James Walker and Free Flight – Threads, Blu-ray 3D (2012)
Performers: James Walker, flute; Bryan Pezzone, piano; Tim Emmons, elec. bass; Mike Packer, drums
TrackList: Mo’s Art, Blackie and Max, Skipping, Lament, Gershwin Medley, Skeeball, All the Things You Are, Methane 5, BACH Sonata in E Flat Major: Siciliano; Libido
Studio: AIX Records 86063 [8/28/12] [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 1.77:1 for 16:9 1080p HD 3D
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (“Stage” or “Audience” Mix), DD 5.1, PCM 2.0 96K/24
Extras: 1982 bonus video from Tonight Show (10 min.), BD-ROM audio files, Setup, Channel IDs, Explanation
Length: 67 minutes
Free Flight has been one of my favorite groups for many years. I have a couple cassettes of them and recall hearing them live in San Francisco in the 80s. The 1982 video clip from The Tonight Show was a kick to see, especially since AIX did a very good job of converting the 2D original to a small-screen 3D and the keyboardist was the great Milcho Leviev. Since the designation 3D is very small on the cover, I was wondering why the titles all looked very blurry on my screen. Then I put on my 3D shutter glasses and wow! – there was James Walker and his quartet in all their glory in terrific 3D. (There’s no separate 2D disc, but if you want to show this to a group without glasses, just select 2D on your TV display and it will lose the second image.)
Free Flight’s mix of classical, jazz and pop is somewhat different from other such groups. Although some of their material—such as the Bach Siciliano—may remind one of the Jacque Loussier Trio, others are original tunes by band members or fairly straight interpretations of classics such as Kern’s “All the Things You Are.” “Mo’s Art”—as you might figure out—uses a theme from Mozart. Walker, who was First Flute of the LA Philharmonic for many years, is a superb flutist who uses an electric pickup on his instruments, which include the piccolo. The extensive Gershwin Medley is an arrangement by pianist Mike Garson, who also has out a recording of his original piano version. (On Reference Recordings, who also have a Walker & Garson CD we reviewed.) I did notice an odd artifact: the lighting used evidently created a partial circle of white on the lower black keys of the piano which you see in the closeups, making them look as if they were partially painted white. But it didn’t detract from the whole.
The camera work has gotten more sophisticated on AIX video and audio productions. There are overhead shots and good closeups of the performers in action. The 3D effects are excellent. You really can’t find a superior combination of visual and auditory recording from any other label today. One publication called AIX “the Bentley of AV productions.” I’m not always a fan of all of their artists, but with Free Flight I’ve found a favorite for sure. I always select the “stage” mix, which puts you onstage with the performers, rather than the “audience” mix, which puts you in a good seat back in the house some distance from the stage. But I don’t know of any other recordings which give you such options. And of course AIX doesn’t use any compression, EQ or any gimmickry in providing you the highest-resolution audio and video on their discs.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.