Geri Allen, piano - The Life of a Song (with Dave Holland, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums) - Telarc multichannel SACD-63598, 65:30 ****:
Thought I had reviewed this in its original CD guise a while back but I guess this time I just put it aside knowing the SACD version was on its way. If you arent familiar with Allen you may be wondering how she got such a prestigious rhythm section. Its because she was pianist for some time with the late vocalist Betty Carter and Holland and DeJohnette were Carters rhythm section. This Detroit-based pianist wrote eight of the 11 tracks here, and chose three of the greats of black jazz for the others. Namely: Billy Strayhorn, Bud Powell and Mal Waldron. her lush, almost symphonic treatment of Strayhorns Lush Life is one of the most affecting interpretions of this tune my ears have ever perked up to. Some of the originals tie in with the Detroit music scene and black achievements in music and civil rights in general. A Celebration Song is dedicated to Rosa Parks, who also lives in Detroit. The closing track - Waldrons Soul Eyes - brings in Marcus Belgrave on Flugelhorn, Dwight Andrews on sax and Clifton Anderson on trombone for a departure from the trio setting into the rich sound of the horns. The original CD and the CD layer on this disc are excellent, but the SACD is even better at conveying a very natural piano sound and separating the performers a bit spatially.
Tracks: LWBs House, Mounts and Mountains, In Appreciation: A Celebration Song, Lush Life, The Experimental Movement, Holdin Court, Dance of the Infidels, Unconditional Love, The Life of a Song, Black Bottom, Soul Eyes.
- John Henry
Jacques Loussier, solo piano - Impressions on Chopins Nocturnes - Telarc multichannel SACD-63602, 61:33 ***:
Loussier has been performing his Play Bach arrangements with his trio for many years now, but he felt since Chopin is so closely identified with the piano it would be inappropriate to use bass and drums on this recording, so it is entirely solo piano. This takes more courage on the part of the solo artist. Its not the first time Chopin has been jazzed up; I have a couple CDs from an obscure European label of a similar effort, but other instruments were involved. It seems odd that Loussier chose to do 21 Chopin Nocturnes in exact order, rather than some of the waltzes, scherzos and other pieces that would seem better to fit into the jazzing up. Chopins Nocturnes used a rhythmic background in the left hand of broken chords and arpeggios to accompany the melodies in the right hand. Loussier dispenses with the left hand material, replacing it with more swinging figurations. He has some interesting ways of improvising on Chopins music, but in general it doesnt seem to lend itself to swinging nearly as well as does the highly indestructible music of Bach. The piano sound is lovely, if a bit oversized. Sounds more like a real instrument in a real space in the SACD layer vs. the CD.
- John Sunier
Maynard Ferguson & Big Bop Nouveau - One More Trip to Birdland - Concord Jazz multichannel SACD-1021-6 ****:
This session dates from 1996 and Concord used the same procedure they follow on most of their SACDs: they transferred the analog master tapes to 24-channel DSD, then mixed it for 5.1 surround in the DSD domain. The high register-scraping Flugelhornist is in a bit smaller than a big band grouping - nine players plus Ferguson. The arrangements make it sound like a far larger aggregation. The groups versions of Miles Milestones as well as Zawinuls Birdland are fresh and swinging with some great Ferguson solos. Lead trumpeter Scott Englebright also delivers some smashing solos, but he shouldnt have put down his ax to sing in She Was Too Good to Me. Concords surround mix puts you right in the midst of the band. Tracks: You Got It, Manteca, the Vibe, Cajun Cookin, Milestones, She Was Too Good to Me, Birdland, Blues from Around Here, It Dont Mean a Thing If It Aint Got That Swing.
- John Henry
Ditty Blei with Hilmar Jensson, guitars; Jim Black, drums; Andrew d'Angelo, alto sax & bass clarinet; Trevor Dunn, bass; Herb Robertson, trumpet Songlines SGL SA1547-2 Multichannel Hybrid SACD 53 minutes, *:
The concept for Ditty Blei comes from a phrase often repeated by Hilmar Jensson's 18-month-old son Unnar which roughly translates to "change my diaper;" its' use in the title references a time for a change in Jensson's musical style, both literally and metaphorically. This leaves a lot of room for speculation here is what we get here the contents of the recently changed diaper, or is this an out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new type of scenario? You'll have to be the judge of that. Personally, I found this intensely eclectic album almost unlistenable.
