DVD Reviews Part 1 of 3

by | Feb 1, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

January-February 2005 Part 1 of 3 [
Pt. 2] [Pt. 3]

***All Music Videos***Click on any cover to go directly to its review below

Analysis of Mahler's 3rd Sym.Puccini: ToscaWagner's TannhäuserDie Meistersinger, by Wagner
Khachaturian bio filmSchedrhrin: Humpbacked HorseIgor Markevtich DVD
Ellington & HamptonBranford Marsalis plays A Love Supreme
classical tubaist

Mahler portraitWhat the Universe Tells Me:
Unraveling the Mysteries of Mahler’s Third Symphony

Narrator: Stockard Channing/Mignon Dunn, mezzo-soprano/ Manhattan School of Music Symphony Orchestra and Festival Chorus Barnard/Columbia Choir Children’s Festival Chorus of Manhattan School of Music/Glen Cortese, conductor
Studio: VAI 2-DVD 4267
Video: 4:3 full screen, color
Audio: PCM Stereo, English
Subtitles: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese
Length: 57:00; 108:00

A tremendously ambitious film by Jason Starr, along with cinematographer Stuart Keene, this 2003 documentary traces the biographical and philosophical pilgrimage involved in Mahler’s D Minor Symphony an attempt to capture the romantic, even existential, panorama of the composer’s imaginative canvas. Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) remains the colossal post-romantic composer of mighty, intellectual and emotionally supercharged music, an orchestral body of work that claims folk-songs for its source, but whose scale approaches cosmic proportions. “Mine are worlds and universes, not merely symphonies,” Mahler quipped. Director Starr takes Mahler at his word, and he begins a visual and philosophic exploration of Mahler’s great paean to Nature, the Symphony No. 3 in D Minor, with a challenge to imagine a music that tries to capture the forces of Creation, the living magma of liquid matter emergent into the world. We see South Pacific volcanoes spewing lava into he sky; we see the Alpine hills and meadows where Mahler took his impressions of the natural world, “to listen to what the flowers” and “what the animals” tell me. The film traces the six-part scheme of Mahler’s grand design, all the while providing scholarly and artistic commentary on the musical proceedings while intercutting with the performance featured complete on the second disc.

Besides the ongoing commentary and insights from esteemed biographers and musicians –Thomas Hampson, Henry-Louis de la Grange, Morten Solvik, Howard Gardner, Catherine Keller, and Stan Brakhage–the Special Features section takes on the historical and philosophical contexts of Mahler’s work in more significant detail, placing him within the history of ideas and German romantic idealism, with influences as diverse as Arnim and Brentano, Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche. Howard Gardner credits Mahler with “spiritual and existential intelligence,” a desire to transcend the relatively constricted span of our life and to pose the big questions of Man’s purpose and his place in the universe. The Apollinian and Dionysian energies of artistic creation comprise the Nietzschean discussion; but so too do the issues raised in Zarathustra, that in the name of analysis and religious dogma, Man has systematically denied the value of living. Biographer Henry-Louis de la Grange is particularly willing to accord Mahler’s music as breaking fee of the merely aesthetic space of music to reach outward to the natural and supernatural realms. “Sooner or later,” Mahler notes, “all materialistic notions of the universe end at a point where our imaginations must engage.”

The value of the film lies not so much in the movement-by-movement analyses and speculative commentary, but in the idea that artists and thinkers speak to each other across the boundaries of time, that their visions transport a meaning and an impact far beyond their own contemporaries. To listen to Stan Brakhage, an independent filmmaker, rhapsodize on Mahler’s dream-state is to be privy to a kind of stellar dialogue between creators. The more scholastic aspects of the narrative are thorough and honest; for example, the fact that folklorists Arnim and Brentano belonged to an anti-Semitic literary clique, and that Mahler’s appropriation of their work represented something of a cultural coup for a Jewish transcendentalist. The rift between Richard Strauss and Mahler is likewise an open issue, with more credit to Strauss for having facilitated the first performances of Mahler’s difficult music. Then, to watch the young performers of the Manhattan School of Music under their able conductor Glen Cortese, we realize that the message of this grand music and its perhaps impossible aims continues to move and to engage the hearts and minds of a new generation of musicians and music-lovers.

