Hi-Res Reviews - February 2003,
Pt. 1 of 3 - Jazz - SACDs and DVD-As
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We’ll start out this month with three very welcome SACDs from Groove Note...
The Anthony Wilson Trio - Our Gang - (Wilson, guitar/Joe Bagg, Hammond B3/Mark Ferber, drums) - Groove Note Stereo SACD GRV1008-3:

I reviewed the gold CD version of this session over a year ago.
Wilson is a guitarist of today with not only amazing chops but also gangbuster writing abilities. He’s the son of famed (and under appreciated) big band leader Gerald Wilson. This album grew out of his love of a sort of Harlem barroom jazz exemplified by B3 virtuoso Jack McDuff’s recordings with sax and guitar. Three of tunes here, including the title one, are Wilson’s, and his nearly ten-minute opus on the Beatles’ I Want You is light years beyond the usual jazz variations-on-a-tune. The eight tracks close out with a lovely version of Ellington’s Prelude to a Kiss. B3-tickler Joe Bagg is no slouch here - his pedal-shuffling will give your subwoofer(s) a run for their money if you have them. I’m a huge B3 fan - extending to really enjoying music of a funkier nature than I normally listen to as long as it has a B3 in it.

The original recording was done with DSD, so this version is pretty much what was heard in the studio. Bernie Grundman did the mastering. Hard to believe an audiophile gold CD could suffer from anything characterized as grunge, but next to this pristine and transparent-sounding SACD it now does. There’s also more gut-level impact to the pedal notes of the B3. This is just about the best jazz stereo SACD I’ve auditioned to date. Tracks: Our Gang, Chitlins Con Carne, Britta’s Blues, Time Flies, Road Trip, Luck Be a Lady, I Want You, Prelude to a Kiss. Purchase Here

- John Henry

LA4 - Just Friends (Laurindo Almeida, Bud Shank, Ray Brown, Jeff Hamilton) - Concord/Groove Note Stereo SACD GRV1016-3:

This short (35 min.) 1978 session by the chamber jazz quartet opens with a delightful arrangement of Bach’s Prelude in C Minor and closes with a polite but swinging version of Chick Corea’s gem Spain. The ensemble built around guitarist Almeida was considered “jazz light” and after leaving he group reedman Shank referred to it as the “LA snore.” Actually, their tracks that were my favorites were the ones with Shank on flute instead of alto sax, and none of these five tracks feature that instrument - which blended beautifully with Almedia’s Spanish guitar. Nearly all of Concord’s catalog has long had a high standing with jazz-loving audiophiles, but the improved SACD resolution allows hearing even more (soundwise if not lengthwise) of what’s on the original tapes. Purchase Here

The Ray Brown Trio featuring Gene Harris - Soular Energy - Concord/Groove Note Stereo SACD GRV1015-3:

More Ray Brown following on the recent passing of the most-recorded bassist. This session, one of the many Concord recordings by Brown, dates from l984. In addition to Harris - known for his work in the 60s piano trio The Three Sounds - tenor man Red Holloway and guitarist Emily Remler both sit in on the track Mistreated But Undefeated Blues. The disc title might allude to Harris’ soulful pianistics, but he also can be swingingly lyrical, as on Teach Me Tonight. I remember audiophiles back in the 80s revered Concord’s engineer Phil Edwards for his masterful recordings and were sure he was a proponent of super-minimalist single-point miking. He wasn’t, but his discings are probably the equal of Rudy Van Gelder’s for Blue Note and others. Again, there’s more transparency and depth in general and deeper extension in Brown’s bass here than in the Concord originals, including the LPs played on a good turntable. It’s interesting that Groove Note is now bringing some of the great Concord masters to hi res via SACD as a counterpart to the Hi-Res Music label’s series of Concord stereo DVD-A reissues. Tracks: Exactly Like You, Cry Me a River, Teach Me Tonight, Take the A Train, Mistreated But Undefeated Blues, That’s All, Easy Does It, Sweet Georgia Brown. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Dave Koz - The Dance (with various guest performers) - Capitol DVD-A 72434-99458-9-0:

