Hi-Res Audio Reviews, Pt. 1 - May 2002
click on any cover to go directly to its review

Since we're starting to have some albums released in both of the high-res formats now, and I sometimes want to organize reviews by musical types rather than by format, we're mixing it up this month - SACD/DVD A/stereo/multichannel and with certain of the DVD-As even including various sampling rates and some video portions. I'm auditioning via a different DVD-A player this time and finding less problems accessing some of the disc features.

Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar - Swing Live (with Peter Appleyard, vibes; Allen Vache, clarinet; Bernard Purdie, drums; Michael Moore, bass) Chesky DVD-A "2/4/6 disc" CHDVD222:

I reviewed Chesky's multichannel SACD version of this session recorded at the New York City music room Makor. It is of great technical interest not only due to being released on both formats, but also because the original recording was done with B-Format Ambisonics - the eminently sensible surround format that's been around for years and which I personally feel conveys the most natural surround experience possible with music. It took somewhat kludgey conversion this first time to fit the very flexible Ambisonics approach to the strictures of 5.1 surround, but the results already sound better than most straight 5.1 discs and future releases (Chesky is expanding its use of Ambisonics) should be even better.

There's quite an array of options provided on this DVD. First, there's the DVD-V layer, with a 96K/24bit stereo track, a Dolby Digital 4.0 channel mix, and room for some session photos shot during the live recording. Secondly, there is the 5.1 DVD-Audio mix - also 96K/24 - plus a 96/24 4.0 surround mix compatible with 5.1 setups. Last, there is David Chesky's alternate approach to SSfM - eliminating the LFE and center channels and feeding those signals to another pair of speakers high and to the immediate left and right of the normal front left and front right speakers - 55 degrees off of center to be exact. I plan to audition this offering with a proper setup soon, but I don't yet have the side speakers mounted, wired or amplified. I wanted to review this fine disc anyway since even if you don't yet have a DVD-A or SACD player you can still experience an excellent surround soundfield with the Dolby Digital 4.0 function. The photo stills are also accessible on both the 4.0 and 6.0 tracks.

The spot-on localization of the five musicians as well as the audience in attendance is almost uncanny. It really does put the listener in the middle of the jazz club audience, a quantum leap beyond other audiophile jazz efforts that have tried to do that - such as Jazz at the Pawnshop (though the recent F.I.M. 4.0 remix for SACD of that classic is pretty involving). The music puts you back in the era of Benny Goodman's quartet and sextet Vache captures the Goodman feeling, Pizzarelli is constantly inventive, and the interplay among the five players is almost visual in its spatial realism. The tunes: Lester Leaps In, Sweet Sue, Dinah, Perdido, If I Had You, Too Marvelous for Words, Lime House Blues.

Wayne Horvitz, piano - Forever (with Timothy Young, guitars; Keith Lowe, acoustic bass; Andy Roth, drums) - SongLines/Hi Res Music DVD-A stereo HRM 2001:

Wayne Horvitz is straddling both of the new hi-res formats - we just reviewed his Sweeter Than the Day SACD here last month! Hi-Res is a new DVD-A reissue label specializing in restoring classic analog and digital two-channel masters to their highest fidelity via DVD-As' 96K/24 bit option. The producers state that they decided not to go up to the ultimate 192K sampling rate because there was more and better editing and production gear available for the 96K sampling rate. There is no video except for the title of each track, but the DVD-A starts out right away with track 1 without requiring video display. There's no need for an onscreen main menu in which to select stereo or multichannel playback and all discs in this series are stereo only."Bringing Higher Fidelity to a Digital World" is the label's slogan.

Not a old recording by any means, Seattle-area jazz pianist Horvitz taped the original in l999. Wish I could read the booklet's notes but they are red and about 5 pt against a busy photo background, so forget it. All 11 tracks are Horvitz originals and I love 'em madly. Blend together a bit of Bartok, Erik Satie and Philip Glass and add a jazz sensibility and you'll have a rough idea of what Horvitz is all about. Chromatic, with little central feeling of a particular key, but definitely not atonal. Most of the tracks spotlight his piano, with few solos from his compatriots. I loved the Satie-ish funky repeated figurations in In the Ballroom, an example of what's heard on several of the tracks. The piano tone is gorgeous, intimate yet rich and full without sounding like a 30-ft.-wide Steinway. Tracks: Ben's Music, Prepaid Funeral, LoveLoveLove, Capricious Midnight, 9 to 4, In the Ballroom, Forever, Disingenuous Firefight, Tired, Little Man, American Bandstand.

