30 Hi-Res Audio Reviews
May 2003 - Part 3 of 3 - Jazz

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Bob Mintzer Big Band - Gently - DMP multichannel SACD-18:

What an attractive concept for a big band session! Mintzer’s note booklet essay talks about how we are living in a loud world, and how big bands can be unbelieveably loud when playing at full tilt. He feels that at this stage in his life he better appreciates the subtle approach, and decided on a more gentle instrumentation - using clarinets and flutes in place of saxes, muting the brass and added French horns in a couple numbers. He says he discovered that often the more softly-playing music had greater clarity and energy than the loud sounds, or to qoute: “The band actually sounds louder when it plays softer.”

The warm and more classically-leaning sound reminded me of the Claude Thornhill Band (he was the first to integrate French horns into his sound), as well as some of the arrangements of Gil Evans, Don Sebesky and Claus Ogermann. Of course if this session was recorded at the technical level of that recent Count Basie mono reissue on Classic Records - a crude in your-face sound that was OK for high-impact Basie - the subtlies would be lost completely. But after working with Mintzer’s bands for 18 years, Tom Jung knows exactly how to capture the sounds of all 20 players with the utmost transparency and realism. The eight tracks include a number of Mintzer originals plus a Thad Jones classic and a very lush Body and Soul. The album puts the sax section back in the spotlight for the closing track, which is an arrangement of a movement from a Saxophone Quartet Mintzer composed earlier for an ensemble at the University of Kentucky.

The LFE channel is not used in this 5.0 mix, so on this SACD Jung has dropped use of that channel to carry height information, but he does employ it on certain releases. (When used, he feels it should feed a single overhead or high rear speaker rather than a pair of side/height speakers. He is concerned about the same Mono height information actually reducing spaciousness in some rooms.) Tracks: Gently, Timeless, Original People, Body and Soul, Who’s Walkin’ Who, Don’t Ever Leave Me, Bright Lights, Saxophone Quartet #2. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Bob James in Hi-Fi - Audio Fidelity stereo SACD AFZ 009:

While the date of these masters is being kept an evident secret, they are from the pianist’s own Tappan Zee Records label, where he had a bit more freedom to do his own thing than the several LPs he did for Creed Taylor’s CTI label. A number of illustrious guest artists join James on some of the tracks, including Grover Washington Jr., Marcus Miller, David Sanborn, Harvey Mason, Eric Gale, and Jon Faddis. There’s plenty of variety, but in some ways I preferred the arrangements on the CTI albums. The final track is the only one getting into the classical bag James often favors. The added clarity and instrumental detail is very welcome due to the SACD format, but I would see this one as primarily for James fans who already have some of his other albums. Tracks: Touchdown, Spunky, Rush Hour, Zebra Man, Heads, Westchester Lady, Tappan Zee, Bloue Lick, Nautilus, Angela (Theme from “Taxi”), Farandole (Bizet). Purchase Here

- John Henry

4 Generations of Miles (George Coleman, Mike Stern, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb) - Chesky multichannel SACD243:

Although these four jazzmen collaborated with Miles Davis at different times in his career, the repertory for this session is primarily stuff from the 50s ending in the modal slants of the Kind of Blue sessions. There’s no piano in the quartet, so guitarist Mike Stern works to suggest the floating harmonies and heavy swing of Mile’s various keyboardists such as Chick Corea. I wasn’t familiar with tenor saxist Coleman but his treatments of these nine Miles-associated tunes are a pleasant alternative to Davis’ muted trumpet sounds. Recorded live at Makor in NYC, the audience adds not only an involving ambience to the performances but probably also sparks new heights of improv in the various solos. The 5.0 surround mix is superbly immersing. Tunes: There Is No Greater Love, All Blues, On Green Dolphin Street, Blue in Green, 81, Freddie Freeloader, My Funny Valentine, If I Were a Bell, Oleo. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Lee Konitz, alto sax - Parallels (with Peter Bernstein, guitar; Steve Gilmore, acoustic bass; Bill Goodwin; Mark Turner, tenor sax) - Chesky multichannel SACD240:

Konitz is one of the older generation jazz masters on sax, known for his extensive composing and improvisation skills. His melodic flights take paths of an often complex and highly individual nature - not what your ear is always expecting. I myself prefer a more melodic approach but Konitz does at least stay in an accessible tonal environment. Five of the eight tunes are his own. The venue was a church frequently used by the Cheskys, and Konitz thanks them in his notes for providing a pleasant environment and great sound too. I frankly found the original CD release of this session underwhelming, but enjoyed hearing it again in surround due to the greater involvement in the music-making. I was looking for something in the notes about Chesky’s alternate to 5.1 - with side/height speakers fed from the center and LFE channels. But David tells me he’s no longer using that on SACDs to avoid confusion - only on DVD-As where it is possible to do dual formats. He also eschews the center channel, feeling it causes deterioration of the front stereo soundstage. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Dizzy Gillespie - Matrix (with Mike Longo, p.; Mary Lou Williams, p.; Bobby Hackett, trumpet; George Davis, g. & others) - Extras include Artist notes and photos, Silverline DVD-A 288129-9:

Silverline uses the most popular medium-sized jewel boxes for their DVD Audios - about halfway in size between SACD cases and DVD video jewel boxes. So why print the note booklet in about 4-point type with huge borders around, requiring a magnifying glass to read? This is a compendium of three different albums Dizzy did for the short-lived Perception label in the early 70s. The first is titled The Real Thing and I can’t think of a more counter-productive title. Diz is not playing the real thing at all - the bebop that he pioneered - but instead a now-dated effort to fuse jazz and funk something like what Miles did better. The notes indicate that track 2 - Matrix -from this session is frequently sampled by today’s younger generation who have no ideas of their own, and has become a dancefloor classic. Diz doesn’t seem to be very into this effort and the production is careless. For example, on Track 7 - High on a Cloud - both Diz’ Fluegelhorn and the other front line players are way off mike on both the front channels and the surrounds. What he was trying to do here also reminded me of Bob Dylan’s first Highway 61 Revisited electric session - except that I thought that was a big improvement and The Real Thing isn’t.

