xrcd24 Reviews - Sept. 2003

New xrcd24 Discs!

All of the xrcds this time utilize the new xrcd24 process JVC has developed to further enhance their perfectionist xrcd approach. While continuing to release final 44.1 CDs that play in any CD player without a special decoder of any sort, the process concentrates on improvements in the hardware used in mastering and pressing. A key advance in the latest system is replacement of the crystal normally use for laser clock timing with one made of the space age material rubidium, which is 1000 times more accurate.

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D - Jascha Heifetz/Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch - RCA/JVC xrcd24 JM-XR24003:

Continuing a series of some of the best of the Victor Living Stereo era masters, this new 24-bit xrcd brings to the advanced digital format (that’s playable on any CD player) one of the stellar violinists of the last century in one of the stellar violin concertos. I couldn’t add a thing to the volumes that have been written both about Heifetz and this recording, as well as the reason audiophiles treasure nearly everything from the label during the late 50s and early 60s. I don’t have either the original vinyl nor Classic’s re-do to do a comparison audition, so just let me say Heifetz’ violin tone is larger than life but to my ears doesn’t suffer an iota of digititus. Cons might be that the disc is very expensive, under 38 minutes, and the notes are only in Japanese. But if you know and love the performance and recording and your system is revealing enough to reveal the fidelity advances of all of these classical xrcds - which I feel have been consistently even more enhanced than the jazz reissues - you’ll want this one. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Van Cliburn, p./RCA Victor Orchestra/Kiril Kondrashin - RCA/JVC xrcd24 JM-XR24004:

The classical music world was completely smitten with the young pianist from Texas in l958 when he won the illustrious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Upon his return to the U.S. this top-selling early stereo recording was made in the RCA Living Stereo series. It stands up very well 45 years later when you are able to in effect hear thru to the historical master tapes with more accuracy than has before been possible. Even if you have the original LP release, my vote would go for the xrcd since to my ears piano reproduction is nearly always better in the digital realm than analog. I personally prefer the electric performance of the concerto on the same label by Emil Gilels, but its fidelity doesn’t match this gem. Yes, the piano is larger than life again, but this concerto and its performer are also larger than life so never mind. Notes all Japanese again but never mind that either. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Art Pepper, Live in Tokyo ‘79 - Landscape (with George Cables, piano; Tony Dumas, bass; Billy Higgins, drums) - JVC xrcd24 VICJ 61035:

This exciting 1979 concert gives you more Art Pepper than usual - he also plays clarinet in addition to his alto sax - and more time length than xrcds usually give you - 52 minutes. The notes are again in Japanese. I don’t know if this concert was released on standard CD or LP but the pickup and general balance is exemplary - especially for a live concert. It has for me the clarity and depth of a good stereo SACD. The quartet is tight and even on the drawn-out tracks - such as Over the Rainbow at 11 minutes - all the solos are creative and inevitable and never suggest this is just a blowing session. Even the long tracks seem about half that length when over. Cables is a supportive but individual voice at the keyboard. Tracks: True Blues, Sometime, Landscape, Avalon, Over the Rainbow, Straight Life. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Lee Ritenour & Gentle Thoughts - Gentle Thoughts (with Ernie Watts, sax/flute; Dave Grusin, piano/Fender Rhodes; Patrice Rushen, piano/Fender Rhodes; Anthony Jackson, bass; Harvey Mason, drums; Steve Forman, percussion) - JVC xrcd24 VICJ-61033:

Recorded in Hollywood in l977, this was one of guitarist Ritenour’s best outings, working in the company of his regular band. The six tunes are mostly in a fusion mold but Ritenour is such an outstanding guitarist that even those opposed to fusion on principle will probably dig this cat’s chops. And his sidemen are so good too. I presume Grusin and Rushen hand off different tracks; it never sounds like two keyboards to me. When Ernie Watts turns to his flute his lines intertwine with the equally fleet lines of Ritenour’s electric guitar. These latest xrcds really do sound even better than the earliest entries in this highest fidelity incarnation of the 44.1 format. Tracks are: Captain Carbie - Getaway, Chanson, Meiso, Captain Fingers, Feel Like Makin’ Love, Gentle Thoughts. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Amanda McBroom & Lincoln Mayorga - Growing Up in Hollywood Town - Sheffield Lab/Lasting Impression Music xrcd24 LM XR 001:

This reissue using the new xrcd process originates not from JVC themselves but from Winston Ma’s new Lasting Impression Music label. It is one of a series of reissue from the formerly active Sheffield label which pioneered direct-to-disc audiophile recording 30 years ago. Ma heard a demo of JVC’s 24-bit enhancement of their xrcd process and was duly impressed. He thought some excellent recordings should be chosen for reissue to assess the magnificent sound quality of xrcd24. The first ones that came to mind were the early Sheffield direct discs which had launched his own passion for superior sound recordings. Sheffield has not been active for some time. After negotiations with Doug Sax, Mayorga’s partner in Sheffield, Sax allowed Ma to use the analog master tapes that were recorded at the same time as the direct discs. Sheffield themselves had issued some very good CDs from these analog tapes which came quite close to the direct disc quality. But no digital reissue I have heard - whether gold, xrcd or what - has equaled the impact and realism of the direct disc version.

