Kitaro Live in Yakushiji
Billed as a special event for world peace, Japanese New Age musician Kitaro performed, videotaped, and recorded three live concerts in the summer of 2001, the composite result being the daylight, moonlight recording, subtitled Kitaro Live in Yakushiji. The setting for the recording, outdoors at the Yakushiji temple in Naro, Japan, lent to the atmospherics of the presentation atmospheric describing both the mood and music.
Four musicians playing percussion, electric violin, and keyboards joined multi-instrumentalist Kitaro, who also plays electronic keyboards, Japanese flute, an unusual electric guitar with drone strings, percussion, and bells. The compositions are strong on mood, mellow and evocative, and definitely not melody driven. Chanting monks play a role in a few of the performances.
The audio production was engineered by Gary Barlough, who mixed the project to stereo at Mochi Studio in Ward, CO, and mixed the 5.1 version at Adventureland Surround Studio in Los Angeles. Marcussen Mastering was chosen for the stereo mastering (David Collins) and for 5.1 Super Audio CD mastering by Stephen Marcussen. The DVD-V version, reviewed here, was mastered by David Glasser at Airshow Mastering in Boulder, CO.
The video is thoroughly professional, a well-edited multi-camera shoot. Candles and robed monks augment the architecture and combine with varying spot lighting punctuated with moments of complete darkness to make a moody composite. Though the video has its place setting the stage, and lighting effects add to the feel of several titles, it isnt extremely compelling you might use it to complement a mood you are trying to set, but I dont think the average Joe would just sit and watch.
Excellent musicianship combines with an impeccable and dynamic recording and create a broad soundstage. Plunking myself in the surround field while I worked proved very productive the music soothes and relaxes. There are moments of crescendo, but even those moments are built to gradually. The surround field is used for ambience primarily, though sometimes for effects like wind. Added to the video, in a darkened room, you get an effective feel of front row center. Frank Wells
Alison Krauss + Union Station
Long before Oh Brother, Where Art Though? modern bluegrass was alive and well. Solid roots in tradition have blended with contemporary sensibilities by a number of artists, the queen of them all being Allison Krauss. Krausss self-produced New Favorite CD has flown off the shelves. The recording was tracked primarily at Nashvilles Seventeen Grand studios, and mixed on a Euphonix System 5 at Emerald Entertainments The Mix Room. Engineer Gary Paczosa, highly sought out in part for his mastery of acoustic instrument recording, mixed to DSD in multichannel and stereo, and the collection is available on a hybrid multichannel Super Audio CD/CD as well as conventional CD.
The recording is a masterpiece of musicianship, with nary a note out of place (save for the bonus flub count off track hidden at the end). The recording is equally outstanding instruments sound like instruments, with clarity and depth. The band of five (Krauss on fiddle, violas, and vocals, Ron Block on guitars, banjo, and vocal, Dan Tyminski on guitar and vocals, Barry Bales on bass, and the always amazing Jerry Douglas on Dobro and lap steel) play together seemingly effortlessly. Even if youve never seen them on stage, their joy at playing together is obvious between the notes. And, no, that familiar, mournful male solo voice is not and never was George Clooney Dan Tyminski taking center stage on several tracks here, as he did for Clooneys character in the OBWAT soundtrack.
Paczosa uses the surround channels to broaden the space. On some cuts, this is reverb and shadows of the instrumentation. On other cuts, particularly the more raucous bluegrass tunes, the surrounds are used more adventurously, sucking you into the band. For instance, on the Tyminski-fronted Mama Cried, the banjo is panned front right, with a strong component in the right rear. The Dobro solo is similarly sent to the left front/left rear channels. The center channel is properly used to anchor the image, though not used in isolation.
