Through the magic of technology, Ray Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra perform together for the first time on this 5.0 Surround Sound Super Audio CD from Telarc International and the Concord Music Group. The album unites tapes of Ray Charles performing in a series of concerts in the mid 1970’s in England and Germany with the sound of today’s Count Basie Orchestra under the Direction of Bill Hughes.
The resulting album initially appeared as a Stereo CD and a Vinyl LP from Concord Records and Hear Music last year. It was very well received and led to the idea of creating a full 5.0 Surround Sound SACD edition through the technical skills and expertise of the folks at Telarc International. The result is the new Surround Sound SACD edition that is now available from Telarc. Here’s more on this amazing SACD release.
Ray Sings, Basie Swings
Ray Charles with the Count Basie Orchestra Directed by Bill Hughes
Surround Sound Super Audio CD/Stereo Super Audio CD/CD Audio
As mentioned above, the creation of this album is quite a story. The original recordings of Ray Charles and his band were made by Norman Granz of Pablo Records. Over the years, Pablo’s catalog was sold to Fantasy Records which was in turn bought by the Concord Music Group, which also now owns Telarc International. Concord A&R Chief John Burk discovered the tapes which featured excellent performances by Ray Charles but a somewhat muddy recording of his band and backing vocalists at a much lower and unclear level. At the same point in time in the 1970’s, the Count Basie Orchestra was also playing in England and Germany. So Burk wondered, what if through the use of today’s recording technology the vocals of Ray Charles were matched with the dynamic performances of today’s Count Basie Orchestra, now under the Direction of Bill Hughes.
Burk approached Concord Records Executive, Producer and Engineer Gregg Field about the idea. Field is also a veteran drummer who played for both the Count Basie and Ray Charles Orchestra and was involved in the label’s recent work in Super Audio CD. He teamed up with Burk and co-producer Joe Adams to bring the elements of this project to the finish line. The project not only involved the original tapes of the Ray Charles vocals and new charts and recordings by today’s Count Basie Orchestra, but it also involved a re-creation of the backing vocals of the Raelettes as created by Jazz/Pop Vocalist Patti Austin. The result was a 12 selection album that wowed both music fans and critics alike in October 2006. The musical set included this line-up:
1. Oh What A Beautiful Morning
2. Let The Good Times Roll
3. How Long Has This Been Going On?
4. Every Saturday Night
6. Crying Time
7. I Can’t Stop Loving You
8. Come Live With Me
9. Feel So Bad
10. The Long And Winding Road
11. Look What They’ve Done To My Song
12. Georgia On My Mind
Creating Three Musical Choices on the Super Audio CD
Super Audio CD fans know that a Hybrid Multichannel Super Audio CD disc is not only playable on CD, DVD Video and Super Audio CD players but the Hybrid SACD disc contains three distinct musical programs. This feature is used to maximum benefit on this album by bringing the listener three different musical takes on the disc.
For the Stereo CD, the disc features the 24/96 two channel mix of the album by Recording Engineer Don Murray that was mastered to the CD format’s 16/44.1 format by Doug Sax at the Mastering Lab. The Stereo Super Audio CD music on the disc is taken from the same 24/96 Stereo master that is also used for the Vinyl LP edition of the album after being transferred to Direct Stream Digital (DSD) to create the SACD Stereo Master.
The task of creating a new 5.0 Surround Sound Super Audio CD mix of the album fell to veteran Telarc Senior Engineer Michael Bishop. Bishop used the Original 15 Inches Per Second (IPS) Analog Mono Master Tape of the Vocals by Ray Charles and the 24/96 Multi-Track Pro Tools HD Edited Source of the Orchestra and Backing Vocals to create the new 5.0 Surround Sound version of the album. The Orchestra and backing Vocals tape was played back through a custom analog mixer at Suma Recording Studios which was then recorded on a Sonoma DSD Workstation with EMM Labs Meitner DSD Converters.