- John Henry

Cookin' With the Miles Davis Quintet - (with John Coltrane, tenor sax; Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums) Prestige/APO Mono SACD 7094:

Well, this one from 1956 has been reissued plenty of times now, and here it is again. Notice the sticker on the outside doesn't say Hybrid Stereo. I really didn't expect there would be mono SACDs this early on, but then again since the enhanced resolution allows us to hear more subtle details of all  well-made recordings, why not? And Rudy Van Gelder certainly made these "deep mono" tapings well. I think few casual listeners would pick up on the fact this is not in stereo. Doug Sax mastered the disc using Ed Meitner's converters and all-tube electronics in the tape deck. The CD's label is an enlarged version of the original rather crude Prestige LP label. Even if you bought every previous iteration of this classic you will probably want to hear and own this one if you have a SACD player. A/B'd with my most recent gold CD reissue it pulled aside that proverbial sonic veil. Tunes: My Funny Valentine, Blues by Five, Airegin, Tuneup/When Lights are Low.

- John Henry

Pat Barber is back and so are at least two new releases from Mobile Fidelity - who we thought were out of biz!..

Patricia Barber - Cafe Blue - (with Michael Arnopol, bass; John McLean guitars; Mark Walker, drums/percussion/body parts) - Mobile Fidelity/Premonition Records Stereo SACD UDSACD 2002:

Patricia Barber - Modern Cool - with quintet and the Choral Thunder Vocal Choir - Mobile Fidelity/Premonition Records Stereo SACD UDSACD 2003:

Since many of us own these two discs in their original CD versions and I reviewed them back in l999, I hope readers won't think I'm lazy for just pasting in here what I said then:

I'd been seeing references to this new jazz vocalist for some time and heard a couple tracks on our local public radio jazz outlet but hadn't really paid attention. Barber's art requires some attention and now that I've given it I see what everybody was talking about! This is some talent! She's very cool, hip, post-modern, electronic, and has a sort of Weimar Republic cabaret stance about her. Her voice sometimes sounds like she's whispering in your ear. And she writes half the tunes herself! The first album showed her penchant for treating a song so radically different that you feel you're hearing it for the first time. That's what she does with Ode to Billy Joe, as well as A Taste of Honey. While not as quirky as the second CD, this one does include a short tune titled Wood is a Pleasant Thing to Think About. (!) Modern Cool has more originals, including an adaptation of an E. E. Cummings poem and her highly intellectual Postmodern Blues. Her ensemble has expanded to include guitar, extra percussion, trumpet star Dave Douglas, and on the sections I had thought were electronic, Barber herself playing only table knives on the piano strings!

I need only add that I'm now hearing details all thru both these albums that never were audible before. Since Barber is far from a song belter it helps to be able to hear every word of her often quiet lyrics and the higher resolution makes that possible. I also became aware of how many tracks on both albums are strictly instrumental and stand on their own, not just filling time between Barber's vocals. I especially liked Romanesque on the first album. And her piano work on both the instrumentals and behind her vocals is top flight. The second album is a much larger production with more variety and chorus on some tracks.

- John Sunier

Les Brown & His Band of Renown, featuring guest vocalists Jane Monheit & Lou Rawls - Session #55 - DTS Entertainment DTS & DVD-A 69286-01067-9-6:

The disc is a sort of tribute to bandleader Brown, who died last year. Its subtitle - 1936-2001 - makes the disc sound something like a re-issue of old recordings of the big band. But it's not - these multichannel masters, making full use of all six channels, are recorded just last year. Big bands are made for surround sound and this one is really a kick and a half. Puts you right up there on the bandstand I would have liked a greater proportion of instrumental vs. vocals, but that's just my prejudices. The lavish booklet has a paragraph about each one of the 21 tracks: Floatin', Secret Love, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, Drop Me Off in Harlem, Ain't She Sweet, They Can't Take That Away from Me, If Dreams Come True, Mood Indigo, It Could Happen to You, I Only Have Eyes for You, Bizet Has His Day, String of Pearls, Sentimental Journey, Undecided, That Old Black Magic, Satin Doll, Dansero, Yo Henry, Tenderly, Old Man River, Leap Frog.

- John Henry

Directions West - Silverline DTS & Dolby Digital only - 86026 9:

An unusual disc since it doesn't include DVD-Audio among its features. There is also very little information about the music, images and other material on the DVD. In fact it took some detective work to learn that all the music was composed and performed by a Richard Friedman. The music is heavy in Native American instruments - tom toms, rattles, rain sticks. Fidelity is tops, though it sounds very studio-created. There seem to be no separate tracks or identification of any of the selections; they just flow on, accompanying some very nice color still photos of the American Southwest, including closeups of what appear to be very high fashion Indian costumes. Don't quite know what to make of this disc - it's an enjoyable Arizona Highways sort of slide show though.

- John Sunier

Herb Ellis & Joe Pass, guitars - Seven, Come Eleven - Live at the Concord Summer Festival (with Jack Hanna, drums; Ray Brown, bass) - Concord/Hi-Res Music stereo DVD-A HRM 2005:

I searched around in my yet-unorganized CD collection trying to find the 44.1 CD version of this album for an A/B comparison, and finally surmised that perhaps I own it not on CD but on the original LP. And I don't have my turntable set up as yet. This wonderful session was taped during the early years of the Concord Festival, when it took place in a small park in the middle of downtown Concord, California. I was there. The first thing I heard in this hi-res two-channel, 96K reissue from Hi-Res was the audience snapping their fingers along with some of the tracks. I never heard that on the CD or LP - whichever it was. Nuff said sonically, except that the Rotel receiver on which I'm reviewing this is frustrating in that it doesn't allow any further processing to be done on 96K stereo inputs - the same as with the ill-fated 96K non-DVD-Audio DVDs issued by Classic and Chesky. I would have loved to run this nice clean two-channel feed thru ProLogic II and feel like I was back in that Concord park with people snapping fingers all around me! The seven tracks: In a Mellow Tone, Seven Come Eleven, Prelude to a Kiss, Perdido, I'm Confessin', Easy Living, Concord Blues.

