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Hi-Res Audio Reviews, Pt. 3 - June 2002
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Now a trio of two-channel and even one-channel jazz reissues...

Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus (with Tommy Flanagan, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Max Roach, drums) - Prestige/Fantasy/Analogue Productions Mono SACD CAPJ 7079SA:

This is one of those jazz classics that has been reissued many times, similar to Miles' All Blues. At the time (1956) Rollins was playing in the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet and this album established him as at the top of his improvisational form. Three of the five tracks are Rollins' originals, opening with the witty Caribbean-influenced St. Thomas. It disturbs me that although audiophile labels always go into great detail about the technical side of the particular recording if it is stereo or multichannel, when it is a reissue of a mono original, usually nothing whatever is said, and that is true of this SACD. There's nothing wrong with it being mono - this is one of Rudy Van Gelder's "deep mono" masters that lacks little in impact save a spatial separation of the players on the soundstage.

I had at hand the 1998 JVC xrcd reissue of this album (at least that one mentions it is mono on the label of the actual CD). I often make comparisons of an SACD with the separate CD version - avoiding comparing to the CD layer on hybrid discs in case there is a quality loss due to residing on a lower layer or other variances in mastering. I played both on the same player of course. I found an extremely close match between the two. It took quite a number of A/B tests to come up with subtle improvements in the SACD version. (While in this case I didn't have the original CD I found the CD layer on the hybrid disc very dulled and opaque in comparison to the other two formats.) At the beginning of Track 3, the hard-driving Strode Rode, a wood block is struck six times and then repeated shortly. On the xrcd the strikes on the block were greatly improved in clarity over the 44.1 CD layer, but on the SACD they had still more air and a longer tail of reverberant sound immediately following the strike of stick on block. I really should pick up the inexpensive Fantasy OJC LP of this album if it's still available and bring it into the comparisons. In this case I wouldn't be shocked if it was the equal of the SACD at a lot less $.

- John Sunier

Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel - Riding the Nuclear Tiger (Allison, bass; Michael Blake, tenor & soprano sax; Ted Nash, tenor, alto, soprano sax & bass clarinet; Ron Horton, trumpet & Flugelhorn; Frank Kimbrough, piano & prepared piano; Tomas Ulrich, cello, Jeff Ballard, drums) - Palmetto/Hi-Res Music stereo 96K DVD-A HRM 2007:

This seemed at first like an unlikely choice for a hi-res reissue but after a couple auditionings it seemed very appropriate. Perhaps one thing the label people had in mind was the enhanced ability of a 96K reissue to illuminate the unusual and avantgarde instrumental techniques used in many of the tunes as well as impart greater impact with this seven-man ensemble. Among the departures from normal playing approaches are the pianist strumming on the strings inside the piano above the bridge, the bass playing doing the same, one of the reed players playing two saxes at once a la Roland Kirk, Kimbrough "preparing" his piano for Swiss Cheese D by lacing some Metro transit cards thru the strings, and the drummer placing small cymbals and gongs on the drum heads for the track titled Tectonics. The band grew out of New York's Jazz Composers Collective, and while playfully avant it is not so brashly non-tonal as to enrage the more conservative ear. In fact on the second hearing I loved it. And I love his tune titles too. The penultimate track came by its title due to an unidentified person opening the door of the studio near the end of the take (you can only hear it with headphones; that would be a good test for resolution!): Riding the Nuclear Tiger, Jazz Scene Voyeur, Love Chant Remix, Swiss Cheese D, Weazy, Charlie Brown's Psychedelic Christmas, Harlem River Line, Mysterious Visitor, Tectonics.

- John Sunier

Bit of a video snafu on this next DVD-A...

Hamamura Quintett with Skadi Lange, vocalist - Er'Told (Masako Hamamura, piano; Jeremy Stratton, bass; Dominik Doppler, drums; Guiido Ruckert, sax) - Audionet DVD-A & DVD-V (PAL) Standards No. 1:

First of all, the music - that always should come first, right? It's straight-ahead modern jazz vocals in a quartet environment, except for the two tracks titled Trio in Experience, which are extreme free jazz. The singer is not terribly individual or creative but pianist Hamamura has some interesting twists on his solos. (Track list at end of review.) Now there are several unusual techy things about this DVD: First, the initial two characters of the title, the E & R, are actually backwards. I have lots of different fonts on my Macs but none with in reverse. I also have no idea what the title means - it doesn't spell anything backwards in English. Next, the disc features five different options for playback: stereo audio at 192K, 5-channel audio at 48K, video with 5 channels of Dolby Digital audio, video with two channels of 96K audio, and finally video with two channels of 16 bit/48k audio. There are different groups of selections for each of these five options.

