Jazz/Pop/Rock, Pt. 3 of Hi-Res Reviews

by | May 1, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

46 SACD & DVD-A Reviews This Month

May 2005 Pt. 3 of 3

(Jazz, Pop & Rock)

[Part 1]     [Part 2]click on any cover to go directly to its review

Turtle Is. Q. Ying Q.Buzz Bros. BandPancho SanchezPaquito D'Rivera
Yellowjackets - Altered StatesOscar Peterson Vol. IOscar Peterson Vol. IIOscar Peterson Vol. III
Shania Twain SACDAllman Bros. Band at FillmoreByther Smith, bluesLowell Fulson SACD
Songs of Nick Drake SACDThe Kinks - Soap Opera

Turtle Island St. Q. Ying Q.4 + Four – Turtle Island String Quartet + Ying Quartet – Telarc multichannel SACD-60630 ****:

A number of classical string quartets have been actively redefining the form for some years now. The Kronos Quartet probably started the whole thing 40 years ago, but Turtle Island has been around 20 years and going about it their own way. Actually, what they have been doing in blending the classical quartet tradition with 20th century American vernacular styles is very similar to the very first Kronos recording – a 45 rpm 12-inch for Reference Recordings. Such wide-ranging influences as bluegrass, folk, pop, swing, bebop, funk, R&B, new age, rock, hip-hop, Latin American, and East Indian have been integrated into Turtle Island’s repertory. And unlike the Kronos, TISQ originates most of its own music.

At a music event, TISQ leader David Balakrishnan began talking to Ying Quartet lead violinist Timothy Ying about some sort of collaboration between their two quartets. The Ying is the faculty quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music and was nominated for a Grammy award in chamber music. The collaboration took some time and hard work, but this disc is the final result. It opens with an Oliver Nelson big band tune arranged by the TISQ’s second violinist Evan Price. Next is a duet by the cellists from the two quartets. Mara’s Garden of False Delights is a three-movement original suite by Balakrishnan, inspired by the three states of being in Hindu philosophy. The first successful attempt to combine jazz and classical music in a concert work was Darius Milhaud’s ballet The Creation of the World in 1923. That orchestral work undergoes quite a transformation to fit the octet. The featured string bass in the original is now replaced by the two cellos. By the time the 11-minute work is over one feels perhaps this version could be Milhaud’s original – it works that well. Variations on an Unoriginal Theme is a sort of battle of the bands, as the two quartets toss the theme back and forth, changing it into a jig, scherzo, gospel tune or mambo. Lennon & McCartney’s Because closes the disc in four-part harmony with a taste of tango thrown in. The surround mix keeps the entire octet up front and is not that different from the stereo mix, aside from more “air.” This would have been a trip done via Tacet’s “Real Surround” method of putting the listener in the center of the octet!

– John Sunier

Buzz Bros. Band SACDBuzz Bros. Band – Castle in the Air – (Marnix Busstra, guitar/electric sitar & bouzouki; Berthil Busstra, Fender Rhodes & keyboards; Rene Dissel, doublebass; Chris Strik, drums; Guest on 2 tracks: Gevorg Veranian, duduk) Turtle Records multichannel SACD TRSA0019, 50:36 **** (Dist. by May Audio):

Marnix Busstra and his brother are both performers but were going their own way musically until they got together again on these special arrangements with a special rhythm section. The latter required an acoustic bass rather than electric and a drummer who worked only with brushes rather than sticks. The two brothers have great musical respect for one another and feel they have a special telepathy that contributes to the success of these tracks. Their music shows Middle Eastern and East Indian influences mixed with tasteful fusion jazz and atmospheric guitar & sythn work that may remind one of Pat Metheny at points. The tracks are often six or seven minutes length and often based on an ostinato of some sort with improvisations over it. For example, in Pearl Diver there is a repeated three-note chord in the deep bass and over it a meandering solo wind-sounding instrument that sounds like a chromatic conch shell – probably a sythn since that instrument doesn’t exist!. Miles Davis-electronic-type grooves are in evidence here, but the melodies are more tonal, shorter and more ethnic-flavored. I found this a highly individual and fascinating musical journey, one of many coming out of the Amsterdam music scene today.

