Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Very Tall Band on FIM UltraHD

I'm not sure what to make of this disc. If you've been keeping up with this blog over the last few months, you may have noticed that I've fallen in love with the digital releases--mostly redbook CDs mastered from hi-rez files--from First Impression Music. So last month, I made a casual commitment to order one FIM CD per month. I had found the FIM website and had noted on this blog entry that the whole ordering process from FIM went smoothly and I had my order delivered in about four days.

So this is Month Two, and I settled this time on FIM's remastering of the Telarc recording of The Very Tall Band. The Very Tall Band, of course, consists of Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Milt Jackson on vibes. That's three very good reasons right there to buy this CD. (Oh yeah, Karriem Riggins plays on drums, but for some reason he isn't credited on the front cover with the other three. Maybe he was too short? I don't know.) Anyway, this sounded like a slam-dunk--great performers getting together in their golden years. This recording captured a live performance at the Blue Note in 1998, and it's sad to think that all three of the principles had passed away within eight years or so afterward.

When I slipped this CD into the Unico CDE and pressed play, however, things didn't sound quite right at first. The opening track, "Ja-da," sounded indistinct and muffled, with a definite midrange suckout. (Celestion SL-600 owners will know what I mean by that term.) At first I thought it was the system--I've been swapping so many speakers in and out of the system over the last few weeks that I assumed I had found a match that wasn't quite, well, a match. But no, it sounded the same on a couple of different systems.

So I kicked back and listened to the rest of this album and found that the sound slowly comes into focus as the album progresses. I came up with a few theories, such as my ears had adjusted to the sound after 20 or 30 minutes--something that can definitely happen while listening. Then I started thinking about the size and shape of the soundstage. It was somewhat irregular, which made me start thinking about the recording venue--which, of course, is a very famous place. The next theory: maybe they placed the mikes in weird locations, because there's this sense that you're sitting toward the back of the room and there are a multitude of sonic obstacles in the way--columns, corners or maybe even the three NFL linebackers who just walked into the Blue Note and have sat down right in front of you.

I'd like to hear from some knowledgeable jazz people who know the circumstances surrounding this recording, and why it might sound so...irregular. It's not necessarily a bad thing, since the recording does eventually balance out and sound magnificent just like all of the other FIM and Telarc recordings I have. Perhaps--and here's the next theory--the sound guys had some technical issues pop up as the performance started, and they had to tweak the knobs a bit to control the room acoustics. Anyone? Anyone?

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