Koz is a smooth jazz saxist and host of a syndicated radio series on smooth jazz. He’s superior musically to Kenny G and this disc modifies the often cloying sameness of smooth jazz sessions with lots of guest artists and a variety of musical settings. Plus of course the added excitement of hi-res surround sound. The extras include a complete video of the title tune, featuring vocalist BeBe Winans. There is also a text biography of Koz that told me a lot more than I really wanted to know. Burt Bacharach joins in on Don’t Give Up - his own song. Acoustic guitarist Marc Antoine is heard on You Are Me I Am You, and vocalists Luther Vandross and Montell Jordan are heard on other tracks. Composer arrangers Jeff Lorber and David Benoit also worked with Koz on most of the tracks on the disc. On Cuban Hideaway, Koz and Luis Conte’s Latin percussion are the only players; Koz multi-tracked 50 separate tracks of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes to create this spirited and rich two-minute sax-tapestry of hot Havana music which is cleverly doled out around the surround field. It may be still smooth jazz but it jumps! Tracks: Together Again, I’m Waiting for You, Can’t Let You Go, Careless Whisper, Love Is On the Way, Know You By Heart, Surrender, You Are Me I Am You, The Dance, Cuban Hideaway, The Bright Side, Don‘t Give Up, Right By Your Side, I’ll Be There. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Two Miles Davis Double-Disc Reissues - an SACD Event!...
Miles Davis - Big Fun - Columbia Legacy Stereo SACD C2S 63973 (2 CDs):

This double LP album recorded between l969 and l972 has not been one considered one of the major ones in Miles ouvre, but it stands out as a more pastoral and accessible outgrowth of the famous Bitches Brew session. Miles creative jazz-fusion path-breaking efforts of this period are marked by influences of East Indian music and funk equally. He makes use of multi-tracking for some amazing-sounding solos. Four different ensembles recorded the music, most of them 11-member aggregations. Among the big names in jazz-fusion of the day here were Chick Corea, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. The original LPs had one single drawn-out selection per vinyl side, and to these four have been added four more shorter bonus tracks which were previously only available in a 4-CD set of the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions. The purposely-distorted sounds Miles achieves are heard with all their distorts even more clearly exposed than before; this takes some getting used to. Tracks: Great Expectations, Ife, Recollections, Trevere, Go Ahead John, Lonely Fire, The Little Blue Frog, Yaphet. Purchase Here

Miles Davis at Fillmore West - Black Beauty - Columbia Legacy Stereo SACD C2S 65138 (2 CDs):

Another originally 2-LP collection from around 1970 and Miles’ opening of the whole jazz-rock-fusion genre. He had boasted that he could assemble the world’s best rock band, and he began playing pop festivals around the world as well as appearing at both of Bill Graham’s Fillmore venues, East and West. Recorded live at the original San Francisco Fillmore, this is a smaller ensemble than on the Big Fun set, but with some of the same people - Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. They did four of the tunes from the Bitches Brew session, several running over 12 minutes in length, but each is a re conceiving of the original material. We have an even more funk-fusion bag here than The Big Fun set. The experimental attitude is pointed up even more by the live recording situation and the (by today’s standards) rather primitive nature of the electronics they were using. There are major sections that seem to be more hiss, hum and distortion than music- making. I realize that Miles sells well in any format, and there have already been quite a few of his albums reissued as SACDs (plus lots more issued only in Japan). But I’m prompted to question whether these particular tapes were appropriate for SACD reissue since the sonics are so rough to being with. Track: Directions, Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, Willie Nelson, I Fall in Love Too Easily, Sanctuary, It’s About Time, Bitches Brew, Masqualero, Spanish Key/The Theme. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Misha Mengelberg, piano - Solo - Buzz Records ZZ 75033 Stereo SACD:

I reviewed this rugged European individualist’s 44.1 CD in November 2001. Mengelberg is probably the most important pianist playing today in the wild Dutch improvised music scene. His own ensemble is a mix of many different influences other than standard jazz and classical. It is much like the Willem Breuker Kollectiv except that more of what Mengelberg does is atonal and free-jazz-oriented. The same goes for this solo piano session of nine tracks. The only English words in the list of Dutch titles are Richard Wagner and Bill Evans, but don't expect variations on tunes by either one here! While at first Mengelberg sounds like Cecil Taylor at his wildest it soon becomes apparent that he is actually more lyrical and subtle in his keyboard-storming. Just free yourself of all key and tonal associations and dig the sound clusters and maniacal runs up and down the keyboard.

So what does SACD bring to this admittedly not very accessible music? Amazingly, for me, it makes it more accessible! (Reminds me of Peter Seller’s Indian production of My Fair Lady in which they took an Untouchable girl and made her Touchable.) Originally there was only one track on the disc I could really get into - now I really dig at least half of them. It appears that the added realism of the piano sound and its impact due to the DSD recording process made clearer the musical sense behind the wild and woolly keyboard attacks. I even tried the CD layer on this hybrid disc just to make sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me and sure enough - it was more of a mish-mash, elbows on the keys sort of sound instead of avantgarde clarity.

- John Sunier

A pair of interesting Japanese SACDs that bring up as many question marks as those Japanese web sites that your browser can’t translate...

Seigen Ono Ensemble at the Blue Note Tokyo - Saidera Records multichannel SACD SD-1016H:

Both of these imported SACDs come in thin bookish cases 6 by 8 1/4 inches in size. The notes are mostly in Japanese. Ono is an electric guitarist, composer, producer, recording/mixing/mastering engineer in Toyko, and his band for this live session recorded in 2000 has trumpet, trombone, electric piano, charango, alto sax, percussion, electric bass, voices, and a turntablist. Nearly all the music is Ono’s. Ono has some very personal theories on the Esthetics of Sound. He feels that the spaces between the notes are even more important than the notes themselves. This is where the “ki” or energy exists and when the ki is captured on a recording it is sure to be a success with listeners. He demands the best acoustics and recordings to serve the purpose of understanding the music, and he feels that multichannel DSD recordings can carry both sound and silence with ki.

As you would expect, this is fusion-oriented but not heavy funk. It’s a sort of Japanese sumi brush sketch of jazz fusion - often sparse, with a chamber-music sort of sound. Several of the tunes have a strong south-of the-border flavor - heightened by the frequent strumming by Ono of his Mexican charango. There is even a tango. Everything is placed solidly and transparently in front of you in a sort of horseshoe soundstage with the audience around you - heard mainly when they applaud. Even the CD layer sounds very good, but the SACD is of course better. The vocalist on three of the tracks is second rate but the wide-ranging playing skills of the other performers reminded me of a sort of Japanese version of the Wm. Breuker Kollektief. Tracks: She is She, Hanabi, Anchovy Pasta, Kind of Red and White, But It’s True, Shadows of Charango, Yulayula, Picnic, White Tango, Nuit de la Danse.

Seigen Ono - Maria and Maria - (with John Zorn, Peter Scherer, Marc Ribot, Joey Baron and others) - Saidera Records multichannel SACD SD-1017H:

This session of more (and some of the same) originals by Ono was recorded direct to DSD in a NYC studio, also in 2000. Ono conducts eight fellow alternative music composers and performers, including Zorn on alto sax and Scherer on keyboards. There are two guitarists, a violist and up to two cellos on some tracks. No vocals this time, and with the strings this takes on more of an ECM-sounding session. Tempos are more laid back, the mood is more lyrical, and there are more extremely quiet sections and simpler sounds from just one or two instruments at a time. Some lovely solos from both Zorn’s sax and the lead cellist. It has the looser and more believable sound of a live recording rather than the slickness of a multi tracked studio session. The instruments are closer and more present than on the above disc. Ono plays keyboards on two of the tunes, and just conducts on the others. Tracks: Dragonfish, Maria 4, She is She, Maria 9, Anchovy Pasta, Picnic, Stasimo, Maria 8, Maria 6, Dessert at Desert, Maria 5, Maria 3, Flying Fish Wedding.
These two imported discs are handled by Down Town Music Gallery in NYC -

