36 SACD & DVD-A Reviews
July-Aug. 2003 - Part 3 of 3 - Mostly Jazz
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Steamin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet (John Coltrane, tenor sax; Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums) - Prestige/Mobile Fidelity Mono SACD UDSACD2019:

We kick off this issue’s jazz SACD reviews with a mono entry, oddly enough. Kudos to Mo-Fi for being honest in clearly labeling the disc as mono on the back of the jewel box and on the actual disc. Dating from l956, it’s one of the famous series of four Prestige titles released just before the trumpeter signed up with Columbia Records. (The others are Cookin,’ Workin,’ and Relaxin.’ ) It’s another Rudy Van Gelder “deep mono” gem, and no excuses need be made for the lack of stereo spatiality. Perhaps a bit of a grouse about the obviously poor condition of the piano Garland is stuck with, but Gelder’s miking preserves its out-of-tuneness perfectly. Both Coltrane and Davis sound fantastic, with a presence never heard before on any of the various audiophile reissues of these sessions. The breathiness of Davis’ approach is presented more clearly than I have ever heard before, and Chambers’ bass notes reach deep with a palpable feeling of the large instrument originating them. The opening Surrey with the Fringe on Top is at nine minutes the major track on the album, and a super-classic of bebop improvising genius. Tracks: Surrey with the Fringe on Top, Salt Peanuts, Something I Dreamed Last Night, Diane, Well You Needn’t, When I Fall in Love. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Norah Jones – Come Away With Me (with Jesse Harris – Guitars, Lee Alexander – Bass, others) – Blue Note 7243 5 41747 2 8 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD:

This disc is part of Blue Note’s first entry into the SACD market, and has stirred up some controversy among the jazz purists out there. Is it Jazz? Probably not in the strictest sense, but the sparse instrumentation (bass, drums, piano, guitar), the occasional covered standard and the bluesy inflections given to some of the songs do make a compelling argument. I think most disagreements are rooted in Norah’s vocal stylings, which lend more of a pop-ish feel to the songs, and the fact that most of the songs are lyric-driven, with very little room for the instrumentalists to stretch out. Maybe the fact that the album won eight Grammies (Eight!) has biased some folks’ opinions.

Technically, the disc offers an aggressive surround mix; this is one of a few discs where I actually preferred the stereo mix to the surround. The surround mix seems unfocused and bass-shy; switching to the stereo mix restored the correct balance to everything, and this is a really well recorded disc, anyway, with lots of ambience and a good sense of the recorded space. I found myself quickly seduced by the slick production values and have listened to this disc repeatedly over the last few weeks. Very highly recommended. Tracks: Don't Know Why; Seven Years; Cold Cold Heart; Feelin' The Same Way; Come Away With Me; Shoot The Moon; Turn Me On; Lonestar; I've Got To See You Again; Painter Song; One Flight Down; Nightingale; The Long Day Is Over; The Nearness Of You. Purchase Here

– Tom Gibbs

Al di Meola - Flesh On Flesh (with his sextet, plus two alto saxes and a trumpet; special guest: Gonzalo Rubalcaba on Fender Rhodes piano) - Telarc multichannel SACD-63543:

Di Meola is known for nearly always venturing beyond the standard electric guitar-based small group by playing both acoustic and various electric guitars and synthesizers himself, as well as keyboards and percussion in this case. Plus this album adds the special keyboard sound of the Fender Rhodes, flutes, panpipes, conga drums and even a calliope! Several of the tracks show di Meola’s strong interests in various world musics, Brazilian music (a Gismonti tune), Tango (one by Piazzolla), and the closer is a funky version of the Chick Corea classic Señor Mouse. Leave it to the guitarist’s imagination and good taste shown in his own arrangements of all these tracks that the wide spectrum of musical styles and instrumentation all meld perfectly into an exciting whole, and the increased resolution of the SACD mix brings out the subtle details that might be otherwise missed. Tracks: Zona Desperata, Innamorata, Meninas, Flesh On Flesh, Fugata, Deep and Madly, Saffire Soleil, Señor Mouse. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Quincy Jones – Ultimate Collection – Hip-O 314 583 565-2 – Stereo Hybrid SACD:

This collection covers Quincy Jones’ fertile period from the mid-seventies through the present, when he had gained much more of a reputation as a producer and arranger than strictly as a musician. Many of the songs here have been standard radio fare throughout that same period, and served as the launching pad for many vocal careers, including James Ingram, Patti Austin and Ashford and Simpson. The list of backup musicians appearing throughout is stellar and lengthy.

