Hi-Res Audio Reviews
March 2003 - Part 3 of 3 - Jazz & Misc.
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Diana Krall - When I Look in Your Eyes (with Russell Malone - Guitar, John Clayton - Bass, Jeff Hamilton - Drums, with orchestra conducted by Johnny Mandel) - Verve 065374 - Multichannel SACD (only):

This disc is part of Universal’s most recent volley into the SACD market; unfortunately, it comes with both good and bad news. The good news is that Universal seems wedded to the SACD format, with numerous soon-to-be-released discs and several recent announcements for upcoming SACD releases. The bad news -- well, let’s just say that we still don’t have any consensus on what format these discs should be released in. Some of the recent batch are hybrids, and some, like this one, are not. I just can’t help but think that there’d be so much more interest on the part of consumers in backwards-compatible hybrid discs -- giving all of us greater flexibility of use and less duplication of catalog titles (listen up Sony!). Maybe the major labels will see the success of the recent Rolling Stone reissues and follow their example. Sorry for the rant, now on to the music... [Patience; all the Universal and Sony SACDs will be hybrid soon. - Ed.]

This disc probably represents Diana Krall’s biggest commercial success, and offers a nice blend of the small-combo, piano-based jazz that first brought her to prominence. Add a healthy dose of bossa nova tinged string arrangements by a Johnny Mandel-led orchestra on several of the tunes, and you get a Grammy-winning formula that was even nominated for Album of the Year. This is the Diana that we all know and love, that so many seem to think disappeared on The Look of Love. If you get a chance, check out the Live in Paris DVD -- you’ll see her move seamlessly between many of the numbers found here, along with material from “The Look of Love” and see that she still, indeed possesses all of her chops!

Technically, the disc offers an aggressive surround mix, and this is where my only other quibble comes in -- her voice is mixed too prominently in the surround channels. I’m getting to the point where I don’t really mind some instruments coming from the rears, or perhaps backing vocals, but I’d really like to hear the main vocal front and center. On most songs it’s not a problem, but on a few she’s way deep in the mix, and I can’t help but find it a little distracting. Overall (and minor quibbles aside) this disc is a winner, and let’s keep ’em coming, Universal, and all hybrids too! Tracks: Let’s Face the Music and Dance, Devil May Care, Let’s Fall in Love, When I Look in Your Eyes, Popsicle Toes, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, I’ll String Along With You, East of the Sun, Pick Yourself Up, The Best Thing for You, Do It Again, Why Should I Care. Purchase Here

-- Tom Gibbs

A BEAUTIFUL MIND - Composed and conducted by James Horner - Decca multichannel SACD (only) 440 016 191-2 :

Now this is top-flight package: Worthwhile music from a great film with a unique communicative approach to the subject of mental illness. I reviewed the 44.1 version of this exactly a year ago. The SACD lacks the several Enhanced CD features, but provides instead a high-res version of the surround experience one had in the movie theater, without the dialogue. Some of the subtle details missed on the CD - such as different voices in the string section - now come across with great clarity - due equally to the surround and the higher resolution. (But I don’t think I would give up the interesting Enhanced CD features for just the stereo SACD version - the surround really makes it.) The classically-oriented soundtrack music is varied and listenable even if you haven't seen the film. Again there is the commercially-required vocal number in there - at least the vocalist is fine (Charlotte Church). But that track is best ignored.

Tracks: A Kaleidoscope of Math, Playing a Game of Go, Looking for the Next Great Idea, Creating “Governing Dynamics,” Cracking the Russian Codes, Nash Descends Into Parcher’s World, First Drop-Off/First Kiss, The Car Chase, Alcia Discovers Nash’s Dark World, Real or Imagined?, Of One Heart One Mind, Saying Goodbye to Those You So Love, Teaching Mathematic Again, The Prize of One’s Life...One’s Mind, All Love Can Be (vocal), Closing Credits. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

The Paul Smith Trio (with Jim DeJulio, bass; David Tull, drums) - AIX Records DVD-Audio with complete video - 80010:

Smith is one of the great older generation modern jazz keyboardists and I’ve been waiting for this release ever since hearing and seeing one track by Smith on the first AIX sample disc. The session video that can be accessed with either the DTS or DD layers shows Smith in super-relaxed mode, wearing a pair of shorts and Hawaiian shirt. Again, as on other similar AIX DVD-As, you have a choice of either “audience” or “stage” mix to go with the session videos. However, the DVD-Audio-only mix lacks the video display and is only the “audience” mix. All of these discs contain many extras. Among them: How to Use This Disc section, 5.1 System Setup and Check section, Biographies, Photo Gallery of the sessions.

