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DVD-Audio And
SACD Discs


DVD-Audio Discs

JOHANNES BRAHMS: Piano Quintet in F Minor Op. 34 - Delores Stevens, p./Ives String Quartet - AIX RECORDS AIX 80005 DVD-A:

The offerings from Mark Waldrep's AIX label offer a good deal more than other DVD-A discs. The effort that goes into these all-new recording projects is in strong contrast to some of DVD-A releases which merely recycle 4.0 quad masters from the 70s without substantial notes or graphics - giving those of us who had a quality quad open-reel setup back in the 70s the same thing all over again albeit with less hiss and a bit better resolution.

This attractive chamber music favorite comes with a video side to the disc, backed with a DVD-Audio side on the reverse. The recording session was held in 2000. The video side has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track plus DTS 5.1 with a choice of two different visual angles - the camera focused on pianist Stevens - or with a touch of the Angle button on your remote, a four-way divided screen showing the four separate cameras, each focused on one member of the string quartet for the entire work. In addition to this, there is a choice of two audio "angles:" the audience perspective or the stage perspective which puts the listener right in the middle of the quintet on the stage. I preferred the latter, which made one feel almost as though you were one of the performers.

Unfortunately, there is not room at the higher sampling rate for both audio angels on the DVD-A side, so only the audience perspective is provided. Comparison of the audience tracks between the Dolby Digital and DVD-A MLP sides immediately showed a lifting of an aural scrim on the music that was not noticed when first viewing the video side, but which became very easily recognized after the switch to the 96K/24bit DVD-Audio. I didn't repeat the A/B-ing with the DTS tracks - they're often a bit cleaner and more prominent surrounds but still not up to the transparency of the DVD-A tracks.

To give an idea of the extras on this and other AIX discs, here is a list of what options appear on the Main Menu:

Play All
The Composition
The Composer
The Performers
The Recording
The Disc
Audio/Video Setup
AIX Records
And selecting, for example, The Recording, brings this up next:
Technical Info
966/24 Recording
5.1 Channel Surround Mixing
Session Photos

The performance is excellent and the sound balance just right. The quartet members look a bit glum on the video side, but most of us would be playing the DVD-A side anyway. It would have been fun to have the high-res "stage" perspective available on the DVD-A side, and while it seems nit picking to ask for still more extras than this lavish package provides, I thought reproductions of some of the actual music scores would be of interest to many - perhaps all of one shorter movement such as the Scherzo, and changing from page to page as the movement progressed.

- John Sunier


JOHN McEUEN and JIMMY IBOTSON - Nitty Gritty Surround - Special Appearance by Jennifer Warnes - AIX Records AIX 80008 DVD-A:

Another new recording made especially for DVD-A and chock full of extra features. The idea was to assemble these alums of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a passel o' compadres (ten altogether) for an old-fashioned pickin' and singin' session that could be videotaped as well as recorded via high-res DVD-A surround. The site used was an old theater in Hanford California and the musicians sat around in a circle for their dozen tunes. This provided more interesting visual material for the video side of the disc than the aforementioned string quartet had. The extras even include some interviews and sort of home videos of some of the performers. In one a performer takes the viewer on a mock-instructional tour of his motel room facilities. McEuen's son Jonathan performs with his father on most of the tracks, and Warnes - the vocalist beloved by TAS's HP - sings on a few of the tracks. The sidemen/women are billed as the String Wizards.

Again there are two audio perspectives from which to choose: audience and stage. The video side has the audience mix in Dolby Digital and the stage mix in DTS, since there wasn't room for both in both formats. The DVD-A side has only the audience mix for the 5.1 surround tracks, but there is a separate 96K stereo mix provided rather than letting the hardware do its own mixdown of the surround tracks. The music is a nice relaxed acoustic jam without pretensions. I'm not a huge bluegrass fan but I found it thoroughly enjoyable, especially in learning the differing styles/sounds of some of the guitarists via watching the video side and then later hearing them more transparently on the DVD-Audio side. One can see by the tune titles that this is not a strictly bluegrass get-together.

Tracks: Miner's Night Out, Darcy Farrow, Moonlight Dancing, Acoustic Traveler, Somewhere Somebody, Too Late Love Comes to Me, Shady Grove, The Oak and the Laurel, Swing to Bop, It's Morning, Blue Days Sleepless Nights.

