Another arbitrary decision as to where to put this double-disc packed-to-the-gills package. It’s not a standard DualDisc of course, but the type we espouse here = separate discs for the DVD and CDs. And both of them are jam-packed – 3.5 hours with all the extras on the DVD, and the concert videos are all mixed for 5.1 Dolby Digital. Plus there’s interviews with the individual band members, which include even past members such as guitarist/vocalist Robben Ford. Two of them date from the original formation of the band 25 years ago (Ferrante & Haslip). That’s quite an achievement – getting up into the MJQ longevity area!
This anniversary production should be a perfectly balanced album for the collection of fans of the powerhouse quartet. Quite different from those single-disc DualDiscs which have only one short video of the group in performance or no video at all and just some highly processed stills of the band while you listen to the tracks. Heads Up has long featured useful video material on most of their CDs via the Enhanced CD format, but this package is 100% better than that. It provides a full evening of video performances in surround sound at the cost of a single CD.
The live performance videos were captured during the group’s European tour in the fall of 2005 – one at The New Morning concert hall in Paris and the other at Naima Club in Forli, Italy. During both concerts the band went back on some tunes into earlier albums of the 20 they have released in their quarter-century. It provides a sort of snapshot of where the band is today and where they’ve been in the past. Band members indicated that many of the European festivals at which they performed were televised (unlike the anti-jazz bias of network TV in the U.S. – the new half-hour-only Jazz Legends on PBS being the first network jazzcasts in 40 years!). Some of the numbers go briefly into split-screen mode to show two of the players up close simultaneously. The video transfer is not hi-def by any means but certainly watchable together with the enveloping 5.1 surround sound. (Though why not choose DTS instead of Dolby since an equal number of users are now equipped for it?) Joe Zawinul’s son Tony directed and edited the videos.
In spite of the long history and development of the band, I personally find their music rather static in style over the years – a sort of tributary of fusion with with not that much variety of approach. My fav of Heads Up bands is Spyro Gyra, which I feel has more creativity album to album, but that’s just my personal taste. The 5.1 mix is fine in the videos, and Bob Mintzer’s solos are skilled, but I prefer his leadership of groups on the DMP label and elsewhere. I was somewhat disappointed that this anniversary collection was not also a SACD as with two of their previous discs.
Mintzer feels the band could be together for another 25 years due to their democratic philosophy and commitment to what they’re doing. Yellowjackets’ fans will plotz over this bargain disc package!
– John Henry