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34 SACD and DVD-A Reviews!
September 2003, Pt. 1 of 3 - Jazz
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David Garfield, piano - The Retro Jazz Quintet (Larry Klimas, tenor sax; Walt Fowler, trumpet; Ernest Tibbs, bass; Oscar Seaton, drums) AIX DVD-A, DD, DTS, Video - AIX 80022:

The most active DVD-A label making brand new recordings especially for the format has made some improvements on their previous already exceptional releases which give you every imaginable choice of formats (except 44.1 CD). Unlike the DVD video-compatible sides of most other labels which include no more visuals than the DVD-A side, Aix gives you live action video of the entire recording session. This is where the biggest improvement has been made: it is no longer just a stationary camera on a tripod for the entire disc, as on their earlier DVD-As - it is now more sophisticated videography, with zooms, pans and even split screen effects to show two different performers in the ensemble. Different mix balances of perspective are also featured on the disc: both the DVD-A and the DTS are “stage mixes,” putting the listener up close to the performers; the Dolby Digital option is a more distant “audience mix.”

I think the quintet’s name is a misnomer; it gave me the impression the music was going to be 1930s or 40s swing or perhaps even traditional jazz. Instead it’s modern straight-ahead and very listenable improvisation using both electric and acoustic instruments. The quintet can really cook on the uptempo numbers, but I especially liked their approach to the more laid-back tunes such as Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and Dream Come True. Nica’s Dream is a terrific treatment of the Monk classic, and the closing Sir Charles features a great flute solo by saxist Klimas. I found the DTS stage mix little different from the DVD-A on the other side of the disc, and since the videography is more interesting to watch I actually preferred the video side to the DVD-A with only the titles of the tunes up on the screen. As with most of the Aix discs, the extras just go on and on: bios, photos, system setup and check info, How To Use This Disc section, and DVD-ROM options. The other tunes on the disc I haven’t mentioned above are: Afro Blue, Harvest Time, Inner Urge, Donna, and Pools.

- John Henry

Laurence Juber, guitar - Guitar Noir (with Steve Forman, percussion; Demenic Genova, bass) - Aix DVD-A, DD, DTS, Video - AIX 80018:

Juber was a guitarist in McCartney’s Wings band, but is also known to his fans as LJ for his special fingerstyle acoustic guitar technique on folk, blues and jazz. This trio setting gives him a chance to demonstrate his versatility in 14 quite different tunes, most of them originals he penned. The guitar tone is uncannily natural and unforced, and again I found the DTS just about as good as the 96K DVD-A mix. A feature of this disc not found on the Garfield disc above is the ability to access multiple camera angles during the video using the Angle button on your remote. So again I preferred to view the video side of the disc rather than the somewhat higher res DVD-A side without visuals. Aix continues to turn out the best sounding series of DVD-A discs available today. Selections are: Guitar Noir, Mosaic, Leaning Post, My My My, Rules of the Road, Blues De Lux, Dancing on Streams, In Your Arms, Stolen Glances, Liquid Amber, Nighthawk, LJ Shuffle, Strawberry Fields Forever, Benny’s Bounce.

- John Henry

The Bill Cunliffe Trio - Live at Bernie’s (Darek Oleszkiewicz, bass; Joe La Barbera, drums) - Groove Note stereo SACD GRV1009-3:

This 2001 recording session was unusual on several counts. First, Bernie’s not the name of a jazz club but refers to the mastering studio of the noted Bernie Grundman - who is responsible for mastering many great audiophile recordings. His waiting room was converted into a studio, and not just an ordinary studio but one with a cutting lathe in it, because the session featured a live-to-stereo groove 45 rpm direct disc recording! (The vinyl direct disc will be released later.) A stereo DSD master was also recorded using Ed Meitner gear, and this gold SACD was made from that.

