Hi-Res Audio Reviews
December 2002 - Part 3 of 3 -Pop & Jazz  
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Big Brother & The Holding Company with Janis Joplin - Cheap Thrills - Columbia Legacy multichannel (SACD only) CS 65784:

Back in l968 the original LP of this was No. 1 on the Billboard chart seemingly forever. It came out the year following Joplin’s spectacular “debut” at the Monterey Pop Festival (which DVD reissue has just been released). She showed that these kids weren’t just mimicking the great blues artists (as much early Stones and Beatles were doing) but that a 24 year-old white girl from Texas really could do the blues right. I still have the original LP; it looks like an disc from someone else’s collection - pretty well-used. I think there’s an explanation for that I won’t go into right now...

Suffice it to say that now for the first time - with the greatly increased definition of SACD - I can hear that only a portion of the frequently shattering distortion of the guitars of James Gurley and Sam Andrew was due to the poor LP pressing and/or tracking inconsistencies of my phono cartridge at the time. Most of it really was there in the original live performance tapes and now comes across surrounding the listener in all its raw glory. But on Janis’s voice the only distortion is her vocal chords strangling themselves. Live tracks made at San Francisco’s Winterland and in Detroit are filled out with studio sessions done in LA and NYC. The live crowd sounds on the surrounds add to the you-are-there feeling on the live tracks - this is a quantum step beyond Jazz at the Pawnshop, lemmee tell ‘ya. Four bonus tracks not included on the original LP are provided on the SACD. Too bad the famous front cover cartoon by Robert Crumb - so well-known it was recently parodied by the cartoon strip Mutts - can’t be seen in its original 12-inch size. Tracks: Combination of the Two, I Need a Man to Love, Summertime, Piece of My Heart, Turtle Blues, Oh Sweet Mary, Ball and Chain, Roadblock, Flower in the Sun, Catch Me Daddy, Magic of Love. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Stan Getz / Joao Gilberto, featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim (with Astrud Gilberto, vocals; Tommy Williams, bass; Milton Banana, drums) - Verve Stereo SACD (Only) 314 589 595-2:

This is the first of the initial SACD releases from Universal Music that I auditioned. It appears that some of these are hybrid discs and some are not. Hopefully that will be corrected soon since it only works against one of the primary advantages that Sony and Philips listed for the format when it was first introduced. This l963 album was the one that - with its predecessor, Jazz Samba - introduced most people to bossa nova (although I had already been captivated by the earlier Bud Shank/Laurindo Almeida album on World-Pacific.) It also introduced the sexy voice of Astrud Gilberto to the masses. Her husband Joao merely told Getz “she could sing at the recording.” It was obvious she wasn’t very professional and she never became so, but that was part of her delicious appeal. Hearing this classic with the deep definition sonics of SACD makes it almost like a fresh new experience rather than re-visiting an old record from nearly four decades ago. are the tracks: The Girl from Ipanema, Doralice, Para Machucha, Desafinado, Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, So Danco Samba, O Grande Amor, Dreamer, 45 rpm version of The Girl from Ipanema, 45 rpm version of Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars. Purchase Here

- John Henry

The Best of Mickey Hart - Over the Edge and Back - 360 Degrees/Ryko DVD-Audio DVDA 10494:

Percussionist extraordinaire and Grateful Dead drummer Hart has collected percussion instruments from all over the world, written books on the far-reaching culture of drumming, and operated his own record label emphasizing percussion performances. For this highly effective multichannel release he went back to revisit eight of his big hits of the past and remixed them them especially for this DVD-Audio disc. Then he added his unreleased percussion score fo the opening ceremonies of the l996 Olympics in Atlanta. Each track has a detailed explanation on the screen, and a complete list of all performers in the enclosed note booklet. My favorite was the track Sweet Sixteen from his Diga Rhythm Band - a huge percussion ensemble using students and teachers from the Ali Akhbar College of Indian Music in Marin County, California. Another track was selected from the percussion ensemble Hart put together to provide soundtrack effects for Copolla’s Apocalypse Now movie. Hart’s remixes for surround are extremely effective and most involving. This is a great demonstration surround album as well as showoff vehicle for multiple subwoofers! Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Eric Clapton - Reptile - Reprise DVD-Audio (also DTS) 9 47966-9:

This disc has changed my jazz-positive negative opinion about all contemporary rock. It had a similar effect on me of the Beatles albums from Rubber Soul onward; no wonder this has been such a big seller for Clapton - probably the finest guitarist in rock today. First, the album title shouldn’t be miscontrued; reptile was used in Clapton’s youth in Britain as a term of endearment. This is start to finish a very optimistic, nostalgic, positive-feeling album - none of that dark and violent stuff of so much rock today. The players Clapton assembled for the album are superb and just right for each of the 14 tunes. They include Steve Gadd on guitar and electronic drums, Paulinho da Costa on percussion, Billy Preston, Paul Carrack and Joe Sample on B3, piano and Wurlitzer organ, guitarists Andy Fairweather Low and Doyle Bramhall II, with backup vocals on nearly all tracks by The Impressions! With great tunes by Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Ray Charles and himself, Clapton couldn’t loose. The surround mixes are a delight. This may be the best all-around surround album of pop I’ve yet auditioned of either of the new formats! Purchase Here