While I was conceptually open to the album musically, I found the sparsely instrumented compositions very hard to digest, and even though I have a hefty tolerance for avant-garde, jazz fusion and rock influenced recordings I found listening to this record very tough sledding indeed. The fact that it's recorded and mixed in DSD just didn't make the going any easier, and despite the album notes' mention of music in more of a melodic and "songlike" format, I found the music to be anything but that. I'd definitely try this one before buying.
Tracks: letta; larf; mayla mayla; correct me if i'm right; abbi; grinning; Davu; gobbles; everything is temporary.
-- Tom Gibbs
Blue Man Group - The Complex (with guest artists: Tracy Bonham, Dave Matthews, Josh Haden, Esthero, Gavin Rossdale, Rob Swift, Peter Moore, Venus Hum) - DTS Entertainment DVD-A 69286-01120-9-4 ****:
The first Blue Man Group DVD-A was centered more on their special do-it-yourself, mostly percussive, instrumental sounds and featured their members exclusively. It also was a bit frustrating in showing only stills of the group during the course of each track with no videos of them in action. This one gives us two complete music videos: Sing Along - which opens with musicians on a city rooftop and then seamlessly switches to animation with some live action inserts; and Exhibit 13 - which has no human beings in it, blue or otherwise, just flying scraps of paper and occasional closeups of some of them; paper which happened to blow into someones Manhattan backyard. A fascinating video documentary on the making of the album is provided. The group wanted to make it more of a rock album vs. their earlier efforts, and they arranged for several vocalists to join them for nine of the 14 tracks on the disc. They range from the folk-rock genre to wild electronic wailings. The vocals are frequently buried in the many-layered instrumental sounds of the Blue Men, encouraging one to run the volume up high. All of the lyrics are available as one of the extras, which is nice; but I would have preferred an option to display them while listening to the music as on some previous DTS discs. Estheros interpretation of Grace Slicks White Rabbit totally transforms that rock standard. Piano Smasher provides an instrumental entracte between some of the vocals, and yes, they really do make percussive sounds by smashing the frame and strings of a piano. The use of the surrounds is - as with most DTS-produced discs - enthusiastic to say the least. The DTS layer is excellent, almost as good as the DVD-A. I thought it was interesting that the stereo option was at only 48K sampling rate though both the DVD-A and DTS were 96K (all were 24 bit).
Tracks: Above, Time to Start, Sing Along, Up to the Roof, Your Attention, Persona, Piano Smasher, White Rabbit, The Current, Shadows Part 2, What Is Rock, The Complex, I Feel Love, Exhibit 13.
- John Henry
Pete Escovedo - Mister E (with 13-piece band and guests: Sheila E., Vicki Randle, vocals; Ed Smith, drums) - Concord Picante multichannel SACD-1019-6:
This 1988 session for Concord by one of the leading lights in Latin music today has been remixed into an exciting surround experience sure to get you shakin yer thing. Escovedo (Sheila E.s father) has been serving up a mix of Latin jazz, fusion, funk and salsa for over thirty years now. Three or four percussionists plus Escovedo himself ensure that theres plenty of infectious Latin rhythmic activity going on at all times. The opener and closer are Escovedo originals and theres a tune also by the bands musical director and one of the two trombonists, Wayne Wallace. The percussion and timbales are mixed strongly into the surrounds to provide an encompassing experience for the listener. The opening track is sure to find favor as a surround demo - when that percussion hits from behind listeners will definitely notice! I find most Latin jazz a bit too repetitious for my taste but Escovedo keeps up aural interest in spite of his massive montunos.
Tracks: Whatcha Gonna Do, Tassajara, Un Poquito, Lets Wait Awhile, Gingerbread Girl, Caribe, Take Some Time, Dr. Macumba, Mister E, Dawn-The Beginning.
