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27 SACD/DVD-A Audio Reviews
June 2003 - Part 3 of 3 - Jazz/Pop/World

                 
****MULTICHANNEL OF THE MONTH****

Black Dahlia - Music compose and arranged by Bob Belden, who also conducts the orchestra - Blue Note multichannel SACD 41745-2:

I’d been waiting for this SACD reissue of the 2001 CD that was the Best Mainstream Jazz Album according to Entertainment Weekly. It’s a jazz suite for large orchestra based on a tragic true film noir story. It’s connection with the seamier side of Hollywood as well as Belden’s very imaginative and description orchestral writing made me think of images from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and Belden himself admits he was influenced by Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the Polanski film Chinatown, which also describes LA, but in an earlier time. Belden is aware that the story he chose is unusual for a jazz recording, but he appreciates the emotional power of grand opera, and someone usually dies in them.

The young woman known as Black Dahlia - who had been attracted to the Hollywood dream world but descended into being a common criminal - was murdered and her body severed. The crime was never solved (but the son of a well-known Hollywood surgeon - no longer living - recently announced he is sure his father did it). James Ellroy wrote a novel called Black Dahlia about the world surrounding the victim, and it also was a stimulus for Belden’s score for a film in your mind. Belden provides a sort of scenario for the suite in the note booklet. One cue depicts the stark mood of LA at dawn, another the slinky nightlife, and yet another the atmosphere of a crowded dance hall in the late forties. Joe Lovano takes the musical roll playing the love theme in the suite, and he is just one of the many top jazzmen involved in this 65-piece orchestra. Other names that stood out for me included Charles Pillow, Gary Smulyan, Marc Copland and Bobby Previte. Some of the themes are given just to solo piano or piano plus sax, while others get the full symphonic treatment. The added depth and resolution of multichannel SACD raises this already powerful jazz score to a superlative musical experience.

Tracks: Genesis, In Flight, Dawn, City of Angels, Dreamworld, Prelude to Love, Danza d’Amore, Zanzibar, Black Dahlia, The Edge of Forever, 101 North, Elegy. Purchase Here

- John Henry



John Coltrane - Blue Train (with Lee Morgan, trumpet; Curtis Fuller, trombone; Kenny Drew, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Joe Jones, drums) - Stereo SACD Blue Note 41757-2 (compared with Classic Records 96K audio DVD):

Another of those classic jazz recordings that audio buffs are enticed into purchasing over and over again. Musically, as with most of them Blue Train is a super classic that should be in your collection in at least one version. The three horns do a lot of wonderfully free blowing, but it’s all within an accessible framework - it’s not free jazz. It’s influenced jazz players for over 40 years. But is the latest always the greatest, and if so is it great enough to shell out all over again? You decide. In this case I had the last enhanced version of this l957 early stereo Rudy Van Gelder gem - the Classic Records 24/96 DAD 96K audio DVD. Being stereo and not multichannel, I could audition both on my highly modified Sony 9000ES, which only plays stereo SACDs but also plays 96K DVDs at that sampling rate. I used the Direct Feed on the preamp and turned off the video circuit in the player to get the most processing-free signal to my amps, plus I used the Bedini Clarifier on both discs prior to the comparison. Without all that effort I don’t believe the difference between the two sources would have been audible.

The A/B-ing was extremely close on everything. On track 2, Moment’s Notice, the SACD showed its advantages even though it’s not from an audiophile label as was the Classic Records DAD. Trane’s sax showed less strain when he really pushed it. There’s a quick piano break near the beginning of the track that’s not terribly well recorded - rather opaque and wooden-sounding. But on the DAD it sounds a lot more wooden than on the SACD version. Things flow more smoothly on the SACD version, sounding less forced, and the small amount of ambience in Van Gelder’s studio - noted mostly around the drum set - is cleaner and more apparent on the SACD. Tracks: Blue Train, Moment’s Notice, Locomotion, I’m Old Fashioned, Lazy Bird.

- John Sunier

Jack Bruce – Shadows In The Air; Silverline 288127-9 DVD-A:

I kept thinking that I knew the name Jack Bruce, but it wasn’t until I looked at the track list that I was sure. Oh…that Jack Bruce, the bassist from Cream. In addition to a few stints on the album from Dr. John and Eric Clapton, Bruce has put together a fine group of musicians. The album comes across as being well produced, with good quality. Bruce has distinctive vocals that are a little rough and can go high at times, but can strike certain notes with the listener. The music is serious and comes across that way. The rhythm section plays a big part in most of the tunes, making it sound as if the vocals are backing the music and not the other way around, although most of the tunes strike a nice blend.