- John Sunier


INSIDE THE MUSIC: New Age (3rd Force, Ottmar Liebert, David Arkenstone, EKO, Neal Schon, Lara & Reyes, Craig Chaquico, David Lanz, Brian Hughes, Cusco, Jonathan Cain) - Silverline DVD-A 72434-92356-9-4:

Each of the dozen tracks of his compilation features a different New Age/Smooth Jazz performer and they have all been skillfully remixed to all three 5.1 formats: Dolby Digital, DTS and DVD-Audio. I was unable to access the DD or DTS tracks or even the main menu, but that was probably due to the occasionally-buggy operation of my present Pioneer DVD-A player. The disc did move from track to track and changed visuals accordingly - and it may be played without displaying any video visuals if you wish. The visuals accompanying the selections are highly processed travel shots such as the Eiffel Tower and Pyramids. They're OK but once you've seen them and no longer require the on-screen listings of the selections and performers you will probably prefer not to use the video display option. After all, you can still identify the selections, should you need to, by the track number displayed on the DVD player. The mixes are interesting with a good feeling of envelopment that doesn't get overly corny or ping-pongy. This sort of music lends itself well to such show off surround. I would say this is one of the better non-classical offerings in the Silverline series.


FOURPLAY - (Lee Ritenour, guitars; Bob James, keyboards; Nathan East, bass; Harvey Mason drums) - Warner Bros. DVD-A 9 266556-9:

The DVD-A remix of this l991 smooth jazz classic adds not only much greater listener involvement in the music due to being placed in the middle of the musical mix, but also a higher degree of transparency that brings out subtle details in the music that were missed in the standard DVD iteration. Some vocal I found the original interesting but almost too smooth for my taste - having a certain sameness of groove throughout. In the higher res version both the laid-back inventiveness of Ritenour and James are placed in stronger relief and the interplay of the four jazzmen is more strongly presented due to the spatial separation. The remixer avoided the obvious approach of just putting each of the quartet members at a particular speaker, and uses the surrounds for a variety of both percussive and melodic purposes. Very enjoyable light jazz music-making. Selections: Bali Run; 101 Eastbound; Foreplay; Moonjogger; Max-o-Man; After the Dance; Quadrille; Midnight Stroll; October Morning; Wish You Were Here; Rain Forest.

- John Sunier


JOHN WILLIAMS: A. I. (Artificial Intelligence) Soundtrack from the motion picture, composed & conducted by John Williams - Warner Bros. DVD-A 9 48096-9:

The 17th collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Williams was not exactly Academy Award material but the soundtrack has some interesting material that translates well to surround in this remix of the original stereo soundtrack CD. William's use of choral sections, often heard in the surrounds, is quite effective. He achieves an other-worldly musical setting without being redolent of his Star Wars efforts. The main downer is the corny lyrics of the song For Always, heard in the middle and at the end of the 13-track disc, sung by Lara Fabian. I'm afraid this is one of those soundtrack albums (like most) that would have the most appeal to those who actually saw the movie - providing they liked it. The extras consist of a few still photos from the film and a page by Spielberg honoring Williams - that's it. I was hoping for at least the theatrical trailer; that has been included in several Enhanced CD soundtrack albums with far less real estate space on them.

- John Sunier


CARLY SIMON - No Secrets - Elektra/Rhino DVD-A R9 8122 74384-9:

Ah, hard to believe this came out originally back in l972. Makes one feel really old... or really young, depending on viewpoint. This is her album with the ascerbic You're So Vain, purported to be about Warren Beatty. It's a kick to hear classics like this in surround for the first time - the back-up vocals and/or percussion accents coming from behind/sides. Also great to have the lyrics up on the screen to follow and those great shots of sexy Carly. The first laserdisc I ever saw was of a live appearance by Carly in, I believe, Grand Central Station. Wish there had been space for at least one actual video clip from that on this DVD-A. Tunes: The Right Thing to Do, The Carter Family, You're So Vain, his Friends Are More Than Fond of Robin, We Have No Secrets, Embrace Me You Child, Waited So Long, It Was So Easy, Night Owl, When You Close Your Eyes.

- John Sunier


Queen - A Night At The Opera; DTS-1091 DVD-A:

With the recent resurgence of interest in Queen's music after Freddie Mercury's death, and especially the continued use of "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the Wayne's World movie and other films, it is no surprise that this was the disc chosen to head to multi-channel. It also happens to be one of their best albums, and it was great fun to be immersed in the music for the first time. Depending on the track, the surrounds have voices as well as instrumental content. From the main selection screen, you can watch a video of "Bohemian Rhapsody," or go directly to a particular track. Make sure to select the Title/Top Menu where you can access a picture gallery, lyrics, the video previously mentioned, credits, the DTS story, and the audio selection menu. In the audio menu, you can choose the multi-channel DVD-A track, the multi-channel dts 96/24 track, or a PCM stereo 96/24 track. Tunes on the disc: Death On Two Legs, Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon, I'm In Love With My Car, You're My Best Friend, '39, Sweet Lady, Seaside Rendezvous, The Prophet's Song, Love Of My Life, Good Company, Bohemian Rhapsody, God Save The Queen.