- John Henry

A skilled Italian jazz pianist on two hi-res outings up next...
Enrico Pieranunzi Quartet - Alone Together (Pieranunzi, piano; Philip Catherine, guitar; Hein Van de Geyn, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums; guest: Eric Vloeimans, trumpet) - Challenge Records Stereo SACD SACHR 75056:

Some fine European jazz here, with only the drummer being American. Pieranunzi is one of Italy’s top mainstream jazz pianists and lists Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner as influences. Belgian guitarist Catherine’s style varies from Djangoesque to fusion, bop and experimental. He came to fame in a duo with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. Bassist Van de Geyn has frequently played with Pieranunzi and his fine works for bass and woodwinds on another Challenge SACD were reviewed here last month - in the Classical section. The dozen tracks are all standards but their treatments are pleasantly non-standard. The sonics could hardly be bettered except by being multichannel. Tracks: Speak Low, My Foolish Heart, What Is This Thing Called Love, Sweet and Lovely, You’ve Changed, Just One of Those Things, Alone Together, Tenderly, How Deep Is the Ocean, You Don’t Know What Love Is, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, Moonglow. Purchase Here

Enrico Pieranunzi Trio (with Hein Van de Geyn, bass; Hans Van Oosterhout, drums) - Improvised Forms for Trio - Challenge Records Stereo SACD SA CHR 75032:

Pieranunzi turns to a more ascetic and spare style in these 18 short pieces for piano trio. Titled only “form 1, form 2,” and so on, they work with fairly simple means of expression and some would fit as well into a concert of new classical music as to a jazz session. They are often fairly chromatic but always tonal. The drummer is subtle and imaginative, reminding me of the MJQ’s Connie Kay. The piano tone is crystalline and realistic, providing greater listening involvement to these thoughtful and sometimes quirky improvisations.Purchase Here

- John Henry

Eric Vloeimans, trumpet - Umai (with John Taylor, piano; Furio de Castri, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums) - Challenge Records Stereo SACD SA CHR 75061:

The guest trumpet player from the Pieranunzi Trio here gets a shot at his own disc. The drummer is also the same as with the other groups. The 13 tracks are mostly Vloeimans originals or written with his pianist Taylor. There is one from his bassist on this date as well as bassist Dave Holland’s Four Winds. Vloeimans has a nice trumpet timbre and his music shows - as with much European jazz - somewhat more classical music influence than typical American jazz. The clean DSD reproduction makes this album a treat (and an antidote after the crudely-distorted Miles Davis trumpet on his four SACDs reviewed above). A couple of the tunes reminded me of another super-tasteful trumpet player - Art Farmer.
Tracks; Dreamland, Four Winds, Zorrro, C.H., Umai, Bradshaw, Villa Borghese, Duet #1, Summersault, Isis, Roadmovie, Intro to Requiem, Requiem. Purchase Here

- John Henry

****Multichannel fan Brian Moura has created a special non-commercial web site just for other enthusiasts of multichannel Super Audio Discs. If you would like to know exactly what is available in this format both in the U.S. and elsewhere, and what is coming soon, his main page will tell you where you want to go to (scroll down a bit) - with lists for:

Multichannel SACD Albums Now Available
Multichannel SACD Albums - New Releases
Multichannel SACD Albums - Now Available - Only in Europe
Multichannel SACD Albums - Now Available - Only in Japan
Multichannel SACD Albums Coming Soon

Go on to Part 2 of Hi-Res Reviews

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