Jazz CD Reviews
Jazz at the Pawnshop – K2HD Mastering reissue, using 100K/24-bit mastering, 99.9999% silver CD. 2 Red Book CDs, 46:15, 42:02 – First Impression Music
Published on March 11, 2009
Jazz at the Pawnshop must have by now surpassed Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue as the most reissued jazz recording ever. Recorded in 1976 during a jazz quartet/quintet playing in a crowded basement jazz club in Stockholm, the recording – while looked down on by many jazz aficionados – has been regarded by audiophiles as perhaps the best jazz recording of the last century. The performers were led by saxist Arne Domnerus, with Bengt Hallberg on piano, George Riedel, bass and Egil Johansen, drums. On the quintet numbers the players were joined on the tiny bandstand by vibist Lars Erstand. Recording engineer Gert Palmcrantz had to hold his Nagra IV on his lap due to the crowded conditions in the club. One of the attributes of the recording for audio buffs over the years has been the hubbub of the patrons at the tables, which is quite a bit louder and more immersive than heard on most live jazz recordings. The better the reissue source and equipment on which it is played, the better the musicians on the stand are separated from the crowd sounds and the more realistic presence they have.
The original Proprius double-LP set reissue is still available online. On 180-gram vinyl it retails for about $50 and is still considered just about the best fidelity of all the versions, and it also has a couple tracks that have proved perfect for tweaking the VTA on your turntable. A couple years ago F.I.M. released a surround sound SACD version of the original, deriving 4.0 channels out of the Blumlein-miked original, and it is excellent, retailing at about $64.
F.I.M. has been involved in the development of advanced approaches to improve the sound of standard Red Book CDs, since the higher-res SACD format requires special hybrid discs and dedicated players and there are so many more standard CD decks out there. Various improvements were made to the xrcd format (introduced in 1992), which is playable on standard CD players. JVC’s K2 HD process involved upconverting the original analog or digital master to a much higher sampling rate – 100K to as high as 352.8K, and from 20-bit to 24-bit. Then via special bit-mastering, the digital data is down-converted to the 44.1K/16-bit Red Book specs to be mastered as a standard Red Book CD. The Jazz at the Pawnshop K2HD uses 24-bit 100K Hz mastering and is pressed on nearly-perfect silver optical disc material rather than aluminum. There are other even more heavily-tweaked versions dubbed the Ultimate Disc (UD) Series – a Collector’s Edition UDC disc on 24K gold with an under-10 Averaged Block Error Rate, limited to only 1000 units; and a Direct-from-Master Edition UDM disc with under-3 Block Error Rate, dubbed directly from the master hard drive and limited to only 50 units.
The two-CD set retails at $70.60. Is it worth it? Yes. As an SACD supporter I feel badly admitting it, but in close A/B comparison tests, it actually betters the already excellent 4.0-channel pseudo-surround sound SACD. The SACD is immersive, but sounds just a bit rolled-off in comparison to the K2HD release. It is even somewhat better directly from my Oppo player digital out, run thru my Benchmark DAC1. Running either the original Proprius LP (which I have) direct or the new K2HD disc thru the DAC1 results in a somewhat cleaner and more transparent surround field effect using ProLogic II than possible from the surround option of the SACD reissue.
TrackList, Disc 1: Introduction, Limehouse Blues, I’m Confessin’, High Life, Struttin’ with some Barbeque, Jeep’s Blues, Stuffy.
Disc 2: Lady Be Good, Here’s That Rainy Day, Barbados, How High the Moon, Take Five, Everything Happens to Me.
– John Henry