Audiophile Jazz CDs Pt. 1 of Jazz - June 2001
[Click on any CD cover to go direct to its review]
We'll start out again this month with the four newest releases in the acclaimed xrcd2 series of jazz reissues from JVC - clearly the utmost fidelity that can be squeezed out of the standard 44.1K CD format. Again, the process occurs entirely in the very careful and enhanced mastering and pressing process and requires no decoder or special equipment of any kind for proper playback. The latest series is a subtle improvement on even the first releases, and with this batch the alternate cardboard sleeve design had been strengthened to produce a much thicker album than the previous ones. All of the xrcd series now employ the plastic well that holds the CD with center spider rather than the CD-scratching hard cardboard slot loading in the original series. And the five-inch reduction of the back notes of the original 12-inch LPs is now enlarged to readable text and spread over several pages. Thank you, JVC, for hearing these two main complaints about the original series! If your playback equipment is of any level above a boom box, you'll hear the major sonic enhancement of these premium CDs.
Andre Previn and his Pals Shelly Manne & Red Mitchell - West Side Story - Contemporary /JVC JVCXR-0209-2: This followed on the major hit of the Trio's My Fair Lady LP, and now Previn got top billing over drummer Manne. Recorded in excellent stereo in LA in l959, when most of the jazz labels were still entirely mono. Great, solid, swinging contemporary piano trio jazz. As I've said before, I hear more freshness and excitement in Previn's approach in these 42-year-old recordings than in Previn's current jazz piano work for Telarc and others. The expected hit tunes from the musical are all here: Something's Coming; Jet Song; Tonight; I Feel Pretty; Gee Officer Krupke!; Cool; Maria; America.
- John Henry
Kenny Burrell, guitar - Soul Call (Will Davis, piano; Martin Rivera, bass; Bill English, drums; Ray Barretto, conga) - Prestige/JVC JVCXR-0210-2: Burrell has been one of the busiest jazz guitarists in the business for many decades. This Rudy Van Gelder 1964 taping is a quintessential guitar-piano quartet session - though with conga drummer Barretto added it's really a quintet. Ellington's perky I'm Just a Lucky So and So starts off the seven tracks (the final one is a bonus track that wasn't on the original LP). The lovely A Sleepin' Bee from House of Flowers shows Burrell's strong lyrical line-spinning. Four of the tunes are originals, with the title tune showing great rhythmic tension. Pianist Davis was new to me but his counterpoint with Burrell's guitar is first-rate playing. Tracks: I'm Just a Lucky So and So; Mark One; A Sleepin' Bee; Soul Call; Kenny's Theme; Here's That Rainy Day; Oh Henry.
- John Henry
A couple of very different vocalists here =
The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album - Fantasy/JVC JVCXR-0200 2: It's courageous for a jazz or pop singer to do an entire album with only piano accompaniment. It puts the vocalist's talent out in very bold relief. Bennett normally performs with a band and Evans was not known for his work accompanying singers. However, Bennett ask for him, feeling that Bill's super-lyrical pianistic style would support his own tasteful interpretation of the tunes' lyrics. This l975 session puts both stellar performers right in your listening room for nine glorious selections: Young and Foolish; The Touch of Your Lips; Some Other Time; When in Rome; We'll Be Together Again; My Foolish Heart; Waltz for Debby; But Beautiful; Days of Wine and Roses.
- John Henry
Lightnin' Hopkins - Goin' Away - (with Leonard Gaskin, bass; Herbie Lovelle, drums) Bluesville/JVC JVCXR-0211-2: Another Rudy Van Gelder masterpiece, this one from l963, with two sidemen whose background is not blues but mainstream jazz. Lightnin's songs all come from his own life, distilled in that amazing form of black music known as the blues. His complaints about things never get cruel or cynical and somehow they seem to come more directly from him than what's normally heard from most blues singers. He kept my interest for the entire album and I wouldn't call myself a blues fan either. Tracks: Wake Up Old Lady; Don't Embarrass Me, Baby; Stranger Here; Little Sister's Boogie; Goin' Away; You Better Stop Her; Business You're Doin'; I'm Wit' It.
- John Henry
Another pair in the Prestige/Fantasy Audiophile Reissue Line =
Thelonious Monk Trio - (Art Blakey & Max Roach alternate on drums; Gary Mapp & Percy Heath on bass) - Prestige 20-bit K2 Series PRCD-7027-2: These mostly Rudy Van Gelder sessions dating from l952 and 1954 and are therefore mono. Monk's early work was mostly in either a piano trio or solo piano form - there is one solo selection here (Just a Gigolo). Thus pre- Charlie Rouse one actually gets to hear a bit more of Monk's unadorned piano work with just the rhythm section. The tunes are heavily originals and Monk classics. He seems even more quirky and Monkish than ever in this setting. It's also interesting to focus on the different drumming style of Roach, heard on four of the ten tracks, vs. Blakey on the rest. In the beautifully-balanced "deep mono" pickup perfected by Van Gelder this is no more difficult than were the recording in stereo. This reissue series from Fantasy come in an outside cardboard sleeve with the jewel box inside, a la ECM releases. The actual CD label replicates the original Prestige LP label. The reissue technology uses about half of the JVC advanced mastering chain, and sounds better than the previous reissues, but in those albums also issued as JVC xrcd versions, not nearly as good at the xrcds. However, they are normally priced rather than $25 a pop. The tracks are: Little Rootie Tootie; Sweet and Lovely; Bye-Ya; Monk's Dream; Trinkle, Tinkle; These Foolish Things; Blue Monk; Just a Gigolo; Bemsha Swing; Reflections.
