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by David Martin

9th May, 2017

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Chesky Records Binaural Series/ MQA - JD397
Released 19th May 2017.

With this release, Chesky Records stakes a claim in the MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) format, paired as it is, with the re-mastering of Rebecca Pidgeon’s 'THE RAVEN', both due for release at the end of May.

You can read up on what the MQA processing involves in 'spirited’ discussions on StereoNET and elsewhere, but it’s essentially a codec that allows a standard red-book CD or stream to carry an encoded layer that will be revealed to the full extent when the signal is played through an MQA- enabled device.

This layer is said to be virtually indistinguishable from the recording master.

The last few Chesky releases featured performances recorded with the B&K Binaural Head that were then enhanced to allow the 3-D perspectives of the headphone experience to translate to a stereo speaker set up.

Those releases were designated as Binaural Plus (+), and I have found that when approaching them, you need to have a think about what is being achieved with each individual album. 

I can say with some certainty, that even within a given album that the results may be variable.

As these are live recordings, it can also be noted that they sound very different to most such recordings, in that the usual technique is to take a multi-microphone approach, with mix and balance decisions applied after the event. As such, this tends to be what our ears have been conditioned to expect.

The titles I have appraised so far absolutely demand multiple listens to allow the different approach used by Chesky to seep into your synapses.

On some prior releases, I have found the drums, usually placed at the rear of the soundstage, to be rather muffled and indistinct. Now of course, this may be a by-product of the obvious fact that the singer is standing in front of the dummy head, and the percussionist is playing directly to the back of the singer’s head - hence, diffusion.

I have also noted the characteristic of the dummy head to really notice where the singer is in relation to the dummy-head, even the angle at which she holds her head is clearly discernible.

When it all works, and when your synapses are primed to the sonic perspective, it can be a treat.

The recent MACY GRAY set, 'STRIPPED' was testimony to that, and a real grower (reviewed here).

'INSIDE THE MOMENT' does not carry the Binaural + logo, but does tag the MQA- enabled capability on the rear cover.

Does this denote a headphone recommendation as preferential to a speaker presentation? I really do not know.

CAMILLE THURMAN is a New York born musical prodigy, flautist at 12, moving to Tenor Saxophone at 14 years old. Her vocal range is reported to be four octaves, and she is accomplished in soul and RnB stylings as well as the more free-jazz style, vocalise.

Her career involves composition, performance, mentoring and teaching.

She has performed with, or written for a wide array of artists and functions, including Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, and Dianne Reeves.

Garnering awards such as The Lincoln Centre Award for Outstanding Young Artist, she has also performed on our shores as a featured artist in the 2015 International Women in Jazz Festival held in Sydney.

Her debut album, ' ORIGINS' featured all her talents, including the flute.  Follow up set, 'SPIRIT CHILD' has also been well received. But it is with live performances that her profile continues to build.

The Chesky brothers, producer David, and executive producer Norman, chose to take Camille and her three fellow musicians into Rockford Music Hall on February 19th, 2017.

In front of a ticketed audience, utilising the B&K Recording Head, they recorded the show, selecting the seven tracks heard here for the album.

O.K. - Pause - deep breath. Confession time. 

For convenience, I am going to refer to the music on this album as 'Free Jazz/ Improvisational Jazz'.  This is not a 'field' you will generally find me standing in (cough).

I listen to Miles Davis, even at his most wilful and deranged, always finding a way 'in' and a reason to return (DARK MAGUS anyone??)

I love Weather Report, Return To Forever', Pete Erskine, Jon Hassell and all manner of jazz-fusion threads.

Ella, Sarah, Billie and Bessie are old friends.

Trad-jazz I can appreciate in an historical perspective with suitable libations. But 'Free Jazz'?

I can certainly respect the artistry of the musicians who are 'boned up' on their instruments enough to keep up with an improvising band.

I 'get' taking an established tune, and using it as a springboard to reach other levels. It is just not something I would usually choose to sit down and listen to.

To give this album a fair hearing, ten plays so far, I had to check my prejudice at the door, and adjust my expectations.

First up. This albums sounds completely different to any other live set I have ever heard.

Remembering that it is live (indeed, the audience is very present) a few sonic twists leapt out at me.

For one, having the Dummy Head in a fixed position relative to the stage/ performers, meant that every time a player moved, laterally, or in front of/ behind another player, the perspective change was readily apparent.

