Heads Up Releases Spyro Gyra and Final Michael Brecker Album in 5.1 Super Audio CD Surround Sound

Heads Up International has released the final album by Jazz Great Michael Brecker and Spyro Gyra’s latest album on 5.1 Surround Sound Super Audio CDs. The SACDs of Pilgrimage by Michael Brecker and Good To Go Go by Spyro Gyra are the latest editions of Heads Up’s Surround Sound SACD Series, where they bring some of their top artists to you in high resolution audio.

In addition, Heads Up has announced their first Surround Sound Super Audio CD release of 2008 — a new album by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Here’s more information on the releases and news from Heads Up International.

Michael Brecker with Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Jack DeJohnette and John Patitucci
Surround Sound Super Audio CD/Stereo Super Audio CD/CD Audio

(Heads Up HUSA-9095)

Pilgrimage is the last album recorded by legendary Jazz Sax Player Michael Brecker. Recorded in August 2006, the album is unique in that it is the only album Brecker ever recorded that consists solely of his own compositions. In Pilgrimage, Michael Brecker is joined by a number of his best friends — each Jazz all stars in their own right — including Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Jack DeJohnette and John Patitucci.

Heads Up says that «Michael Brecker, a 13-time Grammy winner in a career that spans more than three decades, is unquestionably the most influential tenor player in the history of jazz since John Coltrane. As a result of his stylistic and harmonic innovations, he is the most studied contemporary jazz musician in music schools throughout the world today. Sadly, after a two-and-a-half-year battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and leukemia, Brecker passed away on January 13, 2007. While in the midst of his debilitating illness, however, Brecker persevered. His work in the studio at the time of his death includes some of the finest music he has ever recorded. Pilgrimage features the all-star lineup of pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, guitarist Pat Metheny, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist John Patitucci.

Pilgrimage, chronicles Brecker’s final journey — one in which the music itself served as a sustaining force. Those present in the studio recall moments when the rigors of recording were so physically taxing — nearly to the point of collapse — for the leader whose health was compromised. In the end, it was Brecker’s sheer will, and a dedication to completing the recording, that pushed him, his colleagues and the project as a whole across the finish line. While the artist himself may be gone, the passion of life burns in the recording that survives him. «Mike just left us some of the greatest music of his career — and of his life,» says Metheny. «Mike’s efforts to get his final message out to all of us — which is really what it is, a message — will go down as one of the great codas in modern music history. What happened in the studio during those few days in August is impossible to describe. It’s one of the most amazing, powerful, unbelievable things that I — and all who were there — have ever experienced or will ever see.»

Pilgrimage was produced by Michael Brecker, Gil Goldstein, Steve Rodby and Pat Metheny, recorded and mixed for Stereo and Surround Sound by Joe Ferla, mastered for Stereo CD by Mark Wilder at Sony Music Studios in New York, mastered for 5.1 Surround Sound SACD and Stereo SACD by Michael Bishop at Heads Up/Telarc. The Hybrid Layer Multichannel Super Audio CD was made by Sony DADC at their plant in Austria.

Heads Up/Telarc Senior Engineer Michael Bishop told me that «The original session and stereo mix engineer, Joe Ferla, also mixed the surround program for Pilgrimage. The session source is ProTools HD at 96k/24-bit and was mixed at the same resolution through a Euphonix System 5 board in Studio B at Legacy Recording Studios in New York City. I mastered the high-resolution surround program and high-resolution stereo program to DSD for SACD at Telarc. Mark Wilder at Sony Mastering Studios in New York City mastered the CD program.

Joe Ferla kept the intentions of the stereo mix intact in the surround mix. Primarily he wanted to keep Michael’s saxophone front and center and into the listening room. He sometimes placed the sax on the center front channel with panning into the rear channels to bring the sax “into the room.” Sometimes the sax was placed on the LF/RF channels with panning into the rear channels. Distribution of the rest of the band is across LF/CTR/RF channels and forming sort of a large “horse shoe” formation of the group into the rear channels. Additional keyboard parts and an occasional vocal part allowed more extreme placement of elements into the rear channels.

The concern was to never allow the surround elements to distract from the saxophone or lead instruments. To some, this approach to surround may not be “exciting” enough, but the surround mix reflects the intentions of the project producers. It may not be a whiz-bang surround spectacular, but that would have been totally inappropriate for this type of straight-ahead jazz project. In my opinion, the surround mix is spectacular in its simplicity and is quite a step above the stereo mix in depth and involvement in the music. All in all, I’m very happy to have played a role in this amazing project. I know jazz fans will treasure this last recording by Michael and the surround program best represents what they performed in the studio. It’s already a Classic in my mind!»

The performances on Pilgrimage are excellent and this is a wonderful final recording by Michael Brecker and his friends. Listening to the Super Audio CD, it’s no contest — the Surround Sound SACD tracks are the album highlights over their Stereo cousins. The «horse shoe» approach to the Surround Sound mix mentioned by Michael Bishop is very effective in focusing attention on the musicians and the original compositions here. But the Surround Sound mix also adds some seasoning in the form of keyboards, drums, cymbols, background vocals and some ambience in the Surround channels as well. This spices up things even more and really makes the Surround program on this SACD something that every Jazz fan will want to hear. Highly recommended.

