Hi-Res Audio Reviews
November 2002 - Part 2 of 3 -Pop, Rock, Jazz, Classical  

click on any cover to go directly to its review                  

Yes - Magnification - DVD-A Rhino/Yes (no no.):

This is the hi-res sound version of the recent Yes Symphonic Live concert music DVD-Video (taped in Amsterdam) and one of the extras included is the complete video of the title tune taken from that DVD. Both DVDs come out of the 2001 CD release by Yes which was the first new album from them in years. They planned this project as a big production with orchestra but they wanted to do something different that would successfully integrate their wide sonic abilities with the special sound of an orchestra.

Larry Groupe was retained as the arranger and worked closely with each of the members of Yes. He strove to avoid just writing symphonic fluff behind the band, and to my ears succeeded quite well. The tunes mostly have a very positive and almost spiritual mood unlike most rock today. Of course with the high treble vocals of Jon Anderson everything sounds angelic - he could be singing one’s Miranda Rights to you and make it sound heavenly. The bonus track In the Presence Of (the Divine) is quite a production and the lyrics are not sophomoric or silly as is so much rock today. In fact it‘s a pleasure to be able to read the lyrics for each tune while listening to the totally enveloping 5.1 channel surround playback. I’m not a couch potato but I just don’t see why they can’t program the lyrics to automatically advance in sync with the music rather than having to keep your finger on the select button all the time and change it yourself. The other extras besides the full motion video are a video interview with the band members about the creation of this album, a photo gallery, and some DVD-ROM content I didn’t access. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Piano, Bass and Drums (Patrice Rushen, Darek Oleszkiewicz, Ndugu Chancler) - AIX Records DVD-Audio & Video AIX 80009:
The Latin Jazz Trio (Luis Conte, percussion; David Garfield, piano; David Carpenter, bass) - AIX Records DVD-Audio & Video AIX 80011:

This enterprising DVD-A label continues to give with each release the maximum features and options that can be fitted into an optical disc. They record everything anew - no reissue material here - and they do it at 96K/24 bits. They provide an almost bewildering array of choices: stereo audio mix, 5.1 channel Dolby Digital or DTS, and on top of that frequently a choice on the video side between a “Stage” and an “Audience” perspective pickup. The two-sided discs have the videos on one side and the DVD-A with still images on the other side. The video often has a choice of more than one camera angle, selected using the Angle button on most remote controls. Aix also provides a photo gallery of the recording sessions, biographies of the musicians or composers, a 5.1 DVD system AV setup section, and another section titled “How to Use This Disc.” I found the AV Setup section seven lines down from the top on the on-screen menu. It should really be the first since you often have to make your selections about both visual and audio options before you start playing the disc. Otherwise you could end up stuck with only a title slide of the tune playing without seeing the video, or an Audience perspective when you wanted the Stage perspective. A few tracks are without a video on the video side of the disc, but as with the sometimes frustrating navigation found on many movie DVDs, there can be video clips for certain selections and even a protracted struggle with the remote cannot seem to access them. Some tracks allow use of the Angel and Audio buttons on the remote to change settings while you are watching. But on other tracks the buttons cannot be used; you must select the options while the disc is in stop mode and using the on-screen menu.

Ms. Rushen is a fairly standard jazz pianist who contributes three of her original tunes to the set of ten, including a lovely eight-minute piano solo. The three performers are interesting to watch for a while, but since the camera work is very basic and static one soon wants to return to the DVD-A side of the disc for no video but improved sound. They if you had selected the “Stage” perspective on the video side you might feel strangely separated from the performers on stage because the DVD-A side is consistently an “Audience” perspective and you have no choice to select its alternate on that side of the disc. Tracks: Mr. P.C., Red Clay, Ocean Song, Like a Dream, Arrival, Shortie’s Portion, Simple Essence, Night in Tunisia, Variance, I Mean You.

The Latin Jazz Trio heats things up a bit in the piano trio realm. Percussion Conte provides something more active to watch, and the music certainly fits the late Harvey Rosenberg’s dictum about making you want to get up and dance to it. Conte has played with many leading pop performers including Madonna, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles and Tony Bennett. He is heard on many film soundtracks and teaches percussion clinics around the world. Pianist Garfield has produced 25 albums and has composed and recorded over 100 original tunes. He either wrote or collaborated on five of the nine tracks of this DVD-A. After struggling for some time to access the video for Song for My Father, I discovered there was no video for that selection, just a title slide. Not all DVD-As have separate stereo mixes as do multichannel SACDs, but all of AIX’s do. I found the two channel mix on the video side just about as good sonically as the front channels only on the DVD-audio side, but when I selected the complete six channels, the clarity of reproduction was upgraded and an acoustic impression of the hall was gained that was missing with only the frontal channels playing. Tracks; Luisongo, Dona Olga, Memories of Rio, Mujaka, Song for My Father, Future Generations, Pools, Rumba del Cielo, Kimbisa/Cuba. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Leon Russell - Shelter/Hi-Res Music stereo DVD-A HRM 2013:

This l970 debut album made a big splash for Russell, who had paid his dues working with Delaney & Bonnie, Joe Cocker and Phil Spector. He was equally adept as a singer, guitarist, keyboardist, composer and producer. The LP launched his own label, Shelter. Russell surrounded himself with a terrific cast of musicians, and his songs included his own Delta Lady, which Joe Cocker had already popularized. Four bonus tracks are included. Hi-Res probably could have dug up the original elements for this album and remixed it for 5.1 surround, but that’s not their bag. They choose classic albums like this one and reissue them just as they were originally made, but in 96K hi-res stereo for a much closer match to what the performers heard in the studio when they were finished. Tracks: A Song for You, Dixie Lullaby, I Put a Spell on You, Shoot Out on the Plantation, Hummingbird, Delta Lady, Prince of Peace, Give Peace a Chance, Hurtsome Body, Pisces Apple Lady, Roll Away the Stone, Masters of War, Jammin’ with Eric, Hummingbird (alternate take), Shoot Out on the Plantation (solo piano).  Purchase Here

- John Henry

Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now - Reprise DVD-A 9 47620-9:

There was no date of the original LP in this note booklet and I couldn’t put my finger on my LP copy, so I can only guess this came out sometime in the 70s. Rather than her usual folk songs, Joni decided to use songs from the Great American Songbook - mostly from the 30s and 70s - to create a programmatic suite that documents a romance from initial meeting and flirtation through optimism, disillusionment, despair, and finally a philosophical acceptance. It’s a unique voice and delivery that she brings to these mostly familiar tunes, and rather than the usual folky instrumental backing she choose a full orchestra and some of the best jazz soloists in the business. They included Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Mark Isham, and Peter Erskine. The arrangements and conducting were by Vince Mendoza. Mitchell is front and center, closely miked of course.

The soloists and orchestra are spread out in a sort of large horseshoe although occasional percussion and other sounds come more directly from the surrounds. The 5.1 mix doesn’t go overboard but adds tremendously to the involving experience of really listening to the all-important lyrics. There are no photos, but each title has a different illustration and there is a text biography of the singer. All the lyric are printed in the booklet (as done with SACDs) - that actually seems the right way to do it if they can’t advance the pages automatically on the screen to fit the music. One thing that threw me was the logo in several places for HDCD, right next to those for DVD-Audio, Advanced Resolution, and Dolby Digital. It’s beyond me how anything here can be HDCD-encoded since there is no 44.1 CD layer on DVD-Audios. Tracks: You’re My Thrill, At Last, Comes Love, You’ve Changed (this relationship didn’t last long, did it?), Answer Me My Love, Don’t Go to Strangers, Sometimes I’m Happy, Don’t Worry “Bout Me, Stormy Weather, I Wish I Were in Love Again, Both Sides Now.   Purchase Here

- John Henry

We’ll begin our classical high resolution section this time with the second offering on The San Francisco Symphony’s own label ...

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 - San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas - SF Sym. Multichannel SACD 821936-0002-2:

Recorded a few days after the Mahler Sixth during that world-changing month of September of last year, this second in the proposed complete Mahler Symphony series maintains the high achievement of the first both performance and sound-wise. Tilson Thomas calls the symphony one of the most confidant first symphonies in Western music and describes Mahler as a cinematographer in music, creating widescreen soundscapes including everything we know in life. Thought the work has a somewhat tragic mood at the start, it progresses toward spiritual transfiguration and ends on a positive note, making it’s general nature quite different from the Sixth or “Tragic” Symphony.

The horn calls and sounds of nature imitated in the music are beautifully conveyed with the additional resolving power of DSD recording and the spatial separation of multichannel. This is the way a full symphony orchestra should sound in surround, and the sort of realism and envelopment we have been searching for in multichannel all these years. Never mind the quadraphonic debacle, and all the “boingerizer” paths to re-creating the original lost ambience of the venue artificially. Now we’re finally getting somewhere. It’s still not perfect - properly set up B format Ambisonics is better yet. Some sort of vertical sonic information is also a tremendous improvement, even if artificially generated (as the Cantares Ambisonic decoder can accomplish). But this series and a few other symphonic multichannel SACDs so far are getting there. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A Minor “Tragic” - Philharmonia Orchestra/Benjamin Zander - (includes 3rd CD discussion of the work by Zander) - Telarc multichannel SACD/CD set (3 discs) 3SACD-60586:

Suddenly everyone seems to be recording the Sixth, which has been probably the least appreciated of Mahler’s symphonies due to its abiding tragic mood. Conductor Zander feels that closer familiarity with the work from inside out will increase audiences’ positive impression of the symphony. He gives his all toward that goal with a separate standard CD here running 80 minutes and analyzing the symphony in great detail, movement by movement, with musical examples from the recording. So altogether you can sit down and spent three hours and 18 minutes with Mahler’s Sixth, and the hope is that you should be rather fully informed by the end of that time! In addition to the lecture disc, the time is lengthened by Zander’s inclusion of two separate version of the 32-minute final movement - the original and a revised version. Both run the same length but mainly differ in that the first has three orchestral “hammer blows” near the end which frightened the superstitious Mahler so much during rehearsal that he shortened it to two hammer blows and created less noisy orchestration.