Cunliffe comes from a classical background, likes the Romantic composers and leans toward more lyrical jazz numbers that allow him to stress melodies and rich harmonies. Among other credits he’s responsible for the piano and arrangements on the Jacintha albums from this same label. He enjoys playing in unusual time signatures a la Brubeck. In Excursions he improvises on one of the Four Excursions of Samuel Barber, which is strongly influenced by jazz rhythms, and he plays it in a seven beat rhythm. Having played with the Buddy Rich Band, Cunliffe can also swing when he wants to, and in tunes like the opening Satin Doll he does. The pickup of the Hamburg Steinway is accurate and very natural without stretching it out absurdly. This is another gem from Groove Note which should provide many hours of hi-res listening. Tunes: Satin Doll, Waltz for Debby, Ireland, Amusing Paramours, Sharon, Jean, Excursions, Like a Dream, The Way You Look Tonight, Imagine. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Mark Nodwell - Nemesis (Ron Miles, trumpet; Khabu Doug Young, guitar; Art Lande, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Tom Rainey, drums) - Songlines multichannel SACD Songlines SGL SA 1539-2:

Nodwell is the composer of these nine instrumentals and doesn’t play on the album though he is also a saxophonist. (No connection with the Star Trek movie soundtrack of the same name which we also review this issue.) Lande is a pianist with a highly individual contemporary style, who has recorded for ECM and others. Nodwell’s music is pretty advanced and not that tonal, but it’s not pushy or raucous and seems to invite the listener to dive in and explore its unfamiliar nooks and crannies. It hovers between the familiar jazz world and that of free jazz without committing to either, exploring new tonal relationships with meticulous care and great taste, rather than blasting dissonances. The clean and extremely detailed surround sonics helps greatly in this effort. This is a disc I want to really get into late some night when I’m not under deadline pressures. The masters were recorded analog and then mixed to stereo and multichannel using DSD encoders. The first two track titles on the jewel box seem to be partially erased and the note booklet is no help, so starting with track 3 the titles are: Pitfall, Corpse, Fleet, Aura, Flight of the Pterodactyl, Resurrection, Dreamtime. Purchase Here

- John Henry

A trio of virtuoso female jazz vocalists up next in hi-res...
Jacintha Is Her Name - Dedicated to Julie London (with Bill Cunliffe, piano; Harry Allen, tenor sax; Ron Eschete, 7 string guitar; Larry Bunker, vibes & congas; Holly Hoffman, flute; Darek Oleskiewicz, bass; Larance Marable, drums) - Groove Note multichannel SACD GRV1014-3:

I was surprised to see the subtitle on the latest disc from the queen of audiophile jazz vocalists. There are many tributes and dedications from one singer to a famous past great, but Julie London didn’t have a very long career and was mistress of only a narrow area of quiet and slow lyrical songs that fit her particular vocal talents. However, she was fantastic in that milieu, with a straight and unforced delivery that certainly baked my potato when I was an impressionable teenager. (Veronica Lake had been my earliest fantasy, so London with her long dark hair quickly eclipsed the actress who didn’t even sing.) Jacintha also has a very direct vocal approach without artifice, so she is a perfect interpreter of London’s songs.

Cry Me a River was London’s biggest hit, and it closes out this tribute. (The notes-writer refers to a Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon which had a small sign at a bridge: “Crimea River.”) Somehow I doubt she ever sang Light My Fire but that’s here too. London’s tunes are also perfect for the intimate-miking approach used in Jacintha’s recordings, where she almost seems to be crooning into your ear. The surround mix presents her at a more normal and realistic size than the stereo mix. The tune titles are: Willow Weep for Me, The Thrill Is Gone, Something Cool, Don’t Smoke in Bed, Light My Fire, I’m In The Mood For Love, God Bless the Child, Round Midnight, I’ll Never Smile Again, Gone With the Wind, Cry Me a River. Purchase Here

Carmen McRae - Live at Birdland West (with Red Holloway, tenor & alto sax; John Clayton, bass; Paul Humphrey, drums; Jack McDuff, B3; Phil Upchurch, guitar) - Concord Jazz multichannel SACD 1005-6:

This 1988 live taping of Carmen McRae with an all-star band was a great choice for the first batch of multichannel SACDs from Concord. The irrepressible singer has a fantastic rapport with not only her audience but also her sidemen, and the multichannel soundfield puts you right in the midst of the festivities. The presence of McDuff’s B3 ramps up the excitement throughout, and adds that special funky support for McRae’s closing number, the rousing My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More. Black and Blue strikes one in a similar vein to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit; I like McRae’s version of the tune even better than Louie Armstrong’s. She combined state of the art jazz vocalizing with all the hallmarks of a great entertainer, without ever hinting at anything over-the-top show-bizy. With the increased resolution and surround sound you can sit back and let her entertain you to the max.

