I first came across Hi-Res Music at CES 2002, where they were sharing a stand with AIX Records (see this page from the SMR Group’s CES 2002 report). After explaining the concept of this website to him, their representative was more than happy to part with a few review samples including the disc that is the subject of this review.
Before we get to that, a few words about Hi-Res Music. The company was formed in the summer of 2001 by David Swartz, Michael Stern and Mark Waldrep of AIX Records with the aim of re-mastering original master tapes and releasing the very best recordings of the last 50 years in two-channel, high-resolution, DVD-Audio format. Notice I said “two-channel”, for Hi-Res Audio eschews re-mastering in multi-channel, but adopts the “purist”, highest quality, least tinkering with the original approach. I suppose you could think of it as Mark Waldrep’s two-channel alter ego or the DVD-Audio equivalent of Classic Records 96/24 DVD-Video format re-masters (or “DADs” as Classic Records refers to them). Hi-Res Audio’s website describes their process and it appears that no detail is spared in the production of these limited-run discs.
I really didn’t know anything about any of the performers on the three discs I was given at CES, so I just picked one at random for this review. I was a little taken aback when I read the liner notes before listening to the disc. The Larry Goldings Trio is an “organ trio”, with Larry Goldings on Hammond B-3 organ, Peter Bernstein on guitar and Bill Stewart on drums, cymbals and gongs. To your jazz-organ-neophyte reviewer, the Hammond organ conjures up visions of cheesy ‘fifties TV shows, but a little research quickly changed that view. All three of these guys are very accomplished musicians in their own right: Goldings is currently touring with James Taylor and Nicholas Payton; Peter Bernstein has played with many top jazz artists including Lou Donaldson, Cecil Payne, Lee Konitz, Clifford Jordan, Melvin Rhyne, Joshua Redman and Junior Cook; and Bill Stewart has performed with the Pat Metheny trio, Maceo Parker, Joe Lovano, Joe Henderson, Micheal Brecker, Charlie Haden, James Brown, Lee Konitz, Jim Hall, James Moody.
Any misapprehensions that I had that this disc would not be my cup of tea were immediately dispelled when I hit the play button. From the very first snaps of the drum at the opening of the first track, ‘Crawdaddy’, it is clear that this disc is something special. “Laid back” is the description that first springs to mind about this track (and indeed the whole disc). ‘Crawdaddy’ sets the scene for the whole disc and its organ theme is one that will stay with you. The title track ‘Moonbird’ continues in the same vein but with the guitar taking the lead first, followed by the organ. This track is a little more upbeat than the first, but still very much in the mellow mould. The third track, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’, features some interesting cymbal and gong work from Bill Stewart, and it comes over crisp and well-defined – no sizzle or fizz – and it is not overpowered by the guitar or organ. ‘Christine’ has some interesting changes in tempo to keep the listener drawn in. More great cymbal work in one of my favourite tracks from the disc ‘Empty Oceans’, again no splashy artefacts (pardon the pun), even during the crescendo passages. Track 6, ‘Xoloft’, picks up the tempo a little and the drum solo really has punch. There is another memorable theme and some great jazz guitar work from Peter Bernstein in ‘Comfort Zone’. The final track on the disc, ‘I Think it’s Going to Rain Today’ rounds out the disc nicely and the theme on the guitar is silky smooth.
This disc receives very high marks in the fidelity category. Hi-Res Music certainly seems to have lived up to their charter. The MLP track has a real “in your room” presence, despite being only two channel. The instruments blend together perfectly, obviously in large part due to the skill of the performers, but the recording and mastering have not spoiled the cohesion. The front image holds up pretty well even when the listener moves off-axis. The MLP track also lends itself well to some surround processing – (purists look away) switching my MC-12 out of analogue bypass mode and into Music Surround mode (a variation of Lexicon’s proprietary Logic 7 algorithm), yielded very pleasing results. I could hear no difference between the MLP track in DVD-Audio mode and the 24/96 PCM track in DVD-Video mode which is just as well as they are the same track (the DVD-Audio track is just compressed into MLP format). My DVD-Video player will pass a 96kHz PCM track via its digital output so I was able to listen to the PCM track at its full resolution (ie without downsampling to 48kHz). Again, in straight two channel mode the resolution is very impressive. Applying some Lexicon processing is a little easier on the PCM track. As well as Music Surround, I also experimented with the new Nightclub mode in v2.0 of the MC-12 software and it works very well on this kind of material – all I needed was cigarette smoke and alcohol to complete the picture. This album was originally released on CD by Palmetto Records in 1999, but as I do not have a copy, I was unable to compare the DVD-A version to the CD.
If you are looking for a raft of extra features you will be a little disappointed by this disc, but, to be fair to Hi-Res, stuffing a disc full of extras does not really fit with the stripped bare, two channel, approach to their releases. The extras are limited to reproductions of the original album art and some background information about Hi-Res.
All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable disc, especially for those two-channel purists who cannot just yet bring themselves to indulge in multichannel audio. It just shows the fantastic results that can be achieved by taking a great recording and exercising great care in the remastering process.