Review by Oakland February 11, 2007 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
|I bought “Jazzin’ Surround”, a Heads Up jazz sampler, more than a year ago but never got around to opening it. I did not know what I’ve been missing. For me this disc is 10 tracks of pure joy. I was inspired to place it ahead of the unopened SACD queue because of the recent performance I attended of Pieces of A Dream (see post on hi-rez forum at: http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/hirez/messages/232143.html) who were a complete success the evening I saw them and who happen to be part of the Heads Up recording line up. I pulled out “Jazzin’ Surround” to see if any tracks featured Pieces of a Dream.
As it turns out “Jazzin’ Surround” includes a very nicely done track taken from Pieces of A Dream “Love’s Silhouette” SACD. But my more important discovery was that it contains an exciting eclectic mix of jazz that jams from beginning to end. All the artists on this disc, which also include Yellow Jackets, Spyro Gyra, Joe McBride, The Jaco Pastorius Big Band, Hiroshima, Gerald Veasly among others, feature top tier musicianship. I thoroughly enjoy everyone of the 10 tracks. It may be an irony that the track my Pieces of A Dream is only my 4th or 5th favorite track on the disc. Other favorites include tracks by guitarists Veasly and Doc Powell, and Hiroshima.
To make it clear the “jazz” on this disc is not what many would call “traditional jazz”, or even, in some circles, even “jazz”. Many may label it “contemporary jazz”. (Hey my father considered little after the Ellington-Basie big band era to be “real” jazz. So, who’s to say what qualifies as “true” jazz). And truth be told, the draw for me is that much of the music on this disc, and certainly the music of Pieces of a Dream that I enjoyed so immensely live last week, is that it reminds me so much of the R&B/Soul music I enjoyed in my youth. There is an inextricably link between the genre to my ears.
By far most of my listening today, whether recorded or live, is to classical (largely Romantic) music. But my music roots are firmly embedded in R&B. It’s when R&B began to transition to pop and disco is when I made a quick exit. And while groups like Pieces of a Dream began to immerge around that time I never really followed them, deeming them too little too late. But listening to many of the tracks on “Jazzin’ Surround” evokes melodious memories of jammin’ bands such as the Bar Kays, that backed the Stax/Volt soul acts like Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Rufus Thomas, etc, or Booker T. and the MGs, as well as Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power. We are talking about musicianship of a very high order. (Some of the early SACDs from Audioquest, such as the musicians that backed Mighty Sam McClain also arouse memories of that era). To me this music is “rhythmic jazz”, “cosmopolitan soul” music, if you will, emphasizing the musicians and less so the vocals of classic R&B.
Another distinction between the jazz on “Jazzin’ Surround” and traditional jazz, such as, say, Chesky’s “New York Time” are the instruments themselves and how they are employed. While the music is rich in the use of traditional jazz instruments such as saxophones, and percussion, the guitars and keyboards seem to be decidedly electronic/synthesized and/or amplified. But we are not talking about over the top electronic such as latter day Miles Davis, Sly Stone or hard rock. I hear an immensely inspirational and indelible influence of Stevie Wonder and his pioneering use of electronic instruments in the 70’s. If that’s not a draw, what is?
Obviously, a “sampler” disc is intended to show the genre at it best. In both performance and in sound this disc succeeds immensely. The performances are 5 star high energy throughout (but the music doesn’t throb) and the sound quality is of the highest level. And while the sound in two channel is extremely good, as the title, “Jazzin’ Surround” clearly suggests, the raison d’être for this disc is multi-channel and this is where these tracks *brilliantly* shine. These are not subtle mixes (such as in Chesky’s New York Sessions) but neither are these overly aggressive mixes when compared directly to a live performance of this genre. But make no mistake; all 5 speakers see plenty of action with these tracks. Again, after listening to Pieces of a Dream in a live setting it is incontrovertible (to me) that multi-channel is how this music is *meant* to be presented and is much closer to the real deal than what two channel is able to muster.
Lastly, I should note that Michael Bishop was the mixing engineer on 5 of the 10 tracks on “Jazzin’ Surround”. The man knows what he’s doin’!
Robert C. Lang
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