Proprius Records has always produced some of the most lifelike and incredibly realistic-sounding recordings available; from the mid-seventies on it became pretty obvious to audiophiles that just about everything released by the label was a treasured commodity. With every recent advance in technology over the last couple of decades, the most highly regarded and most sought-after discs have been rereleased with regularity; many out there have probably gladly bought these discs several times over in several different formats. Jazz at the Pawnshop has always been among the very best and most natural-sounding recordings of a small jazz combo recorded in a very realistic space, and this latest multichannel SACD release takes that reputation to another level entirely. [Hey, I like it too, but some jazz writers have pointed out that it’s really rather ho-hum jazz, however well-recorded…Ed.]
Originally a two-LP set, this disc culls tracks from the original release, and with “Volume 1” emblazoned on the cover, optimistically implies that there’s more to come. [There was, but it wasn’t as good…Ed.] The undeniable star here is alto saxophone and clarinet player supreme Arne Domnerus, and his superb reed work anchors the proceedings throughout. None of the players are any slouch here, though, and they plow through this eclectic collection of ballads and blues with soulful precision. While so many “audiophile” recordings offer often sub-par or ho-hum performances with excellent sound, this disc is the real deal – not only is the sound quality superb, but this group could go toe to toe with any other small combo in this repertory out there.
In case you’ve missed the obvious, the recorded sound of this disc is reference quality. As with recent Proprius SACD releases, they’ve taken the original stereo-only mix and created a new 4.0 surround mix for multichannel enthusiasts. While all versions here are superb, I did the bulk of my listening in surround sound, which to my ears offers just a tad more envelopment than the SACD stereo version. All that audience chatter and those clinking glasses may serve as a distraction for some, but it just helps make things even more real for me (hey, it worked on Bill Evan’s classic live albums!). Two channel purists shouldn’t fret, though, the SACD stereo version is so much better than the standard Red Book CD layer that there’s plenty for them to rejoice about as well. The disc runs a generous 69 minutes, and is highly recommended, without reservations! [First Impression Music was first in converting this classic to surround sound. We reviewed that one here. The Blumlein M-S mike setup used for the original two-channel taping made this possible. Perhaps the same mix was used for this Proprius release, I don’t know. A comparison would be interesting for sure…Ed.]
Tracks: Limehouse Blues; I’m Confessin’; High Life; Jeep’s Blues; Lady Be Good; Take Five; Everything Happens To Me; Barbados; Stuffy.
— Tom Gibbs