Album Performers
Michael Brecker — Tenor Sax & EWI
Pat Metheny — Guitars
Herbie Hancock — Piano
Brad Mehldau — Piano
John Patitucci — Bass
Jack DeJohnette — Drums

Album Tracks
1. The Mean Time
2. Five Months From Midnight
3. Anagram
4. Tumbleweed
5. When Can I Kiss You Again?
6. Cardinal Rule
7. Half Moon Lane
8. Loose Threads
9. Pilgrimage

Good to Go-Go
Spyro Gyra
Surround Sound Super Audio CD/Stereo Super Audio CD/CD Audio

(Heads Up HUSA-9127)

Good To Go-Go is the fifth Surround Sound Super Audio CD release on the Heads Up label by Spyro Gyra. Joining the group on this album is Bonny B, a drummer and percussionist from Trinidad. In addition, Good To Go-Go features steel drum player and fellow Heads Up artist Andy Narell on two tracks, giving the album a definite carribean feel. Good To Go-Go is dedicated to the memory of Michael Brecker.

Band founder and sax player Jay Beckinstein says that «The fact that we had this new drummer (Bonny B) with this great spirit about him prompted us to go in the direction of a more live-sounding, less produced record. The band was just sounding so killer on the road that I wanted to capture some of that energy and reproduce it on the record. When you bring somebody new on board who’s bringing some unexpected things with him, it shakes you up a little bit and puts you in new territory. It’s been a process of discovery for all of us, and it’s been a lot of fun.»

Good To Go-Go was produced by Spyro Gyra, recorded by Spyro Gyra and Eric Carlinsky, mixed for Stereo and Surround Sound by Martin Walters, mastered for Stereo by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound and mastered for 5.1 Surround Sound by Michael Bishop at Heads Up/Telarc. The Hybrid Layer Multichannel Super Audio CD was made by Sony DADC at their plant in Austria.

As the album title and the musical line up suggest, Good To Go-Go is a very upbeat, lively and fun album that brings you right into the atmosphere and sun of summertime and the carribean. This is particularly evident on Track 3 (Jam Up) and Track 7 (Island Time) where Andy Narell’s Steel Drums liven things up further. The SACD features the usual banner we find on Heads Up Surround Sound SACDs that it has «Surround Sound coming at you from all sides». That’s certainly the case here. In fact, the insert under the SACD disc includes a cautionary note that «There are mix components that require the presence of all five main speakers. A subwoofer is also recommended.» Obviously the Heads Up folks take their Surround Sound quite seriously! While the Stereo tracks on this album are fine, you’re really missing out unless you switch over and listen to this disc in Surround Sound SACD.

Album Performers
Jay Beckenstein — Saxophones
Tom Schuman — Keyboards
Julio Fernandez — Guitars
Scott Ambush — Bass
Bonny B — Drums, Percussion & Vocals

Guest Musicians
Andy Narell — Steel Pan Drums (Tracks 3, 7)
Christian Howes — Violin (Track 4)
Marc Quinones — Congas (Tracks 4, 7, 9, 11)

Album Tracks
1. Simple Pleasures
2. Get Busy
3. Jam Up
4. The Left Bank
5. Funkyard Dog
6. Along for the Ride
7. Island Time
8. Wassup!
9. Easy Street
10. A Winter Tale
11. Good to Go-Go
12. Newroses

Earlier Surround Sound SACD Releases from Michael Brecker & Spyro Gyra
As noted above, both Michael Brecker and Spyro Gyra have appeared on and released several earlier Surround Sound Super Audio CD titles. To hear more from these artists, be sure to check out these Super Audio CDs:

Michael Brecker — Earlier Surround Sound SACDs

  • Some Skunk Funk — Randy Brecker, Michael Brecker & the WDR Big Band (BHM BHM 1004-2 & Telarc SACD-63647)
  • The Passage — Andy Narell & Calypsociation with Michael Brecker, Hugh Masekela & Paquito D’Rivera (Heads Up HUSA-9086)

    Spyro Gyra — Earlier Surround Sound SACDs

  • In Modern Times — Spyro Gyra (Heads Up HUSA-9061)
  • Original Cinema — Spyro Gyra (Heads Up HUSA-9074)
  • The Deep End — Spyro Gyra (Heads Up HUSA-9085)
  • Wrapped In A Dream — Spyro Gyra (Heads Up HUSA-9107)

    Ladysmith Black Mambazo — Coming to Heads Up Surround Sound SACD in January 2008
    Heads Up plans to start the new year with the release of a new album by South African Vocalists Ladysmith Black Mambazo. High Fidelity Review readers know that the Surround Sound SACD releases by this vocal ensemble in the past have been among the most dramatic and stirring performances in Surround Sound in recent years. The new SACD promises more of the same. Heads Up tells us that the upcoming SACD, due in stores on January 15, 2008, will feature the group’s tribute to Shaka Zulu, the famed African leader. You’ll want to keep an eye out for this upcoming release from Heads Up.

    Heads Up Surround Sound SACD Release — January 15, 2008

  • Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu — Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Heads Up HUSA-9133)

    The Surround Sound Super Audio CDs by Michael Brecker and Sypro Gyra on the Heads Up label are now available at music stores and web sites. On the web, you’ll find these SACDs for purchase on the Heads Up International web site as well as at Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc, Music Direct, Amazon.Com, CD Universe, Buy.Com, Best Buy.Com, J&R.Com and Jazz Loft.Com.