The range of musical styles on the record is quite varied, from the violin number, Milonga, to the jazzy sounding Boston Ball Game 1967. Some of the songs are clearly rock ’n’ roll, while others have blues/pop/world music/other influences. It is hard to say whether the variety will help to expand the audience or narrow it. If anything, you get to hear some updated versions of White Room and Sunshine Of Your Love. Presentation is mostly up front with effects and some instrumentation in the back. Pictures are displayed over each track. Songs included are: Out Into The Fields, 52nd Street, Heart Quake, Boston Ball Game 1967, The Anger’s A Liar, Sunshine Of Your Love, Directions Home, Milonga, Dancing On Air, Windowless Rooms, Dark Heart, Mr Flesh, He The Richmond, White Room, Surge. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Ensemble Galilei – From the Isles to the Courts – Telarc SACD-6036 Stereo/ Multichannel SACD/ CD Audio:

This is an album that I really enjoy and will play often. With a mixture of songs from the British Isles played on classical and folk instruments, the group consists of seven women. They play fiddles, Scottish pipes, oboe, recorders, pennywhistle, harp, viola da gamba, percussion and bowed psaltery. The group’s name came from 16th century composer Vincezo Galilei. I find the music on the album is of two types: One dreamy and beautiful and the other energetic and danceable. The instruments are well-played and equally well recorded. I recognize a couple of songs used in Contra dancing that I do.

The multichannel mix is the way to listen to this album. It allows the beautiful music to wash over you and envelope you - surround done right. The instruments remain in the front channels and the surrounds add a sense of space and ambience. By comparison the stereo SACD sounds extremely two-dimensional. Most would find the stereo SACD as being very good and would not know what they are missing with the surround sound. The recording quality borders on greatness. Instruments are crisp and detailed, dynamics are wide, but not over done. The balance of the instruments is exceptional. The CD sound is also quiet good, but rounder and less focused. There is also less sense of space than even the stereo SACD. If you like folk music, this is a great disc to have. I highly recommend it for both sound and music. The ensemble also gives the listener a generous 68 minutes of music on the disc. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

William Jackson & Mackenzie – Notes From a Hebridean Island – Linn AKD 197 Stereo SACD/ CD Hybrid:

This is album of Irish, Scottish and Gaelic music. William Jackson was the founder of the Irish band Ossian. He plays gut and steel strung harps, whistles, laud and piano. Mackenzie is a three-women vocal group. They are joined on the album by James MacIntosh, Iain MacInnes, Tony McManus, Aidan O’Rourke, Ian Lowthian, and Calum Malcolm. The album is mostly instrumental, with only 4 of the 14 tracks being vocal. Vocals are done in Gaelic and Scottish and are very pleasant melodically. The sound of this SACD demonstrates good instrumental detail and nice instrumental balance. The CD layer sound is not nearly as good. There is a strong tendency toward bright sound and instruments are larger and more forward than they should be. This album will not be for everyone. The vocals may take some getting used to for the average listener. The instrumentals will probably appeal to both Irish Music fans and to New Age enthusiasts because of their tranquil nature. All the selections are tastefully chosen and arranged.

- Clay Swartz

Pat Benetar – From The Front Row…Live!; Silverline DVD-A 288150-9 :

This DVD-A is fairly barebones. I looked through the disc and the booklet and it doesn’t even say from what concert these cuts were taken. From the pictures accompanying the songs, I can only assume that it was some time during the 80s (because of the attire—bandanas, heavy blue eye shadow, etc). Or maybe they are taken from more than one concert?

There is a cool cover version of John Cougar-Mellencamp’s I Need A Lover and Pat is in fine form on her cover of the Beatles’ Helter Skelter. She was still in her rockin’ years, before her music became a little tamer in the 90s. It was almost like listening to a greatest hits album. If you aren’t familiar with Pat Benetar then you must have missed the 80s. Almost every song on this album was a big rock/pop hit song in its day and there is no doubt she made a serious dent on the list of women rockers.