Now a little problem comes up: while the opening seven tracks of 24 bit/192K stereo play fine and sound terrific, in order to get the next four tracks which are 5-channel 48K sampling, you must display the main menu on the video screen and select that option. Unfortunately the video image has no vertical hold and flips over continually. It even continued after removing the disc until I insert and started up another DVD-A disc. In the note booklet for this German-made DVD-A it states it is the very first DVD that meets both the high-resolution DVD-Audio standard and the DVD-Video standard. Well, it may meet those standards in Europe but not here in the U.S., because the video portion is PAL format rather than NTSC, and nowhere on the disc does it state that fact. Without a proper video display one can't access the rest of the DVD-A, so there you are. If you do have access to a PAL or universal DVD player, here are the tracks (without repeating those offered multiple times in the different formats): How Insensitive, My Funny Valentine, Falling in Love with Love, You Don't Know What Love Is, Alone Together, One Note Samba, Trio in Experience I & II, Nostalgia, Moonglow, Sophisticated Lady. [I've only seen this advertised one mail order list, so if you are interested in it, contact the label directly at: audionet@t-online.de]

- John Sunier

Heard of the Opera Without Singing albums? Well here's Sinatra Without Singing...

Nice 'N' Easy - Celebrating Sinatra - The Arrangements of Nelson Riddle - Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops "Big Band" Orchestra - Telarc multichannel SACD-60532:

Here's yet another tribute album, and I must say I found it more enjoyable than the Celtic one reviewed above. Sinatra went thru a lot of different styles and approaches during his long career, but for most of us the classic collaborations between The Voice and Nelson Riddle during the 50s and early 60s is the sound of Sinatra with which we are most familiar. Riddle was skilled when Sinatra hired him, but he hadn't developed his own style as yet. Working together with Sinatra he created one of the most distinctive styles in pop music - one that supported the singer's voice to the utmost while contributing all sorts of fresh-sounding ideas of orchestration. Among them was a special use of the trombone section and establishing an important role for the flute.

In preparing for this session Kunzel and his staff discovered that Riddle's orchestrations sounded like they had been written for the Cincinnati musicians all the time. All they had to do was re-tool the vocal charts into all-instrumental pieces and give the vocal solos to the guest soloists on reeds and brass. These guests included Ken Peplowski on tenor sax, Jim Pugh on trombone and the trumpets of Rick Baptist and Randy Sandke. There's more than just hall ambience on the surround channels, and with this kind of music that's perfect. This disc will really make you want to do what the late Harvey Rosenberg decreed was the final goal of the right combination of recording and playback equipment - making you want to get up and dance! Tracks are: Night and Day, Zing Went the Strings of My Heart, September in the Rain, You and the Night and the Music, I've Got You Under My Skin, Let's Face the Music and Dance, Summer Wind, I Get Along Without You Very Well, Nice 'n' Easy, The Lady Is a Tramp, Get Happy, What's New, I'll Get By.

- John Sunier

Now for a real variety of real singers...

Philip Bailey ­ Soul On Jazz; Hybrid Multichannel SACD Heads Up HUSA 9068:

This recording is one of the best sounding of the bunch that I received this month. Bailey handles a few different jazz tunes that should be instantly recognizable by title, mixed in with a few originals. There is a distinct R&B/soul flavor to the presentations, but all are particularly enticing in their own way. This is a tremendous disc to be used for demonstrating system capabilities with music that most people will find pleasant and highly listenable. The piano and chorus of vocals on "Dear Ruby" is great. Bailey does nothing too avant-garde or wild in his interpretations of the songs, but many of the tunes include vocals. With more listening, it is clear that Bailey does quite a memorable job with the songs on the disc, and leaves the listener wanting more. Songs included are: My Indiscretions, Dear Ruby, Compared to What, Nature Boy, Bop-Skip-Doodle, Unrestrained, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Keep Your Head To The Sky, Sometime Ago, Tell Me A Bedtime Story, On The Red Clay.

- Brian Bloom

Robert Lockwood, Jr. ­ Delta Crossroads; Hybrid Multichannel SACD Telarc SACD-63509:

Much like Chesky, Telarc tends to put out some of the best sounding SACDs. The aliveness and presence of this recording is fabulous. Music-wise, you get exactly what the title says-an album filled with great delta blues. Robert Johnson taught Lockwood, so you can expect a darn good performance. The songs are all solo guitar with voice, but the quality of the play and recording almost makes you believe you are hearing an entire group. Five of the sixteen tunes are originals while the others are covers of songs from Robert Johnson, Leroy Carr, Jazz Gillum, and "Lightning" Hopkins. If you like the blues, then you are sure to love this disc. Songs included are: 32-20 Blues, Mean Mistreater Mama, This Little Girl of Mine, Stop Breakin' Down Blues, My Woman came Waking Down, C.C. Rider, Little Queen of Spades, I Believe I'll Dust My Broom, In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down), We're Gonna Ball Tonight, Mr. Downchild, Run Your Mama, Ramblin' On My Mind, Love In Vain Blues, Train My Baby, Keys to the Highway.

