New XRCDs - Sept. 2002

We have a half dozen new xrcd2 releases auditioned this time around. They retain the format's position of being in almost every case the highest fidelity digital version of the original recording - be it originally analog or digital in nature - while still using the standard 44.1K sampling rate approach which is now skirting obsolescence. That also means no special equipment or decoding of any sort is required for playback. JVC does it by fussing over and polishing every little step in the journey from the original tapes or discs all the way to the final pressing, resulting in the preservation of the maximum resolution possible - true 16 bit - without the bit loss along the way due to most processing chains.

MOUSSORGSKY-RAVEL: Pictures at an Exhibition - Chicago Symphony Orch./Fritz Reiner - BMG/JVC JMCXR-0016:

I just compared this audiophile classic with two competing new SACD releases. (See Hi-Res Reviews.) It didn't take a back seat by any means. This has to be the most dynamic, powerful and rich version of the warhorse of them all, and the spot-on playing by the expert Chicago musicians under the stern baton of Reiner is a good part of the package. Reiner's pacing is more deliberate than most other versions, with dramatic pauses here and there. The xrcd has just as much clarity to my ears as the Classic Records 33-LP version (but they still sound different). Only 33 minutes length with no filler of any sort.  Purchase Here

 

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 - Lisa Della Casa, sop./Chicago Symphony Orch./Fritz Reiner - BMG/JVC JMCXR-0017:

Another Golden Age LP classic remastered from the l958 session taped in Chicago's Orchestra Hall. In his liner notes from the original album reproduced in xrcd notes, Reiner admits that he never knew Mahler or saw him conduct, but that he did begin his conducting career in the same city that Mahler had started in. This melodic and moving symphony can provide a good starting point for Mahler newbies. The fourth movement is a setting of a poem from The Youth's Magic Horn, and Della Casa's voice is not only gorgeous but gorgeously reproduced.  Purchase Here

FRANCK: Symphony in D Minor - Boston Symphony Orch./Charles Munch - BMG/JVC JMCXR-0018:

This even earlier Victor recording session took place in Boston's Symphony Hall in March of l957. This was a year before the stereodisc was introduced, but Victor had been taping on a three-channel Ampex for some time already and had released prerecorded open-reel half-track stereo tapes. (Several of which I still have and still sound terrific.) The D Minor is one of the most approachable Romantic symphonies around for the classical tenderfoot - full of great tunes and an easily-groked symphonic structure based on Franck's cyclical return of the same basic theme. (I can't resist mentioning again the person I was "tape-sponding" with decades ago, who excitedly told me about the wonderful record he'd just purchased by "Ceasar Frank and his Symphony.") Both due to the different acoustics of Boston's hall and Munch's conducting style, this recording has a more flowing, homogenized sound than Reiner's. And that's all to the good for Franck's music.  Purchase Here

- John Sunier

 

Jacintha - Lush Life (with Bill Cunliffe, piano and arrangements; Darek Oles, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums; Dmitri Matheny, flugelhorn; Anthony Wilson, guitar, Frankie Marocco, accordion) - Groove Note/JVC JVCXR 0217-2:

This was the third album for Groove Note by the lush-voiced singer from Singapore, released just last year in LP and standard CD format and more recently on SACD (See March Hi-Res Reviews). For the first time a background of strings has been added, giving Jacintha an even more sensuous overall sound than previously. The thorough classical music education of arranger Cunliffe shows in the supportive but imaginative backing offered by the string section. Cunliffe admitted to reimagining some of the impressionistic effects wrought by Delius, Vaughan Williams and Rachmaninoff in their music. This is not like some singer-with strings albums where you're wishing the vocalist would just return to his or her normal piano-bass-drums backing. The contributions of three terrific sidemen - Matheny, Wilson and Marocco - are not to be ignored, and Cunliffe delivers some tasty piano solo work. The realism and presence of Jacintha's lovely voice is something to hear, a definite enhancement over the original CD, about equal to the LP (but, again, different), and expectedly, slightly below the SACD version as regards transparency, detail and "air." (Also, the xrcd version fails to provide the 15 sexy photos of Jacintha that come with the others.) Tracks: The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Black Coffee, Summertime, Lush Life, Mahna de Carneval, The Shadow of Your Smile, When the World Was Young, September Song, Harlem Nocturne, Smile. Purchase Here

- John Henry

 

Stan Getz with Cal Tjader (plus Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro, Vince Guaraldi & Eddie Duran) - Fantasy/JVC JVCXR-0218-2:

Some of the greatest West Coast jazz players of the late 50s jammed their hearts out in this l958 San Francisco studio session for Fantasy. It resulted from a stint at the famous Black Hawk jazz club by Getz' quartet during a time when Tjader - who lived in the area - was taking time off and forming a new group of his own. As Ralph J. Gleason reported in his liner notes to the original LP, Getz blended with vibist Tjader as though they had played together for years, and the session was over in record time. (So quickly that another local jazz critic - Phil Elwood, perhaps? - arrived after everything was already "in the can.") Not many jazz sessions were being recorded in stereo in l958 - the year the stereodisc was introduced, but this one was, fortunately. It's all here, with a clarity the original LP never had - including the exaggerated separation of instruments to show off the stereo. Tracks; Ginza Samba, I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, For All We Know, Crows' Nest, Liz Anne, Big Bear, My Buddy.  Purchase Here


Oscar Peterson & Dizzy Gillespie - Pablo/JVC JVCXR-0219-2:

I somehow missed this one back in l975, though I don't know how, being extremely partial to bare-bones jazz duos like this - free of the usual rhythm section. Oscar just sat down and started improvising on seven mostly standards plus an extended free-for-all blues, and Diz just wailed on his trumpet. No special arrangements, no other sidemen, just two of jazz' supreme geniuses doin' their thing unencumbered. Diz especially sounds right in your lap - amazing presence not heard on most of his recordings with his groups. The tempi range all over the place, not stuck in a comfortable middle tempo that would be the easy way out in the absence of a rhythm section. Another interesting aspect here, as pointed out in Benny Green's fine liner notes (unreadable in the reproduction of the original LP liner but also helpfully re-printed in normal-sized type) is that many of the tunes move back and forth between major and minor keys. That's like catnip for me - love that feeling. Not all the jazz classics chosen by some reissue labels are really classics, but this one couldn't be more of a classic. Tracks: Caravan, Mozambique, Autumn Leaves, Close Your Eyes, Blues for Bird, Dizzy Atmosphere, Alone Together, Con Alma.  Purchase Here

- John Henry

Send Your Comments to AUDIOPHILE AUDITION!

Return to the Home Page for September 2002

Back to Top of This Page

To Index of CD Reviews for month