Tunes; What is This Thing Called Love?, What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?, Fine and Mellow, These Foolish Things Remind Me of You, Black and Blue, One More Chance, Until the Real Thing Comes Along, My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More. Purchase Here

Rosemary Clooney - Girl Singer (with band incl. John Oddo, piano/synth; Tim May, guitar; Tom Warrington, bass; Joe La Barbera, drums; Joe Porcaro, percussion) - Concord Jazz multichannel SACD 1008-6:

The notes with this reissue delve into the whole culture of the term “girl singer.” The reprinted notes from the original l992 release has Linda Ronstadt reporting that when she was 19 she was told “There are four sexes: men, women, homosexuals and girl singers.” Clooney is the epitome of the latter, and during the last 25 years of her long life in music she recorded exclusively for Concord. Her voice communicates a wonderful blend of sexiness, intelligence and maturity - almost a motherly quality. (NPR’s Susan Stamberg has the same voice quality.) This was one of her most dynamic recordings, with a big band, great arrangements and great sound. Her choice of tunes is highly individual and adds to her charm. I never realized before just how grizzly were the complete lyrics for Miss Otis Regrets, and she even got me paying attention to the sense of a tune I always thought really dumb: Straighten Up and Fly Right.

I was surprised to learn from one of the label’s A & R people that most of the Concord catalog was recorded multitrack analog. To get the best possible quality these original master tapes were transferred directly to 24-channel DSD, and then from that they were mixed in the DSD domain for 5.1 surround, including center channel and subwoofer outputs. (Many SACDs employ a second generation analog tape for mixing so they can use existing analog mixing boards.) For the stereo SACD layer they did a direct transfer from the original two-track master tapes. And of course these are all hybrid discs with a CD layer as well. By entering the SACD at this time Concord is correcting some of past bugs in the system right off the bat.

Tracks: Nice ‘n’ Easy, Sweet Kentucky Ham, Autumn in New York, Miss Otis Regrets, Let There Be Love, Lovers After All, From This Moment On, More Than You Know, Wave, We Fell in Love Anyway, Ellington Medley, Of course It’s Crazy, Straighten Up and Fly Right, the Best is Yet to Come. Purchase Here

- John Henry

And holding up the male jazz vocalist side very well, we have...
John Pizzarelli Trio - Live at Birdland - (with Ray Kennedy, piano; Martin Pizzarelli, bass) - Telarc multichannel SACD 2SACD-63577 (2 discs):

I just reviewed the original CD version of this album in April, so pardon me from repeating myself: He’s wonderful, with a laid-back, unassuming personality that is a pleasure to experience. I was amazed to see this album celebrates the Tenth Anniversary of his Trio, and he’s obviously got both his singing - and on the several instrumental solos his guitar-picking - honed to high perfection. Not to mention his running commentary and self-deprecating stories between tunes, which are a delight and not the usual Vegas-style stuff. Finding some original Gershwin scores at the Library of Congress, Dizzy Gillespie and Rosemary Clooney are among his story subjects, and he does some short and effective impersonations of fellow singers. His sparkling pianist is Ray Kennedy, who does some fine arrangements, and I presume bassist Martin Pizzarelli is his brother. Pizzarelli’s cool, casual, and non-theatrical singing style has echos of Michael Franks, Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg. But the ladies will probably find him sexier than any of those. He doesn’t write a lot of tunes though, as do the above; a long paean to New Jersey and a short one to Rhode Island are his major works here. The ones he selects often display witty little discoveries in their lyrics. For example, “She was reading Heine, while I was in China.”

