The Manhattan Transfer – Vibrate – Telarc SACD 63603 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD – 53 minutes ***:
This new album from The Manhattan Transfer gives us their usual eclectic mixture of jazzified renditions of contemporary songs along with their always excellent interpretations of the standards. The musical accompaniment is equally diverse; the Latin-tinged percussion on the opener, Walkin’ in New York, propels it with such immediacy, you’ve almost just gotta get up and dance! Sharply juxtaposed against this delicious groove is the sarangi figure that opens of the following tune, Rufus Wainwright’s Greek Song, with a very Eastern feel to the arrangement. And this is followed by another Wainwright tune, Vibrate, whose bandoneon and string quartet takes us in a completely different direction. Talk about worlds apart! You have to really give it up to these guys – they’re not afraid to take chances stylistically. A couple of songs later they dish out a little comfort food with Horace Silver’s Doodlin’, along with its Jon Hendricks-penned lyrics – this is stock-and-trade Manhattan Transfer, with their trademark vocal tradeoffs – a toe-tapping piece of total ear candy!
The recording we get here is uniformly excellent, no surprise for Telarc, but I do have one small caveat – I’m not really crazy about the multichannel mix use of the center channel. Until Doodlin'(Track 6), no vocals appear in the center channel at all, and then not again until the closing tune. Toggling to the stereo layer helps center the vocals somewhat, but after two-plus years of tweaking my multichannel setup to what I consider near-perfection, I’ve gotten really spoiled by so many of the really excellent multichannel discs that are available. And frequently on this disc, what does show up in the center channel are the electric or acoustic basses! I have a real problem with that – listen to multichannel mix of any of the songs on this disc that precede Doodlin’ (where the vocals first appear in the center channel), and the vocals are slightly diffuse, but the moment Doodlin’ starts playing, everything snaps completely into focus. I think it’s a real mistake not utilizing the center channel to its fullest capacity, and not giving the vocals a really nice spread across the front of the soundstage.
A quick scan of the album’s excellent liner notes shows another glaring omission – no sign whatsoever of the always superb multichannel work by Michael Bishop! Oh well, this is a really good album – but it could have been so much better. If you’re a fan, it’s not to be missed, and despite all my whining, I really enjoyed this disc, with only the center channel’s poor mix keeping this one from four stars.
Tracks: Walkin’ in New York; Greek Song; Vibrate; The New JuJu Man; Doodlin’; The Twelfth; First Ascent; Core of Sound; Feel Flows; Embraceable You; Come Softly to Me / I Met Him on a Sunday.
Christy Baron – Retrospective – Chesky SACD 269 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD – 62 minutes ***:
This disc serves as my first exposure to vocalist Christy Baron; her smoky, sultry voice perfectly suits the sparsely-instrumented accompaniment to her takes on standards and pop tunes. Songs like the Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life, the Zombies’ She’s Not There and the Turtle’s Happy Together are all given very stylized readings; she comes very close to making them her own. And she has no problems holding her ground with oft-traversed territory, such as Monk’s Round Midnight or Cole Porter’s Night and Day. All of these songs are culled from her three Chesky albums that span roughly a decade; especially noteworthy are the selections from her first album, I Thought About You. From a recording and performance standpoint, that material is superb, and this collection has really increased my desire to hear that disc in its entirety.
I’ve always had an affinity for discs on the Chesky label, especially their really excellent RCA and Reader’s Digest reissues – Norman and David Chesky’s love of these discs was clearly evident in the care given to the transfers of those gems both on LP and CD. But with the arrival of both hi-res recording formats and the ensuing shakedown, the Chesky’s chose to break away from the pack and proposed a completely different channel assignment for the new surround formats, which eliminated the center and sub channels, and scattered the sound throughout the remaining channels. Although relatively consistent with available hardware, their view of SSFM didn’t catch on with the general public, and their subsequent SACD multichannel releases have more closely mirrored the ITU standard (though still sans the center channel). So there’s my main gripe with this disc – there’s no center channel information, and I really very strongly feel that the center channel greatly enhances the multichannel presentation, especially so with vocalists. While Ms. Baron’s presentation is superb in either multichannel or stereo, adding her voice to the center channel would significantly enhance the perceived realism of the experience – but don’t hold your breath that Chesky will adopt this setup anytime soon.