Detailing the Surround Sound Creation Process
Telarc talks about Michael Bishop’s work on this project and says “Working with the project’s original 96 kHZ, 24-bit PCM multi-track source masters, Bishop employed the finest digital-to-analog converters available to bring the individual tracks into a custom analog mixing console at Suma Studios. A combination of custom and vintage analog processors were used for treatment of vocal and instrument tracks in the analog mix rather than the customary PCM software “plug-ins” often used in digital mixing. The Basie Orchestra, featured soloists and the Raelettes were physically brought out into the 5.1 environment. That process involved creating a virtual three-dimensional acoustic space for them without losing the clarity and tactile quality of the performances. These surround “spaces” were recorded completely in an analog and DSD domain while the surround mixes were being done.”
Commenting on this special project, Telarc Senior Engineer Michael Bishop says that “What you hear on the final SACD is exactly what was mixed at the surround mix sessions. We were fortunate that a 96 kHz, 24-bit PCM stereo master from the source 96 kHZ PCM stereo mixes had been prepared by Doug Sax for use as a Ray Sings, Basie Swings vinyl LP cutting master. This master was transferred to DSD to be used as the Stereo DSD SACD master and fully retains the dynamics and resolution of the original 96 kHZ stereo mixes. The hybrid CD program on the SACD was produced from the original Concord CD’s 44.1 kHZ, 16-bit PCM master and is identical to that original release.”
Listening to Ray Charles in Surround Sound
Producer Gregg Field is a fan of the new Surround Sound SACD performance of the album saying that “I know Ray has never been heard like this on record before. This stands as the closest thing to being able to hear him live again.”
Writer David Ritz agrees saying that “I thought the initial release of this suite of songs was beyond improvement. But better is better, and being surrounded by this high triumph of technology is clearly better. I hear subtleties never heard before. The horn punches are cleaner. The background harmonies are crisper. Ray’s voice is warmer, his presence more immediate. He’s everywhere. He’s alive. He’s brighter. He’s better. As a result, so are we. Ray makes us all better.”
After listening to the album in Surround Sound Super Audio CD, I wholeheartedly agree. The vocal performances by Charles are excellent and among his best. The Count Basie Orchestra arrangements are swinging and dynamic and add to the vocal performances. The Surround Sound versions of each song are excellent and more compelling than the Stereo tracks on the disc. I found that the mix of the album and its elements makes it hard to believe at times that they were not recorded together in the first place! If you’re a fan of Ray Charles and Big Band Orchestras, this is a must own disc.
Earlier Ray Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra Albums on Super Audio CD
As noted above, Ray Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra have been featured in several earlier Surround Sound SACD releases. Ray Charles initially appeared as a singer on two cuts on the excellent Pancho Sanchez Surround Sound SACD Out of Sight!. That SACD also featured Sam Moore of the famed Sam and Dave duo of the ’60s as well as Billy Preston and members of the James Brown Band. Charles also appeared in Surround Sound Super Audio CD on the album Genius Lo
ves Company which featured the singer and a host of famous singers in his last recording which went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Recording along with 7 other Grammy Awards, Playin’ With My Friends with Tony Bennett and a live concert album released in Europe. Here’s a list of the earlier SACD releases featuring Ray Charles.
Ray Charles in Surround Sound Super Audio CD
We’re also fortunate to have Super Audio CD albums featuring the Count Basie Orchestra. They include the excellent 2006 release on Eighty-Eight’s Records in Japan of a Live to DSD 5.1 Surround Sound SACD recording of the Count Basie Orchestra Directed by Bill Hughes as well as a historic recording of Count Basie and the original Count Basie Orchestra with Duke Ellington and the Duke Ellington Orchestra in SACD Stereo. Both SACDs are worth finding if you are a Count Basie fan.
Count Basie Orchestra Directed by Bill Hughes in Surround Sound Super Audio CD
Original Count Basie Orchestra in Super Audio CD
The new 5.1 Super Audio CD edition of Ray Sings, Basie Swings by Ray Charles with the Count Basie Orchestra Directed by Bill Hughes is now available at music stores including Fry’s Electronics and web sites. In addition to the Telarc International web site, the Ray Charles 5.1 Surround Sound SACD is also available on the Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc, Music Direct, Amazon.Com and CD Universe