So what does the multichannel version have that the standard CD doesn’t? Well, I would say it’s the difference between watching a standard theatrical 35mm movie and one in IMAX. You are part of the supportive audience at Birdland in September of last year, and it isn’t just due to the envelopment of the applause and clinking glasses from the surrounds between tunes, though that is very realistic- a good sound effect test. The realism of the soundstage is ramped up considerably: John dead center, the bassist on the right and the pianist on the left. You can switch to the stereo mix on this disc to hear how the sound completely flattens to the front plane

Including the tracks for the frequent stories, there are 36 tracks on these two CDs. The tunes are: Just You Just Me, The Frim Fram Sauce, The Song is You, Isn’t It a Pity?, Rhode Island, Gospel Truth, Tea for Tatum, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, Mean Old Man, Manhattan, Moonlight Becomes You, Will You Still Be Mine?, Three Little Words, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Oh How My Heart Beats for You, The Day I Found You, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Stompin’ at the Savoy, Better Run Before It’s Spring, Headed Out to Vera’s, Medley, I Like Jersey Best, My Castle’s Rockin,’ Baby Just Come Home to Me. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Flutology - First Date (Frank Wess, Holly Hofman & Ali Ryerson, flutes; Mike Wofford, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Ben Riley, drums) Capri Records Stereo SACD 74060 2:

Almost missed included this disc in our standard-CD Jazz section because the SACD logo is so tiny on the back of the jewelbox and appears nowhere else, with no references to it. At the label did include it, which is more than the Rolling Stones SACDs did. There have been a few great jazz flutists but the instrument is not often found on the front line of bands. There’s no reason really why it shouldn’t be as obiquous as saxophones - the flute sounds so great swinging a tune! Well, how about a trio of flutes?

The idea began with Wess and Ryerson going to hear Ray Brown’s quartet which included Hofman on flute and Wofford on piano. The three flutists talked about how great two or three flutes sounded together, and soon they were on their way creating charts and doing live gigs to see how the idea worked for them. It worked very well, and now we can hear the result in the best possible fidelity. Wess is practically Mr. Jazz Flute, having played with Basie and just about everyone else. (He started getting noticed for his flute work about the same time Herbie Mann and Bud Shank did, but Mann died recently and Shank stocks to his alto sax now.) Ryerson, who already has two SACDs out on DMP (with guitarist Joe Beck), plays the lower-pitched alto flute. Wess picks up the bass flute for a wonderful sound on Pretty Is. The massed flutes sound is a sonic treat, often sounding like a big band flute section, and with DSD those silvery notes can mix it up without distortion or strange artifacts - pure listening pleasure. I even liked A Child Is Born - a tune I thought I never wanted to hear again. Plus they sound like they’ve played together for years and they swing just as strongly as would a trio of saxes. Tracks: Be Bop, Ceora, Sumpn’ Went Wrong, Rainesville, This I Dig of You, Pretty Is, Equal Parts, A Child Is Born, Flutopia.

- John Henry

George Shearing and Hank Jones, two pianos - The Spirit of 176 - Concord Jazz multichannel SACD-10009-6:

I just love two-keyboards anything! And how could you lose with two of the world’s greatest jazz pianists and two 9-foot concert grands plus hi-res multichannel sound? This mutual tickling of 176 keys between them took place back in 1988 but it has never sounded this detailed, natural and powerful on CD. Many two-piano classical CDs are miked so that they don’t sound that much different spatially from piano four hands music. Not this one. Shearing is clearly on the left side and Jones on the right. Although at first they sounded like they were each playing 30-foot-long grands down the sides of my listening room; I had to reduce the surround channels a bit to balance the sound properly toward the front. Both pianists have their own very distinctive styles and both have tremendous musical imaginations and wit, so this is truly a meeting of the musical minds to produce some scintillating syncopated improvisations. Some of the composers covered are Jobim, Mary Lou Williams, Monk, Charlie Parker and Matt Dennis.