Save for a bit of soft focus that Krauss seems to favor on her own vocals, and very delicate and tasteful use of effects, the recording is seemingly transparent to the instruments. While I had enjoyed the CD for months before getting the surround mix, the extra resolution of the DSD tracks and the depth of stage make the 5.1 Super Audio CD version truly shine. Frank Wells
Let It Bleed
The Rolling Stones
Dual Layer Stereo CD/SACD
Want to really hear the difference between a normal CD and high-resolution audio? Take a listen to the reissue of the Rolling Stones seminal Let It Bleed. What youll notice is that, while the remastered Red Book CD layer of the title sounds better than it ever has, the SACD layer sounds so good that you can only believe that this is actually what Mick and Keith were hearing in the studio when they were making it. Not only does everything sound much deeper and fuller, but the reverb tails are longer and much more defined, giving a sense of realism and being there in the studio that doesnt exist on the CD layer. Plus, overdubbed guitars pop out clear and distinct while theyre almost completely covered up on the CD layer.
One side effect of enhanced resolution is the fact that some recording warts that were once masked are now a lot more apparent, as youll hear breaths, grunts, string squeaks, and kick drum pedal noises that you didnt hear before, for better or worse. Aside from that, the only bummer for me is that the SACD layer is stereo only and not surround. That being said, the sonic superiority of the format has made this title one of my favorites all over again. Bobby Owsinski
Erich Kunzel Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Dual Layer Multichannel SACD
Got Swing! features interpretations of classic swing tunes by the previously credited Cincinnati Pops Orchestra as well as guest stars that include The Manhattan Transfer, John Pizzarelli, and Janis Siegel. The recording is right on par with what one would expect from Telarc clean, distinct, and accurate. The songs were recorded at the Cincinnati Music Hall last year, and the liner notes give a list of the gear used so you can figure out how the Telarc team did it.
The surround mix opts to place you in a mid-sized hall as opposed to the center of the orchestra, which is fine, but it may have been fun to get caught up in the middle of the Manhattan Transfers harmonies, or feel the musicians taking solos from all around you as opposed to the stage. Different strokes, different folks .
What is on the disc is pretty cool, though. The front soundstage does most of the work here, with the front left and right channels pumping out the tunes and the center channel adding some light reverb. The result is a well-established phantom center I thought the soloed instruments were actually coming directly from the center channel, when a walk to the front of the room revealed the ruse.
The rear channels are pretty much relegated to ambience here, and the results work. The room fills up nicely, and if you close your eyes you can set the scene of a smokey, dark jazz hall and youre at the center table right near the stage.
Some notable tracks include the song Avalon, which in addition to very smooth guitar playing, features a slightly more aggressive surround mix, with the percussion playing a larger, more dominant role the rears. The whole mix really makes the solo instruments stand out and there a bunch of them. I dare you not to bob your head to this one!
Got Swing! was produced by Robert Woods and engineered by Michael Bishop. Engineering assistants were Robert Friedrich, James Yates, and Todd Brown. Anthony Savona
The Wraith Shangri-La
Insane Clown Posse
For those of you that like your surround sound adventurous and right in your face, have I got a disc for you. Pop The Wraith in, and the first sound you hear comes from behind you; kind of fuzzy, blown-speaker bursts. Then the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) chime in all around you. The effect is interesting, but well kind of cheesy, too.
But wait, you cant judge a disc by its intro, and if you stick around you will be treated to one of the coolest surround mixes Ive heard yet. I wouldnt have thought that ICP wouldve lent itself so well to surround, but fortunately DTS Entertainment and producers Nathaniel Kunkel and Mike Puwal knew better.
The assortment of sounds you get on each track is tough to explain, but here goes. The main lyric provided by one of the gravely voiced duo usually comes through the center speaker, with the second Clown chiming in from the left or right speaker. On the track Get Your Wicked On, the boys answer each other, one from the center channel and the other responding from the rears. Very cool.
The percussion goes all around you as do the other instruments. You never know what the next track will bring. The choruses get spread around the front and back channels, with the lead vocalist shouting through them from the center channel.
Juggalo Homies is clearly the intended single from The Wraith (a video for the single is included here). On the track, an answering machine beeps to life in the rears, while a nice, clean guitar riff comes in through the fronts. Then the guitar is answered by another in the rears, which is joined by percussion. Cue the center channel rapping. Then the chorus gets started behind you by one Clown, with grunts from the other in the center, then a musical chant of homies goes all around. Again, very cool.
If youve never heard ICP before either on disc or on the Howard Stern radio show know this: they intend to offend you. They lyrics are laden with four-letter words and many of the songs have violent themes. If you can work past that, you will be treated to an awesome surround experience.