- John Henry
Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company - Duets with: Natalie Cole, Elton John, Norah Jones, B. B. King, Gladys Knight, Diana Krall, Michael McDonald, Johnny Mathis, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor - Concord Records multichannel SACD-1033-6 ****:
Some reviews of Ray Charles' final recording downgrade it as an unfortunate mistake, but I found most of the duets a delight. Could it be because I auditioned it in SACD surround and most of the others didnt? Its true that Ray is way over at the left speaker and his duet partners are way over on the right when one would expect them to be a bit more chummy than that. (Maybe they didn't want to get bumped when Ray was rocking.) But the spreading out of the various instruments, with occasional backup vocals on the surround channels, adds a sense of participation in the performances. I think the fact this was done direct to multi-track DSD aids in the clarity and transparency of the mixes.
Although there are a few of the duets that dont quite jell (Kral, Cole, Mathis) all the singers involved obviously idolized Charles and were thrilled to record with him. My favs were the duets with James Taylor and Willie Nelson - the latter especially bittersweet due to their senior statuses when singing It Was a Very Good Year. Each vocalist has a paragraph of comments about their session in the note booklet. So they didn't phone them in as Frank Sinatra's duet partners had done. And speaking of extras, the Enhanced CD video is one of the best Ive seen both quality-wise and content-wise. In fact, this may be the first Enhanced SACD Ive come across. The footage hasnt been widely seen before, coming from a 1985 photo session with a photographer. It gives the viewer an intimate take on the musical phenomenon of Charles. As one of the singers observed, Ray could sing absolutely anything and in one second you would know it was Ray Charles and it would be great. I thought at first this was a DVD-A because of the larger jewelbox Concord used for some reason.
- John Henry
Ultimate Mancini - Ensemble cond. by Patrick Williams, with Monica Mancini, vocals; Plas Johnson, sax; Gary Burton, vibes; Joey DeFrancisco, B3; Stevie Wonder; Take 6; Tom Scott, sax; Kenny Rankin, vocals - Concord Records multichannel SACD-1034-6 ****:
This session was put together in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the birth of Mancini and at the time a commemorative U.S. postage stamp of the composer was also issued. Donald Fagen observes that Mancini was the high priest of Hollywood Cool, and all these tunes and arrangements are by the late musician. The festive atmosphere starts right off with an extended version of the Pink Panther Theme featuring Burton, Johnson and DeFrancesco. (Its also the 40th birthday of the first appearance of the pink beast.) When a singer who is a relative gets into the act on an album its usually a disaster, but Monica Mancini can well be proud of how great she sounds in her several vocals here - especially on Two for the Road and Days of Wind and Roses. Her delivery sounds just perfect for Mancinis straightforward elegance and verve. The direct-to-multichannel-DSD recording aids in the feeling of being in the midst of a major Hollywood musical event. But this album isnt just for film music buffs. In the note booklet are some great photos of Mancini with some of the stars and directors he worked with over the years, including Johnny Mercer and Audrey Hepburn. The larger jewelbox packaging is that used for many DVD-Audios rather than SACDs, so is a bit confusing.
Tracks: The Pink Panther Theme, Charade, Two for the Road, Moon River, Moment to Moment, Days of Wine and Roses, Peter Gunn Suite, Dear Heart, The Thorn Birds Theme, Anywhere the Heart Goes, Mr. Lucky, Whistling Away the Dark, Movie Medley: Life in a Looking Glass, Crazy World, Its Easy to Say, Music On the Way, Soldier in the Rain (bonus track).
- John Henry
A Hi-Res Bossa Nova pair coming up next...
Herbie Mann, flutes - Camino de Casa (with Paul Socalow, bass; Café, percussion; Ricky Sebastian, drums; Romero Lubambo, guitar; Eduardo Simon and Mark Soskin, pianos - Chesky multichannel SACD280, 53:44 ****:
This 1990 recording session is from the late jazz flutist who delved during his long career into AfroCuban, Middle Eastern, Balkan, R&B and rock sounds. But this session is heavily Brazilian, and I didnt realize how Mann was one of the first U.S. jazzman smitten with the Brazilian music bug, way back in l961. In fact it was he who suggested to Antonio Carlos Jobim that the guitar-songwriter also sing. Mann said he was already into various ethnic musics, but he realized that the lyricism and melodic strength of Brazilian music were unique in the third world. [Exactly what Ive felt since first hearing Laurindo Almeida and Bud Shanks pioneer bossa nova disc.]