–Gary Lemco

PUCCINI: ToscaPUCCINI: Tosca (2002)

Riccardo Muti conducts La Scala performers live
Tosca: Maria Guleghina; Cavaradossi: Salvatore Licitra; Scarpia: Leo Nucci
Studio: EuroArts/TDK (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: DTS 5.1; DD 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English, French Spanish, Italian
Extras: Soundcheck feature – tests your cable connections; 10-page illustrated note booklet
Length: 121 minutes
Rating: ****

I’m not an opera aficionado but have long considered Tosca one of the most successful and accessible operas in the repertory. It’s nothing if not dramatic, full of gorgeous music, and has a story line that makes sense and is gripping without any part of it guilty of silliness as with so many operas. This very Roman opera takes place in 1800 and involves the painter Cavaradossi who is sympathetic to the Republican cause and against the king whose power is applied locally by the wonderfully villainous police chief Scarpia. Cavaradossi and famous singer Tosca are lovers. A former official of the now-illegal Roman Republic escapes from the dungeon of Castel St. Angelo and Cavaradossi hides him. Scarpia suspects this and ferrets out the information from both Tosca and Cavaradossi, using torture on the latter. Tosca is compelled to reveal the escapee’s hiding place (the subtitle reads “OK, so spill the beans”), and it appears Cavaradossi will now be executed. But randy Scarpia has long desired Tosca and he promises to save their lives and give her an order of passage to leave Rome if she will give herself to him. As he approaches her she stabs him with a knife from his dinner table. In the final act preparations are being made for Cavaradossi’s execution, but Tosca believes the lie Scarpia told her that the soldiers would use blanks and afterwards Cavaradossi could get up and leave with her. He is shot, and not with blanks. Well, actually they are blanks because tenor Licitra has to sing another performance the next night, but…oh, you understand. As Tosca realizes what has happened she is discovered by Scarpia’s right-hand man who has found his body. Tosca ascends to the battlement and leaps over to her death.

This live recording was made during a La Scala performance in March 2000 and Muti is La Scala’s principal conductor. The TV producers were not given permission to add any additional lighting suitable for video, so although the general image quality is quite high resolution, in several scenes the singers are hampered visually by dark and murky lighting. One of the striking elements of the visual design is the extreme raking of the set – elements of it seem to be falling over on the singers. Even the floor is raked; it must have been difficult for the singers to negotiate while performing. All three of the main parts are beautifully sung and powerful voices. Guleghina is one of the leading dramatic sopranos in the world today. Scarpia’s role is especially appropriate, though neither Guleghina nor Licitra quite look the heartthrobs they are supposed to be. The micing is excellent, with no one wandering off mic. There are a minimum of distracting floor and set noises as one hears on so many live opera videos. The DTS option provides a higher degree of surround realism than one gets with most operas on video. The scenes with the cathedral choir in the background as well as the opening of Act 3 with the many different bells of Rome heard in the distance are beautifully spatial sounding and often have a vertical component to them. Altogether a fine presentation that should reach a larger audience than most opera videos.

– John Sunier

EMI's TannhauserRichard Wagner, Tannhäuser

Orchester der Oper Zurich, cond. Franz Welser-Möst, Chor des Opernhauses Zurich; Tannhäuser: Peter Seiffert; Elisabeth: Solveig Kringelborn; Venus: Isabelle Kabatu
Studio: EMI Classics
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: linear PCM stereo, Dolby 5.1 surround, DTS 5.1 surround
Sung in German, with English subtitles
Length: 187 mins. on one DVD
Rating: ***