Tracks: She’s Not There; Night and Day; Not While I’m Around; Got to Get You Into My Life; The Shadow of Your Smile; That Old Devil Moon; Ain’t No Half Steppin’; Overjoyed; Somewhere Over the Rainbow; Stand Behind Me; Body and Soul; Happy Together; Round Midnight; Mercy Street; Ain’t No Sunshine.
Joe Henderson – Lush Life, The Music of Billy Strayhorn – (with Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Stephen Scott, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Greggory Hutchinson, drums) – Verve multichannel SACD B0001381-36, ****:
This was a very special album when first issued on standard CD in l992. Duke Ellington’s sidekick and collaborator was a composer of exceptional sensibility whose mostly lyrical compositions were influenced by the French impressionists and had a way of insinuating themselves into the conciousness of many jazzmen. Lush Life was one of the first pieces Strayhorn played for the Duke when they began working together in l938; it didn’t get a title till much later when people tended to remember those two words in the lyrics, so Stayhorn gave it that name. With such stellar players as Marsalis, and McBride this jazz masterpiece couldn’t fail. Henderson has honed his sax style for nearly 30 years and he is at top performance on this music.
The opening ode to the Persian city of Isfahan is presented in an intimate fashion, with Henderson’s solo sax right at the center speaker. The second track – Johnny Come Lately – makes a complete change, with players all around one, including a piano clearly at the rear of the listening room. The third track is Blood Count – inspired by a lengthly hospital stay by Stayhorn – and it retains the piano strongly in the surrounds with Henderson’s sax on the right channel. Lotus Blossom (Track 5) is my all time favorite Strayhorn tune – drop dead gorgeous. For this track the piano moves to the front channels. The mixer obviously had a ball putting this multichannel disc together! Bassist McBride and drummer Hutchinson do a great duet on Take the A Train. The hi-res surround playback adds a great deal to the musical sense and enjoyment of this jazz masterpiece. Tracks: Isfahan, Johnny Come Lately, Blood Count, Rain Check, Lotus Blossom, A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, Take the “A” Train, Drawing Room Blues, U.M.M. G., Lush Life
– John Henry
Seigen Ono Ensemble – Forest and Beach – Separate Multichannel and Stereo SACD/CD layers! – Saidera Records SD-1003/4H (2 discs) ****:
I’ve come across CDs with two separate mono programs recorded on the stereo tracks and others where the list of tracks was slightly different between the standard CD and stereo SACD layers, but this double SACD takes the cake for oddball! From the rather obscure explanation on the folding jewel-box alternative packaging it soon becomes clear that the user is being asked to play either of the multichannel tracks on your surround or home theater system while you simultaneously play the stereo SACD layer of the other disc on your stereo system nearby, or perhaps on a portable or boombox in the middle of your listening area. The idea is that one of the multichannel discs presents the sonic environment of a forest near Dijon, France; and the other was taped at beaches in France, Italy and Brazil. One of the two-channel layers is taken from a live appearance of the Seigen Ono Ensemble at the l993/94 Montreux Jazz Festival, and the other was recorded in several different cities around the world over a period of years. Ono’s hope is that with the surround sound effects – consisting of bird sounds, distant voices, surf sounds etc. – kept at not too high a level – the atmosphere of that special Montreux morning will be recreated in your listening room.
Well, I only have a single all-purpose listening room and no boom box, so in spite of having three disc players in my equipment rack I couldn’t carry out the specified arrangement. But some of the music-only layers also have natural sound effects mixed in, so you get some of the final effect. Ono is a singular writer-performer – a sort of one-man Japanese version of the Willem Breuker Kollektif. [If you’re not familiar with that aggregation, check out our previous reviews of it in the site search engine.] His music is definitely not your usual mainstream jazz, although some of his other discs have been in a fusion/progressive jazz bag. This one mixes all sorts of influences – including classical, Latin (especially Brazilian), movie music, folk, Japanese music, you name it. His music is strong on sensuality – aural and otherwise – plus an overriding sweetness and an indistinct sort of sadness. The liner notes compare some of his themes to those in Fellini’s movies in their nostalgic, emotional communication.
All the compositions are by Ono and a number of guests sit in with his regular ensemble, including john Zorn, Bobby Previte, and Bandoneon player Alfredo Pedenera. The sequence of tracks is different between the stereo SACD and the standard CD layer for some reason. I love this crazy album but I’m not quite sure why. Not that the tune titles will tell you much, but here they are: Bar del Mattatoio, I Am a Good Fish, Monica Tornera Domenica Sera, Suzuki-Sensei-Sansei, Renando de Noronha, I Do Love You a Little, Gol de Placa, Reached Moon Tower, Nick & Kiriko, I’ve never been to Genova – It’s So Far to Go, Covenant of the Rainbow, Vida Boa.