Most of the material here is a little more mainstream pop and r&b than I usually indulge in, but some of the music is a lot of fun, great for parties. Tunes like Ai No Corrida and The Secret Garden (with really cool spoken intro by Barry White) stand out. The stereo SACD layer is the best choice here and really opens things up compared to the Redbook CD layer. The production values are all over the place, however; with music as multi-tracked as this, the end result is bound to suffer somewhat, although the more recent tracks fare much better sonically than the earlier ones. Recommended for die-hard fans or fans of the genre only. Tracks: If I Ever Lose This Heaven; Everything Must Change; Body Heat; Is It Love That We’re Missin’; Mellow Madness; Stuff Like That; Ai No Corrida; Razzamatazz; Just Once; Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me; One Hundred Ways; I’ll Be Good To You; The Secret Garden; Tomorrow (A Better You, Better Me); You Put A Move On My Heart; I’m Yours; Everything. Purchase Here

– Tom Gibbs

Oregon - Beyond Words (Paul McCandless, reeds; Glen Moore, bass and electronics; Ralph Towner, classical and 12-string guitar) - Chesky multichannel SACD 252:

Another make-up-your-mind labelling problem here: The cover clearly shows the Chesky multichannel icon and is labeled such and the disc is such except with rather subtle surround information; yet inside the insert it states the album was recorded direct to two track. And speaking of numbers, I was disappointed to see Oregon is now a trio, after having been a quintet for some time. The extremely talented core performers are still here, but I recall more exciting and varied times with one of my favorite small groups (especially in person) when they had Indian percussionist extraordinaire Trilok Gurtu doing his thing with them. A couple of their familiar tunes here will resonant with longtime fans: The Silence of a Candle, and Witchi-Tai-To. McCandless continues to impress with his sinuous melody-spinning on soprano sax, English horn, oboe and what have you. Some of the tracks evolve into rather raucous free jazz blowing sessions that I don’t recall ever hearing from Oregon before. Not my top Oregon album, but surround fans will surely want to hear them in multichannel for the first time. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Grover Washington Jr. - Prime Cuts (The Columbia Years 1987-1999) - Columbia stereo SACD-Only CS69722:

I seem to have somehow missed this reissue which is dated 1999, meaning it must have come out prior to the Grover Washington Jr DVD-A I have already reviewed here (Winelight 2002). I was more familiar with the saxophonist’s CTI period than with his Columbia sessions. The DVD-A masters dated from 1980 and were a gem of romantic pop jazz with great taste. This SACD, as the subtitle suggests, deals with a later period and shows more influences of funk and soul music. While the superb pianist Hank Jones appears on several tracks and Washington switches around regularly among the various voices of the saxophone family for variety, I found the album less enjoyable to my ears than the DVD-A. A little funk goes a long way with me, man. The female backup vocalists especially got on my nerves. And the sonics didn’t seem terribly special either, perhaps due partly to originating from so many different sessions over the years. With all the special production elements here it’s unfortunate there wasn’t enough separate tracks to do a multichannel mix, because I think it could have added a lot of appeal to some of these tracks. After all we recently reviewed a 5.1 mix of Crosby and Nash - just the two with their guitars and nothing else.

Tracks: Take Five, Sacred Kind of Love, Only for You, Please Send Me Someone to Love, Strawberry Moon, Summer Nights, Heat Index, Next Exit, Blues for DP, Soulful Strut, The Love in His Infant Eyes, The Night Fantastic, Protect the Dream. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Doc Powell, electric & acoustic guitars - 97th & Columbus (With guests George Duke, Harvey Mason, Marcus Miller and Patrice Rushen) - Heads Up multichannel SACD HUSA 9073:

Hadn’t heard of Powell before but he proves a hard-driving and steadfastly rhythmic electric guitarist, even when he’s soloing on the electrified classical acoustic guitar. The address of the title is the location of a small jazz club on the upper westside of Manhattan where legions of top jazz performers often tried out new material or broke in their new acts. Seven of the ten tunes are Powell originals, and in the closing What’s Going On Nat Adderly Jr. wrote the string arrangements and Luther Vandross handled the vocal arrangements with a quartet of singers including himself. George Duke is heard on Fender Rhodes on several tracks. Nice useage of the surrounds for vocals and some of the percussion effects - not distracting but making the listener more a part of the total experience. If you like your guitar playing in the smooth jazz/funky vein, this is the SACD to surround yourself with. Tracks: The Flavor,Breezin, 97th & Columbus, Two Hearts, Sun Goddess, Thank You, Olet's Jam, Ode to Chet, Upward Bound, What's Going On. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Bill Charlap, piano - Stardust - The Bill Charlap Trio Plays the Music of Hoagy Carmichael (with Kenny Washington, drums; Peter Washington, bass; Guests: Tony Bennett, Shirley Horn, Jim Hall, Frank Wess) - Blue Note multichannel SACD 72435-41746-2:

No shock but all sorts of awe... Tony Bennett is quoted in the booklet notes: “When we lose our awe, we don’t give the music what it deserves, which means we don’t give ourselves and our fellow musicians and our audiences what they deserve either.” And the masterful singer - heard here on I Get Along Without You Very Well - says he’s in complete awe over the phenomenal talents of Charlap and his trio. He makes all these Carmichael standards sound fresh and new with a strong air of the unexpected. Most players would probably consider devoting a whole album to one composer - however wide-ranging Carmichael proves to be - was plenty and not even think of bringing in two of the greatest singers of the day plus one of the greatest jazz guitar masters and a pioneer reeds virtuoso. Each guest gets one tune, except for Wess, who cops two. The recording engineer details how the recording proceeded just like a live session even though it was in a studio environment. Mostly first takes. The musicians are all up front but you really feel you’re in the space with them when in multichannel mode. Tracks: Jubilee, I Get Along Without You Very Well, Rockin’ Chair, I Walk with Music, Two Sleepy People, The Nearness of You, One Morning in May, Blue Orchids, Georgia On My Mind, Stardust, Skylark. Purchase Here

- John Henry

The Gene Harris Trio Plus One (Harris, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Mickey Roker, drums; Plus One: Stanley Turrentine, tenor sax) - Groove Note stereo SACD-Only GRV1019-3:

The audiophile labels seem to be rediscovering the late Ray Brown since he’s gone. A great bassist like Brown is a perfect choice, since one of the myriad benefits of DSD technology is a more extended and solid deep bass portion of the frequency spectrum. The masters date from l985, recorded live at NYC’s Blue Note by Concord Records. It is the successful reissue of several of Concord’s greatest albums on other labels which make more of their audiophile pretentions which finally convinced Concord to reissue their very own multichannel SACDs directly, which happened last month.

Their first batch doesn’t include any already released by others, so though only stereo, this SACD is a winner. Harris’ style at the ivories starts with the boogie and blues of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, moves thru Oscar Peterson and hints at Erroll Garner’s sly humor. And Turrrentine is a super-soulful saxist who supports Harris’ blues-based improvs to the utmost. Tracks: Gene’s Lament, Misty, Uptown Sop, Things Ain’t What They Used to Be, Yours Is My Heart Alone, Battle Hymn of the Republic. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Dianne Reeves - The Calling (Celebrating Sarah Vaughan) - (With Mulgrew Miller & Billy Childs, pianos; Romero Lubambo, acoustic guitar; Clark Terry, trumpet & others; Arranged & orchestrated by Billy Childs and Robert Freedman) - Blue Note multichannel SACD 7243 5-41978-2:

This was a major production in tribute to the great singer who took jazz vocalizing to near-operatic heights. But it wasn’t pieced together as many such albums are; all musicians were in the studio at the same time working together. There is a 35-person orchestra and nine jazz musicians plus Dianne. Reeves idolized Vaughan from the beginning of the younger singer’s career. She ignored musical boundaries in her song selections just as Vaughan had done, and her versatile voice makes her an excellent choice for this Vaughan tribute production. The producer, by the way, was Reeves cousin George Duke. The surround mix is encompassing without being gimmicky; it really puts the listener right in the front seat of the nightclub. Songs from throughout Vaughan’s long career are presented in the dozen tracks: Lullaby of Birdland, Send in the Clowns, Speak Low, Obsession, If You Could See Me Now, I Remember Sarah, Key Largo, I Hadn’t Anyone ‘Til You, Fascinating Rhythm, Embraceable You, The Call, Misty. Purchase Here

- John Henry

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