This heavily dramatic production of Tannhäuser elucidates hitherto obscure points of this troublesome opera thanks to Seiffert’s phenomenal acting. This most impassioned Tannhäuser emotes (perhaps to excess) at every opportunity, even when he is not singing. His “Inbrunst im Herzen” (Act 3) comes to life like no other Rome Narration I have seen, with disgust at the unforgiving pope blazing from his mien. Kringelborn’s Elisabeth is exceptionally lustful without diminishing the purity of the character. In quiet moments, Kringelborn is expressive, spontaneous, and fresh as an Easter lily. Her “Allmächtige Jungfrau (Act 3) is ardent and sincere–quite a feat considering that she sings while cutting her own hair. Kabatu as Venus is slightly shrill, with unintended overtones in her voice, but her sinuous movements are enjoyable. Wolfram has some of the loftiest notes in the entire Wagner canon, but Trekel’s light voice and imprecise intonation are disappointing. The sets are attractive in their minimalist way. The sound of the small orchestra is thin and the conducting unimaginative, although this improves as the opera unfolds. The most frustrating aspect of this DVD is the camera work. There are too many close-ups, and the camera’s focus often shifts to the principals rather than to those who are actually singing at the time.

-Dalia Geffen

Die Meistersinger. by WagnerWAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.

Wolfgang Brendel, Viktor von Halem, Eike Wilm Schulte, Uwe Peper, Eva Johansson, Gösta Winbergh, Ute Waltier; Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Studio: Art Haus Musik 100153
Video: 16:9 widescreen enhanced, Color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 266 minutes

At last, an honest straightforward DVD of Wagner’s one comic opera, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. From its first scene in the church when Walter meets Eva—a scene whose pantomime acting equals the music—you are hooked. This a realist adaptation with clothing from the late nineteenth century, a naturalist production with fanciful miniatures of the town between acts. The cast is thoroughly immersed in this opera. At no point do you get the impression that they are grandstanding to the audience. The character of Beckmesser is a bit too broadly drawn, lessening his dramatic threat to Walther, but it hardly matters. Four hours just flies by. Even scenes in which there is little action, such as Walther’s indoctrination by Sachs, are done with such likeable actors (Winbergh and Brendel) that you grant it the patience it needs to develop.

Sitting through this opera is much like reading a lengthy first-rate novel like Anna Karenina. At the end, you feel as if the actors have revealed so much of their passions and turmoils that you know them personally. David’s recitation of the niggling requirements of the master song and his musical demonstrating of each (“the rainbow and the nightingale tune”) are hilarious, particularly if you can hear Wagner railing against traditional forms between the lines. Of course Brendel-as-Sachs is both spectacular and understated in his role as the inwardly noble man who rages against the madness around him in the great aria “Wahn, Wahn, uberall Wahn.” His regret at knowing he cannot have the fulsome Eva is palpable. I wish I could go on more about this stunning production, but I’d like to watch it one more time before it’s consigned to the archives.

– Peter Bates

Film on KhachaturianKhachaturian (2003)

Produced and Directed by Peter Rosen
Studio: VAI DVD 4298
Video: Color/Black & White
Audio: PCM stereo/mono
Length: 133 minutes with extras

A truly Armenian tribute to composer Aram Ilich Khachaturian (1903-1978), this remarkable film features a narration by actor Eric Bogosian, with the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra under Loris Tjeknavorian, as well as historic footage with Aram Khactaturian’s conducting the State Orchestra of the USSR in the Concerto-Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra with Mstislav Rostropovich from 1963. In the concluding segment of special features, pianist and executive producer for the film Dora Serviarian-Kuhn plays the last movement of the Piano Concerto in D-flat with Tjeknavorian while the visuals give us the composer’s leading the same work, so the intercutting has the pianist working with Khachaturian himself, while the color-scheme creates dazzling effects in the manner of Roy Lichtenstein.

Ostensibly, the film is an historic account of the life of Aram Khachaturian, a gifted, nationalist composer whose immense popularity with the Russian people did not prevent his being labeled “an enemy of the people” by the 1948 Party Congress of Musicians, whose ax-man Tikhon Khrennikov has several important parts in the course of this film. But the documentary is really a kind of Dantesque journey, a tale of early success, middle years of fallen grace and sorrow, and then a final period of redemption and spiritual rebirth. Both Khachaturian and Josef Stalin were born in Tblisi, Georgia; and Khachaturian at first embraced the “greatest social experiment in the 20th Century” –Communism–whole-heartedly, until the premature death of Lenin put the political power into the hands of the madman who would crush the very spirit of individualism in the best and most talented members of his society.