Tracks: Oh Look at Me Now, Angel Eyes, I Mean You, You Don’t Know What Love Is, To Hank Jones, Minor Contention, Ask Me Now, Triste, Take a Good Look, Sweet Lorraine, Young No More, Lonely Moments, Star Eyes, Confirmation. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Chris Gestrin – Stillpoint - Songlines SGL SA1540-2 Stereo/MultiChannel SACD/CD:

Chris Gestrin is a jazz composer-pianist from Vancouver, BC. He plays piano, synthesizers, sampler and electronics on the album. He is backed up by:

Brad Turner - trumpet, flugelhorn and electronics
Jon Bentley – saxophones, bass clarinet and electronics
Andre Lachance – acoustic bass
Dylan Van Der Schyff – drums, percussion, and electronics
Joseph “Pepe” Danza – percussion
Deanna Newton – voice

I would call this experimental jazz. The music reminds me of Miles Davis in his freer-jazz stage. It seems to me the purpose of the music is to create an atmosphere. There is very little melody or rhythm in the music - mostly different short sound bites put together. Percussion is very prominent. Multichannel SACD is the way to listen to the album; it is much better at creating the atmosphere. Of particular interest is the bass information bouncing off the side and back walls on track 4. Both the stereo SACD and CD layers sound good but do not create at all the same feeling as the multichannel. One could wish for slightly more clarity or impact from the recording, but this could change the feeling of the music. For listeners into experimental jazz, this would be a very interesting album. I find the varied aural textures that Gestrin produces in the music to be very interesting.
Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

The Charlie Byrd Trio with special guest Ken Peplowski - The Bossa Nova Years (Byrd, guitar; Ken Peplowski, clarinet & alto sax; Dennis Irwin, bass; Chuck Redd, drums; Michael Spiro, percussion) - Concord Jazz multichannel SACD 1007 6:

Byrd has had a very long career, starting with his own little trio that played a jazz club in Washington, D.C. with a relative on drums. In the 60s he helped bring bossa nova to the U.S. along with Stan Getz, Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida. The addictive mix of cool jazz and samba took off immediately, and in the years since has opened the gates for other sorts of music from Brazil to become popular in North America.

In 1991 Byrd and this aggregation got together to honor the bossa nova years in these dozen tracks of some of the greatest Brazilian hits. The tracks with Peplowski on clarinet instead of sax bring a different timbre to the sound than usually heard in bossa nova. The surrounds are used sparingly for the more exotic percussion, but just switch to the otherwise-excellent stereo mix and Byrd’s guitar loses much of its realism and precise location on the soundstage. Tracks are; Meditation, One Note Samba, Corcovado, Triste, Dindi, O Pato, Girl from Ipanema, Orfeo’s Samba, How Insensitive, Wave, To Say Goodbye, O Nosso Amor.
Purchase Here
- John Henry

Gerald Easley – Velvet; Heads Up Surround HUSA 9072 Hybrid Multichannel and Stereo SACD:

Take a trip—a head-trip that is. It’s amazing how some albums can seduce you from the very first note, and that is how it was with Velvet. I’ve been very impressed with the sonic quality from Heads Up SACDs in the past and this one is definitely no exception. The sound comes from all around and it is super-clear and clean. At times, the music practically swirls around your head. There is lots of groovy guitar and the accompaniment is excellent. Inside you can read that Easley only does things “all out” and from the sound of this disc it is quite evident that that statement is true. Some of the tunes are vocals that nicely complement the instrumental music. I’ll let you decipher exactly what Let’s Do It Again is all about. The disc is great for active listening or as pleasant background music that is smooth, silky, sultry, and sedate. There is a nice combination of upbeat and softer tunes. Songs included are: Coup Deville; Sarah’s Song; Let’s Do It Again; Velvet; Put On Your Sunday Clothes; Do You Remember?; Luscious; Summer Kiss; Bread Puddin’; Forever; It’s Alright (Tonight’s The Night); Still Movin’ On; Home; Sunday Clothes Reprise. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

****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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