Smith is relaxed and swinging in all of the ten selections seen and heard here. While the static-camera videos of some performers become tiresome after a time, I found concentrating on Smith’s fingers on the keys during the video on the DTS part to be completely fascinating.
Tunes are: On Green Dolphin Street, Just Friends, Lullaby of Birdland, A Nightingale Sang in Berley Square, It Never Entered My Mind, One Note Samba, Have You Met Miss Jones?, Yours Is My Heart Alone, Yardbird Suite, The Surrey With the Fringe On Top. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Clark Tracey - Stability - Stereo SACD (HDCD on CD layer) Linn Records AKD 196:

Drummer Tracey fronts a ten-person ensemble here, coupled on about half the ten tracks with the Locrian String Quartet. Three of the tracks are originals by Tracey, including the disc’s title tune (which has a vocal by
Christine Tobin). Ellington, Coltrane and Monk are some of the sources for others, and a magnificent arrangement of Gone (from Porgy and Bess) by Gershwin opens the album. The string quartet is skillfully incorporated into the arrangements with the brass, winds, drums and piano - not just tacked on as heard on many “with strings” albums. And the deep clarity of the DSD reproduction aids appreciation of the very tasteful arrangements heard throughout this album. Tenor saxist Andy Sheppard is a standout soloist on several tracks, and pianist Gareth Williams is a solid bedrock of the ensemble. Tracks: Gone, Black Coffee, Lounge Blues, Ugly Beauty, Sunshower, The Peacocks, Giant Steps, Stability, Melancholia, Boaz. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing Trio - (O’Connor, violin/Frank Vignola, guitar/Jon Burr, bass) with guests Wynton Marsalis, trumpet & Jane Monheit, vocal - Odyssey multichannel SACD (only) SS 87880:

Versatile O’Connor has taken a break from his roots Americana playing as well as the fusion jazz he espoused for a few years and gone back to the music he learned from and played with the late Stephane Grappelly. Small group swing jazz in Europe was epitomized by Django Reinhardt’s Quintet of the Hot Club of France, and O’Connor is just the latest and probably best-known of musicians who has devoted himself to recreating a modern version of this gloriously exuberant music of the 1930s. O’Connor kept his guests busy - Marsalis and Monheit are both heard on two of the tracks - Honeysuckle Rose and As Time Goes By, while Monheit has two other tracks to herself and Marsalis really tears up Tiger Rag. What a great musical experience - to have this hot swing surrounding one instead of coming from a scratchy mono source as do Django’s original 78s! Tracks: In Full Swing, Honeysuckle Rose, Tiger Rag, Misty, Stephane and Django, Fascinating Rhythm, 3 for All, As Time Goes By, Limehouse Blues, One Beautiful Evening.Purchase Here

- John Henry

Chris Gestrin - Stillpoint (Gestrin - piano, synth & electronics; Brad Turner - trumpet, Flugelhorn, electronics; Jon Bentley - tenor & soprano sax, bass clar., electronics; Andre Lachance - bass; Dylan van der Schyff, drums, percussion, electronics; Joseph “Pepe” Danza - percussion) - Songlines multichannel SACD SGL SA1540-2:

From the lineup this may look like a heavy fusion session, but nothing could be further from the facts. The Vancouver, B.C.-based keyboardist admits to a heavily ECM-influenced sound and also says “the term New Age comes to mind, but not New Age as in rain falling while I’m in the bath with my crystals -It’s more like a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist.” That seems to say it all here. Not at all electronic-sounding, Gestrin’s dozen works - all either his sole compositions or shared with others in the group - are subtle and thoughtful creations exhibiting his love of experimentation and improvisation. (The cover art is certainly experimental - I had to bring the light way up on the scan to even show anything on it.) The title Stillpoint is perfect for the album - it’s the Buddhist idea of being content with exactly where you are and not worrying about what has happened or is about to happen.