Stalin originally supported Khachaturian, whose deeply Armenian roots inform all of his music with a combination of melodic charm and rhythmic energy immediately captivating. Besides, as Prokofiev embraces France as his second home and Shostakovich the German tradition of Wagner and Mahler, so Khachaturian has a natural penchant for American jazz and its virile optimism. The Piano Concerto (1936) marked Khachaturian’s international acceptance into the world community, and we get a photographic glimpse of the fervent William Kapell, the American pianist who gave some 40 performances of the piece during the War years, 1941-1945. The film juxtaposes archival footage and stills of Khachaturian’s youth along with wonderfully evocative shots of the Georgian landscape and soil which colors his every musical impulse. The visuals of the Bolshoi’s production of Gayaneh, along with the Symphony No. 1, impart the glorious acceptance Khachaturian enjoyed at the height of his popularity.

Then the fateful attacks ensue: first the musical criticism of his “formalism,” along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich; then, the more damaging charge of “Anti-People” composer, again along with the other two composers of first rank. Khachaturian’s musical and political idealism, gleaned under Miaskovsky and Lenin, is shattered. Khrennikov admits that his announcement at the Musicians’ Congress is the “most tragic moment of my career,” but Khachaturian calls it “a stab in the back.” Khrennikov will read Khachaturian’s eulogy at the funeral in 1958.

The redemption begins with Khachaturian’s trip to America, but it culminates in his ballet Spartacus. Ironically, Khrennikov rejects the premise of the ballet on the grounds that it is anachronistic and counterrevolutionary; until Khachaturian points out that Karl Marx wrote that his idol in the spirit of rebellion against tyranny was in fact the Thracian slave Spartacus. Dancer Vassiliev calls the ballet a kind of requiem from Khachaturian, an encapsulation of everything the composer held dear musically and morally. Cellist Rostropovich adds considerable personal detail of the composer’s despair and later triumph. Solomon Volkov provides historical and personal background as well, filling out the contexts of political intrigue. But the true sustainers of the man’s spirit were his lovely wife, Nina (whom he had met in Miaskovsky’s master-class) and the Armenian people themselves, who blessed his name and naively enjoyed the fact that the Turkish slaughter in 1915 had passed him by. Khachaturian remarks, via Begosian, that he witnessed plenty of slaughter by the Party leadership.

There are innumerable nuances and touches to this film ineffable for a review to capture. We see the formation of the famous Sabre Dance, even a piano performance by Khachaturian (to match Hollywood’s by Oscar Levant). Young girls bring Khachaturian flowers and wish him long life in the name of Mother Russia. The special feature on the Making of Khachaturian reveals the grueling red tape that thwarted the filmmakers. Was Khachaturian a mere puppet to extol the virtues of Communism? Or was he, like Shostakovich, a dissident whose music embraced the humane values that must transcend politics? Plenty of food for thought, with visuals and kaleidoscopic music to match.

–Gary Lemco

The Humpbacked Horse balletSHCHEDRIN: The Little Humpbacked Horse

Maya Plisetskaya, The Queen-Maiden Vladimir Vasiliev, Ivan Alexander Radunsky, The King Anna Scherbinina, The Little Humpbacked Horse Soloists, Corps de ballet and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater/Algis Zhuraitis
Studio: VAI DVD 4265
Video: 4:3 full screen, color
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 84 minutes
Rating: ****:

Filmed in 1961, the Bolshoi production of the Shchedrin’s fairy-tale ballet The Little Humpbacked Horse is quite lavish technically and visually, with opulent technicolor sets and exquisite, classical dancing. Shchedrin, husband of prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya (b. 1925), has for my money no melodic gifts, but he has a large orchestra at his disposal and a sense of rhythm, buttressed by his own pedagogy and the inculcation of Russian national dances. They seem to suffice for the gentle allegory at hand, where the simple, peasant son Ivan wins the hand of the Queen-Maiden–who has come to life through the influence of a firebird’s feather–and foils the unnatural marriage with the old, doting King (Radunsky) with the elegant Queen-Maiden.