Tracks: Castle in the air (short version), First class seat, Pearl diver, Nut case, Frog country, Grandma and the wolf, She’s gone, Buzz battle, Authentic turtle, Castle in the air (long version).

– John Sunier

Poncho Sanchez SACDPoncho Sanchez – Out of Sight! – Concord Picante multichannel SACD-1031-6 ***:

Sanchez and his conga drums head up an octet of players based in the Afro-Cuban sound but bringing in soul music and funk for a red hot dish that appeals to lots of listeners (but not that much to me). Sanchez even brought in both Ray Charles and Sam Moore of Sam & Dave on this recording. Ray is joined on One Mint Julep by B3 organist Billy Preston and also does his own tune Mary Ann later on, where he is joined by Dale Spalding on harmonica. Sam is heard in Hitch It to the Horse. This is a very tight Latin band which sounds bigger than the nine players, and the multichannel mix is very surrounding and bassy. So dig it if it’s your thing!

Tracks: One Mint Julep, El Shing-A-Ling, Hitch It to the Horse, Saints & Sinners, Mary Ann, Not Necessarily, Conmigo, JB’s Strut, Out of Sight, El Tambor del Mongo.

– John Henry

Paquito D'Rivera - Portraits of CubaPaquito D’Rivera, reeds – Portraits of Cuba – Arranged and conducted by Carlos Franzetti – Chesky multichannel SACD298, 60:36 ****:

Now this is more like my style of Latin music! D’Rivera is one of the best performers in jazz today, on clarinet, soprano and alto sax. Franzetti is a very creative arranger who can present existing music in imaginative new ways – as he did on his previous Chesky SACD, “The Jazz Kamerata.” The 13 tracks on this disc cover a century of Cuban music. Franzetti created his arrangements for D’Rivera and a group of soloists in a similar fashion to the concerto grosso form of the Baroque period. He wanted to give the wind instruments led by D’Rivera an equal value to the always dominant percussion in Cuban music.

In collaborating on the project, D’Rivera and Franzetti had as a model Miles & Gil Evans’ Sketches of Spain. The idea was a jazz tribute to Cuban music, rather than a medley of actual Cuban music. D’Rivera helped select some of the tunes. One of them, Tu, was the very first tune he had played as a child with his father. There’s a photo of them performing together. Others that I was familiar with were the familiar The Peanut Vendor, a tune by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, and the closing – the theme from I Love Lucy!
D’Rivera has two of his originals and Franzetti contributes one. The band is 18 strong and features such names as Jim Pugh on trombone and Lew Soloff on trumpet. It’s a swingin’ hour in Havana via Chesky’s superb surround (the venue was a NYC church, not a studio).

– John Henry

Yellowjackets - Altered StateYellowjackets – Altered State – Heads Up multichannel SACD HUSA 9097 ****:

An original cover by artist Peter Max adorns the latest in a long series of albums from this creative quartet.They began life as the session band for guitarist Robben Ford in the late ‘70s. Over the years they have changed and developed thru many variations upon a basic jazz fusion style – blues, R&B, world music, Afro-Cuban, acoustic. Experimenting with tradition has been Yellowjackets’ thing all along. Now made up of leading reedman and big band leader Bob Mintzer, keyboardist Russell Ferrante, electric bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Marcus Baylor, Yellowjackets are playing with offbeat meters and rhythms plus unusual melodies in this album. The first track is 15 beats to the bar, for example. There are vocals this time, one from Jean Baylor, even with backup singers. All 11 tracks are original tunes by members of the band, with one involved three of them together. The dynamic groove of this band has always been a kick, and with the terrific surround playback it’s a kick and a half!

Tracks: Suite 15, March Majestic, The Hope, Hunter’s Point, Mother Earth, Youth Eternal, Free Day, Cross Current, Aha, 57 Chevy, Unity.

