Various Artists – ‘Mark Levinson: Live Recordings at Red Rose Music – Volume One’ An SACD review by Brett Rudolph

The more you get into high-end audio, the more you hear the name Mark Levinson. He has made some of the most important contributions to the world of ‘high fidelity’ that we experience and enjoy in this modern age. While he no longer owns the company that uses his name, a trademark for outstanding hardware, Mark Levinson is busy building another envious reputation, this time with a venture that goes by the name of Red Rose Music. While I could go on talking about the man and his corporate history, this review is about the music he recorded in the Whitney Museum, which just happens to be where his retail store, Red Rose Music, is located.

According to the information included with this SACD, the music on this disc was originally intended more for personal enjoyment than anything else. Levinson was auditioning the new Sony DSD recording system, and asked musicians over in the evening to make recordings simply for their own entertainment. However, when he started playing these recordings in the Red Rose Music store during retail hours, people began asking more about them and if it were possible to purchase the discs for their own listening pleasure. With the intent of demonstrating just how important the new DSD recording technology is to the enhanced enjoyment of musical playback, Levinson decided to produced this, his first SACD of various recordings.

Mark Levinson: Live Recordings at Red Rose Music – Volume One’ is another hybrid SACD, that means it not only contains a new ‘high-resolution’ format DSD recording but also a standard Red-book CD-compatible version too. While the disc doesn’t contain a multi-channel recording, as is the case with a good number of SACDs, it isn’t something you are likely to miss, however if you really want to hear surround sound, there are several good processors that will allow you to create a surround experience from the outputs of your SACD player.

Starting with the lower definition standard CD layer on this disc, you can’t help but appreciate how unique a recording this really is… The richness of the tenor sax played by Chico Freeman takes you by surprise and delights you more the longer you listen, add to that the piano played by George Cables and ‘In a Sentimental Mood’, a title by Duke Ellington, and you find yourself in a heady world of sound and emotion while discovering recording facets that you might believe never existed on CD.

All the tracks in the 44.1kHz PCM layer of the SACD are wonderful, I can’t really find fault with any one of them. In track six, ‘Twenty-Third Psalm’, Shane Cattrall recites the twenty-third psalm while Mark Levinson himself plays the Japanese and Korean temple bells. It may sound like a clichй but you feel like you are standing in front of them, you can almost touch the ringing bells as the ominous words of the psalm are read – to perfection I might add.

Now imagine the same scenario, but instead of almost being able to feel the ringing of the bells you can now actually experience all their tonal qualities, first-hand. That is what happens when you switch from the CD layer to the SACD version of this album. Things become clearer and more resolved before your very eyes… so to speak.

As one moves forward through the disc, one discovers all different types of music, some you will like, and others you might not but whose artistry can be appreciated nonetheless. For me, one such track is entitled ‘Little Dog’s Day’. While it does have some redeeming qualities, the voice of Kim Cattrall, reciting a poem, and the music of Mark Levinson, her husband, accompanying her on the double bass, it isn’t something I would normally enjoy since I’m not a fan of poetry recitation. However, like the other tracks on this album, I did appreciate and ‘experience’ the piece.

I really can’t give this SACD enough credit. It is both a wonderful production and also a really great way of finding out how incredible the new DSD technology and best SACD formatted discs can really be. The bottom line however, is that no matter what I write, the joys of ‘Mark Levinson: Live Recordings at Red Rose Music – Volume One’ are something that you really need to experience for yourself, but I can’t imagine an SACD collection being complete without a copy.