– John Henry
Here are two more SACDs from the Japanese label Eighty-Eights, which releases simultaneously also on standard CD (since the SACDs are not hybrid) and also on LP…
Clark Terry & Max Roach – Friendship (Terry, trumpet & Flugelhorn; Roach, drums; Don Friedman, piano; Marcus McLaurine, bass) – Eighty-Eights stereo SACD-Only VRGL 8805, ****:
Recorded in NYC in 2002, this sparkling session brings together two of the very active seniors in jazz for a 13-track celebration of two veterans who have paid their dues in spades. Both Terry and Roach have demonstrated a wonderful upbeat outlook on life and shown a tongue-in-cheek side to their music that’s missing from many players today. There are some classics in the program but also several original tunes by both Terry and Roach. The sonics are clean and highly detailed, with the four musicians clearly arrayed out in front of the listener. Max’s drum solo just before But Beautiful would be an amazing demo of SACD’s advantages over standard CD. Acoustic Sounds is the importer and outlet for the 88s.
Tracks: Statements, Let’s Cool One, Brushes and brass, Simple Waltz, I Remember Clifford, Lil Max, But Beautiful, The Profit, When I Fall in Love, For Dancers Only, Makin’ Whoopee, To Basie with Love, The Nearness of You
– John Henry
The Lonnie Plaxico Group Live at Jazz Standard, NYC, 1/29/2003 – (Lonnie Plaxico, bass; Alexander Norris, trumpet; Marcus Strickland, tenor sax; Martin Bejerano, piano & keyboards; Lionel Cordew, drums; Kahil Kwame Bell, percussion) – Eighty-Eights multichannel SACD-only VRGL 8812 ****:
Hadn’t heard of this bassist before, but evidently Japanese jazz lovers have or he wouldn’t be leading his own band on a new recording for them. He also gets five original tunes on the nine-tune program. This is a very tight and together sextet, playing for a very appreciative audience, and this is also the first 88s SACD I have auditioned in multichannel sound. The feeling of being right there in the club is strong, and the bass frequencies are solidly pickup up on the disc if your gear can properly reproduce them. The band had my vote right from the start when they teed off with my favorite Lee Morgan tune, The Sidewinder.
Tracks: The Sidewinder, Jumping Jacks, Dedicated to You, A Shorter Take, Summertime, Along Came Benny, You Don’t Know What Love Is, Cachao’s Dance, Senor Silver (Dedicated to Horace Silver).
– John Henry
Herbie Hancock – Gershwin’s World (with guest artists incl. Kathleen Battle, James Carter, Chick Corea, Joni Mitchell, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder and others) – Verve multichannel SACD 80001379-36, *****:
Hancock said this was arguably the most challenging project he’s ever done. The plan was to reach inside each piece and try to find Gershwin’s original impulses, then the reconstruct those elements into the performers’ own very personal creations. Hancock did the arrangement together with Robert Sadin. The kickoff track is Fascinating Rhythm and they take that really literally with a full array of African percussion pounding up a storm. Joni Mitchell sings both The Man I Love and Summertime, Kathleen Battle gets the Prelude in C# minor and Stevie Wonder is heard in the St. Louis Blues. It seemed surprising to thave the biggest work here not a movement of one of Gershwin’s works for piano and orchestra but the 2nd movement of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. Hancock is the soloist and this is where the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra does their thing. And an exquisite thing it is. The surround mix is enveloping and exciting. This could be a good crossover album – that was probably in the minds of the producer to start with. It’s unique and highly recommendable.
– John Sunier
Leslie Pintchik – So Glad to be Here (Leslie Pintchik, piano; Scott Hardy, bass; Satoshi Takeishi, percussion) – Ambient Records multichannel SACD CD-003 ****:
Pianist Pintchik was working on a doctorate in English literature at Columbia University when the music of Monk and Miles hit her hard. She started studying piano and eventually embarked on a musical career. She worked up a duo with guitarist-bassist Hardy (who is now her husband) and they were befriended by bassist Red Mitchell who had settled in Salem, Oregon after years in Stockholm. Later a percussionist was added. Her trio was a finalist in the Hennessy Cognac Jazz Search and made a strong showing at an International Convention of Bassists. Leslie wrote her own music for this session, except for two standards: All the Things You Are and You Keep Coming Back Like a Song, plus Thelonious Monk’s We See closes out the 11 tracks. Her tunes are tonal, sensitive and imaginative, and it’s encouraging to see a small jazz label like this issue a hybrid multichannel SACD. Sounds are very transparent and widerange, though mostly up front.