- John Henry

Neil Young - Harvest - Reprise 9 48100-9 DVD Audio:
Yes - Fragile - Elektra/Rhino RD 78249 DVD Audio:

Harvest was Neil Young's commercial breakthrough; the songs Heart of Gold and Old Man got extensive airplay and brought him into the mainstream, which he says he "soon became bored with and headed for the ditch." This in no way should diminish the importance of Harvest, whose songs still seem as fresh and relevant as when the album was first released 30 years ago.

The DVD-Audio version of Harvest comes packaged in a deluxe "30th Anniversary" package which replicates the look and feel of the original album artwork and even includes a fold-out of the original liner sleeve with its hand-written lyrics. The disc itself is really a delight and easy to navigate with cool menus. Music options are numerous, with hi-res stereo and multichannel mixes, and DTS and DD mixes for non-DVD-A players. There's a really cool vintage interview segment from the original recording dates with Neil in front of the barn used in the album. Both stereo and surround mixes are well done, with judicious use of the surround speakers.

Fragile, like Harvest above, was Yes' breakthrough album and contained the top-ten single Roundabout. The album was a truly creative peak for Yes and provided all the diverse elements of classical, electronic, prog-rock and acoustic music that would set the stage for eclectic albums from them for the next twenty years. Yes has always been a personal favorite of mine, and I was really excited and curious (concerned) to see how this DVD-A package turned out, and I wasn't disappointed.

The surround mix is aggressive, but not overly chaotic. The album retains all of its original dynamic impact, and I found myself truly immersed in the music. The disc contains the same hi-res, DTS and DD mixes as Harvest, with really cool animated menus and a timeline feature that walks you through the band's constantly changing lineup and history.

Probably the biggest complaint with both discs will come from the hardcore hi-res supporters who don't want to have a monitor or television in the listening room, as if its presence defiles the entire experience. I don't know what the answer to the current DVD-A and SACD format war is, but as long as Warner and the DVD-A camp continues to give us high-quality, enjoyable experiences such as Harvest and Fragile, why can't we have both? Purchase Here

-- Tom Gibbs

Brazilian Jazz (various performers) - DTS Entertainment DVD-A (also DTS) 69286-01095-9-9:

What a kick! A survey of real Brazilian jazz today, all recorded on the spot in a studio in Rio. And in an envelopment of surround that makes use of the many varied and exotic percussion instruments common to Brazilian music. The masters are all 24 bit, some 96K and others 48K the differences are minimal. There’s also a gallery of very colorful abstract paintings from an artist who may or may not be Brazilian (he’s based in Paris) These also provide the backgrounds for the title information on each track, also listing the specific performers. None of the 14 tunes titles may sound familiar but when you hear Jobim’s wonderful O Morro Nao Tem Vez it should definitely ring a bell. The big band-sounding track titled Samba No Pe sounds exactly like the 1930s Ellington Band ensconced in Rio! The opening of “Africa” spins the drums around you in a circle prior to the actual melody’s start. “Forro” must mean “train” in Portuguese because not only is the compelling rhythmic ostinato in “Forro do ABC” suggestive of a steam locomotive’s sounds, but once in a while there’s a subtle whistle just in case you didn’t get the musical point. The mostly wordless vocal sounds are often beautifully integrated into the whole colorfully exotic mix of sound and rhythm. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Tony Bennett - Playin’ With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues (with the Ralph Sharon Quartet) - RPM Records/Columbia multichannel SACD (only) CS85833:

I was reminded of Sinatra’s Duet album by this collection from superb vocalist Bennett. Only Sinatra didn’t do an entire album of the blues, and he had a big orchestra and all sorts of gimmicks (most of the guest voices were done separately later, many phoned in). Only three of the 15 tunes are Bennett solos. His star-studded guest list: B.B. King in Let the Good Times Roll, Ray Charles in Evenin’, Bonnie Raitt in I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues, Steve Wonder in Everyday I Have the Blues, Billy Joel in his own New York State of Mind, K.D. Lang in Keep the Faith, Baby, Natalie Cole in Stormy Weather, Sheryl Crow in Good Morning Heatache, and Diana Krall in Alright, Okay, You Win. Phil Ramone produced the album, and it’s a winner. The opening track with Diana Krall is recorded with oodles of hall reverberation in front channels, but this abates on later tracks. In fact, I’m finding subtle differences between tracks’ acoustics stand out more in relief now via SACD/DSD. In the closing track many of the guest duetists come back for a clever group number which is also the title of the disc. Rather subtle but enhancing use of the surrounds on some of the tracks, while on some others various percussion effects stand out. The vocalists are all up front as they should be. Purchase Here

- John Henry

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