- Brian Bloom


SACD Stereo Discs

Satch Plays Fats - A Tribute to the Immortal Fats Waller by Louis Armstrong - Columbia Legacy CS 64927 mono SACD only:

This must be a first - not only the first mono SACD (in spite of the label on the printed side of the CD being a reproduction of the "Stereo Fidelity" red and black label of Columbia LPs) - but also the first with historical 78s dating back as far as l929. The famous original Columbia LP date is l955 - three years before stereo discs came on the scene. It was a dozen years after the death of Waller, who had briefly played with Armstrong at a Chicago silent movie theater in the 20s. Louis and his All-Stars, including Barney Bigard on clarinet and Trummy Young on trombone with Velma Middleton sharing vocal duties when a female voice was appropriate on a song. The original LP had only 9 tunes. George Avakian's original notes are reproduced reduced down as the original LP back cover, but then thankfully they are also reprinted in the note booklet in readable-sized type.

For a CD reissue in l986 six of the tunes were mistakenly mastered from alternate takes rather than the same final takes as on the LP. For this SACD reissue producers Avakian and Tommy Rockwell went back to the original masters for the first nine tracks, and then added alternate versions of four of the tunes that demonstrated more than subtle variations from the chosen takes. Finally it was decided why not include all the best recordings of Waller songs that Armstrong had ever recorded in his career? Thus the final seven tracks date from l929 thru l932 and feature such jazz stars of that period as Zutty Singleton on drums, Earl Hines on piano and vocals, banjoist Mancy Carr, Pops Foster on bass, and Red Allen and Homer Hobson on trumpets. The most amazing achievement here is the clarity and impact of these old 78s! Aside from a hardly noticeable bit of background noise Satch and his cohorts come across with a similar impact to the l955 tapings. These are even better than the astonishing 78 rpm reissues from the same period by engineer Robert Parker (who even rechannels to stereo and surround sound on top of everything). What part the exceptional restoration work played in the resulting sound vs. What part the additional transparency of SACD reproduction played is unknown to me. Perhaps this points up the truth in the allegation of some retro-nerds that the high-speed grooves of these 78 rpm "direct discs" hold more sonic information than has heretofore been extracted from them! I felt it would have been more honest to at least omit the large Stereo labels on both the jewel box and the actual SACD if Sony Music wasn't going to clearly identify the album as Mono due to fear of reducing sales. But that's a minor grouse considering the boon of this most-complete-ever Satch/Fats collection and in by far the most transparent fidelity ever.

Tunes: Honeysuckle Rose, Blue Turning Grey Over You x 3, I'm Crazy Bout My Baby x 2, Squeeze Me x 2, Keepin' Out of Mischief Now x 2, All That Meat and No Potatoes, Got a Feeling I'm Falling x 2, Black and Blue x 3, Ain't Misbehavin' x 2, Sweet Savannah Sue, That Rhythm Man.

- John Sunier


Dances with Wolves - Original soundtrack composed and conducted by John Barry - Epic/Sony Music Soundtrax ES 46982 SACD only:

Not sure just why this particular soundtrack was selected for SACD reissue when there are so many exceptional tracks available from film composers with a bit higher standing than Barry, creator of most of the James Bond scores. The adventures of John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) were supported by an effective soundtrack, but aside from the film it sounds rather repetitious and dated. The full orchestral climaxes certainly come across cleanly and with strong feeling on the SACD. Some of the wolf and other nature sounds from the film would have been nice in a multichannel version of this soundtrack.

- John Sunier


Deep Forest III - Comparsa (Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez) - Epic ES 68726 stereo SACD only:

In their third album the imaginative duo continues to mix world music and modern studio sampling and electronics to achieve their unique highly rhythmic sonic world. This time influences from Madagascar, Cuba, South Africa, Mexico, Belize, Brazil, and Arab and Andalucian music mix with saxophones, flutes, accordion and lots of percussion on the 13 tracks. I would have welcomed translations of some of the vocal and choral sections. I didn't have a CD version of an earlier Deep Forest handy and this SACD is not hybrid, so I wasn't able to do a comparison. My sense is that with this type of heavily-processed studio creation the additional transparency of SACD would be less identifiable.

- John Sunier


Jacintha - Here's To Ben, a Vocal Tribute to Ben Webster - (with Teddy Edwards, tenor sax; Ken Akagi, piano; Darek Oleg, bass; Larance Marable, drums) - Groove Note GRV-1001-3 Stereo SACD:

The lovely voice of Jacintha assays ten ballads performed frequently by the last great saxophonist Ben Webster in this session that has now been issued on audiophile LP, standard CD and gold CD. A favorite vocalist with audiophiles, she has an amazing capacity for interpreting these songs with a sweet and unforced style that is perfectly captured by the highly-tweaked recording approach of the Singapore-based label. She interprets all these ballads in an even more quiet and subdued style than on her other albums. I have the gold CD version and did some A/B comparisons. The differences are not earth-shaking, but include a slightly deeper bass extension of the drums and string bass, better imaging on Jacintha's voice, and an impression that some diaphonous veils between the singer and listener have been lifted on the SACD version. I hate putting it this way, but Jacintha sounds more real, more intimate in the SACD version. Alright, she sounds sexier.

