SACD REVIEWS for May 2001, Pt. 2 of 2 - All Jazz
Dave Brubeck - The 40th Anniversary Tour of the UK - (with Bobby Militello, alto sax; Alec Dankworth, bass; Randy Jones, drums) Telarc CD-83440-SA:
The CD version of this album was a double-disc effort, with the second CD containing more live tracks recorded during a tour of the U.S. There's plenty of Dave and the quartet on these nine tracks, consisting mostly of standards: I Got Rhythm, Deep Purple, All of Me. The Brubeck originals include one very recent item, The Time of Our Madness, a tune based on a 12-tone theme - The Salmon Strikes, and the closing memorial to Gerry Mulligan - Goodbye Old Friend. That last was recorded by Dave alone in an empty auditorium before a concert began and on the SACD it sounds exactly like that. On the CD it doesn't sound much different except that the rest of his quartet isn't there.
But a more astonishing A/B comparison is Dave's Erroll Garnerish disguised intro to the very first track, Someday My Prince Will Come. It consists of a series of loud and incisive full Brubeckian chords with short pauses between them. On the CD version the piano sounds somewhat wooden and the silences in between seem a bit too long and silent, almost as if someone is just banging on the piano for the hell of it. Switch to the SACD version and now the piano tone is richer, fuller and sounded more like a genuine piano. But the silences are the key here: no longer completely silent - you can sense the transient soundwave after each chord, speeding to the walls of the auditorium and bouncing back. It's almost like a different pianist and a different recording.
- John Henry
Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Milt Jackson (Karriem Riggins, drums) - The Very Tall Band - Telarc CD-83443-SA:
The three great old masters of jazz were recorded live at the Blue Note in NYC in l998. This was a reunion for them - all had played together in various groups in the past. Long-running bassist and raconteur Brown got them together to perform for three nights running. He said they were summed up by the title of one of his earlier albums - There ain't but a few of us left. Peterson reported a very free feeling up on stage - similar to an after-hours jam session. There was no familiar library of tunes such as each of the performers has with his own trio or quartet, so a super spontaneous approach was the order of the night.
Eight tunes include standards such as Nature Boy, Sometimes I'm Happy and the rousing closing Caravan, along with the nostalgic I Remember Clifford (for trumpet great Clifford Brown) and a great blues number. Ray gets one track for his usual bass solo medley. I read that Peterson had been ill lately, but he sounds at the top of his usual virtuoso form on these tracks. Brown's bass sound has always been very clean and clearly delineated, but with DSD and SACD it stands out ever more clearly and seems sometimes to extend down to subterranean depths. The impression of the live audience is also just right - you sense they are there but they never become the least bit annoying as the Jazz at the Pawnshop crowd can become.
- John Henry
Two SACDs from Holland =
This small Dutch label likes to erase the boundaries in the types of music they present. They also make a strong effort to erase many of the aural inaccuracies of standard studio recordings. They use custom-modified mikes and mike preamps, dCs A-to-D and format converters, Spectral preamps, a 192K/24-bit recorder/editor, and monitor on Avalon Eclipse Classic speakers and AKG K-1000 headphones. Their website is: www.turtlerecords.com
Op - Tony Overwater, bass; Maarten Ornstein, reeds; Ernst Reijseger, cello; Ack Van Rooyen, flugelhorn; Wim Kegel, drums - Turtle Records TR0008 (Distr. By May Audio):
Bassist Oscar Pettiford (the OP of the title) died 40 years ago at age 37 but he changed the way the double bass in jazz is heard and played. He had been the successor to Ellington's path-breaking bassist Jimmy Blanton. He also pioneered the cello in jazz ensembles. All the pieces on this album are either solely by Pettiford himself or written in tandem with someone else. The use of cello on three tracks is a delight. Pettiford's music has been described as a mix of bebop, blues and classical chamber music, and this is the first album dedicated entirely to his music. Tricotism is probably his best-known jazz composition and of course is one of the ten tracks heard herein. Bohemia After Dark is another. Stardust is the only standard here. A classy SACD, with classy alternative packaging and super-clean, almost holophonically-spatial aural presentation.