– John Henry

Oscar Peterson, piano – Exclusively for my Friends, Volumes I, II & III – ****

Oscar Peterson Vol. IOacar Peterson IIOscar Peterson III
Vol. I – Action – MPS Stereo-only hybrid SACD B0002228-16:
Vol. II – Girl Talk – MPS Stereo-only hybrid SACD B0002231-16:
Vol. III – The Way I Really Play – MPS Stereo-only hybrid SACD B0002233-16:

These are the SACD reissues of three of the six albums making up a very unusual addition to the large Oscar Peterson discography. The original tapes were discovered by someone who was evidently connected with the German MPS label. They were recorded by Peterson with whatever rhythm section he was traveling with at the time, in the private home of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer in Germany. Brunner-Schwer was a skilled tape recordist and he obtained sonics nearly as good as Peterson’s commercial recordings. He used professional Ampex open reel decks. No wire-recorder-sourced reissues here as with Charlie Parker! Since they were good friends and the recordings were strictly for his and Peterson’s use and not for distribution, Peterson and his record label gave permission for the recordings. (That probably wouldn’t happen today!)

Feeling that the tapes were often even more exciting than the commercial recordings, MPS worked out the legal details to release them. Now they feel they are good enough to reissue on these stereo SACDs, and the sound is exceptional. Those in attendance are very quiet, and Peterson sounds very relaxed in the home setting. His bassists are either Ray Brown or Sam Jones, and his drummers either Ed Thigpen, Bob Durham or Louis Hayes. The piano tone is fine, and the balance with the bass and drums is good. The original detailed liner notes are reduced and reproduced in the note booklets but they are unreadable. But there’s one strange thing in the mix: The bass and drums are confined entirely to the far left of the soundstage – there is no hint of them on the right channel. The treble end of the keyboard is strong in the right channel, with the lower end centered between the speakers. A small quirk in this wonderfully intimate collection of performances by the greatest living jazz pianist!

Vol. I Tracks: At Long Last Love, Easy Walker, Tin Tin Deo, I’ve Got a Crush on You, A Foggy Day, Like Someone in Love
Vol. II Tracks: On a Clear Day, I’m In the Mood for Love, Girl Talk, Medley: I Concentrate on You/Moon River, Robbin’s Nest
Vol. III Tracks: Waltzing Is Hip, Satin Doll, Love Is Here to Stay, Sandy’s Blues, Alice in Wonderland, Noreen’s Nocturne.

– John Henry

Shania Twain: Up!Shania Twain: UP! – Mercury B0000788-36 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD, 74 min. *:

In many respects, Shania Twain is to be commended – she writes her own songs, conquered Nashville and made it to the top – even if very little of what she does really resembles traditional country music. Unfortunately, with her latest release, UP!, what seems to be mostly up is the volume, and the heavy processing and over-production of all elements of the recorded sound. What’s definitely down are the really clever and snappy “woman-on-top of a man’s world” lyrics and posturing that in the recent past made her such a novel act with so much appeal to so many. Maybe the novelty has just worn off, but I found very little here that offered any appeal at all on any level, and if you’re looking for a veritable garden of audiophile delights, this isn’t it! Only for extremely die-hard fans.

— Tom Gibbs

Allam Bros. Band at Fillmore East SACDThe Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East; Mercury Records B0000400-36 (2-discs) Hybrid Multichannel SACD, ****:

Some bands are good studio bands and some bands only perform their best in front of a live audience. The Allman Brothers are equally comfortable in both settings, but on this disc they just light it up! Thankfully, the recording quality is very good, so it doesn’t get in the way of the enjoyment of the record. There are only a handful of country/blues rock bands that I really dig, and this band is at the top of the list. Eat A Peach is a fantastic record, but if you want to hear the band (live) really open it up and jam with songs up to and over 20 minutes in length then this record is worthy of your time. Most of the songs are from other blues artists, although the lengthiest song, “Whipping Post,” is an Allman original. On the first disc there is an inspired version of “Stormy Monday”—mellow and smooth with great percussion and guitar work. It is easy to get lost in the musical experience on tunes like “You Don’t Love Me,” but there are shorter tunes in between to mix up the pace as well. If the album were half as long it would still be recommended, but with an hour and 20 minutes of music what you have here is a real winner. As for the multichannel sound, the focus is mainly up front with some effects and crowd noise in the back to help pull the sound out into the room. Songs included are: Statesboro Blues; Done Somebody Wrong; Stormy Monday; You Don’t Love Me; Hot ‘Lanta; In Memory of Elizabeth Reed; Whipping Post.