Tunes are: Georgia on My Mind, Our Love Is Here to Stay, Tenderly, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, How Long Has This Been Going On?, Stardust, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Pennies from Heaven, Danny Boy, The Look of Love.

- John Sunier


Myra Taylor - My Night to Dream - APO Records 2017 SA - stereo SACD :

Taylor was a dancer and singer in Kansas City and elsewhere 50 years ago and now thanks to Chad Kassem's Blue Heaven Studio and record label she is recording again. The title tune was a big hit for her back then, and she wrote an original (Hey There) especially for this recording session. She is supported by some top Kansas City sidemen in this sparkling blues and jazz album. Another song delight is her tongue-in-cheek Just Give Me a Man. Taylor certainly doesn't sound like her 85 years. I got to hear her at the recent CES and she's a kick and a half.

Tunes: Spider and the Fly, Take It Easy Greasy, Straighten Up and Fly Right, Still Blue Water, Lady Be Good, Sunny Side of the Street, This is My Night to Dream, Hey There, Since I Fell for You, Just Give Me a Man, Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean, I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire.

- John Sunier


Hollow Bamboo - Ronu Majumdar, Bansuri flute; Ry Cooder, guitar & oud; Jon Hassell, trumpet; Abhijit Benerjee, tabla; Rick Cox, elec.guitar; Joachim Cooder, percussion - Water Lily Acoustics WLA-CS-71-stereo SACD:

A pleasing mix of Indian and Western instruments here support the ethereal sound of the bamboo flute - India's version of the Japanese shakuhachi. Both instruments are very difficult to play, and the astonishing ornamentation and rapid runs are often breathtaking. Each of the instruments has its own unique sound and with the accuracy of the open reel analog recording and careful mic'ing they can be located easily on the soundstage. Want a quick fix for more stress than you can stand? Just allow yourself to be immersed in this wonderful sound world for a time and close your eyes.

Tracks: Vaisnava Bhajan, Khrishna Kantha Kandam, African Queen, The Charmer of Braj, A Day for Trade Winds, Bay of Bengal, River Song, Hollow Bamboo.

- John Sunier


Indian Architexture - Dr. Ali Akbar Khan, sarod; Sri Swapan Chaudhuri, tabla - Water Lily Acoustics WLA-ES-20- (2 SACDs):

Another superb acoustic recording from Kavi Alexander's perfectionist label which records everything in analog form with vacuum tube electronics. This combination of analog/tube electronics and DSD/SACD digital reproduction results in an exquisitely detailed recording of the Indian instruments, allowing one to penetrate more deeply into the fantastic complexities of this seemingly simple music. After all, all there is is a single-line melody over a drone. But what goes on in that single line! - where all the focus is on the ornamentation, coloring or shading of the notes rather than on harmony and various voices. If you want to go into the complexities in detail there are two essays in the note booklet which will get you started, dealing not only with the musicology of Indian classical music but also the philosophy and Hindu beliefs in the Divine Mother. And/or you can just sit back in the here and now and let the note-spinning amaze your ears. Khan is at age 70 the world's greatest master of the sarod, and his art is on the same level as the composers he learned as a young man - Bach and Beethoven. The four complete Ragas on the two discs are all just short of a half-hour length - none of those "Readers Digest" versions (due to shorter playing times) heard on the LPs by Ravi Shankar that introduced many of us to Indian music.

- John Sunier



SACD Discs

The Coronation of King George II, 1727 - HANDEL'S Coronation Anthems and ceremonial music by PURCELL, BLOW, TALLIS, GIBBONS and others - Choir of The King's Consort/The King's Consort/Robert King - Hyperion SACDA67286 - 2 multichannel SACDs:

What a perfect choice for a musical surround experience. This pair of discs not only immerse the listener in the pomp and circumstance but due to the early music and the archaic words of the texts and chants also function as a sort of low-budget time travel vehicle. And the second SACD is free too!

Though the texts are in English, there are complete libretti for everything in the lavish note booklet. Much of the music used at the event was recycled from previous coronations, but Handel was commission to write not one but four coronation anthems, which are heard here. The most stirring is probably his Zadok the Priest - quintessential Handel with all flags flying.