Now it has (see Grusin album review below). I no longer have the direct disc of Hollywood Town but the xrcd24 sounds fabulous too. Both McBroom and Mayorga did grow up in the Hollywood area as youthful performers and they close their collaboration with the title tune of the album. Three other songs by McBroom are heard, including The Rose, which she wrote for Bette Midler in the film of that name. Four of the nine tracks are Mayorga instrumentals, with his always-imaginative orchestrations. The band members are not credited; they’re probably all skilled Hollywood studio players. By the way, the lyrics are all here and the notes are all in English, complete with color photos. But there’s only 30 minutes music total. After all the original was direct disc and even 15 minutes on a side with that format is really pushing it.

Tracks: Amanda, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, The Rose, Love Letters, The Portrait, Dusk, Peter the Hermit, Silent Lady, Hooray for Hollywood/Growing Up in Hollywood Town. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Dave Grusin - Discovered Again! Plus (with Lee Ritenour, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Harvey Mason, drums; Larry Bunker, percussion) - Sheffield/Lasting Impression Music xrcd24 LIMXR002:

I never expected any 44.1K CD, no matter how purist audiophile, to best the same session that had originally been recorded direct to disc. Because the digital reissue would be required to use the standby analog tapes run at the same time the cutting lathes were running, and the whole idea of direct to disc was that in bypassing the analog tape step a whole new clarity and realism of reproduction could be realized. And usually was. This enhanced xrcd24, made from the legendary Sheffield Lab Series analog tapes of the Discovered Again! Sessions does indeed match my original Sheffield direct disc, and my turntable system and best two channel CD player are on a similar level sonically. In fact the xrcd has some attributes the vinyl lacks: there is an overall cleaner sound, but without compromising the uncanny impact of the various instrumental sounds. Ron Carter’s lowest bass notes are bassier and also cleaner, and Grusin’s piano sound possesses on the xrcd all the subtle advantages of rock-solid digital timing which is simply not possible on vinyl, which has very subtle speed variations which show up more on piano sound - especially to the ears of fellow pianists. And it goes without saying - there's zero surface noise on the xrcd (my direct disc has been well-played).

I also have a very similar 1998 reissue of the album put out by Sheffield themselves using their 20+-16 mastering process. It comes very close to the direct disc, but not quite.The Plus designation means there are also four alternate tracks on this xrcd; fans will have fun comparing them to the originally selected tracks. Sensibly, all four are placed at the very end of the disc rather than right after the original versions as some jazz CDs tend to do. There are plenty of notes in English on the whole project, original and reissue. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Salena Jones – My Love (with Richard Tee – Keyboards, Eric Gale/Cornell DuPree – Guitars, Gordon Edwards – Bass, Steve Gadd – Drums) –
JVC VICJ 61034 – xrcd24 Super Analog Disc:

JVC’s uniformly excellent XRCD series has moved into new territory with the XRCD 24 – now the discs offer 24-bit resolution, versus the 20-bit resolution of the XRCD 2 series. I was particularly impressed with the XRCD 2 RCA Living Stereo Series, and was really interested to see just how much of an improvement the new process would make on this new disc. Unfortunately, it’s a mixed bag both sonically and musically

JVC should be commended for so many of their XRCD series; the OJC, RCA and Three Blind Mice reissues have all been triumphs so far. But JVC’s own label releases sometimes veer toward material geared to domestic Japanese consumption, and it doesn’t always translate well to western audiences. I’m not really sure who Salena Jones is; JVC’s web site references her popularity and prolific album sales, but I guess they must have been sold outside the US. The music on the disc is pretty much MOR dreck, and although the players themselves do an admirable job with the material, they just can’t save this album. On top of that, the album dates from 1981, and was not so well recorded that the XRCD 24 process makes it sparkle. I’d pass on this one. Tracks: Everyday; My Love; Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me; Teach Me Tonight; Help Me Make It Through the Night; Loving Arms; I Don’t Want to be Alone Tonight; Lately. Purchase Here

– Tom Gibbs

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