Monte Alexander, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis Trio - Hi-Res stereo DVD-A HRM 2008:

Another of the classic Concord Jazz masters reissued at 96K/24bit two channel by this new DVD-A reissue label (in which Mark Waldrep of A.I.X. Is involved). This one dates from l981 and has won acclaim as a complete gem of a jazz trio session. What can one say about three such jazz masters? In his liner notes Leonard Feather says what you're really hearing is the Oscar Peterson Trio, with Monte Alexander subbing for the Canadian keyboardist. This is because both bassist Brown and guitarist Ellis played for a time in the Peterson Trio. There's nothing especially Caribbean here - reflecting Alexander's Jamaican background - but all nine tunes have a certain lilt and sparkle that might be associated with the music of that part of the world. This trio is a major treat, that's all I can say. The tunes: I'm Afraid the Masquerade is Over, You Call It Madness I Call It Love, Blues for Junior, Sweet Georgia Brown, I Want to Be Happy, Put Your Little Foot Right Out, Capt. Bill, To Each His Own, Sister Sadie.

- John Sunier

The Larry Goldings Trio (Goldings, B3; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Bill Stewart, drums/cymbals/gongs) - Moonbird - Palmetto/Hi Res Music stereo DVD-A HRM 2004:

Goldings is part of the rebirth of the Hammond B3 in jazz and has been playing with his trio for a decade now, so though he's young he's far from a greenhorn at the organ/guitar/drums genre. Goldings reports that the shadow of Jimmy Smith is over every B3 player today and the challenge is to find one's very own way. The late Larry Young is more of a model for Goldings, in exploring new melodic and harmonic directions rather than just variations on a blues pattern. Some of Goldings' lowest pedal notes remind me to put a high-pass filter back into the circuit to my twin subwoofers, because with the extended frequency range of this 96K recording, my sub drivers are having a fit on occasion. Tracks: Crawdaddy, Moonbird, Woodstock, Christine, Empty Oceans, Xoloft, Comfort Zone, I Think It's Going to Rain Today.


Herb Ellis & Freddie Green - Rhythm Willie (Ellis, guitar; Green, rhythm guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Jake Hanna, drums; Ross Tompkins, piano) Concord Jazz/Hi-Res Music stereo DVD-A HRM 2010:

Back to l975 for this session which is obviously built around the rhythm guitar chops of Freddie Green, who joined the Basie Band in the late l930s and at the time of this recording was still providing his amazing rhythmic underpinnings to the trademarked Basie Sound - using his unamplified acoustic guitar. The electric guitar lines of Ellis soar like an eagle over Green's foundation of rhythm and notes. There's also some fine swapping of solos between pianist Tompkins and Ellis. Ray Brown has also been around seemingly forever and is a terrific asset to any jazz aggregation with his wide-ranging experience. Jazz writer Phil Elwood mentions in his notes to the album how so many new young bassists and drummers alike destroy their competence by simply playing too loud. I've felt that way for years - nice to get some support for such a view from such an authority! Suffice it to say neither Brown nor Hanna can be accused of over-loudness - they known how to fit in smoothly and put the spotlight on Herb and Ross. The tracks here are: It Had to be You, Rhythm Willie, Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You, A Smooth One, When My Dream Boat Comes Home, Conversations, I Want a Little Girl, Orange Brown and Green.

- John Sunier

The Best of WB Sound Effects - Crash! Bang! Boom! - WB/Kid Rhino multichannel DVD-A R9 76729:

The 18 tracks of this DVD-A present over 100 classic Warner Bros. Cartoon sound effects and music. There are four complete "scores" to WB cartoons, all the music of the ever-popular Carl Stallings. Talk about programmatic compositions - these are continuous so-called "Mickey mousing" passages strung together! They sound like newly-recorded 5.1 masters with the current studio orchestra. However, the other sounds from cartoons seem to be mostly pan-potted mono sounds from old optical tracks of dubious fidelity - doctored up and spun around the room for effect. I know this is for kids, but if I were a kid I think I would have the same reaction I have as an adult - I wanna see the damn cartoon, not just hear the soundtrack! Never mind whether it's coming at me from all directions or not. There is one video cartoon, Chuck Jones' Now Hear This, an interview and a photo gallery. But the sound effect tracks are only accompanied by a still title image on the screen for the entire track.

- John Henry

Go on to Part 2 of May Hi-Res Reviews

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