Mann kept returning to Brazilian music, founding at one point The New York Samba Band and laster his band Jasil Brazz. In the 60s it was difficult finding musicians conversant with the genre in the U.S. but now there are many Brazilian transplants here, and some of them are on this very session. The Girl from Ipanema was on the first recording Mann made in Brazil, but thses nine tracks stay away from the bossa nova chestnuts. Major Brazilian names such as Dori Caymmi, Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento are represented among the songwriters on the disc. The two pianists alternate tracks on the session, and Mann sometimes switches to his alto flute. Cafes exotic percussion is often heard on the surround channels. This is a luscious program of Brazilian jazz in terric surround sonics.
Tracks: Pathway Home, Gabrielas Song, Aparecida, Your Body, Bread and Poetry, Yesterdays Kisses, Soul, Cry of the Waters, No Matter Who it Hurts.
- John Henry
Wilma de Oliveira - Esquina de SP (Oliveira, vocals; Ricardo Sagioratto, guitar and chorus; Joao Parahyba, percussion) - Saidera Records multichannel SACD SD-102H ****:
No notes are provided with this alternative-jewel-box packaged SACD from Japan except that it was recorded live at Tokyo club in 2002 and mixed and mastered on the Sony Sonoma DSD work station.All three performers are obviously Brazilian and they have selected a generous program of 16 tunes , again with few bossa nova chestnuts: just Girl From Ipanema and One-Note Samba. Baden Powell and Milton Nascimento are among the sources but most of the composers were unfamiliar to me. Her two compatriots provide a rich backing for her voice; one never feels the need for more players in the ensemble. Sonics have exceptional clarity and a good feeling of being in the Tokyo club. My personal interest leans more toward instrumental Brazlian music than vocals, but I found this program very satisfying. It would have been nice to have some translations of at least the titles of the tunes and perhaps a summary of the lyrics, but anyone into world music of any sort soon realizes that you dont really need to understand the lyrics to appreciate the musical communication. In case these Saidera titles are hard to find, try: www.saidera.co.jp
Tracks: Brazil Pandeiro, Ela d Carioca, Doralice, Ronda, Samba de Uma Nota So, Izaura, Maria Maria, Berimbau, Romaria, Amor I Love You, Agua de Beber, Girl from Ipanema, Coisa feita, Influencia do Jazz, Volare, Samba do Aviao, Preta Porte de Tafeta, A Primeira Vista.
The Gene Harris/Scott Hamilton Quintet - At Last (Harris, piano; Hamilton, tenor sax; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Harold Jones, drums) - Concord multichannel SACD-1036-6 ****:
Another 1990 Concord session, fortunately recorded multi-tracked at the time. Liner notes are by the noted jazz writer Nat Hentoff. Though they had played together at festival and clubs, this was the first time pianist Harris and saxist Hamilton had recorded together. The ten tunes are mostly standards, though including Milt Jacksons Blues for Gene and Ray Browns own Sittin in tghe Sandtrap - which closes the album. But the standards chosen are ones one doesnt often hear today, and the quintet has creative fun with them. Each of the players has a strong and individual voice of their own - Herb Ellis and Ray Brown had been around forever and really knew the ropes/strings. Harris is one of those pianists who makes full use of the entire keyboard, not just a small section of it. Theres nothing path-breaking here, just skiilled and tasteful small group modern jazz played with great conviction. The surround mix is typically exciting and involving. The piano sounds more like a real instrument in the 5.1 mix than in the stereo. Who would want to hear this just two-channel? Except perhaps in your car or portable player.Tracks: You Are My Sunshine, It Never Entered My Mind, After Youve Gone, The Lamp is Low, At Last, Blues for Gene, I Fall in Love Too Easily, Some of These Days, Stairway to the Stars, Sittin in the Sandtrap.