Single pictures of concert footage are displayed over every audio track. Most of the sound is up front, and the venue sounds like a big arena. As I said earlier, there are no extras on the disc, but I’d rather have better music and no extras, and that is what you get on this DVD-A. Songs included are: Hit Me With Your Best Shot, I Need A Lover, Helter Skelter, We Live For Love, In The heat Of The Night, You Better Run, Promises In The Dark, Hell Is For Children, Heartbreaker, Precious Time, Fire & Ice, Treat Me Right, Out Of Touch. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Natalie Cole – Ask a Woman That Knows – Verve 314 589 915-2 Stereo/Multichannel SACD/CD:

Now this is what a SACD should be like musically! It has great songs that are well- preformed, with arrangements that do not take away from the song. Joe Sample plays piano on a number of the cuts. Diana Krall joins Cole on one of the cuts. The music in general has a dreamy feeling. The surround mix does not represent anything you would hear at a live concert, but it is not too destructive of the music. There is not much popcorn audio and the surround is not overly jarring like some mixes. Natalie’s voice and the percussion stay firmly planted in the front channels. Accompanying instruments are well-balanced with the vocals. The stereo SACD layer is a very good reproduction of real music. Balance is spot on and her voice has very good presence. There is not quiet the backup instrumental detail that can be found on some audiophile recordings. The CD layer is very good but not up to either of the SACD layers. Images are bigger with less focus and the sound stage is not nearly as spacious or well presented. I am not sure I have heard any of the songs on this album before, but I find them all of interest. This album is a great one to just lie back and let the day’s cares melt away while listening. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz


Warren Bernhardt, piano - Amelia’s Song (with Jay Anderson, bass; Peter Erskine, drums) - DMP multichannel SACD-19:

Bernhardt, who has been recording for the DMP label for some years now, titled his latest after its opening tune. And that tune was created in homage to a grandmother he never met but who he knew had played an old upright piano and turned his father on to music and the piano. His father than transferred this musical DNA to Warren, and thus the pianist-composer’s appreciation signified by this tune. There’s only one other Bernhardt tune on the date, but the pianist has a good ear for tunes to select for improv and well-known standards share with unknowns here. The DSD minimal-miked approach of DMP produces a deep clarity to the piano tone and a more realistic size and complexity to the drum set than any two-channel recording could impart. Altogether a most enjoyable piano trio session in un-showy but nevertheless state-of-the-art sound. Tracks: Amelia’s Song, Polka Dots & Moonbeams, I Hear a Rhapsody, Vals para Warren, E.S.P., Prelude to a Kiss, Desafinado, Sweet & Lovely, Boilermaker. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Tipper - "Surrounded" - Dave Tipper - Myutopia Recordings DVD-A 286060-9 (Dist. By Silverline Records):

I didn’t quite know what to make of this unusual disc. There’s very little in the note booklet - just a lot of pie-chart figures with various slices shaded dark or light and a listing of the titles of the dozen tracks, nearly all “written and produced by Tipper.” Well, since it doesn’t say “composed and played,” I gathered this is some sort of electronic thing. Myutopia is the ambient/electronic sub-label of Silverline. The accompanying news release helped a little but I have to admit most of the references in the first two paragraphs lost me completely since I know nothing about turntablism, breakbeat, downtempos, plug-ins or IDM producers. It did say the album was created on a Mac iBook and specifically for 5.1 surround. Also that it took 700 hours of surround studio time to mix and add the remarkable abstract videos and art presented here. Some of the video extras on a few DVD-As have been really useless but these are quite fascinating. If we were in the 60s they would be considered psychedelic.

While you get a still image display of various table-top tableaus with strange doll figures while you listen to each track in hi-res DVD-A surround, there is also the option of the complete widescreen video patterns perfectly synchronized to each electronic piece in the Dolby 5.1 layer. Most of the selections still have a strong drum-machine sort of beat going on, but several are more of the “space music” genre, which I suppose is the sort of thing played in the cooling-down (or is it cooling-out?) rooms at dances. Some were a bit boring or too repetitive just listening to the audio tracks, but selecting the motion videos took them to a new level of interest and fascination. Tipper describes how he made the various audio pieces in different locations around North America as he traveled in his RV. A sleepy-sounding track was created in a North Carolina car park and Screw Loose was assembled in the midst of a lightning storm in the Midwest. A couple of the tracks, such as Glass House, have very catchy melodies, and the spinning of them around the listening room makes full use of all the surround sound tricks. The track Rotundus Maximus departs from the all-synth approach and features a six person choir plus an instrumental sextet. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

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