Thursday, May 8, 2014
Katzenberger Music Productions 03 on CD and Blu-ray Audio
What do you think of when you hear the term "German jazz"? Would it be too ethnocentric to assume that it would be precise, rigid and exact? They say that about Japanese jazz and I just don't see eye-to-eye with them, whoever they are. But I've always maintained that much of classical music reflects the nationality of the composer--Russian music always sounds sad, French music always seems playful, Italian music always sounds emotionally expressive and German music always sounds, well, precise, rigid and exact. So if you have an argument about projecting that onto jazz, I'll hear you out.
My rebuttal, of course will be this third CD/Blu-ray audio selection from Katzenberger Music Productions, which is predictably titled 03. (I've reviewed 01 here and 02 here.) This jazz quartet, led by saxophonist/flautist Heinrich von Kalnein and featuring Sebastian Gille on saxophone and clarinet, Henning Sieverts on double bass and cello and Jonas Burgwinkel on percussion, is as loose and sloppy as can be--in an extremely good way. It's also a rare jazz quartet that includes two saxes, bass and drums, which makes it all sound even more lively and jumpy.
KMP producer Ulrich Katzenberger goes out of his way to stress that the music in 03 is meant to be a pure expression of music-making joy and even goes as far as to offer this famous Leonard Bernstein quote as an epilogue: "Jazz is the joy of playing music and therefore it is entertainment, in the best sense of the word." These compositions, written mostly by Heinrich von Kalnein, are so loose-limbed, laid-back and unrestricted that there are times when the genre boundaries fade and 03 just becomes gorgeous shifts in complex moods.
While tracks such as "Simple As That" and "Resistable" do sound like lost jazz standards with just a touch if dissonance thrown in, quieter and more expansive tunes such as the humorously titled "Sixty-Nine in the Wild West" are uneasy ballads bursting with hypnotic beauty. By the time you get to the three "Wildon" interludes, you're firmly in the land of the avant-garde with plenty of unusual instrumentation and sound--the percussion in particular may remind you of Shelley Manne's more experimental excursions back in the late '50s and early '60s.
The technical aspect of this amazing recording is noteworthy as well. Like the other recordings from KMP, this 24 bit/192 kHz CD was recorded without equalization, compression, reverb or any other type of artificial processing in the studio. In an effort to preserve the incredible dynamic range of this recording, you might notice that you'll need to crank the volume knob higher than usual--the liner notes state that "due to the special care given to dynamics in this production, it might seem less loud than the normal standard for recordings." The Blu-ray disc is even more incredible since it was recorded in surround sound. Actually, it offers two different surround mixes on the one disc--one for a system with 5 main loudspeakers and one for a system with 2 main speakers and three smaller speakers!
Now that I've reviewed all three of the KMP discs, I need to ask myself a couple of questions. First, I just discovered that each of these discs retails for $60, and that sounds like a lot for a digital format--even one jam-packed with amazing technology and a wide variety of format options. (Remember, you do get two discs here.) In addition, you get it all in a hardcover book-like package with incredibly thorough liner notes. But I usually like to reserve that amount of money for rare LPs or even box sets. So, the question is this: does the sound quality justify the price? I think it does--these three discs set a new standard for space, air and soundstage three-dimensionality. But you should have a hi-fi good enough to let you hear the reasons why these discs are $60 each.
The second question, of course, is whether the KMP discs are better than the offerings from other labels that specialize in hi-rez digital--like the ones I've been raving about all year. I don't know if I want to compare KMP with 2L and FIM and the others--it's all so good and amazing and lifelike. I finally really like the sound of digital playback--which is something I never thought would happen. In other words, I think these discs are worth it. Kudos, Katzenberger Music Productions.
You can find out more information at the KMP website.