The one thing that struck me the most about Premonition Records’ latest release of an “Un-Mastered” edition of the Patricia Barber jazz standard, Cafe Blue, was the audibly more reverberating recording studio ambience. When the 1994 production was first released by the label on compact disc, it was hailed as the new Jazz forerunner of the time; it took the audiophile realm by storm such that many got their own copy. In the same year, First Impression Music obtained a license to issue a remastered edition of it, in a 24-karat gold-plated disc no less. Eight years passed before the music was licensed to Mobile Fidelity to issue an SACD edition of the recording. The 2002 SACD reissue was played throughout audio shows of the time. While each progressive version carried more depth and refinement, none of them sounded like this Un-Mastered edition.
After an ensuing decade of numerous reissues and LP pressings, Premonition Records hired Gus Skinas, Director of the Super Audio Center, a mastering and disc manufacturing facility of the SACD format, in a restoration of the Cafe Blue to the original studio mix prior to its commercial one. The result was a much quieter recording busting with dynamic contrasts. Instead of the nose-bleeding, more potent oxygen mix, we are now breathing fresher air. It took some getting used to.
The newfound dynamic variance was breathtaking and of demonstration-class. It would no longer do to raise the level of my audio system to the “safe” level and just let it cruise all the way to the finish. For one, the soundstage had expanded into more realistic depth and width for the instrumentalists to occupy their own space. There was a softer edge to the individual sound amidst a more realized presence. Whereas in the previous mix all instruments sounded bigger, more bloated, more audacious and louder, the Un-Mastered was more differentiating. Intrinsic energy of each instrument was now more recognizable. Whereas the old Cafe Blue recordings would help smaller speakers to sound larger, larger speakers would do true justice in portraying the more defined spatiality of the Un-Mastered. The playing now sounded so unleashed that it would be a sacrilege to tarnish the efforts that went into this reissue by blasting it. You must resist the temptation, too. The Cafe Blue Un-Mastered is now the reference. I will no longer use any of the earlier versions of Cafe Blue.
Nordost Tyr 2 XLR and speaker cables
Esoteric K-03 SACD player
Esoteric G-01 Rubidium Clock
Pass Labs Xs Preamp
Pass Labs XA-200.8 monoblocks
Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden
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