– John Henry
Malta – Manhattan in Blue (Malta, alto sax; Cedar Walton, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums) JVC XRCD VICJ-61172, 52:00 ****:
Malta was also new to me. He recorded this album direct to two-track at a NYC studio just last year. They used half-inch analog tape at 30ips with no noise reduction. So in this case JVC is combining the best in analog taping with the best in digital disc mastering to get a hi-res sounding CD that can be played on any standard CD player.
Malta has an interesting somewhat reticent sound on his alto which seems to favor the highest registers; Walton is one of the best jazz pianists around today. The title tune is Malta’s original, a seven-minute lyrical blues exploration. The bass and piano are reproduced with the frequency extension and clarity of many SACD, though this is 44.1 CD.
Tracks: I’m a Fool to Want You, Cry me a River, I Miss You So, Manhattan in Blue, I Remember You, Bay Street Blues, God Bless the Child, The Look of Love, You’ve Changed, I Miss You So (alternate take).
– John Henry
Bonnie Raitt – Nick of Time; EMI 72435-99316-9-2 DVD-A:
This is the record that really put Bonnie Raitt on the proverbial map. It’s a mix of pop, R&B, folk and bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. It is Raitt’s most successful record (and most accessible to the masses) even though it came out two decades into the artist’s career. Almost all the songs are penned by other writers although the title track is hers (and one of the best on the album). A production change and a slightly new direction coupled with new inspiration all helped contribute to this success of this record. It won three Grammy awards for Album of the Year, Best Female Rock Vocal, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. It went to number one on the billboard charts and sold millions.
This disc offers DTS playback, a hi-res stereo track, as well as the optional DD track. The disc was remixed with lots of surround information and a big sound that extends beyond the speakers. Bass is full, high frequencies are very clean, but the vocals can be a bit non-directional at times. The voice was mixed in all the channels—the focus is up front, but movement by the listener in one direction or another would disturb the image. I’d rate sound quality above that of CD. The lyrics don’t automatically go to the next page, so you will have to skip through as needed. There is a slideshow option available and a press article about the record dated 1989. The extras are videos of “Thing Called Love,” “Love Letter,” and “Nick of Time” with guest appearances by Dennis Quaid and someone who looks awfully like Eddie Murphy.
Songs included are: Nick Of Time; Thing Called Love; Love Letter; Cry On My Shoulder; Real man; Nobody’s Girl; Have A Heart Too Soon To Tell; I Will Not Be Denied; I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again; The Road’s My Middle Name.
Chicago – V; Rhino R9 73842 DVD-A – Rating ****:
Like popular music in the early 70s, bands like Chicago were changing as well. Shifts in the way record companies were paying bands for copyrights and the fact that FM deejays would often edit song length to be played on the radio affected the composition of the album in terms of song length and quantity. In the DVDA insert, members of the band talk about how they were having difficulty coming up with new material after some of their earlier hits. The pressure to produce more and more is always there, but Robert Lamm really stepped up (as a songwriter) and the result is Chicago’s fifth record. The sound of Chicago is immediately identifiable—in part due to the lead singer’s voice, but the brass section, the harmonies, and that wonderful 70s sound all contribute—see track two. Track seven is likely to be many of Chicago fans favorites and I have to say that it is the best I’ve ever heard it. The piano had dimension and the voice was more realistic than I imagined was possible from this record.
The disc offers a DD 5.1 track as well as a high resolution stereo track in addition to the multichannel DVDA track. The surround channels are fully utilized on this disc. Quality of the sound is very “analog-like” although not up to the best available. Horns are very natural and it’s good to hear what real drums sound like after all the electronic music I hear. However, the difference between the multichannel mix and stereo mix is huge. The separation and intelligibility of the instruments in the multichannel mix is clearly superior. Each instrument gets to have its own breathing room—see track five. On track three listen how the guitar in the beginning appears to come from the side of the listener. Songs included are: A Hit By Varese; All Is Well; Now That You’ve Gone; Dialogue (Part One); Dialogue (Part Two); While The City Sleeps; Saturday In The Park; State Of The Union; Goodbye; Alma Mater; Dialogue (Live).