The performance and recording makes an interesting comparison with the earlier Tilson Thomas SACD. It would be difficult to make a choice without more study. As one would expect in view of Telarc’s sonic history, their hammer blows - whether two or three - are the most jarring! A couple other sonic feathers in Telarc’s cap are that they employ less microphones in their more purist approach to multichannel, and they provide a side/height feed which the SF Symphony set does not. As soon as I get that set up in my system I will give these another comparison. I did make an A/B test with yet another Mahler Sixth just arrived - Bernard Haitink conducting the Orchestre National de France on a standard CD set from Naive. Sorry, even taking the lower 44.1K resolution into account, this proved a pedestrian version with rather dull sonics. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

PROKOFIEV: Alexander Nevsky Cantata; MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL Pictures at an Exhibition - Lili Chookasian, contralto/Westminster Choir/New York Philharmonic/Thomas Schippers - Sony Classical multichannel SACD (only) SS 87711:

Noting the conductor here it would probably be obvious to most collectors that this is not a new multichannel recording. The Nevsky actually dates from l961 and the Mussorgsky from l969. First I thought these were quad masters being reissued, as with the recent Vanguard series and some of the EMI DVD-As. Then I realized this was pre-quad, and that there must have been multichannel masters recorded back then, which I had thought was done primarily with pop recordings. Nevsky is one of the most exciting choral-orchestral works of the last century - probably an equal in the audiophile area with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. The surround certainly adds to the excitement and involvement of this music, which was arranged from the film score to the Eisenstein film.

It was easy to do a comparison with another audiophile recording of the music - the 1977 effort by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony and Chorus, which was originally on Candide and had been reissued as one of Classic Records’ 96K music DVDs prior to the introduction of SACD & DVD A. This gem supervised by the team of Marc Aubort & Joanna Nickrenz stands up very well in both performance and recording against the multichannel competition. The sonics are more open and have a bit more depth than the SACD, though both muddle up somewhat in the big choral orchestral climaxes. Running the 96K stereo thru the Dolby ProLogic II Music processor produced a fairly convincing surround sound field that almost duplicated the envelopment of the multichannel SACD. The Classic DVD pairs Nevsky with Scheherazade, also good sonics but there are better performances. The SACD pairs it with another core repertory selection, Pictures at an Exhibition, which is also sonically choice but bettered by Fritz Reiner’s famous version available on a JVC xrcd (reviewed here recently too). Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Silk Road Journeys - When Strangers Meet - Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble - Sony Classical multichannel SACD (only) SS 89782:

Ma is not only a world-class cellist but a musical seeker. He is open to almost anything adventurous in the realm of music. And his Silk Road Project is surely just that. Adventurous ethnomusicologists traveling the former route of the original Silk Road in Asia and collected material from local composers and musicians in China and Central Asia. 16 composers were commissioned and assembled with over 40 musicians at Tanglewood for a collective musical adventure. The Silk Road Ensemble has now performed around the world, learned from one another, and on this recording show how they can be creative together.

The note booklet has photos of all the solo musicians heard, photos of many of the unusual instruments heard, and a fold-out map of the Silk Road route. Ma participates playing not only his cello but occasionally a Mongolian horsehead fiddle. Some of the other instruments include table, ney (Persian flute), santur, erhu (Chinese violin), pipa, and sheng. Some of the dozen tracks are traditional songs and instrumental selections while others are original compositions blending ethnic music melodies and styles with modern instruments, such as one work for cello and prepared piano. Some of the high-pitched Chinese vocalisms can be a bit difficult to take on first hearing, but they grow on you, so direct and honest is their strident wail. Not understanding the language almost underscores the emotional communication. My favorite track was Kayhan Kalhor’s quarter hour-length Blue as the Turquoise Night, for a tentet including Ma on cello and the composer on a four-stringed bowed instrument from Iran and Armenia called the kemancheh. There is also a very short bonus track from Tan Dun score to Crouching Tiger with Ma on cello. Sonics weren’t that much different from the CD original - just a bit more air around all the instruments and voices, and of course the spatial separation - making it sound like you were sitting at a campfire with the musicians arrayed around you. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

POULENC: Violin-Piano Sonata; DEBUSSY: Violin-Piano Sonata in G Minor; ST.-SAENS: Violin-Piano Sonata No. 1 in D Minor - Midori, violin/Robert McDonald, piano - Sony Classical stereo SACD-(only) SS 89699:

A lovingly selected and performed program of French violin sonatas. My feeling is the first two especially are among the most beautiful works in the repertory for that combination of instruments. All three abound in glorious melody and frequent virtuosic passages. The very imaginative Debussy piece - one of his very few chamber works - was his last composition before his death. Midori is known for her lovely violin tone and it is even more accessible in this crystalline two-channel recording. It is almost hard to believe that the reproduction of violin sound could be so realistic and pleasing (even on the 44.1 CD layer, though less so) when only several years ago the violin reproduction on many CDs made sensitive listeners want to plug up their ears!  Purchase Here

- John Sunier

On to Hi-Res Reviews Conclusion - Part 3

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