Some of the tracks approach a sort of very musical musique concrete - Complex One/City has sounds like slamming doors which mesh with the various percussion sounds behind the trumpet, sax and piano. Cliffs and Clouds has a lovely soprano sax solo over what sounded to me like musical glasses struck with silverware - the notes credit the sound to “potlids.” The tech side of the disc is interesting: It was recorded on 96K/24bit PCM digital, then converted to analog for mixing and finally to DSD for mastering. Also, the two-channel and 5.1 mixes were done at different times at different studios. Sonics are super-clean, detailed and spatially located with great precision. If this were a standard stereo CD I don’t think I would have made it thru the entire disc at one sitting, but with the multichannel SACD I stuck out the rather spare sections and in the end found it “ear-stretching” - as Charles Ives would put it. .Purchase Here

- John Henry

Now for a pair of world music hi-res journeys...
Romanian Folk Music - The Adrian Petrescu Band - Aix Records 81001 DVD-A + PCM/DD/DTS:

Another of the fine discs Aix recorded in Bucharest, Romania during a whirlwind ten-day visit. For this series it wasn’t possible to videotape the sessions as with all previous Aix DVD-As, but all other features pioneered by the label are still here, including a choice of stereo, “audience” or “stage” mixes - depending on whether you select the PCM, Dolby Digital or DTS alternatives to the MLP DVD-A tracks. The “stage” multichannel mix is the one used for this DVD-A, whereas the less-involving “audience” one has usually been used previously. So the already-exciting music is made even more so. The disc is full of other extras, such as a history of Aix, How to Use the Disc, and detailed notes on the making of the Bucharest series.

The folk band is an eight-member group and their sound is larger than those forces would seem to indicate. This is the not the sort of raw folk instrumentals one used to hear on Folkways ethnic music LPs, yet neither is it a slicked-up nightclub-like ensemble. The arrangements are superb, with plenty of variety, bringing out the sounds of the accordion, cimbalom, and the evocative sound of the native woodwind instrument, the taragoto. There are two violins and even a soprano sax on some tracks. Perhaps it’s the presence of the sax and trumpet, but many of these tunes have some rhythms and harmonies that aren’t that far removed from jazz. I found the DTS stage mix the most exciting of the options should you not have DVD-A playback - placing one right in the midst of the performers. (With that one I did miss the session videos previously provided.) But it couldn’t quite match the crystalline clarity of the band all around you in the MLP 5.1 option.

Besides the choice of “stage” perspective there was another nice feature about this disc - actually all of them. They default to the DVD-A option if you just put them in the player without displaying on a video monitor - so you don’t really require it. However, I do have one beef - the Audio Setup link is buried at the bottom of the list of the tracks on all these discs, making it a real hide and seek effort the find out how to change the audio options the first time around. Tracks: Circle Dance, Lamentation, Dance of the Couples, Just a Dream, Harmony Suite, Fancy Rhapsody, Taragot Solo, Like a Wedding, The Lark. Purchase Here

Olatunji - Drums of Passion - Columbia Legacy multichannel SACD (only) CS 66011:

Some reviewers of the new formats grouse about Sony’s dependence on so many reissues from their vaults rather than brand new multichannel DSD recordings. There may have been some poor choices of material to reissue, but this one is certainly not. The 1960 original release is touted as the first world music album recorded in the U.S. It exposed audiences and other performers to the rich and varied African tradition of music-making for the first time in some cases. The staggering complexity of rhythms found in African percussion was a revelation to many and had an influence on jazz, latin, rock and pop music that continues to this day. Tunes on this disc were redone by such performers as Randy Weston, Santana, Mongo Santamaria and Weather Report. The original Olatunji tapes were remixed to a very effective 5.1 mix that makes fullest use of the LFE channel - as one would expect with this sort of music!

It’s not just a lot of percussive pounding, either. There are some great female vocalists, xylophones, and the track Ayin Momo Ado puts your head inside a gigantic thumb piano. This is just the thing to convince the recalcitrant that hi-res and surround-sound-for-music make perfect sense. It should be right on top of the demo RPTV at every home theater dealership, right next to the Fifth Element and Terminator II DVDs.
Purchase Here

- John Sunier

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