Hi-Res Reviews - March 2003,
Pt. 1 of 3 - Rock & Pop - SACD and DVD-A
click on any cover to go to review

Blue Man Group - "Audio" - DVD-A, Dolby Digital, and DTS
plus Audio set with test tones, videos about the music and instruments - Virgin Records 7243 4 77893 9 7:

The Blue Man Group was formed in 1987 as a performance art group in New York City. The original members were Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink. On this album the are joined by Larry Heinemann, Ian Pai, Christian Dyas and Todd Perlmutter as major players. Eleven other musicians play a more limited musical role. They are known for their tight blue masks and gloves, while wearing black clothes. They also play many unusual instruments, many of which are of their own design. Many of their instruments are made from PVC tubing. They also use other common objects as percussive instruments. Some standard instruments are also used. The list is exhaustive - including such items as Upsidedown Bass, Drumbone, Ribbon Crasher, Piano Smasher, Aronophonic, Brumulum, Drum Wall, and Dumpster. I would consider their music as experimental but not dissonant percussive music. They are currently playing at the Luxor Theatre in Las Vegas.

In their live performances there is much in the way of theatrics on stage. Unfortunately the disc is a DVD-A type of video with still pictures (though 16:9 format and very dramatic), the name of the song and the instruments used on the song. The music is intriguing. It has a very primitive drive and yet with some melodies you can enjoy. The surround channels add a lot to immersing yourself in the music. I have as yet not received my Marantz player (when writing this), so I could just play the DVD-Video side. Sound quality is above average but the recording could have used a little more bass transient ability. When you start playing the album, do not make the mistake of turning up the first cut. I do not know if the first part is deliberately recorded at a low volume or if the engineer decided the level was to low and raised it a couple of minutes into the cut. Playing the first part loudly may stress your system later on in the cut because this album has tremendous dynamics. The instruments create new and interesting sounds. The music lolls you and at the same time draws you into it. The DTS audio was much preferable to the Dolby Digital. The Dolby Digital sounds slow and bloated in comparison. I use this recording to test out subwoofers. This recording will definitely give your subwoofers a workout.

- Clay Swartz

[Ed.: I listened to the first few tracks and was impressed by the astonishing variety of sounds and their spatial placement in front. The lowest bass was quite deep thru my subs. Then I got up to get a drink and passed by the surround speakers, noting that they were off. So back to the Toshiba player which requires manual switching between bitstream and DVD-A multichannel analog out - I keep forgetting that. I had been listening in Dolby 5.1. Wow - what a difference! Now I’m really in the midst of the sonic bombardment and it’s not just louder but more palpable all around. The lowest frequencies shake me up good via the Clark transducer screwed to the frame of my sofa. Quite a trip! One of the best demos of DVD-A I've auditioned, though I certainly agree it is frustrating not to see the performers in action at the same time.] Purchase Here

Donald Fagen - The Nightfly - Warner/Rhino 78138 - DVD-Audio:

When this album first appeared in the 80’s, it spent a lengthy stay on my turntable -- Steely Dan might have seemed over at the time, but as long as Donald Fagen was putting out records as totally enjoyable as this, well, why dwell on the past? As we moved into the age of the compact disc (perfect sound forever), I rushed out the moment it became available, ready to savor all that the relatively new medium had to bring to my enjoyment of a “classic.” What a disappointment! This was the first time I really began to listen to the naysayers and “analog purists” -- maybe they were onto something! DF figured it out as well, and soon “from the original master tapes” became the industry standard.

The sound of this disc in one word is superlative! This is the “Nightfly” everyone has been waiting for, and Warner is finally getting their act together in terms of surround mix sound quality and ease of access to all sound formats included on the disc. This one, like other recent Warners, has a hi-res surround mix, hi-res stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes, as well as a Dolby Digital encoded video for New Frontier, (excellent video quality) and the sound is uniformly fantastic throughout. You can access the various sound formats using the Group button on your remote, or just press play if you want to listen to the hi-res surround version (which is the default setting). Otherwise, use your TV/monitor and access the really cool menus.

