HOFF trio (Jan Gunnar Hoff/Anders Jormin/ Audun Kleive): Polarity Hybrid SACD & Blu-Ray D – L2 Pure Blu-Ray Disc 145 – 59:00, (5/18/18): ****
Typically, when I am reposed on the listening couch, staring up at the cracked ceiling plaster, I don’t look for musical happenings above me. Instead, the action emanates from the towering von Schweikert’s in front of me, source of a well-defined sound stage. Thus, I sat bolt upright to solve the puzzle: whence comes this apparition of three-dimensional sound space? The liner notes of this Blu-Ray Pure Audio release “Polarity,” by the Hoff Ensemble, document the recording location, a high ceilinged church in Sofienberg, Norway. However there is nothing unusual in this. Such spaces usually conduce to reverberant recordings of the ECM type, a quality that I hold in the same esteem as added color and flavor in foods. But this was no mere added echo, rather an aural illusion of layered sound in the vertical dimension. It was playing tricks on my ears. Turning to my trusty Grado headphones, I achieved a little more clarity in placing the instruments but there still obtained the peculiar sense that I was looking down on the music, a disembodied listener, while my chair-bound self was simultaneously taking in the horizontal view. This sort of adventure in acoustical research is what 2L (Lindberg Lyd) Pure Audio is all about. Audiophile enthusiasts owe themselves an experience with this new super high resolution technology. The 2L website gives a lengthy technical description of the processes involved. Below one can sample their provocative claims.
Auro-3D® is the next generation three-dimensional audio standard. It provides a realistic sound experience unlike anything before. By fully immersing the listener in a cocoon of life-like sound, Auro-3D® creates the sensation of actually ‘being there’. Thanks to a unique ‘Height’ channel configuration, acoustic reflections are generated and heard naturally due to the fact that sounds originate from around as well as above the listener. “The closer to real-life sound, the more immersive the effect”. To achieve ‘true sound in 3D’, Auro-3D® adds the crucial third and final dimension in the evolution of sound reproduction. While 5.1/7.1 Surround configurations fail to include height channels (zaxis), Auro-3D®’s creates its outstanding effect with a HEIGHT-based sound hemisphere capable of thoroughly immersing the listener. Depending on the size of the room, either 1 or 2 additional layers (HEIGHT and TOP) are mounted above the existing Surround layer at ear-level to produce Auro-3D®’s defining ‘vertical stereo field’. This field is the key to creating the most natural and immersive sound experience possible.
This release features two discs. A SACD and the Blu-Ray. The former has sound comparable to the finest SACDs that I have heard, while the latter is an acoustical wonder of a new sort.
Now for the music. The Hoff ensemble, led by Jan Gunnar Hoff and featuring Anders Jormin on bass and Audun Kleive on drums, brings together well-known Norwegian musicians for what they call modestly an “acoustic jazz project.” The bassist is well known for his work on the ECM label while the pianist and composer of all 12 tracks is a new name for me. Listeners might expect something along the lines of Jormin’s piano trio outings on the Manfred Eicher’s iconic label, and they will not be disappointed. The style of the first track, from the brooding introduction to the meditative and modal musings of the trio, sound strikingly like the signature ECM artists Tord Gustavsen, Wolfgang Broderode and Bobo Stensen. At a higher temperature, a second tune called “Revamp” references the cascading passages and swirling rubato of Keith Jarrett. The pianist’s technique is first rate and his attentiveness to his rhythm section show good teamwork.
The strength of this session lies in the compositions more than in the playing which although quite good doesn’t assertive itself enough to my ears to amount to a distinctive trio voice. The piano and bass do achieve moments of accord, however, and lyrical beauty abounds. The drums, which pose the most intriguing problem to both pair of ears on the horizontal and vertical level, are diffident. There is less use of the ride cymbal than I have heard in a long time, which is not a bad thing as the pianist shows a strong predilection for the pedal.
Jormin’s bass is simply faultless. His arco playing escapes the usual vinegar attached to that technique, while every detail in his sound, from delicate pizzicatos to huge quarter notes, resonate come at you from two directions like warm zephyrs on a cool day.
A peculiar feature of this “acoustic project” involves the use of synthetic studio sounds. Not credited in the notes, these “soundscapes” (to use the new term, which I am beginning to dislike) seem extraneous to the essence of this music. Elsewhere, I found this explanation by the leader. “We supplemented the ensemble’s palette of sounds by introducing an analogue synthesizer that grows in intensity, its sound filling the room with autonomous power.” They certainly add something to the huge range of dynamic and acoustically effects but now without damage to the purity of the trio concept. My guess is that these “enhancements’ will go down much easier with the audiophile contingent while raising a skeptical eyebrow with the ECM jazz trio fan club.
In all, this is a breathtaking development in audiophile sound and recording. The Hoff Ensemble can stand on equal terms with the fine working trios on the European scene today, even on this first collaborative effort. I will gladly seek out more L2 Recordings as well as future projects, acoustical or not, by the Hoff trio.