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January 2004 Music Review

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January 25, 2004

A stretch of US 1 in Maine is called the Coastal Route. When Lee and I drive south to Camden, we have the option of taking Route 1 or going inland. Both have their attractions, and we are aesthetes, no use denying it. We relish what pleases the eye and deplore the ugly – I more loudly than she. For example, the Sunset Inn has a small, handsome sign at its Route 1 turnoff, a definite candidate for the Highway Award. Closer to our town, another road sign indicates what I suppose is a new condo development: Harbour Pointe. That’s Harbour with a u, which puts us where, in England? And Pointe with an e, as in who knows where or at what time in our language’s history. Maybe the developer got the inspiration for this middlebrow idiocy in Ye Olde Brique-a-Braque Shoppe. Difficult to say.

When I first looked at Concierto, Harbour Pointe sprang to mind. Concierto, that’s Spanish for concerto and this looks very much like a jazz CD. More phony swank? And then I looked again. All-star lineup, recorded in 1975. And there in the contents, fourth from the top, justification: a jazz turn on a staple of the light-classical repertoire, the blind composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s 1939 Concierto de Aranjuez, for solo guitar and orchestra, to Don Sebesky’s conducted arrangement. With respect to Concierto’s initial appearance on CTI vinyl, Mobile Fidelity’s CD-compatible SACD contains two additional tracks and three alternate takes. (Concierto is also available as a CTI CD. The eponym’s source, Concierto de Aranjuez, is Rodrigo’s most widely recorded work. The reader might also be interested in hearing the composer’s second most popular work for guitar and orchestra, Fantasia para un gentilhombre.)

Guitarist Jim Hall, the program’s first among equals, engages with his cinco compañeros in an impressive ensemble. Interplay gets no better than this. Were jazz a medieval guild, this would be a project among masters, nary a journeyman within earshot. What one hears is a tour through Smooth on a gentle spring day, but only the very best neighborhoods, with no asides into Syrupy Sweet or Weary Cliché. At close to 20 minutes, these jazz turns on Rodrigo’s unremittingly tender guitar concerto go on for a bit longer than seem fitting. As to legitimacy, however, a jazz ensemble’s having tackled a popular work in another genre finds validation throughout the centuries. Composers have shoplifted popular tunes and dances to generally good effect, for tangential example, Luigi Boccherini’s guitar quintets. Boccherini, an Italian working in Spain, found much to admire in the streets of Madrid. Waste
not, want not.

Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to,” the disc’s first number, is my runaway favorite. Hall’s “Two’s Blues,” “The Answer Is Yes,” Ellington / Strayhorn’s “Rock Skippin’,” Johnny Andrews / Carlos Chavez / Ernest Von Roth’s “Unfinished Business” and three alternate takes complete. The insert includes Leonard Feather’s excellent original notes, albeit uncorrected: Feather misspells the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’s name as Villa Iobos and identifies him as Spanish. Tsk tsk.

In terms of production, Concierto sounds endearing despite limitations. The soundfield is narrow but convincing for all of that. I was impressed – again – as I listened to these tracks by the midrange’s contributions to lifelike sound. Get that right and all is well. I don’t know what kind of mics Van Gelder used (the notes do not provide). I suspect they roll off way below what enthusiasts would describe as an exemplary high end. Similarly, in the bass, there’s not much going on where audiophiles pay the big bucks for an athletic presence. Whatever, I’ll take these truncations over a wider-range recording that gets most everything wrong.

Mike Silverton, Editor,

Concierto. Jim Hall, guitar; Chet Baker, trumpet; Paul Desmond, alto sax; Roland Hanna, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Steve Gadd, drums; Don Sebesky, arranger and conductor. Creed Taylor, original producer; Rudy Van Gelder, original recording engineer. Mobil Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2012

January 4, 2004

Some years ago, a bread bakery’s posters hung, among other places, in New York City subway stations: large, solo close-ups of happy, smiling people – blacks, whites, Chinese, Latinos, little kids, geezers – with the slogan “You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levy’s.” Amen to that and bagels and lox, along with the understanding that no one has an exclusive on the world’s gastronomic or musical pleasures. Things are seldom what we think they should be. I performed briefly as the Chinese chef of a Sino-French restaurant here in Midcoast Maine, and Asian instrumentalists have long been making invaluable contributions to Western classical music. For recent example, the Swedish label BIS has been issuing an impressive survey of Bach’s cantatas performed by a Japanese original-instrumental ensemble, chorus, soloists and conductor. A few of the vocal soloists are Westerners, it’s true, but this is by and large a Japanese enterprise and up there with the best. I could begin a list of Asian classical soloists with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and go on for too long to hold anyone’s interest. I’ll spare you.

So it’s no surprise that, as jazzmen, pianist Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, bassist Ken Kaneko and drummer Toshio Osumi more than convince with their super-smooooooooth treatments of easy-listening standards: “The Way We Were”, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, “Misty”, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing”, “Theme from Spartacus”, “No Problem”, “As Time Goes By”, a medley from “The Sound of Music”, “A Time for Us”, and the disc’s eponym, “Autumn in Seattle”, which Yamamoto composed for occasion.

The trio’s chops come as no surprise. Conversely, having weathered several disappointments, I was most pleasantly startled by the extraordinary audio quality of this hybrid multichannel SACD’s two-channel CD iteration. “Plays on all SACD and CD players.” You bet! And the surprises continue:

I’ve a number of great-sounding jazz CDs in which the drum set is as wide as my system’s soundstage. Good audio trades in illusion. If one tries to imagine the ensemble in place, the drummer would require arms about as long as a rowboat’s oars. It’s a little offputting. I began playing Autumn in Seattle before I removed the insert. Early impression: a gorgeously engineered production, luscious in the extreme, and a masterpiece of minimalist technique. There sits Osumi at his rig off to the right and, in my room, a tad to the rear, sounding like a human-size human. The pianist, his instrument minting solid gold, is where he is, as is the spot-on accurate bassist’s low end. I’m hearing musical textures and a stereo image to die for – utterly coherent, utterly convincing.

On then to the notes. I almost choked. Pages four and five provide an abundance of technical detail. We see a floor plan of the Tokyo recording studio, Onkio Haus, with its large central space where the piano, stringed bass and drum set reside, plus five discrete booths and a control room. Now, I have long held, as the fruit of earnest tutelage, that a multitude of microphones contributes to a sound best described as a dog’s dinner. It bears repeating: I hear Autumn in Seattle as a minimalist masterpiece of the recording engineer’s art – and, as first-rate recordings remain rare events, an art it most certainly is. Are you ready? The piano and bass, two mics each; the drum set, four, not to neglect the two ambiance mics! And they’re all different! – Rode, Neumann, Electro-Voice, two B&K models, Sennheiser, ATM, AKG! You could have knocked me over with a floating decibel!

This has been a humbling experience, my cozy prejudices and preconceptions having been kicked through the spotless window on an attractively performed program. Musically, Autumn in Seattle is not my bag. However, if you’re into elegant, honey-smooth treatments of pop standards, the disc is bound to satisfy. My compliments, withal, on this two-channel “compromise.” I mean, really – what must Seattle in Autumn sound like as a surround SACD? And that, I suppose, is what we fanatics love about audio: the always-open door….

Mike Silverton, Editor,

AUTUMN IN SEATTLE. Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, piano; Ken Kaneko, bass; Toshio Osumi, drums. Winston Ma, producer; Takeshi Tee Fujii,
recording director; Yoshihiko Kannari, recording engineer. FIM Hybrid Multichannel SACD 040.

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