Three CDs From
First Impressions Music
By Dave Glackin
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Jazz at the Pawnshop likely needs no introduction to any of you. Suffice it to say that it was recorded live before an audience in a club in Sweden in 1976, and it is widely regarded as one of the most natural-sounding jazz recordings of all time. It is a long-standing audiophile reference, and it contains excellent music and performances. (OK, so maybe it needs an introduction to some of you…)
JVC's XRCD process has long impressed me as being responsible for some of the most natural-sounding CDs on this planet. Winston Ma convinced Prophone Records, run by the son of the founder of Proprius Records, that Jazz at the Pawnshop should be remastered in the XRCD format by the JVC Mastering Center. This was done on two CDs, whose tracks match the original two LPs.
I compared the result with my Proprius LP, which was half-speed mastered at the JVC Cutting Center. The LP has a natural timbre, a realistic-sounding ambience, and a sense of life to it that is quite captivating. And wonder of wonders, the FIM XRCD sounds nearly as good as the half-speed mastered LP. It, too, has the timbre, the ambience, and the live sound that give the listener the impression of being in a jazz club. The most surprising thing to me is that the soundstaging and imaging qualities of the XRCD are so close to those of the LP. The usual transfers to CD are usually lacking in these areas, but not this time. Winston Ma, JVC and Prophone are all to be commended for a job well done. My only minor quibble is that the LP has slightly more life to it, but the XRCD is incredibly enjoyable, and without that comparison to be made, nothing would ever be missed. The XRCD also has a big advantage over the LP. My LP's liner notes are in Swedish, and they are limited to one page. The XRCD contains ten pages of notes on Proprius Records, recording techniques in general, and this recording in particular. (Note: This CD was treated with Torumat CDX-16 spray prior to evaluation.)
Hush! The Angels are Singing
This is the best choral CD I have heard since Cantate Domino. And that's really saying something, as the latter has been my reference disc at CES for as long as I have been a reviewer. Hush! The Angels are Singing features the Taby Church Chamber Choir, and it was the first release from First Impressions Music. And like Cantate Domino, it was recorded in a church in Sweden (and, according to the liner notes, it is licensed from
Proprius, who also recorded Cantate Domino…now it all becomes clear…). I especially like track 3
(Sankta Lucia, solo choir) and track 6 (Sa Mork Ar natten, choir and organ). Many thanks to Stan Ricker for first calling my attention to this recording and dubbing it a "new standard" in choral reference quality material. This is an HDCD-encoded gold CD remastered by Paul
Stubblebine. This CD was treated with Torumat CDX-16 spray prior to evaluation.
The recording is natural and spacious (and that's from a DAT master, not analog). It has excellent vocal timbre and articulation, and it contains inspiring and contemplative musical selections. If you like Cantate Domino, buy this! That's the highest praise I can give.
Patricia Barber, Companion
When JVC first developed the XRCD2 process, I was fortunate enough to attend a CES press conference at which early comparison samples were handed out (CD, XRCD and XRCD2). The advantages of the XRCD2 process were clear to me, after auditioning these discs on my reference system. Winston Ma has produced the latest Patricia Barber album in the XRCD2 format, an excellent choice indeed.
I have always loved Patricia Barber. She has a unique voice that establishes an intimate, smoky jazz-club feeling. Her ability to modulate that voice is startling. She is accompanied by somewhat quirky, spare backing instruments … a moody, expressively spooky guitar, sparingly punctuated percussion, and tuneful acoustic bass. Patricia herself does a virtuoso job on piano and she can really rip on the Hammond B-3 organ.
This is a live recording made in front of a small audience. The recording is wide-open, with instruments appearing all over the far end of my listening room, with outstanding depth of image. Despite Patricia's amazing voice, my favorite cut is the all-instrumental jazz piece "Like JT." Patricia really displays her chops on the piano in this piece, fully comparable to any jazz pianist I've heard lately. It also showcases what an amazing guitarist John McLean is; he throws off some very nice licks here. Two of the cuts on this album I've heard on her other albums, but these live versions are interesting variations, while the rest of the cuts are new (at least to me).
I compared the XRCD2 to the Premonition Records 180 g LP (which is apparently mastered from a 24-bit digital mixdown). The LP sounds more effortless and natural, with better harmonic integrity. Good as the XRCD2 process is, and that is very good indeed, by comparison the LP gives a better impression of a real jazz combo. If you own a turntable, buy the record. Otherwise, the XRCD2 comes pretty close, is completely enjoyable in its own right, and represents a quantum leap over the sound of a typical CD. (Note: This CD was treated with Torumat CDX-16 spray prior to evaluation.)