The second album on this album is Portrait of Jenny, and as the title might indicate, is more lyrical, sensitive and laid back jazz - though only four tracks long. His solos with Longo on piano and Davis on guitar are great listening here. The third of the sessions runs seven tracks and is titled Giants. It was recorded before a live audience and thus has more musical excitement and the surround is much more realistic in placing the listener in the middle of the venue. The tunes are also better quality (see below) - Jitterbug Waltz a special standout. I had to smile when my magnifying glass picked out this sentence in the note booklet: “Remastered under adverse circumstances.” What adverse circumstances pray tell? Well, I can say it was listened to under somewhat adverse circumstances as well.

Tracks: N’Bani, Matrix, Alligator, Closer (vocal & instrumental versions), Soul Kiss Pt. II, High on a Cloud, Summertime, Let Me Outta Here, Ding-A Ling, Olinga Diddy Wa Diddy, Me ‘n Them, Timet, Love for Sale, Autumn Leaves, Caravan, Jitterbug Waltz, Willow Weep for Me, Birk’s Works, My Man. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Billie Holiday with Ray Ellis and his orchestra - Lady in Satin - Columbia Legacy multichannel SACD CS 86697:

This 1958 session was the next-to-last studio recording Holiday made, 17 months before her death, and is probably the best-known of her albums backed by a larger ensemble. Her strong early voice was pretty well gone by this time, and so these classic torch songs took on a deeply emotional quality that at times is almost painful to listen to. Ellis wrote some lush arrangements that included harp, strings and backing vocal choir, but they avoid Mantovani-like kitsch. He is quoted in the new notes especially for the DSD reissue of this much-reissued album, admitting that at the end of the session he was at first unhappy with her singing. Since most of us are familiar with Billie’s difficult life we find it easier to actually believe every word she sings. The surround re-mix is very successful, with Billie’s voice strongly on the center speaker, at much lower level on the left and right front, and the orchestra surrounding the listener.

Tracks: I’m a Fool to Want You, For Heaven’s Sake, You Don’t Know What Love Is, I Get Along Without You Very Well, For All We Know, Violets for Your Furs, You’ve Changed, It’s Easy to Remember, But Beautiful, Glad to Be Unhappy, I’ll Be Around Purchase Here

- John Henry.

It's off to Rio with our next pair of hi-res discs...
Brazilian Romance - Various Brazilian performers - DVD-Audio DTS-1103:

This disc follows on the heels of DTS’ Brazilian Jazz which we reviewed here earlier. It was entirely recorded in Rio at 96K 5.1 surround (I believe the earlier album was only 48K). Complete lyrics for each tune appear onscreen over colorful abstract paintings by a Brazilian artist. Two are in English (including Stevie Wonder’s I Can’t Help It) and there are some instrumental tracks as well. No Ritmo Do Coracao has nice lyrical solos by a trumpeter named Paulinho Trumpete (for real?) and an unidentified saxist. There’s a great harmonica solo on Nascente by Rildo Hora, but it’s mixed to sound as though your head is inside the harmonica. In general though the surround mixes are enjoyable and involving. While not as jazzy as the earlier companion disc, this one abounds in the sensuous rhythms and super-melodic melodies common to the most exciting ethnic/popular musical culture in the world today - Brazilian. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Ana Caram - Rio After Dark (with Café, Paquito D’Rivera, David Finck, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Carlos Alberto De Oliveira, Steve Sacks, Bill washer, David Chesky) - Chesky Records multichannel SACD241:

This was Sao Paulo native Caram’s first recording for Chesky back in l989, so it can’t have been recorded originally via DSD. But the sonics are clean and the surround field is spacious, with various exotic Brazilian percussion relegated to the surrounds. It was a bit of a coup to have Jobim himself on the session; when Caram was just starting she played and sang for him and he helped give her a start. Jobim is at the piano in the two of the tracks which are his own tunes. Three David Chesky tunes are also on the album. The alto flute of Steve Sacks adds a nice touch to the tracks on which he is heard. Tracks: Rio After Dark, Alagoas, Meditation, Viola Fora De Moda, Summer Days, La Cumbia, Anos Dourados, Removacao, Rainbow, O Que Vier Eu Traco, Sem Legenda, Forever, O Tempo E O Lugar, Serrado, You’ve Got a Friend. Purchase Here

- John Henry

HAMLISCH-KLEBAN: A Chorus Line - Original Broadway Cast Album - Sony Classical/Legacy multichannel SACD SS 65282:

This is not jazz, but closer to jazz than rock or classical even though issued on the Sony Classical label. Supplanted only by Cats as the longest running show on Broadway with over 6000 performances, it’s been 22 years now since its premiere, and it's still a barrel of fun. Especially in this very creative remix for multichannel. For example, in the opening “I Hope I Get It,” the young dancers at the audition are up front on the stage - spatially lined up with the added clarification of the center channel. But then the director of the tryout is at the back via the surround channels. You immediately are at the tryout in the Broadway theater. Nothing, One and What I Did for Love are the big tunes in the musical. I have a half speed-mastered Columbia LP version of this which I thought was pretty well done, but even the stereo mix on this SACD far surpasses it in resolution, clarity and freedom from distortion. But it is the multichannel mix that really brings the listener into a new and exciting relationship with the music. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

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