- Brian Bloom

Robert Walter's 20th Congress ­ Money Shot; Hi-Res Music HRM 2003 DVD-A:

This disc has sort of a retro 70s sound to it. I'd go so far as to say it was a little Steely Dan meets Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The first cut has a Hammond organ, which lends a swinging bluesy feel to it. The next song is really funk sounding, and includes the addition of a horn as well. After listening for a while, it was easy to let the sound and music grow on me. Like the other Hi-Res recording, this one is strictly two-channel and it is clearly a better recording than what you would normally get in this genre of music. There is an "Album Art" section, but the song title on a static screen is all that is available during playback. Songs included are: White Russ, (Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away, Rack & Pinion, Instant Lawn, The Yodel, Shemp Time, Money Shot, I'm Over It, Blues For Y2K.

Mofro ­ Blackwater; DVD-A Hi-Res Music HRM 2002:

The music on this disc is a cross between rock, blues, and bluegrass, with a little funk mixed in for good measure. The band sounds like a cross between Blues Traveler, Stone Temple Pilots, and George Thorogood. All the tunes are upbeat and get your head bobbin'. They all tell funny or interesting stories, about things such as the good ole days of the band's roots, among other things. The audio mix is strictly two-channel and comes across very well. It sounds better than all but the highest quality CD recordings. The disc offers still pictures in the "Album Art" section, but the only thing you see while the music is playing is a static screen with the album title. There is also a "Tech Talk" section with information about the production and the recording process. With the Rotel RDV-1080 DVD-A player I was using I was unable to pause during the songs. However, on the computer I was able to pause and start again with no trouble. If you are into modern blues, with a little different flavor then you will enjoy Blackwater. This is one to kick back or get down and thoroughly enjoy. Songs included are: Blackwater, Ho Cake, Air, Jookhouse, Nare Sugar, Free, Florida, Cracka Break, Lazy Fo Acre, Santa Claus, True Love and Freedom Frog Giggin', Whitehouse, Brighter Days.

- Brian Bloom

Dishwalla ­ Opaline; DVD-A/ DD Immergent 287009-9:

This album is the third from Dishwalla, and has a lot of the qualities that made their first album so popular-catchy tunes with nice instrumentation and hooks. Even if you aren't a fan, there is a lot here that will appeal to many different listeners. If you've already heard the single "Somewhere In The Middle" and like it, keep in mind there are even better songs on the disc. Most of the sound is up front, but occasionally you'll hear instruments or effects in the back. All in all, it isn't overdone and suits the music. If you prefer two-channel, you can select that instead. The recording quality is very good both tonally and spatially. You can select to view either the song lyrics or art while the music plays. When you turn the commentary on, it plays over the music track (like with most DVD movies). In the extras area, there are stills of live performances and stills in the studio. In the "Studio Scrapbook" section, there is a video. Apparently, this disc is one of the first (if not the first) DVD-A discs to be released concurrently with the standard Compact Disc. In addition, there are "Easter Eggs" hidden on the disc that include videos and demo versions of a few of the songs. Songs included are: Opaline, Angels Or Devils, Somewhere In The Middle, Every Little Thing, When Morning Comes, Home, Today, Tonight, Mad Life, Candleburn, Nashville Skyline, Drawn Out.

- Brian Bloom

Get out those old tie-dyed Ts and that bong for this next one...

The Grateful Dead - American Beauty - Warner Bros./Rhino DVD-A R9 74385-93:

This album of l970, along with the same year's Workingman's Dead, showed the band getting into less psychedelic and more acoustic American roots music genres. Bob Dylan and The Band had shown the way, and the songwriters in the Dead were leaning more toward layered, laid-back vocals and less electronics. There is only one electric guitar track on the album but Jerry Garcia was enamored of the pedal steel guitar at this point and is heard on it frequently, though he doesn't take a single solo. The disc's extras include special individual interviews with members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart, plus a photo gallery and lyrics to all the songs displayed in sync with the music on the screen. A feature of DVD-As I'm beginning to view as more and more useful.

Hart explains during the interviews that his concept of the surround mix for Sugar Magnolia was to put the listener in the middle of the band, so this one is not at all limited to typical secondary percussion sounds at the surrounds. You are really surrounded by the Dead, and you don't need any artificial additives to achieve that effect either. Great fun, and I'm certainly not a Deadhead. As on many DVD-As, Hart didn't leave the stereo mixdown to the automatic feature of the player but created a special mix just for the disc. I tried it briefly and it sounded flattened and mushed together compared to the wonderful surround version. Tunes: Box of Rain, Friend of the Devil, Sugar Magnolia, Operator, Candyman, Ripple, Brokedown Palace, Till the Morning Comes, Attics of My Life, Truckin'.

- John Sunier

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