The drama of the occasion allows for all sorts of natural surround effects that add a thrilling aspect to what otherwise would be a rather bland recital of early English choir music - not everyone's cuppa tea, so to speak. The effects include processions in and out of the cathedral, pealing bells (Westminster Abbey, separately recorded and mixed in at appropriate places), trumpet fanfares, and shouts of acclamation such as "God Save the King." One feels completely surrounded by the exultant crowd and part of the ceremony. This disc shows how surround can truly serve serious music without any gimmicks or exaggerations.

- John Sunier


GEORGE LLOYD: Cello Concerto; Orchestral Suite No. 1 from "The Serf" - Anthony Ross, cello/Albany Sym. Orch./David Alan Miller - Albany Records TROY 458 - multichannel SACD:

Albany's first SACD brings to SSfM two of the favorite works by a composer championed for years by the label as well as this orchestra. Lloyd's accessibly melodic and emotional music wasn't considered au courante in music academic circles for 20 years, so it was good the conductor's lifelong struggle to get his works heard had some assistance. Both of these works were composed about a year before the composer died in l998. The concerto - in one continuous movement - is a strongly emotional work lamenting the passing of a lost world, similar in intent to the Elgar cello concerto. The orchestral suite is a recycling of material from an opera on a medieval theme that Lloyd had written and had staged at age 25. Feeling the opera had some of his best music and failing to get it produced again, the composer wrote this seven-movement suite shortly before he died. The surround channels carry a fairly subtle impression of the rear portion of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall where the recording was made. Only in switching to the stereo mix is it clearly noticed that the sound becomes flatter and more opaque on the front channels. Switching then to the 44.1 CD layer increases that effect even more, with most of the hall feeling disappearing. This is how it should be done, but it puts more emphasis on the importance of having identical or nearly identical speakers all the way around.

- John Sunier


Global Percussion Network - "Rauk"- Compositions of Anders Astrand - Opus 3 CD 22011 - multichannel 5.1 SACD:

The Network is basically four percussionists playing both marimbas and vibraphones plus a fifth on some sort of percussion. Leader Anders Astrand had the l998 Opus 3 CD titled Live at Vatnajokul. His ensemble is rounded out on Walking Mallets with additions including piano, Thai gongs, flugelhorn and trumpet. The three-movement piece Rauk features solo vibes plus three percussionists and is named about tall limestone formations in Gotland Sweden.

This is the first multichannel SACD from Opus 3 that was recorded in discrete multichannel rather than being derived from the two-channel Blumlein-mic'ing masters as their previous releases have. (Although again the center and LFE channels were not used - making this a 4.0 recording.) A great deal of planning and discussion between the musicians and recording engineer to determine the best way to employ surround with the ensemble. It was decided to arrange the instruments in a U shape so that the sound images extend all the way from the left surround speaker around the front to the right hand surround speaker. The reverberation of the hall is also in the surrounds. Most of the pieces are subtle, melodic and not at all the violent type of percussive sounds. I enjoyed Walking Mallets the most for its variety of textures and the matching of the marimbas and gongs with the percussive sounds of the piano. This disc would be a fine piece of evidence to show that the center and LFE channels are not important for SSfM.

- John Sunier


Far More Drums - Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble - DMP SACD-10 - multichannel SACD:

Now unlike the previous percussion disc, this one is mostly non-melodic, providing a contrast to the previous Hohner CD on this label. There's still much variety of sounds however, and great surround demonstrations in the bargain. One of the most dramatic pieces is Russell Peck's Life-Off for nine identically-tuned bass drums. Ketiak is an instrumental work based on the different rhythms heard in the Balinese monkey chant. The opening Ogou Badagris was inspired by Haitian drumming and voodoo. In Staves the members of the ensemble take rhythmic ideas from West Side Story and the Rite of Spring as well as dance rhythms from cultures and blend them into one piece.

- John Sunier


Music of the Beatles performed by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, featuring The King's Singers - Telarc SACD-60540, multichannel SACD:

One of the most delightful and worthwhile Beatles tributes in many years! The sextet of The King's Singers is one of the most versatile vocal ensembles in the world, and what better material to have them turn their considerable talents to than the great songs of their fellow Brits the Beatles? The unusual balance of the sextet is due to the two countertenors plus two baritones. The collection of 16 tracks is divided rather evenly between the Pops playing strictly instrumental numbers such as the opening Eleanor Rigby, the singers performing together with the Pops, and to my thinking the best of all - The King's Singers a cappella. Their treatments of When I'm Sixty-Four, Octopus's Garden, and Eleanor Rigby are simply superb. It's not like a cover of the originals or just an obvious re-hashing of the music - they really get into the lyrics and don't just rely on their glorious well-trained voices - they interpret like mad. Their presentation of these songs lends support to the contention that Lennon & McCartney below right up there in the pop song pantheon with Gershwin, Kern and the others. The 5.1 surround spreads them out more widely and clearly on the frontal soundstage than you could possibly achieve with a CD version. In the numbers with the orchestra the delineation between the singers and the instrumentalists is easily sensed.