The Crystal Method – Legion of Boom; DTS 69286-01116-91 DVD-A:
I always think of Crystal Method as following The Prodigy in terms of the type and success of the music they make—electronica with sampling that borders on industrial at times. But every chance I get to listen to their music I’m impressed. It sounds more melodic and varied and makes for better, repeat critical listening. The second track on the disc is more alternative/dance with hard driving guitars and vocals. Track 3 is reminiscent of the film Pi. By track four, the group stretches another direction with a little rap and interesting samples. The “feel” of the record is consistent and the music swirls around the listener for a highly immersive experience. Track 8 reminded me of older 80s music, but a touch here and there (especially the vocals) leave me no doubt that it is current material.
This disc offers a DTS ES and PCM track in addition to the DVD-A multichannel track. There is a gallery option usable while listening to the music otherwise the same still picture is displayed. The mix makes heavy use of the surround channels and it would be hard to imagine the music only played in two channels (although the listener has this option). The audio quality approaches that of better CDs. There are two bonus dubs of “Born Too Slow”—the one by Deepsky was worth the price of admission. Other extras include a bio, videos of “Born Too Slow” (both the original version and director’s cut), and The Making of the Record that includes interviews and video. Don’t miss watching the video—it’s super cool. Also, there is a mix breakdown of “True Grit” that allows the listener to isolate particular tracks on the cut and listen to them in isolation or together. It gives an interesting look at the construction of the song.
Songs included are: Starting Over; Born Too Slow; True Grit; The American Way; I Know It’s You; Realizer; Broken Glass; Weapons of Mass Distortion; Bound Too Long; Acetone; High and Low; Wide Open.
Todd Rundgren – Liars; Silverline 288262-9 DVD-A – Rating: ***?:
It’s been a decade since Rundgren made a record, and with Liars, he recorded, produced, and mixed the record at his home in Hawaii. He wrote all the songs, sang all the vocals, and played all the instruments, so it is truly a “solo” album. Let me just say that the Todd Rundgren on this disc is nothing like the man who wrote “I Saw the Light” and “Hello, It’s Me.” His description of the song content is worth repeating: “All of these songs are about a paucity of truth. At first they may seem to be about other things, but that is just a reflection of how much dishonesty we have accepted in our daily lives. We are raised from birth to believe things that cannot be proven or that are plainly not true. People will often brag of their honesty, when there is so much they have simply chosen to ignore or leave unexamined.”
The gospel according to Rundgren begins with a song that I’d best describe as Alan Parson’s Project on speed. It has the feel of that Cher song “Believe” that everyone hated and loved at the same time. The second track is an R&B number with an electronic background. The noise level is extremely low, but the sound was “electronic”—slightly harsh, bright, and brittle. The wisdom I gleamed is “Men are stupid and women are evil.” Some of the better songs like “Soul Brother,” a song that sounds like it could be from Mose Allison (musically), stood out from the rest. It’s a commentary on the lack of soul offered by entertainers and musician these days: “And if you want to be a star; Just grab your crotch and squeeze it hard; And make your mom and daddy proud; As you dry hump for the crowd; It may be tired and old, but then it’s; Your only substitute for soul.” All the songs are distinctive, have multiple musical layers, but I just couldn’t stop thinking “this is a weird record.” The cover shows Rundgren wearing silly bunny ears and a fluffy bunny noise with sticks projecting out (like whiskers) with an egg stuffed in his mouth. There is a colored Easter egg-looking basket that he appears to be “caught with.” Huh? A metaphor for…?
Is this record aimed at the new-agers? The yuppies? The 40- and 50-somethings that remember when music was supposed to “mean” something and wasn’t almost entirely controlled by the music industry? Is Rundgren serious? The album is uneven and I can’t help feeling a little confused and at the same time curious. There are many different styles which will make it hard to latch onto any particular type of genre listener, and if Rundgren wants to get people thinking there are probably easier ways, but after listening to this record I guarantee you’ll have lots of questions! Instruments, vocals, and effects are present in the surround channels. The disc offers DD 5.1 and DD 2.0 in addition to the high resolution DVD-A track. Songs included are: Truth; Sweet; Happy Anniversary; Soul Brother; Stood Up; Mammon; Future; Past; Wondering; Flaw; Afterlife; Living; God Said; Liar.