Director Zoya Tulubyeva assists the danced plot-line with a spoken narrative (in English), while the opulent set designs borrow clearly from aspects of Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Plisetskaya does not make an appearance until 35 minutes into the narrative; but from then on, she and the limber Vassiliev dominate the show. There are a number of obligatory divertissement, like a gypsy band and dancers in the capital city, but the lack of any melodic contour for their music undercuts their impact. Anna Scherbinina plays the eponymous Humpbacked Horse with gentle coyness and lithe delicacy, certainly as if she were courting the child in us all. Her character provides the magic in the story, allowing Ivan to pursue the Queen-Maiden to her distant kingdom, to travel under the sea to recover the Queen-Maiden’s ring, and to survive the boiling water that transforms Ivan but turns the King into a royal stew.

Along with Plisetskaya’s incredible technique, like standing en point forever and still managing to execute all kinds of lifts and pirouettes, the youthful Vassiliev demonstrates his own strengths and acrobatic ability, with a real flair for the sheepishly comic touches in his characterization. Radunsky’s King is all buffa, over-the-top mugging and pratfalls, a parody of Buster Keaton and Oliver Hardy. Other effects belong to the director, like the animation used for the firebirds, and the prancing costumed pair who are the two older companions to the Humpbacked Horse. The Bolshoi ensemble is impeccable as per expectation, since the entire grand ballet is mounted in traditional style familiar to Tchaikovsky and Glazounov. Sweet, sentimental, and eminently decorative, the video is a delightful hour and a half.

–Gary Lemco

Art of MarkevitchThe Art of Igor Markevitch = ROSSINI: La Cenerentola Overture/MOZART: Arias from Il Re Pastore and Cose fan Tutti/BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 “Pastoral”/BRAHMS: Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53; Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Irmgaard Seefried, soprano/Maureen Forrester, contralto/Orchestre de Radio-Canada
Studio: VAI 4301
Video: 4:3 full screen, B&W
Audio: Mono PCM
Length: 116 minutes
Rating: ****:

Archival footage 1957 and 1959 of conductor Igor Markevitch (1912-1983), whose facility in the Franco-Russian school came naturally, but whose mastery of the Italian and German music was no less authoritative. The telecast of 5 February 1959 features music by Rossini, Mozart, and Beethoven. Markevitch makes a dominant, semi-cadaverous impression, with his long, lean figure assuaged by the most graceful left hand and fluid baton technique. Often his left hand merely rests palm up, while the baton and his face, a shrug of the shoulder, lead the orchestra. In the Rossini, a flicker of a smile crosses his lips and lights up his eyes. Economy of gesture in the midst of the most explosive details is the order of the day. The Mozart has an almost ceremonial character as Seefried sings of eternal devotion in Il Re Pastore and contrition for carnal weakness in Cosi fan tutte. The Beethoven enjoys thoroughly plastic transparency of line. To watch Markevitch calmly establish the tempo of the 12/8 Scene by the Brook and cue his many woodwind entries is to savor a master of orchestral discipline. Certainly the performance is in the Toscanini lithe mold, but it achieves a delicacy of inflection quite unique to this visionary conductor. The camerawork in the folkish Scherzo is as deft in capturing the principals’ parts as Markevitch is forceful in eliciting their homogeneous ensemble. Markevitch’s rapt concentration during the thunderstorm sequence is a video unto itself.

By contrast the telecast of 7 February 1957 finds Markevitch’s countenance and demeanor years younger, with a touch of the youth and debonair fire that motivated his own urge to composition. The Alto Rhapsody with Forrester is quite dark, rhythmically focused, with powerful accents in the cellos and basses. The tempo is brisk, no dawdling, and Forrester incants the Goethe winter journey of the spirit with voluble force and hearty enunciation. A somewhat metronomic account of the Brahms Fourth, but with excellent ensemble in the winds and horns. Extreme care is lavished on the transitions between architectural sections; the strings and tympani caress each other prior to the recapitulation in the opening Allegro non troppo. The Radio-Canada recorded sound is a bit strident; and given the literalist approach of the conception, the lushness of the Brahms aura is lost. But watching Markevitch build a crescendo while meticulously marking the counterpoint in the opening movement is awesome. A nice touch in the Andante is the camera’s backing up to highlight Markevitch’s long shadow, then superimposing his image upon the orchestra. The Allegro giocoso really moves; nothing German here. The conductor’s eyes say it all. No personnel listed, but great work from the tympani. The last movement balances the long passacaglia with its discreet sections, the necklace never lost for the pearls. Here it is the romantic Markevitch we hear, the ostinato rhythmic pattern’s having to yield to the touches of rubato Markevitch allows. Markevitch is in full devotions, even closing his eyes at one point (prior to the flute entry) a la Karajan. For the last three variations and coda, we can see and feel the young lion at the podium, an athletic and sinewy conductor whom only failing health would eventually subdue. Great Brahms!