- John Henry
Miles Davis - Bags Groove (with Sonny Rollins; Milt Jackson; Horace Silver, Thelonius Monk; Percy Heath; Kenny Clarke) - Prestige 20-bit K2 Series PRCD-7109-2: Another l954 mono masterpiece from Van Gelder's home studio. The title tune is featured a second time with an alternate take - both by far the lengthiest tracks on the album, and featuring Monk at the keyboard as well as vibist Milt Jackson. Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver lay out for these tracks but are in for the other 5 tracks on the album. Taped just five days apart, these are classic Miles sessions of the mid-50s. There are some subtle dropouts and slight hiss - this tape has probably seen a lot of use - but it's not annoying in the least. Actually it's less noticeable than on the higher fidelity JVC xrcd reissue version. Contents: Bag's Groove x2; Airegin; Oleo; But Not for Me x2; Doxy.
- John Henry
Two classic Columbia Jazz reissues here =
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Jazz Impressions of Japan (with Paul Desmond, alto; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums) Columbia/Legacy CK 65726: This one seems to belong in the audiophile category because it is a 24-bit remastering that presents the original l964 session with a cleaner and wider-range fidelity than it has ever had before. Actually this is the album's first appearance on CD. Just as Ellington was inspired to write special suites by some of the exotic places he visited, Brubeck created a series of "Impressions of..." albums, and this one grew out of the quartet's tour of Japan that year. Brubeck compares the impressions to haiku in his original notes to the album - the intent is for the listener to feel the scene themselves as an experience. Brubeck found it interesting that in some of their pop music the Japanese parody themselves by using parallel fourths and other Western music ideas of how oriental music should sound. This is heard in Toki's Theme. Selections: Tokyo Traffic; Rising Sun; Toki's Theme; Rjiyama; Zen Is When; The City Is Crying; Osaka Blues; Koto Song.
- John Henry
Miles Davis - Milestones (With Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers & Philly Joe Jones) - Columbia/Legacy CK 85203: This classic Davis session came shortly before his famous Kind of Blue and is just as much of a pinnacle in his recording career. It preceded Kind of Blue in placing modality as equal in importance to hard bop. (If you've bought King of Blue twice now and don't have this one at all shame on you.) The sextet is hotter than Miles' music of the years just before this. They really go to town on the nearly 13 minute Sid's Ahead as well as a long version of Monk's Straight No Chaser. Three alternate takes expand this reissue over the original Milestone album and the whole thing has been carefully remixed and cleaned up for 24-bit remastering. Sony Music also made the CD label replicate the original Columbia LP's red label. 9 Tracks: Dr. Jackie; Sid's Ahead; Two Bass Hit; Milestones; Billy Boy; Straight No Chaser; alternate takes of Two Bass Hit, Milestones & Straight No Chaser.
- John Henry
The Best of the Classic Years in Digital Stereo Surround - Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and more - Nimbus Dolby Surround NI 2015: I included this one in this section because of the highly unusual sonic achievement in these reissues. The Nimbus label is known for its many Ambisonic UHJ CD releases and thus is a natural for distributing this surround sound CD series. Robert Parker is an Australian sound engineer who specializes in extracting high quality stereo sound out of old 78s, and in this case he's going one further and even encoding them for Dolby matrix surround sound! And it actually works! This is so far beyond the primitive rechanneled stereo of the 60's. Parker begins with exceptionally clean original 78s or better yet, the metal parts from which he first has new low-noise vinyl 78s pressed. He then transfers directly to digital media in order to process using the advanced CEDAR noise reduction software. He then simultaneously adds equalization, dynamic expansion, ambience replacement and stereo spread.
There is even a short A/B demo on the last two of the two dozen tracks on this CD: an ancient Al Jolson 78 in first its mono original version and then as remastered for surround sound. The wide variety of ages and recording quality of these 78s results in a variety of success with the enhancements. A few seemed to suffer from an excess of ambience replacement (I.e.: too much artificial reverb added). Using standard Pro Logic decoding resulted in some pumping effects and some of the vocals taking on a mealy-mouthed sound. (I wish my receiver had ProLogic II to try on this CD!) I found simple L - R derived matrix or Circle Surround surround to work the best and sound the cleanest. Some of the tracks are in amazing up to date surround sound - such as the 1932 and 1941 Ellington numbers. All tracks are taken from complete Classic Years CDs devoted to the specific artists: 2 Billie Holiday; 2 Glenn Miller; 3 Spike Jones; sel. From The Haunted House; Fats Waller; Artie Shaw; 3 Al Jolson; 2 Nat Cole; 2 Bob Crosby; 2 Louis Armstrong; 2 Bing Crosby, 2 Ellington. The whole list is at www.nimbusrecords.com
- John Sunier
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