SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Blue Coast Collection – The E.S.E. Sessions – Various Artists – Blue Coast
Published on June 20, 2008
I seem to be Johnny-come-lately with this unique SACD, which was released sometime last year. It’s the first commercial release from a new label based in Belmont, California, whose goal is to set a new standard in audio excellence with their recordings. I can’t disagree with any of the previous raves about this stunning first effort; it appears they have met their goal.
Producers Cookie Marenco and Jean Claude Reynaud experimented in the studio for some time with various mike placements and surround setups using solo or duo performers of roots music. They found that placing their surround mikes in the 5.0 ITU surround layout pattern, plus closeup mikes for the performers, achieved a holographic sensation on playback in both surround and stereo They call their recording technique Extended Sound Environment (E.S.E.), and unlike most surround playback that is only experienced when you are at the apex of the five-channel soundfield, their recordings also sounded good when you moved outside of the speaker circle. They also record in the studio without the use of headphones, overdubs or digital effects, and avoid using compression whenever possible. They also discovered that the best way to present the utmost fidelity from their E.S.E. surround recordings was to release them on hybrid multichannel SACDs. Blue Coast doesn’t record directly to DSD but to 2-inch tape using Dolby SR, then they mix the surround version to DSD using the Sonoma System. The stereo version goes to 1/2-inch tape.
The exceptional results are instantly hearable on this demo disc. Though it’s not the sort of music I generally listen to, it is obvious all ten acoustic performers are first rate and the music-making is at a very high level. Marenco and Reynaud wanted to start out simply, with just one or two performers; they will branch out into larger ensembles later. (Their second SACD will be piano solos by the great Art Lande – While She Sleeps. The couple of tracks from the album previewed on Blue Coast’s Spring Sampler 1 CD have the finest jazz piano sonics I’ve ever heard.)
I especially enjoyed the folk/Celtic duo of dobro and slide guitar on Darcy Farrow, as well as Jason McGuire’s solo on acoustic guitar with nylon strings, Romance. There is a presence and realism here lacking on nearly all such recordings. I’ve compared the CD layer with the SACD on many recordings now, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard such a high level of fidelity on the 44.1K version compared to the stereo SACD. That holographic impression of the performers remains even with the compromised format. Even playing back on my modest office system from the player in my iMac, going directly to an AudioSource amp and Paradigm Atom speakers, the astonishing realism of the CD still came thru. The publicity about his new effort frankly struck me at first as too good to be true. But it’s true. I’m waiting with baited breath to hear what they can do with, say, a jazz vocal ensemble, a saxophone quintet, a big band, a chorus, even a symphony!
Looking For A Home – Keith Greeninger – guitar and vocals Dayan Kai – dobro and backup vocals
Slow Day – Jane Selkye – guitar and vocals Chris Kee – acoustic bass
Lilianna – Jose Manuel Blanco – vocals Jason McGuire nylon string guitar
Darcy Farrow – Rob Ickes – dobro Tony Furtado – slide guitar
The Dog Song – Garett Brennan – guitar and vocals
Tamalpais – Tony Furtado – slide guitar
Immediately Blessed – Keith Greeninger – guitar and vocals Dayan Kai – guitar and backup vocals
In Love Before the Last Call – Jane Selkye – guitar and vocals Chris Kee – acoustic bass
Romance – Jason McGuire – nylon string guitar
These Knees – Garett Brennan – guitar and vocals
The Waves of Kilkee – Rob Ickes – dobro
Finale – Glen Moore – acoustic bowed bass
– John Sunier