So, the guitarist, Mark Whitfields' playing will suddenly become a little muffled as either he has moved behind Camille, or she has stepped between the mike and him.

Certain deep notes on the string bass would seem to 'excite' the dummy head, and present those notes as being closer to the mike, whilst subsequent notes in the phrase would be placed further back.

The brushes used on one track, placed to the right side of the soundstage, are very intrusive, and almost ruin an otherwise good performance.

Some of the featured playing by bassist Ben Allison can be heard as him facing inwards as he starts, and then turning to face the audience / dummy.

These sonic perspectives can be quite distracting, and for me, the penny took a while to drop.

If one was sitting in the audience, listening from the point of view/sound of the dummy head, these are probably the peculiarities you would experience.

Another reflection: as an album, this set does not work at a low volume. It is most lifelike at a higher volume. The ambiance works better, and the subtle sense of the players bouncing off each other is far more apparent.

Therefore, I would have to say that the recording is a very faithful document of a live performance as it would be experienced by that audience.

That would not be to everyone's satisfaction or expectation. Remember, I did say it was different.

I did find myself grooving a few times, and Saints be praised, I bopped a little.

My impressions of the album refer to the red-book layer.

Unfortunately, I was not able to access an MQA- enabled DAC or system to review that portion of the program. Early days for the format It seems, but I understand TIDAL’s streaming platform is now offering limited selections with their service.

As to the program;

Track 1/ The Night Has A Thousand Eyes- not the best 1962 Bobby Vee classic, but a take on the Buddy Bernier/ Jerry Brainin tune, minus the actual Bernier lyrics. It comes in on a rattling drum figure, with Camille jumping straight into the rush.

Track 2/ Sassy's Blues- a Sarah Vaughan and Thad Jones tune. This shows the difference between the depth of Sarah Vaughans voice and the relative lightness of Camille's still youthful sounding pipes. Compare this to the 1963 Vaughan ' Live in Copenhagen' to hear what I mean. It also demonstrates that Camille has been a good student of Sarahs' phrasing.

Track 3/ Road Song - the 1968 Wes Montgomery tune, with Camille playing the Montgomery chords as sax lines. The original cannot help but make you add the chorus of ' Wade In The Water' over top of the riff. You can still ' hear' it here, but less obviously so.

Track 4/ Detour Ahead - a straightforward take on the 1947 Herb Ellis, John Frigo, Ron Carter tune, bringing a lighter touch to the song most associated with Sarah Vaughan. Camille again sits in the middle of her vocal range.

This is the track with the intrusive brushes in the right channel.

Track 5/ Nefertiti - a nod to the master, Miles Davis. The Davis original from 1967 is rather regal and measured in its approach. This update increases the tempo, and uses it as the basis for some full tilt grooving, particularly by Mark Whitfield's guitar, before settling back into the main theme with Camilles droll sax lines.

Track 6/ A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing - the Billy Strayhorn classic, notably sung by Ella Fitzgerald as a poised and restrained torch song, is almost unrecognisable here. A vocal free improvisation , uptempo, again, featuring some nice bass work, cruising over drummer Billy Drummond's propulsive beat.

Track 7/ Cherokee - first recorded as an instrumental version by Ray Noble in 1938, and designated a ' fox trot', this tune has been recorded by numerous artists since. I am not sure when the lyrics were added. Camille sings a few straight vocal lines, then slides into a burst of vocalise, over the vamping of string bassist Ben Allison.

Ben, at the 3 minute mark, can clearly be heard to mutter the word "Shit" as he seems to struggle with the speed of his own lines.

In conclusion. This will probably not appeal to anyone not already grooving to the various tributaries of the jazz idiom.

If you are already aboard, there is a lot to enjoy. If you are merely interested to hear what a faithfully captured 'audience perspective' recording can sound like, dive right in.

For a lovely introduction to Camille and the album, you will surely enjoy this wee clip:

For more information visit Chesky Records.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Geoff Wood, my dear friend of 17 years, with whom I learnt to listen deeply, and rejoice in the love of music. Rest in peace Sir G, I will never forget you. - Cap'n Dave.

David Martin's avatar

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David Martin

A walking encyclopedia of music, David's broad music knowledge is a valued member to the team. Without music, there would be no HiFi. Look out for his words on current, past and future music, as well as album reviews.

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