono Mix); Ordinary People (Live); You Make It All Worthwhile (Live); Underneath The Neon Sign (Live).