- John Henry
Holly Hofman, flute - Minor Miracle (with Mke Wofford, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Victor Lewis, drums) - Capri Records stereo SACD 74066-2 ****:
This is another of the recent SACD releases which comes in a standard CD jewel box and with only a tiny SACD logo on both the box and disc to indicate its format. Also there is no label as whether it is multichannel or stereo. Since it is a hybrid disc, it appears Capri wants to follow in the footsteps of ABKCO in releasing their Rolling Stones discs with no indication they are hybrid SACDs. That may have increased sales with such a major pop release, but I doubt if a similar will generate more sales for a specialized disc of flute jazz.
Never mind - this is a terrific SACD. Of course my being nuts about jazz flute has nothing to do with my opinion. Hofman was one member of the flute trio on the album Flutology not long ago, and has done at least eight earlier albums on her own. I wished there had been some info about her background, but there isnt. Her high stature in the jazz world is indicated by the quality of the three other members of her quartet here. The discs title tune was co-written by Holly with her husband, and the SACD opens with two Ray Brown numbers. There are two Brazilian numbers which go well with the flute treatment - Song of the Jet, and Minha. The piano tone is natural and detailed, but again larger than life.
Tracks: Everything I Love, CRS-CRAFT, Minor Miracle, Samba do Aviao, Tonk, Johnny Come Lately, Minha, Will You Still Be Mine?
- John Henry
Mike Wofford Trio - Live at Athenaeum Jazz (Wofford, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Victor Lewis, drums) - Capri Records Stereo SACD 74067-2 ****:
Another of those standard CD-boxed SACDs, this is a live session recording in San Diego of one of the top jazz pianists today, who happens to be based there. The Athenaeum, by the way, is located in nearby La Jolla and is one of only 17 private membership libraries in the U.S. and boasts a jazz series of which Wofford is frequently a part. The makeup here is really the Holly Hofman quartet reviewed above, only without Hofmans flute. The seven tracks include tunes from Ellington, Bernstein, Irving Berlin and Sting. The shortest at a bit over seven minutes is the exotic collaboration between Conti Candoli and Vince Guaraldi titled Macedonia, which is on 5/4 time. Other tracks run as long as 10 1/2 minutes. The stereo SACD reproduction is clean and very detailed. Tracks: My Old Flame, Take the Coltrane, Macedonia, Dex-Mex, Medley: Lucky to Be Me/Just a Lucky So-and-so, Its Probably Me, The Best thing for You.
- John Henry
Sinatra At The Sands With Count Basie & The Orchestra (Arr. & conducted by Quincy Jones) - Reprise Records multichannel DVD-A R9 73777:
This was a l966 Las Vegas appearance by Frank Sinatra and was taped to four tracks at that time. The mix to 5.1 for this DVD-A used the same modified Ampex tape deck used for the transfers of the Rolling Stones SACDs on ABKCO and the digital tracks were mastered at 192k for this DVD-A release at 96K/20 bit. The stereo option is the full 192K/24.
Selected from the best of two shows a night for four nights, the disc runs 22 tracks, of which two are Base Band instrumentals on All of Me and Makin Whoopee. This is an unassailable combo - the most swinging big band backing the one and only Voice. You get plenty of Vegas-type patter introducing tunes and during a lengthy tea break he takes which turns into a stand up routine. The jokes are the expected ones - how big of a drunk Dean Martin is, etc. But one ponders what went thru the minds of the members of Basies Band when Sinatra twice does imitations of Kingfish from Amos n Andy.
The sound is good and the Basie Band swingin, but obviously not running at full impact as they would without a vocalist. The only extra is a photo gallery of black and white shots of Sinatra performing and getting ready to perform. Tracks: Come Fly with Me, Ive Got a Crush on You, Ive Got You Under My Skin, The Shadow of Your Smile, Street of Dreams, One for My Baby and One More for the Road, Fly Me to the Moon, One OClock Jump, Monolog, You Make Me Feel So Young, All of Me, The September of My Years, Luck Be a Lady, Get Me to the Church on Time, It Was a Very Good Year, Dont Worry About Me, Makin Whoopee!, Where or When, Angel Eyes, My Kind of Town, Monolog, My Kind of Town (Reprise).
- John Henry