-Brian Bloom

Byther Smith, bluesByther Smith – Addressing The Nation with the Blues – JSP Records JSP5106 Hybrid Multichannel SACD ***:

Byther is a Mississippi native who lost both parents as a child, and began his adult life working a cattle ranch and boxing. His aunt forced him to quit fighting and he moved to Chicago where he pursued a musical career. He didn’t have much luck getting gigs other than on the gospel circuit, but in the early 60s this changed and he made a few recordings. By the 70s, he worked with Junior Wells, and in the early 80s he put out his first LP. It didn’t meet with much success, but a few years after followed another record where he finally got some recognition. This disc (from 1989) hits straight at the heart of the Chicago sound, while you can hear influences from people like Otis Rush, B. B. King, and Elmore James. Track two is a punchy, throbbing number that reminds me of some live, old John Mayall records. The music on this disc isn’t that old, but in style it definitely has an older blues feel—and that’s a good thing. Every track incorporates top-notch licks and mates well to Smith’s vocal delivery. Track seven is a toe-tapping tune with horn bopping away. The title track is somber and troubling in its impact—it talks about the problems of the world and difficulties people face due to lack of hope and distrust. The message is as heavy as the music. After the first few songs I knew this disc was a keeper and I’m sure you’ll agree.

The amount of surround used on this record creates a distinctive echo. Vocals are rough and you have to concentrate to make out some of the lyrics, but that is just Byther’s sound and doesn’t reflect on the quality of the recording. The soundfield is huge and cymbals have an amazingly natural metallic quality. Guitar is mixed into the surround channels which comes off as sounding a bit strange. As a whole, sound quality is excellent. Songs included are: What Have I Done; I’m Movin’ On; I Was Coming Home; What Is This; Looking For A Woman; Play The Blues On The Moon; I Wish My Mother Was Here; Hello Mrs Brown; Addressing The Nation With The Blues; You Should Be Proud Of Your Daughter; Put Your Arms Around Me.

-Brian Bloom

Lowell Fulson SACDLowell Fulson – Think Twice Before You Speak – JSP Records JSP5103 Hybrid Multichannel SACD ****:

Fulson is one of the legends who didn’t take his abilities for granted and rest on his laurels. He continued to go back to Europe to play with old-timers and young upcoming musicians for the fun of it. Fulson has a deep, rich voice that works well with his style of guitar playing—a style that can best be summed up as Texas country blues. This recording was made in 1984 and it is clear that Fulson is still at the height of his ability even if he sounds like he’s slowing down. He’s best known for his classic tunes “Reconsider Baby” and “Tramp,” but this record is full of good material. Track three is a slower blues number replete with enticing multiple runs on the piano. Most of the tunes are upbeat and have a real kick to them, and every tune features Fulson’s expert guitar playing. Song after song gives the listener the impression that this isn’t just any ole blues disc—it’s something special. Track seven is a swinging tune that you can dance along to—twirling and spinning. Sound on this disc has been remixed to surround with music coming from all directions—see track two and the horn in back for example. Recording quality is very good although voice isn’t quite as clean as the rest of the mix. Still, this disc is an easy recommendation. Songs included are: I’m Tough; Come On If You’re Coming; One Room Country Shack; Think Twice Before You Speak; Meet Me In The Bottom; Come Back Baby; Oh Well, Oh Well; You’re Gonna Miss Me; Sinner’s Prayer; Lowell’s Jump; Parachute Woman.