The bonus track features Seefried’s singing Schubert’s “Die Forelle” from 24 August 1961.

–Gary Lemco

Strauss: Alpine SymphonyRICHARD STRAUSS: An Alpine Symphony in Images (2004)

Concept/still photography/production: Tobias Melle
Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich cond. by David Zinman
Studio: BMG Classics, Red Seal
Video: Color, enhanced for 16:9 widescreen (stills)
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Interview with Tobias Melle
Length: 54 minutes
Rating: ****

I was especially interested to see that this was basically a slide show of mountain photography synchronized to the performance of the Strauss Alpine Symphony. It probably used three projectors or perhaps was entirely assembled in the computer. I produced similar matching of color slides to music presentations and so was excited to see how this German photographer and cellist had done it. He previously did a similar video with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The Alpine Symphony is one of the most programmatic of Richard Strauss works. The many short sections of the work are labeled with the stages of setting out in the early morning on a mountain hike and returning back down at sunset. We cross forests, interesting rock formations, alpine meadows, and glaciers on our way to the summit. Arriving at the pinnacle offers the chance of panoramic views. On the way back down we are enveloped in a thunderstorm with flashes of lightning, not that different from Beethoven’s in his Pastoral Symphony. Melle’s photos follow the music rather exactly. Some are very striking and others quite ordinary. Occasionally the brief juxtaposition of two images with a dissolve between them offers a feeling of animation and movement. The setting of the photographs is the Berchtesgaden Alps (where Hitler had his vacation home). It’s an interesting visual adaptation of the music which offers a relaxing and meditative relationship with the Strauss tone poem, and may even be recalled the next time you hear the work without the accompanying images. The performance by the Zurich orchestra is first rate and the DTS option preserves a clean and natural-sounding surround that makes the viewing of the photos a more complete experience.

– John Sunier

Duke Ellington & Milt JacksonSwing Era – Duke Ellington & Lionel Hampton

“Soundies” and shorts by two legendary bandleaders
Studio: MVD Music Video
Video: 4:3 black&white
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 77:19
Rating: ***1/2

These short music videos were made in the 1940s by the two jazz greats, and sometimes shown between feature films in regular theaters. I had some of them on VHS tape and I can’t say the images are much better here – some have become so contrasty that it is difficult to see the musicians. However, the sound is improved and most cleaner than it was on the tape. Ellington is always smiling brilliantly at the camera – no doubt urged to do so by the director. But his bandmembers look generally glumb, providing quite a contrast. The film short near the end of Ellington’s dozen tracks stages a recording session with a big speaker out on the sidewalk, where jitterbuggers tear up the pavement with their highly athletic moves – beats out any breakdancer today.

Vibe pioneer Hampton gets ten soundies and I wasn’t aware he did so many vocals – sometimes not even touching his vibes during a tune. Air Mail Special is one of the standout tracks that Hamp had done with Benny Goodman’s band. The picture quality is pretty bad on some of these – as though they were video kinescopes rather than on 35mm film originally. But it’s great to see the various Ellington soloists and to hear both these bands do their thing for the cameras.