- John Sunier


The Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith - London Sym. Orch./Jerry Goldsmith cond. - Telarc SACD-60433, multichannel SACD:

Along with the 1812 Overture this was one of the first of the Telarc multichannel DSD extravaganzas. Quite a coup to get the person considered by many the greatest living composer of film music, plus the London Symphony, plus doing it in the new multichannel medium. He's received an Academy Award and 17 nominations. His musical invention seems limitless as he scores one film after another in often wildly contrasting styles, and seldom gets accused of recycling the same materials over and over.

Goldsmith arranged some medleys of his favorite themes for this album. Clever juxtaposition makes of the medleys mini-orchestral suites with contrasting movements. The 5.1 surround puts you in the movie theater with the music making skillful but not overly-obvious use of the surround channels. The film themes heard: Star Trek, The Sand Pebbles, Chinatown, Air Force One, A Patch of Blue, Poltergeist, Papillon, Basic Instinct, The Wind and the Lion, The Russian House, The Boys from Brazil, Sleeping with the Enemy, Medley of TV themes, Rudy, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Forever Young, MacArthur, Patton.

- John Sunier


OSCAR PETERSON & MICHEL LEGRAND: Trail of Dreams, A Canadian Suite - Oscar Peterson Quartet/The Michel Legrand Strings/Legrand - Telarc SACD-63300 - multichannel SACD:

Peterson has composed a lovely 12-movement suite that's a sort of musical travelogue to his native country. Legrand has arranged it for string orchestra backing Peterson's piano and quartet (Ulf Wakenius, guitar; Niels Henning-Orsted Pedersen, bass; Martin Drew, drums). In effect it's really another solo jazz performer with strings, but due to Legrand's swing arrangements the whole thing becomes quite a bit more than that. The music is straightforward, elegantly melodic and very accessible without skirting funk or fusion. The surround placement is more than the usual direct-front and hall reberb in the surrounds, and the note booklet includes a drawing to place all the performers spatially. The drums are on the left, piano center and guitarist Wakenius to the right, with the 13 string players behind the listener. You get the acoustic impression received by Legrand himself while conducting the ensemble, except that he was usually facing the strings. This lends a whole new listener involvement to the soloist & strings idea. A good multichannel demo to play for surround sound newbies. More transparency and fine detail than the original CD-only release, too.

Tracks: Open Spaces, Morning in Newfoundland, The Okanagan Valley, Dancetron, Ballad to PEI, Cookin' on the Trail, Banff the Beautiful, Lonesome Prairie, The French Fiddler, Harcourt Nights, Manitoba Minuet, Anthem to a New Land.


Monty Meets Sly and Robbie - Monty Alexander, piano and Melodica; Sly Dunbar, drums, rhythm and programming; Robbie Shakespeare, bass - Telarc SACD-63494, multichannel SACD:

This is an encore to the Monty Alexander stereo SACD I reviewed earlier covering the music of Bob Marley. The Caribbean jazz pianist did some very nice things with the reggae tunes - which normally I couldn't stand - and the panoply of various percussion was separated out sonically.

I find his new one twice as appealing due to its choice of great jazz classics - Sidewinder, Moanin' and Mercy, Mercy among them. And the combination of percussion, electronics, and the Melodica creates an infectious dance beat that makes it difficult to stay recumbent. The opening track would be a good one to demo to friends first the stereo layer and then the surround layer. What a difference! Some very tricky things are heard in the surround channels, all in good enveloping fun. Tracks are:  Chameleon, Monty's Groove, Soulful Strut, The In Crowd, Sidewinder, People Make the World Go Round, Kool Step, Moanin', Mercy Mercy, Hot Milk.

- John Sunier


MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 - Philharmonia Orch./Benjamin Zander - Plus Zander Discusses Mahler's Fifth (separate CD) - Telarc 2SACD-60569:

The Fifth stands in the middle of Mahler's career and signifies a more individual and modern style in his symphonic explorations. It is full of strong emotional content as are all his works - a gigantic struggle between many conflicting elements is going on in this music. The powerful emotional thrust of Mahler is partly due to the complex orchestrations in his symphonies. As conductor Zander says in the 78-minute talk illustrated with music examples on the second CD (standard 44.1), most of the time the players are not playing all together, but when they do, you know it! Mahler's huge orchestral climaxes - sometimes involving extra basses or horns, anvils, cowbells, or having the wind and brass players raise the bells of their instruments into the air to project more strongly - have been for me a good test of clarity vs. distortion or muddiness in reproduction. This is where standard CDs fail often miserably, sounding opaque and hard. Not so with DSD/SACD, and especially with the added reflected sound information coming from the surrounds instead of mixed entirely into the front soundstage.