- John Henry
Maarten Ornstein, reeds & W.A. R. P. Music Ensemble - Turtle Records TR0007- (Distr. By May Audio):
Reed player Ornstein, featured on the above SACD, gets his first solo outing on this SACD of his improvised-sounding but written vocal and instrumental works that break all boundaries between musical genres. His compositions, as well as the many different Dutch ensembles with which he has played illustrate the hotbed of musical cross-pollination that defines modern music in Holland today. Echoes of Frank Zappa's works played by the Ebony Band (on Channel Classics) or some of the wilder forays of the Willem Breuker Kollektief (on Bvhaast) are heard in these pieces. The closing track - The Rebel in the Chapel - seems to describe this musician's stance perfectly, and it introduces a fascinating Arabic flavor to the mix. Ornstein is a virtuoso of the first degree on his chosen reeds - mostly clarinet, bass clarinet and the Roumanian wooden soprano sax, the tarogato. His choice of instrumental colleagues shows his fondness for reed timbres: the four other players blend clarinets, bass clarinets, C-melody sax, and bassoon. Plus there is a percussionist and a mezzo-soprano is heard on two short songs among the ten tracks. I didn't find her voice particularly attractive; it had some shaky intonation and scooping. The avant garde sensibility is tempered by strongly lyric harmonies and the playing of all instrumentalists is top notch, as is the crystalline fidelity and precise placement of the musicians on the soundstage.
- John Henry
Mark Levinson Live Recordings at Red Rose Music, Volume One - RRM 01 SACD:
Audio light Levinson opened a small audio and home theater store on Madison Avenue in New York City in l999. Glass walls and doors kept out traffic noise and it was quite enough to record there at night. Mark moved his personal 9-foot Forster concert grand into the small space. Sony delivered a DSD recording system for Mark to try out and he recorded a series of solo and duo performers from time to time. His first SACD sampler preserves "this moment in audio history."
The dozen tracks encompass a wide range of music. Saxist Chico Freeman starts it off with a simple and touching treatment of Ellington's In a Sentimental Moon, with George Cables at the piano. Vocalist-guitarist Kenny Rankin sings the Beatle's Blackbird, and pianist Simon Mulligan is heard in Errol Garner's Misty. There are several solo guitar and guitar and vocal tracks, a couple more piano solos - one a rollicking rag to close out the SACD - and two spoken word tracks. Each has accompaniment: Levinson himself playing temple bells behind a reading of the 23rd Psalm, and then playing his 17th century Italian doublebass behind a reading of a poem by Rupert Brooke. In his note booklet Levinson says that DSD/SACD has enabled him to connect to recorded music again after he had lost interest in it due to the limitations of 44.1 PCM. One could well feel that way if this was the first SACD you heard on your own system. In some ways these modest little tracks communicate the more human, involving ability of the high-res format than the most massive choral-orchestral or big band climaxes.
- John Henry
Blood, Sweat & Tears - Columbia Legacy SACD - CS 63986:
This 1969 classic stands up very well today. It introduced the hit Spinning Wheel, the lead vocalist David Clayton Thomas, and popularized the brass ensemble sound in rock. The album was issued in a half-speed-mastered LP version at one point; sorry I don't have a turntable in operation at the moment to make a comparison but the SACD sounds better than I recall every hearing these fun tracks before. The dynamic range is probably the first thing to impress, followed by the greater detail on the very low level portions such as the opening Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie. Other hits of BS&T here are Smiling Phases, God Bless the Child, And When I Die. Two bonus live tracks are included on the SACD.
- John Henry
Miles Smiles - Miles Davis Quintet - Columbia Legacy SACD CS 65682:
Many jazz critics consider this l967 release the modern jazz recording of the past three decades. The quintet had been playing together for two years and saxist Wayne Shorter was its main composing talent, mining a vein of newer and freer bebop. The pianist was Herbie Hancock, often dropping out his left hand accompaniment at Davis' suggestion so as not to impede the forward rush of the ensemble. The six lengthy tracks include the hits Footprints and Freedom Jazz Dance. Composer/arranger/A&R man Teo Macero produced this famous session. DSD and SACD outline with the greatest clarity the often dense instrumental lines. While I personally still prefer All Blues and all the Gil Evans collaborations, those who lean toward the later funkier Miles will have to have this one if it's not already in their collections. And even if it is, the enhanced resolution of this release will allow good old Sony to sell it to us yet again, right?