– John Henry

Branford Marsalis - A Love SupremeBranford Marsalis Quartet Performs
John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” (2004)

Marsalis, sax; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Jeff “Twain” Watts, drums
Studio: Marsalis Music/Rounder
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or PCM 25bit/48kHz stereo
Extras: Alice Coltrane interview, Calderazzo interview, separate CD – Marsalis Quartet Live at the Bimhuis
Length: 110:38
Rating: ****

Coltrane’s extended work A Love Supreme is regarded as the epitome of his musical and spiritual explorations. Marsalis and his quartet approach it as a concept and general framework rather than a cast-in-concrete piece that they must slavishly mimic. There is plenty of space for each individual’s expression in this performance, and Branford even opens it entirely differently than Coltrane had his original version. The work builds to a powerful peak and establishes this Marsalis as a very serious player – his previous albums have been of a lighter nature. The setting was a top European jazz club in Amsterdam and the second disc is a standard CD of the quartet performing live at that venue. The interview with Alice Coltrane in the extras is fascinating and the comments by the musicians shed a great deal of light on the work and its performance. The video was made just last year. This is an important jazz music video that should find a wide audience.

– John Henry

Kansas - DVD CDsKansas – Sail On (The 30th Anniversary Collection)

Studio: Epic E3K 92661
Video: 4:3, color; last two letterboxed widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 options on DVD
Extras: Commentary by band (letterboxed), 2 audio CDs
Rating: ****:

Sail On is a newly-released box set that contains two CDs of greatest hit material and a DVD that includes footage from Kansas’ concerts and music videos. The music spans 30 years of Kansas from 1974-2004 and encompasses material from six record labels. A 35-page booklet is included that lists music credits, has color pictures of the band, memorabilia, and liner notes by Bret Adams. Trying to put the music in a single genre is quite difficult as there is a fusion of progressive rock, country blues rock (bar band style), and orchestrations that resemble classical music. A strange blend to say the least, but at the band’s best it created hit songs like Carry On Wayward Son (#11 on the charts), Point Of Know Return, Dust In the Wind (#6 on the charts), and Hold On.

The DVD has a nice mix of material. The early songs are recorded in 1974 and 1975 and the sound and picture quality isn’t the best. In between tracks are commentaries by band members reminiscing about the early performance and their music career. Some of the videos have to be seen to be believed—they evoke laughter at times. The music is as expected, but the effects are hilarious! Along with an explosive natural cloud background, there are bright colored auras around the band members and beams of light coming out of the performers on Point Of Know Return. On Dust in the Wind the band looks like they just left a wedding, sat down on a stage with a fog machine as we look on through an eye glass. These two are of better quality than the early concert footage. The others have rather mediocre video quality (on purpose?) although the sound is fine. With the later tracks there is a clear transition due to the times and the videos are more like mini films (like many 80s videos). The last 3 tracks were recorded in the summer of 2002 live, so the quality is pretty good. The band is getting older, but they can still rock pretty hard.

As far as material goes, even a diehard fan should be satisfied. Between the commentary by the band and the liner notes, you’ll have a solid idea as to exactly who Kansas is. As a compilation of the talent and music of Kansas, Sail On is a wonderful set.

Songs included (CDs): Can I Tell You; Journey From Mariabronn; Song For America; Lamplight Symphony; Icarus (Borne On Wings Of Steel); The Pinnacle; Child Of Innocence; Carry On Wayward Son; Cheyenne Anthem; Miracles Out Of Nowhere; What’s On My Mind; Point Of Know Return; Portrait (He Knew); Dust In The Wind; Lightning’s Hand; Sparks Of The Tempest; Paradox (Live); People Of The South Wind; Hold On; Got To Rock On; Play The Game Tonight; Fight Fire With Fire; All I Wanted; Rainmaker; Desperate Times; Eleanor Rigby; Icarus II.

Songs on DVD (from Rock Concert): Can I Tell You; Journey From Mariabronn; Death Of Moterh Nature Suite; Icarus (Borne On Wings Of Steel); The Pinnacle.

Songs on DVD (videos): Point Of Know Return; Dust In The Wind; On The Other Side; People Of The South Wind; Reason To Be; Away From You; Fight Fire With Fire; All I Wanted.

Songs on DVD (from Device Voice Drum): The Preacher; Miracles Out Of Nowhere; Carry On Wayward Son.

-Brian Bloom

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