Zander's version is right up there with the best, and with the added involvement of the surround - which seems so appropriate for Mahler, whether or no there are off-stage trumpet calls etc. to make functional use of the surround - this becomes a most-have for Mahlerites. The bonus discussion disc is well done and would appeal to both music tenderfoots and experts. Zander divides his points into sections on The Orchestra, The Motives, The Structure, The Adagietto, The Scherzo, and Experiencing the Symphony.

- John Sunier


Vodka & Caviar - The Ultimate Russian Spectacular - KHACHATURIAN: Excerpts from Gayaneh Suite and Spartacus ballet, Masquerade Suite; BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances; TCHAIKOVSKY: Grand Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, Waltzes from Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty - Philharmonia of Russia/Constantine Orbelian - Delos DS 3288:

From this disc's title I originally thought it was a collection of Russian gypsy songs with lots of balalaikas and domras. As you can see above, I was wrong. It's a pop concert of Russian favs, delivered with the greatest gusto by this Moscow-based band, and its conductor is the first American to ever become a music director of a Russian classical ensemble. (Orbelian actually hails from the Russian community in San Francisco.) In the familiar Polovtsian Dances the choral part is handled by the Spiritual Revival Choir of Moscow. For me the Adagio from Spartacus was the highlight of the concert - one of the most gorgeous and affecting pieces of music for the ballet of the last century. The venue was the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory, where so many spectacular recordings have been made over the years. The surrounds carry only the subtle hall signature.

- John Sunier


MARK O'CONNOR: The American Seasons; Strings & Threads Suite; Appalachia Waltz - O'Connor, violin/Metamorphosen Chamber Orch./Scott Yoo - Sony Classical SK 89660-2 multichannel SACD:

Roots-music virtuoso O'Connor is compared in the liner notes to Ives, Gershwin and Copland in being one of the few to translate the music of the ordinary people into orchestral garb. From a Nashville session player and country-style fiddler he has evolved into an acclaimed composer and performer of what he calls fiddle concertos. The first here follows the four movements thru the seasons of Vivaldi's original, but they also deal with stages in a person's life. "Seasons of an American Life" is the work's subtitle. There are folk and bluegrass elements and some occasional hefty dissonances in this different sort of crossover concerto. Strings & Threads boasts 13 short movements which are aligned to represent a sort of history of fiddle music in America. The closing Waltz is an arrangement for strings (without O'Connor) of the popular waltz which was heard on the Appalachian Journey album in a trio version and on Yo-Yo Ma's recent album in a solo cello version. The strings on this album are not being you as on the Peterson/Legrand SACD, but they are spread out in a wider and deeper soundstage than on the stereo version.

- John Sunier


Chuck Mangione - Everything for Love - Chesky SACD 228, multichannel:

The flugelhorn and muted trumpet of Mangione are joined by his septet of players on this album devoted to love songs of his own creation (except for Amazing Grace). Gerry Niewood on soprano and tenor sax is a standout soloist and sideman, and two keyboardists are featured. Mangione fans will be very pleased with this one, but others might wish there were more tunes from other sources to offer a bit more variety of sound and mood. This is one of Chesky's six-channel alternates to 5.1 surround, with the LFE and center front channels being used for fullrange left height and right height speakers. I'm not quite set up for that as yet, thought I will be shortly. The surround was just fine played back in 5.1 fashion, with well balanced low bass information coming across without using the LFE channel.

- John Sunier


Miles Davis - Quiet Nights - Arranged and conducted by Gil Evans - Columbia/Legacy CD 65293:

This 1962 session produced by Teo Macero at Columbia was No. 4 in the series of superb collaborations between Evans and Davis, following a couple years after Sketches of Spain and carrying on some of the same rich orchestral sounds and influences of Spanish classical and folk music. The Quiet Nights title may give an impression this is sort of a Sketches of Brazil but it isn't - the idea is the more laid-back and subdued nature of the music. Much of it employs Miles' Harmon mute on his trumpet. More subtle music of this type benefits just as much from the increased resolution and clarity as do big climaxes and more brash sounds. An improvement in quality over previous CD versions was heard in the fancy Columbia package of all the Evans/Davis collaborations issued a few years back, but this one brings the listener more into the music than does the Quiet Nights disc in that set. Tracks: Song No. 2, One Upon a Summertime, Aos Pes da Cruz, Sony No. 1, Wait Til You See Her, Corcovado, Summer Night, The Time of the Barracudas.