-Brian Bloom

Nick Drake songsPoor Boy – Songs of Nick Drake Tribute Album; Songlines SGL SA4202-2 Hybrid Stereo SACD ***:

Nick Drake is one of those mysterious artists who never got much attention (except when his songs appeared in television commercials) and led a reclusive, possibly tortured existence. There aren’t many pictures or typical documentation of his life—only stories told by those lives he touched and came in contact with during his brief stay on our Earth. In some ways, his life plays like “Vincent,” the sad song by Don McClean describing another tortured soul. His musical career was rather short and he only produced three albums: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Later, and Pink Moon. He didn’t like to tour and had extreme emotional difficulties that led to his death/suicide (not determined) in 1974 at the early age of 26. The music on his last album is largely acoustic with Drake’s wispy voice breathing life into them. The earlier records are orchestrated and/or jazzy. They’re intimate to say the least, and the themes were brooding and touched on sadness, mortality, failing romance, and the like. Just listening to small clips of the original songs will give the listener a peak into the intensity, power, and beauty behind his music. It’s hard not to imagine what sort of effect they’d have on even the casual listener, yet most people have never heard of the man.

This brings us to this compilation which is full of unknown (to me) artists doing their interpretations of songs. In the liner notes for this disc even the producer questions whether the tribute album even made sense to produce. Many of the artists never heard of Drake (or barely knew his music), so their attempts to re-create his moods and ideas are fresh and based upon first impressions, rather than many years of admiration. In my opinion, the only good thing to come from most tribute albums is the attention given to a possibly forgotten artist or band. I’m not a big fan of movie remakes either, as I feel the original work should stand on its own even if the intent is not necessarily to imitate for the purpose of monetary gain, but solely as a tribute to the gift possessed by the artist, or reverence to the importance of the original work. You will have to judge for yourself which is the case regarding this particular record.

The sound of this disc is an example of what the format is capable. There is quite a mix of different interpretations ranging from jazz to folk to more eclectic sounds but in the end I’d rather listen to the originals. Songs included are: Cello Song (Bill Horist & Aiko Shimada); Clothes of Sand (Kate Hammett-Vaughan); One of These Things First (Chris Gestrin & Simon Fisk); Three Hours (Jason Michas & Chris Gestrin); Hanging on a Star (Robin Holcomb & Veda Hille); For Nick/Horn/Know (Francois Houle 6 + Danielle Hebert); Poor Boy (Kate Hammett-Vaughan); Fly (Mike Dumovich); Parasite (Friendly Science Orchestra); Road (Veda Hille & Robin Holcomb/Francois Houle); Things Behind the Sun (Bill Horist & Sam Mickens); River Man (Mount Analog with Jesse Sykes); Black Eyed Dog (Ian Moore & Eyvind Kang); From the Morning (Mike Dumovich).

-Brian Bloom

The Kinks - Soap OperaThe Kinks – A Soap Opera – Koch Records VEL-SC-79811 Hybrid Stereo SACD
Rating: ?:

In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Kinks’ first record, all 15 albums have been remastered on hybrid SACDs. This disc may not be the weirdest of them all, but it sure is a start in that direction. This record takes Davies’ storytelling to new levels and comes off as a rock opera ala The Who, but stranger. The record examines the pitfalls of stardom and the role of the concept of celebrity in the life of a commoner. The whole process was a difficult one for the band as the project seemed to be more of a solo effort by Ray Davies. At times the record is a musical comedy and at others it sounds like the soundtrack for This Is Spinal Tap. Either the playful meanderings grow on you or you can’t stand them—my co-worker made me take the disc out after the 2nd or 3rd track. After a few listens, you realize there is much more to be gleamed from the record, but it is still an effort on the listener’s part.

This disc is good sounding, but not great. Imaging is marginal on some songs–there is a big blob of sound in the center and not much more. The extras are nice for those who just can’t get enough of the music. They are well recorded and offer slightly different takes on the studio versions. If you are feeling adventurous, then check this one out. Songs included are: Everybody’s A Star (Starmaker); Ordinary People; Rush Hour Blues; Nine To Five; When Work Is Over; Have Another Drink; Underneath The Neon Sign; Holiday Romance; You Make It All Worthwhile; Ducks On The Wall; (A) Face In The Crowd; You Can’t Stop The Music. Bonus tracks: Everybody’s A Star (Starmaker) (Mono Mix); Ordinary People (Live); You Make It All Worthwhile (Live); Underneath The Neon Sign (Live).

-Brian Bloom

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