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Positive Feedback ISSUE 3
october/november 2002


Red Rose Music SACDs
by Clay Swartz


Bill Elgart: A Life (Red Rose Music Volume 3)
New Haven Brass Quintet (Red Rose Music Volume 4)
The Art of the Fugue by J.S. Bach (Red Rose Music Volume 5)
Eliot Fisk Plays Bach and Scarlatti (Red Rose Music volume 6)
Herb Pomeroy: Big Band Jazz at Sandy’s (Red Rose Music Volume 9)

These recordings are from the Mark Levinson Recordings Archives. They were recorded on one-inch analog tape at 30 ips on a custom A-60 Studer in the 1970s. The recordings first appeared on LP on the Mark Levinson label, and were later released on CD on the Cello Acoustic Recordings label. I reviewed the CDs for PF a number of years ago. The master DSD recordings were made directly from the analog masters using the Sony DSD recording system. The cover art for the SACDs is very unassuming. The CDs were of reference quality, but the SACDs are even better.

Bill Elgart: A Life is a sonic reference for me. I have often used the CD to evaluate systems. Mr. Elgart plays a jazz drum set augmented by various percussion instruments. The music is ten improvisations on themes encountered in life: Birth, Sleep, Sense, Feeling, Thinking, Social, Ideological, Nirvana, Old Age, and Death. The album is unique. There are many quiet, delicate sequences, but there is also great dynamic range. Because of that dynamic range, it is cut at a lower level than most discs. You may want to turn up the volume during quiet passages, but if you do, you might get blown out of the room. You will need a very quiet listening environment to get the most out of the quiet passages. The sound is crisp and clear, and explores the texture and dynamics of the percussion instruments. Most people will not listen to this disc for musical relaxation, but to it to revel in its sonics. The recording was made at the Battell Chapel at Yale University. The disc is 31 minutes long.

The New Haven Brass Quintet disc is one of the best brass recordings that I have heard. It captures the sound of brass instruments in a real space very well. It was also recorded at the Battell Chapel. All the pieces are transcribed for brass, except one. Nine of the twelve are taken from classic composers; the other three are Beatles songs. The SACD version sounds much better than the CD version. The brass has more weight and bite, and there is more depth and detail. If you are a fan of brass music, or simply like hearing the sound of real instruments in a real space, I recommend this disc. It is 49 minutes long.

The Art of the Fugue by J.S. Bach finds Charles Krigbaum performing in Dwight Chapel at Yale University. The hand built Von Beckerath tracker organ there was chosen because it was the ideal baroque instrument for this piece. The organist was also very used to the instrument. HIs performance is nearly flawless. The piece is not a sonic blockbuster, but the recording captures a good sense of space and good dynamics, with a lack of the distortion found in many organ recordings. This is one of the best organ recordings I have heard. The SACD is much better sounding than the CD, which sounds like elevator music by comparison. The sonic space on the SACD is much larger and deeper, and the SACD captures more of the reedy sound of the organ, with better dynamics. The disc is 72 minutes long.

Eliot Fisk Plays Bach and Scarlatti was recorded at the General Theological Seminary Chapel in New York City. The pieces performed are: the Bach Partita No.3 in E major (BMV 1006), five Scarlatti sonatas, and the Bach Lute Suite in G. The lute suite was not on the original record, but was recorded at the same time and was added to both the CD and SACD. This is a beautiful album, one I can listen to over and over. The performances are precise and energetic. There is a great amount of detail—you can hear every string pluck—and at the same time there is a sense of ease. It is practically like having someone play for you in your music room. Though the sound of the SACD and the CD is closer than with the other discs, the CD sounds slightly thinner, the SACD a little warmer. The size of the guitar is just about right on both discs. The disc is 42 minutes long.

Herb Pomeroy Big Band Jazz-Live at Sandy’s is a recording of trumpet player Herb Pomeroy’s Big Band, which consisted of five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass, and drums. Pomeroy was a music teacher at the Berklee School of Music. Such musicians as Keith Jarrett, Gary Burton, and Sadao Watanabe studied under him, as did Mark Levinson. The recording was made with only two microphones. The music is miked at a greater distance than most modern recordings, so instead of their in-your-face clarity and dynamics, this disc has a laid back presentation. I was not familiar with most of the pieces, but found them very enjoyable. This is a good album to relax to. It is 75 minutes long.

Any of these discs can be recommended for its sonics. Enjoyment of the musical content will be up to personal taste. The Eliot Fisk disc is the most musically enjoyable for me. The Bill Elgart disc will be used a lot to evaluate stereo systems. I look forward to more recordings from Red Rose Music with great anticipation.