Monday, February 20, 2012

The Anthony Smith Quartet Plays "The Lady & the Queen" on CD

Another absolute gem from recording engineer Jim Merod and the BluePort jazz label, this CD and its accompanying DVD is an ambitious piece of music, accompanied by a "theatrical master text" that pays tribute to two of jazz's greatest songstresses--Dinah Washington and Billie Holliday. Based upon two 2009 performances that were originally played at the Lyceum Theatre in San Diego, Smith and his cohorts engage in a dynamic, seat-of-the-pants performance that capture both the similarities and differences between these two women.

These legends were both known for their enormous strength and conviction during their careers. While Lady Blue was known for enduring and ultimately succumbing to the tragedies that marked her career, Dinah was an authoritative, passionate singer who took charge and ruled her roost, which is how she earned her regal moniker. These contrasts are employed to create a performance which is full of opposites; tenderness is juxtaposed with pure and almost ecstatic energy that adds an emotional subtext that is uncommon in modern jazz.

Like the Fekete-Kovacs Quintet title I reviewed a few days ago, this CD also arrived courtesy of Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio. Dan is friends with Jim Merod and he wanted me to have another taste of the excellent sound quality that is quickly becoming a trademark of the BluePort releases. While the sound quality of this disc is nothing short of extraordinary, special mention must be made of the way the Richard Seller's percussion is recorded. His cymbals, in particular, have so much immediacy and presence that it's difficult to close your eyes and NOT pretend he isn't in the room. The sound of Doug Walker's bass is also smooth and warm and full and sounds almost like it was transported from another era. Smith's piano and Peter August's sax are up-front and cohesive; these lead instruments create a unified whole to the performance, even during the many solos.

This recording may be the first time I've seen cables so prominently credited in a production. Silversmith Audio Group, which is famous for its high-end cables, sponsored and produced this title, and the goal was to "capture the complete musical experience" by utilizing "the least amount of the finest equipment available" which also included T.H.E. Omni mics for the piano and bass and AKG 3000 cardioids for the drum and sax. No mixing boards or signal processors were used, and everything was fed into an Edirol R4 at 24/96. That's why this recording sounds so effortless and natural.

After hearing these two recordings from BluePort, all I can think about is how well they'll play at future trade shows. Since we're showing off CD players at these shows, I've found myself challenged to come up with little silver discs in my collection that can compete with the latest recordings that employ the latest digital advances. (I have plenty of LPs that can wow a crowd, in other words.) Now I can bring the latest CDs from BluePort and prompt listeners to ask, "What is that? Where can I buy it?" Highly recommended.

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