Dave Grusin: Discovered Again (XRCD24 review)

Dave Grusin, Ron Carter, Lee Ritenour, Harvey Mason, Larry Bunker. LIM XR 002.

What do you mean, it's not classical music? It's jazz, and jazz is always classic. Especially when it's done by American composer, arranger, and pianist Dave Grusin. Besides, Grusin has not only written and arranged songs and soundtracks for Oscar-winning films like The Graduate and Tootsie and won an Oscar for The Milagro Beanfield War, he's done crossover albums of classical music as well. With credits for over a hundred films and a multitude of record albums, the guy is a class act all the way around.

Dave Grusin: Discovered Again is a 1976 recording remastered to audiophile standards on compact disc by producer Winston Ma's label, LIM (Lasting Impression Music). The thing is, it was an audiophile LP to begin with, a direct-to-disc production made originally by Sheffield Lab. The idea back then was to record a music session directly to the master lacquer, from which the company would strike a limited number of vinyl LPs, with no tape master involved. The dynamic range and impact of those direct discs provided a striking realism when played back on a good stereo system, probably as close to the live performance as one could get in the home. But they were also expensive and obviously appealed only to a small number of hi-fi buffs around the country. Eventually, CD's overcame vinyl in the marketplace, and Sheffield found it hard to continue with a diminishing fan base.

I remember reviewing all of Sheffield's direct discs back in the Seventies and early Eighties and loving them dearly. I also remember being disappointed when Sheffield began releasing their tape backups on CD; they never sounded as dynamic as their vinyl counterparts. So when LIM decided to give the tapes another shot on compact disc, this time in the XRCD process, I thought it was about time to revisit this great old album.

Joining Grusin on a Steinway piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano are Ron Carter, bass; Lee Ritenour, guitar; Harvey Mason, drums; and Larry Bunker, percussion. They make a tidy, well-knit ensemble.

The program begins with "A Child Is Born," quiet, soft, with fine bass playing, a clear, taut piano sound, and just a hint of percussive support. "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow" comes next, probably the most well-known work on the album because of its use in the old Baretta TV series. It's a faster, more up-tempo piece than the preceding track, with firm bass thumps, excellent, extended highs, and superclean transient response. "Sun Song" features superb piano and percussion sound, and it's one of Grusin's sweeter melodies, building as it goes along. Then, there's "Captain Bacardi," a sambo from Antonio Carlos Jobim, among the most-exciting music on the disc, performed joyfully by the players. It makes for the kind of demo material audiophiles are so fond of using to impress friends and neighbors.

Next come three cowboy songs: "Git Along Little Doggies," "The Colorado Trail," and "Cripple Creek Breakdown," making a terrific set of variations on the familiar tunes. The original album ended with "Adeus A Papai," a piece Grusin wrote as a farewell to his father. Here, in addition, because the CD allows more space than the LP did, we get four previously unreleased alternative takes: "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow," which I actually like better than the one from the direct disc for its being cleaner and more spontaneous; "Sun Song," "Git Along Little Doggies," and "The Colorado Trail."

In the JVC XRCD24 process, "the analog signal is taken directly from the custom mastering console and digitized via JVC's K2 24-bit Analogue-to-Digital Converter. The 24-bit digital word then passes through JVC's Digital K2, which regenerates a pure 24-bit digital signal that is recorded to a Sony PCD-9000 magneto-optical disk. The XRCD process takes advantage of the stability of the magneto-optical disk, as well as its 24-bit capacity by using it as the audio storage medium for delivery to manufacturing." From there, the JVC manufacturing plant plays back the 24-bit signal through the Digital K2 to eliminate any jitter and distortion and then converts the 24-bit signal to 16 bits using K2 Super Coding, "which ensures true 16-bit dynamic range. The 16-bit signal is then EFM encoded, and sent to a high-precision DVD K2 Laser," with "Extended Pit Cutting technology." And so on, with the use of a K2 Rubidium Clock and a special Master Stamper. It's a demanding process that obviously yields the best possible results.

So, in the final analysis, does this 24-bit super-analog remastering sound better than Sheffield's old direct-to-disc vinyl LP? No. LIM made this CD, after all, from tape backups, not from the original lacquer master. It doesn't have quite the dynamic punch of the old LP. However, the good news is that this XRCD24 sounds better than anything Sheffield ever put on CD and as good as anything you can buy on compact disc from any manufacturer. While the recording is a touch dry, with only a moderate perception of depth among the five players, these were always minor concerns of the original Sheffield production. Nevertheless, the transient quickness is superb for a compact disc, the dynamic range is wide, the bass is taut, and the clarity is outstanding. Moreover, for the listener interested primarily in the music, with the XRCD24 you don't have to put up with the ticks and pops of a vinyl LP. Put this release in the compact-disc audiophile class and have fun with the sound, the music, and the performances.

For more information about LIM (Lasting Impression Music) and FIM (First Impression Music), you can visit their Web site at http://www.firstimpressionmusic.com/.


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