- John Sunier


Willie Nelson - Stardust - Columbia/Legacy CS 65946:

Interesting that one of the biggest-selling albums ever for the country singer has been this l978 change-of-pace in which Nelson did an entire album of pop songs with which he had grown up. His straightforward, earnest and heartfelt delivery brings out the best in the Tin Pan Alley classics, and the very tasteful arrangements aid in the presentation greatly. What's to add? What a musical statement against the 99% crap that passes for pop and rock today! Nelson will probably rack up lots more sales with this great collection of great pop music heard with an immediacy we didn't have before SACD. (Really a contrast in my case because all I had was a pre-recorded cassette of this album!) The songs are: Stardust, Georgia on my Mind, Blue Skies, All of Me, Unchained Melody, September Song, On the Sunny Side of the Street, Moonlight in Vermont, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Someone to Watch Over Me.

- John Sunier


Manitas de Plata - Guitarra Flamenco - Vanguard Classics VSD 503 stereo SACD:

One of the greatest masters of flamenco guitar in a landmark l963 recording with singers Jose Reyes and Manero Baliardo on four of the ten tracks. This is the raw, real stuff of flamenco, putting the listener in the middle of the gypsy campfire scene. The entire heart and soul of this gypsy goes into his emotional music. The recording venue was a medieval chapel and the acoustics are perfect, both for the echoing castanets and shouts, as well as the increasing ability of SACD reproduction to preserve such subtle sound reflections. If your only exposure to such gypsy fire is the Gypsy Kings, get a load of the real thing with this disc. Selections: Bulerias, Granadinas, Tarantas, Alegrias del Cante, Sevillanas, Soleares gitanas, Levantes, Farruca, Jota, Tarantas II.

- John Sunier


COPLAND: Appalachian Spring Ballet; GOULD: Spirituals for String Choir and Orchestra - London Sym. Orch./Walter Susskind - Everest/Omega VSD 504 - stereo SACD:

The Everest label produced a series of LPs that combined exciting performances with state of the art recording, including many using the 35mm mag tracks media. Omega has reissued a number of these on CD for which they resurrected and tweaked the original tape decks for playback. The results came close to the original LP pressings - close but no cigar. The SACD version surpasses the LPs, and with freedom from the bane of rumble, surface noise, inner-groove distortion etc. The Copland is up against plenty of competition but none with as good sonics, and while Gould's own version of his Spirituals on Mercury is more spirited, the sonics are cleaner and more luscious on this version.

- John Sunier


Two contrasts in modern jazz conclude our stereo SACDs this time...

Yuri Honing with large ensemble cond. By Henk Meutgeert - Memory Lane - Turtle Records TRSA0010 - stereo SACD:

Having no idea what to expect on this imported disc of unfamiliar Dutch musicians, I thought it was a vocalist of some sort. Instead we have a soprano and tenor sax soloist somewhat in the style of Paul Desmond, backed by a classically-oriented ensemble including French horn, violin, cello and flute and eight great tunes by such as Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and Billy Joel! The disc's title comes from the fact that these are all tunes that were important to the Dutch saxophonist in his teens. He didn't want to do a sax-with-strings album but he did want to record something more accessible than his usual avant jazz improvisations. He and his two arrangers started with the French horn and added instrumental voices to give a pleasing backing yet one free of the clichés of many jazz-soloist-plus-ensemble sessions. Let me just say he met his goals - this is the best lighter-jazz album I've heard in a long time! Tunes: Prism, Infant Eyes, Chan's Song, Together, Hermitage, New York State of Mind, Sands, For Turiya.

- John Sunier


Misha Mengelberg Quartet - Four in One - (Mengelberg, piano; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Brad Jones, bass; Han Bennink, percussion) - Songlines SGL SA1535-5 stereo SACD:

Remaining in a Dutch mode, we have here one of the leading lights in the Amsterdam avant jazz scene. After reading an article about the active Dutch players in which Mengelberg was listed alongside Willem Breuker (which AUDAUD regulars will know I'm nuts about) I picked up a Mengelberg solo piano CD. Way too avant for me, except for the final track. However, in the environment of this SACD I find him very listenable. Dave Douglas is perhaps the most inventive trumpet player around jazz today and they make a terrific duo within this quartet. Douglas also produced the album and I find he can make the wildest sort of sounds work for me; perhaps he kept Mengelberg - sort of a Dutch Cecil Taylor - under control. And after all, you can't honk and caterwaul on a trumpet as on a sax! Three of the 11 tunes are by Monk and all the rest are Mengelberg originals. Must admit I didn't hear a huge difference between the CD and SACD layers on this disc. Tracks: Hypochristmutreefuzz, Reef, Kneebus, Die Berge schuetzen die Heimat, Four in One, Monk's Mood, Criss Cross, Blues after Piet, Kwela P'Kwana, We're Going Out for Italian, Poor Wheel.

- John Sunier



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