- John Henry
Wynton Marsalis - Hot House Flowers - Columbia SACD CS 39530:
Coming from l984, when the versatile trumpet star was only 23, this tremendously varied collection of eight tracks made a major impression on the jazz world. Appearing with Wynton on the session was his brother Branford on soprano and tenor sax, Kenny Kirkland on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Kent Jordan on alto flute and Jeffrey Watts, drums. There is also a backing orchestra of a large string section plus reeds. Robert Freedman is the conductor/arranger and one of the reedmen is Paul McCandless on oboe. The arrangements are uniformly lovely and fresh-sounding, perhaps aided in their effectiveness by the natural, unforced clarity of the instrumental timbres. Stardust (the opener) is a kick, and I was especially taken with the version of John Lewis' Django. I thought I owned nearly all the Djangos on recordings but somehow had missed or forgotten this one. The backing on all the numbers is just right - rich and supportive while allowing plenty of space for Wynton to do his skillful thing. The title tune is a Marsalis original and everyone has a ball on the concluding I'm Confessin' That I Love You. There's a bit of a contradiction on the SACD credits: On the inside of the booklet it says "Recorded Digitally on a Sony 24-track Digital Recorder," yet on the front it says"Digitally Mastered Analog Recording." Hmm...
- John Henry
First Time! - The Count Meets the Duke - Historic one-time session with the Basie Band and Ellington Orchestra together! - Columbia Legacy SACD CS 65571:
This is hands-down my favorite big band album and has been since l962 when it first appeared on LP, providing as it did then probably the most dynamic and tasteful stereo demo record you could find. Basie and his light, sparse piano tinkling are on the left channel and Ellington with his more melodic and assertive style are on the right channel. The various soloists are generally in the neighborhood of their respective leaders but they move around here and there. In-person reports of the unusual session found that some of the players didn't blend as well personality-wise as musically - there were some strong emotions displayed. At one point Basie walked out entirely in a snit. The opening Battle Royal, by the Duke and Strayhorn, sets the scene for this display of the two giants of big band jazz. The LP had eight tracks. Of course there's Take the A Train, there's Thad Jones' To You, Corner Pocket, Segue in C, and Jumpin' at the Woodside for Basie.
Both the recent 20-bit remastered standard CD and this SACD include seven bonus tracks. Most are alternate takes of the first eight tunes, with some in-studio conversations, but there are two tunes that didn't make it to the original release: One More Once, from Ellington, and Basie's Blues in Hoss/Flat - Frank Foster's barn-burner. The alternate of Battle Royal is a 6 1/2-minute combination of rehearsal and alternate takes with some amazing stratospheric trumpet tricks from Cat Anderson, who also picked a fight with Basie's Juan Tizol during the session! Never before - certainly not on the LP, which I still have - has the aural identification of the two bands and their soloists been as unmistakably clear as on this SACD incarnation. Now Sony, may we next have the SACD of my Second favorite big band album (which you just also did as a 20-bit remastered CD) - Don Ellis' Electric Bath?
- John Henry
Mingus Ah Um - Charles Mingus (with John Handy, clarinet and also sax; Booker Ervin, tenor sax; Shafi Hadi, alto & tenor sax; Horace Parlan, piano; Dannie Richmond, drums; Charles Mingus, bass; Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis alternating on trombone) - Columbia Legacy SACD CS 65512:
Mingus first album for Columbia was taped in l959 and the passionate composer/bassist/pianist was at a peak of creativity. He had some terrific sidemen and many of his compositions for this session went on to fame with both listeners and other players to come. Lester Young had died several weeks prior to the session and Goodbye Pork Pie Hat was a tribute to the great sax player. Better Git It In Your Soul comes from a black church environment, and Fables of Faubus was a strong satirical vehicle. There are tunes inspired by Ellington, for whom Mingus briefly worked (Open Letter to Duke) and for jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton. Teo Macero, who produced Miles Smiles, was also at the helm for this date.
Four of the original tracks are presented with material that was edited out of the LP release for space reasons inserted back into them. There are also three new bonus tracks: Pedal Point Blues, GG Train, and Girl of my Dreams - the last the only tune on the album not a Mingus original. A lot of things failed to go well for Mingus during his difficult life, but this album certainly was a complete success. The clean and extended bass reproduction of the SACD highlights the virtuoso playing of Mingus and the enhanced resolution in general makes it easier to listen into the often unique harmonic and rhythmic structures assembled by composer Mingus and elaborated upon by his colleagues.
- John Henry
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