The surround mix really rocks, and songs like I.G.Y., New Frontier, Ruby Baby and Maxine jump out of the speakers. Listening to this disc now really takes me back to when I couldn’t hear it often enough! Highly recommended! Tracks: I.G.Y., Green Flower Street, Ruby Baby, Maxine, New Frontier, The Nightfly, The Goodbye Look, Walk Between Raindrops. Purchase Here

-- Tom Gibbs

Aaron Neville - Believe; Silverline 288131-9 DVD-A:

In addition to the music on this disc, there are interviews featuring Neville’s son and people who have worked with Neville on his music. There are some outtakes of his performance on some of the music on this disc. There are liner notes for each of the songs explaining their meaning and how they came about. In case it wasn’t obvious, this disc is all about religion and spirituality. The first cut is a gospel song with a reggae feel to it. Although the other songs vary in their style, their theme remains the same. It was easy to tap toes to a few of the numbers, while others were softer, more melodic ballads. A few of the tunes were downright groovin’. Neville’s voice is powerful, yet delicate, and instrumentation throughout the album serves as the glue that binds voice and music together harmoniously. Vocal chorus and other instruments routinely were present in the surround channels.

The sound quality was quite good overall, although hearing drum beats coming from behind was disconcerting to me at times. Like most of the Silverline releases, still pictures were presented over the songs. If the subject matter of this disc is not offensive to you, then this disc will be a pleasant (and possibly even enlightening) experience. Songs included are: Steer Me Right; Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; I Believe; If I Had A Hammer; Gotta Serve Somebody; Oh Happy Day; Ave Maria; Let Go; What A Friend We Have In Jesus; A Change Is Gonna Come; I Saw The Light; Going Home; Amazing Grace; With God On Our Side. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Fleetwood Mac – Live at the BBC; Silverline 288122-9 DVD-A:

In addition to the usual still pictures over the song titles, this disc also offers liner notes. There is light use of the surround speakers for effects throughout. The fidelity of the songs varies a great deal. The gritty guitar and loud, crashing percussion may be par for the course, but the distortion at peaks and the compressed, harsh, constricted sound points to older recordings. You just can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, although I admit the clarity is better than what I hear on my Fleetwood Mac box set. What you have here are some early Mac songs that show where the roots of the band came from before the likes of Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. It reminds me of some of the old Steve Miller music that is on one of the discs in his box set filled with somewhat rough, blues-inspired tunes. Don’t expect anything much like the later Fleetwood Mac material. The fact that there are 36 tracks makes me wonder why there aren’t more double albums coming out on DVD-A? Your guess is as good as mine. [Some reissues of former pop LPs have been under 30 minutes! - Ed.]

If you are a big Mac fan or really dig those down and dirty country style blues, then this disc is for you! Songs included are: Rattlesnake Shake; Sandy Mary; Believe My Time Ain’t Long; Although The Sun Is Shining; Only You; You Never Know What You’re Missing; Oh Well; Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave; Jenny Lee; Heavenly; When Will I Be Loved; When I See My Baby; Buddy’s Song; Honey Hush; Preachin’; Jumping At Shadows; Preachin’ Blues; Need Your Love So Bad; Long Grey Mare; Sweet Home Chicago; Baby Please Set A Date; Blues With A Feeling; Stop Messing Around; Tallahassee Lassie; Hang On To A Dream; Linda; Mean Mistreatin’ Mama; World Keeps Turning; I Can’t Hold Out; Early Morning Come; Albatross; Looking For Somebody; A Fool No More; Got To Move; Like Crying Like Drying; Man Of The World. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

The Fixx – 1011 Woodland; Silverline 288116-9 DVD-A:

This disc contains older Fixx songs that were re-recorded during March of 1998. Hearing these songs after many years brought back all sorts of good memories of the 1980s, and hearing the songs with a fresh musical arrangement was a positive. Most of the tunes could easily stand up against the songs released today. The recording quality is much better than the originals—some of which I own. Also, the songs feel live, not like a concert performance, but not overly produced—realistic. The rear speakers are used for effect and don’t draw your attention away from musicians playing up front. The music was so captivating at times, that on track 2, I felt as if the guitar player was hiding behind the loudspeakers! Track 5 was another example of the capabilities of DVD-A format. It is rare to feel like “you are there,” but this was the case on many of the tracks on this disc. Extras include artist commentary by song, a photo gallery, stills over each track, and some video footage including outtakes. This disc was a pleasant surprise and is recommended. Songs included are: Driven Out; Stand Or Fall; Woman On A Train; Outside; Secret Separation; Camera in Paris; Wish; One Jungle; I Will; Saved By Zero; Lost Planes; Precious Stone; Still Around; Two Different Views. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Al Jarreau – All I Got - GRP 440 065 082-2 Multi-channel SACD:

The first thought that came to mind as track 1 began was “Hmm…Synthetic bass…Not exactly what I expect from Al Jarreau.” Yes, it is true. Al—just like many other artists—is changing with the times. That is not necessarily a bad thing, yet, it is something that takes some getting used to. This disc made full use of the surrounds containing instruments and vocals alike. The music could best be categorized as light R&B with a jazz flavor and a touch of fusion. Anyone familiar with Jarreau’s previous work will not be surprised at the newest incarnation of his musical talent—you can’t forget the famous vocal styling replete with chorus that conjured the image of a gospel choir. The recording quality has a very slight edge to it, but is otherwise impressive. The album is crossover in many ways and would be happy playing on the urban groove station or a light jazz station. There is a nice mix of upbeat tunes and those that feature a slower groove as well. The tunes are catchy, likable, and have a good beat. If that is your bag, then you won’t be disappointed. Songs included are: Random Act of Love, Life Is, Never Too Late, Feels Like Heaven, Lost and Found, Secrets of Love, All I Got, Until You Love Me, Oasis, Jacaranda Bougainvillea, Route 66. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Frank Zappa - Halloween - (Live in NYC 1978) - DTS Entertainment DVD-A 69286-01101-9-9:

This is quite a production, with Zappa’s son Dweezil one of the two producers, working with the 24-track tapes from a lengthy live appearance by the iconoclastic performer in New York City. The cover photo is bizarrly appropriate, as befits anything in the Zappa universe - it’s the window of a shop somewhere with a sign proclaiming “Frank Is Back,” plus an American flag, a barber pole, and a tiny plastic ghost on a string. FZ had basically a septet, with Indian electric violinist Shankar as a guest performer. His bassist was noted New Age composer-performer Patrick O’Hearn, but as you might expect this is quite different from New Age stuff! Seeing the lyrics on the screen was quite a revelation - didn’t realize just how raunchy Zappa got in his lyrics. Must admit, most are funny though.

The same engineer who did the original tapes was brought back to do the 5.1 mix for DTS. Sonics are surprisingly good, and with the audience sounds in the surrounds one is immersed completely in the concert space. I hadn’t realized what a great guitarist Zappa was - some of his extended licks sound the equal of Eric Clapton. The final Black Napkins/Deathless Horsie 16-minute track is a major FZ opus with all sorts of nice melodies and harmonies swirling around the listener. One production detail that was hard to understand was the rough cutting off of every tune at the end, without a natural finish, fadeout, or crossfade to the next tune. It gave the whole thing a slapdash feeling - but perhaps that’s what was intended. (Actually, that may only be occurring on my particular player, but it hasn't happened before.) The extras include a lengthy audio-only radio interview with FZ and two videos - one a murky black and white but the other a great color video of the band’s appearance on a Saturday Night Live show when they did Dancin’ Fool. One omitted extra that would be useful would be a glossary of Zappa terms and euphemisms for those of us not heavily into his highly individual world.

Tracks: Ancient Armaments, Dancin’ Fool, Easy Meat, Magic Fingers, Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow, Conehead, Zeets, Stink-Foot, Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, Muffin Man, Black Napkins (The Deathless Horsie). Purchase Here

- John Henry

Emma Shapplin - Etterna - Soprano with London Philharmonic and Choir - DTS Entertainment 69286-01099-9-5 DVD-Audio:

Take a young French beauty, Italian opera-style arias that she writes and sings herself, clothe her in beautiful diaphanous fashions, back her with a large orchestra and chorus and employ arrangements often imposing a disco beat onto the symphonic fabric, pour a lot of production values into the entire package and you have Etterna. The poetry expresses Romantic Renaissance-like sentiments, and in fact the Italian used is from that era rather than modern Italian. Her voice is lovely, she’s lovely, the music is lovely (though of a certain sameness) and the surround field is well used for envelopment of the choral and orchestral forces. But frankly I couldn’t care less what the lyrics said (though they are displayed on the screen in sync with the music, which doesn't happen on most DVD-As with vocals due to extra expense for licensing that feature.) The entire production struck me as a sort of spinoff of Sarah Brightman, the Opera Babes, and the recent album of Italian lyrics to Rota’s music for Fellini’s films. The best thing in it I felt was the video interview with Ms. Shapplin; I didn't learn anything particular but hubba-hubba... The jewelbox notes indicate both UK and French versions of the album, but try as I could with the navigation options I couldn’t locate them on the disc. The sampling rate on the DVD-A portion is only 48K, not 88 or 96. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

****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

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