Stereophile Test CD 3 Music Tracks 3-5
 Empire Brass Quintet: "Sibley Sanctus Lydian" (DDD) 3:59
(from Passage 138 B.C.- A.D. 1611, Telarc CD-80355, surround-sound-encoded with the Spatializer™)
Composer: Rolf Smedvig, based on Gregorian Chant (KRS Publishing Inc./ASCAP); rhythm arrangement by Kurt Wortman
Musicians: Rolf Smedvig (solo trumpet); Eric Ruske (horn); Kurt Wortman (rhythm); with Jeffrey Curnow (trumpet); R. Douglas Wright (trombone); Kenneth Amis (tuba); Doug Lunn (fretless bass guitar); Pete Maunu (guitars); Laurie Monahan, Michael Collver (vocals); David Goldblatt (synthesizer)
Producers: Elaine Martone, Rolf Smedvig, Kurt Wortman
Executive Producer: Robert Woods
Production Assistant/Editor: Erica Brenner
Recording Engineers: Michael Bishop, with Jack Renner
Technical Assistant: Scott Burgess
Recording Venue: Studio A, Berkshire Performing Arts Center, Lenox, MA
Recording Date: May 27-29, 1994
Additional Recording/Mixing: Mad Hatter Studios, Los Angeles, CA, June 28-July 2, 1994
Mixing Engineers: Stephen Krause, with Robert Read
Passage, the album from which this track is excerpted, is a suite of short works based on the older notion of modes rather than on key signatures. Each mode is based on a different note of the musical scale, yet preserves the same pitch relationships as the fundamental Western C-major scale.
The Lydian mode, featured on this track, starts and ends on the note F. Thus, as we ascend the scale, this results in seven pitch intervals of TTTSTTS, rather than the conventional TTSTTTS (where T is a change in pitch of a tone and S is a semitone). Rather than the conventional tonic-subdominant F-B-flat relationship of notes with a consonant frequency ratio of 4:3, the Lydian scale features the dissonant tritone, F-B natural—a frequency ratio of the square root of 2, 1.414—which was regarded with superstitious horror throughout the Medieval period.
Rolf Smedvig, who both composed this piece and played lead trumpet, writes "In earlier times, music was known as 'music of the spheres.' A pagan notion still applied and the Pythagorean belief in numbers satisfied the need for symbols. Was it not exhilarating that the seven notes of the scale expressed the pitches produced by the seven planetary spheres? And that the number seven also had a special meaning for man, since his earthly body was symbolized by the number four and his soul by three...
"Twelve notes to work with, yet no two pieces are the same. Worlds apart, music began to evolve. Cultures grew miles apart, yet musical life developed with such similar grand design sounds. The music itself hints and harkens back to something much older, a glimpse of high old wizards at the dawn of time, a sense of the earth, and the glory revealed in nature. The music, as it has come down to us, harbours the sound of rain and the rustling of leaves, twists of birdsong and the cutting flame. So solidly constructed are the roots of this modal music that the ancient traditions shine through. With this new rhythmic emphasis, the music assumes an enhanced emotional intensity and the vivid spiritual impressions, so keenly felt, are heightened."
What you should hear: This recording has been encoded with the Spatializer—a proprietary processor that enlarges the soundstage in stereo playback, but gives an impressive U-R-There presentation when played on a Home Theater surround system. The ethereal-sounding solo trumpet should float above the sea of percussion and percussive electric bass playing.
For more information on Telarc releases, contact Telarc International Corporation, 23307 Commerce Park Rd., Cleveland, OH 44122, USA. Past, present, and future Empire Brass arrangements are available from KRS Publishing, Inc., P.O. Box 528, West Stockbridge, MA 01266, USA.
 Dick Hyman: "Topsy" (DDD) 6:11
(HDCD-encoded, from From the Age of Swing, Reference RR-59CD)
Composers: Edgar Battle/Eddie Durham (Vanessa Music Corp./ASCAP)
Musicians: Dick Hyman (piano), Butch Miles (drums), Bucky Pizzarelli (rhythm guitar)
Producer: J. Tamblyn Henderson Jr.
Recording Engineer: Keith O. Johnson
HDCD Engineer: Michael "Pflash" Pflaumer
Piano: Baldwin SD-10
Recording Venue: Concert Hall A, SUNY Purchase, NY
Recording Date: May 24-25, 1994
Digital Mastering Engineer: Paul Stubblebine with J. Tamblyn Henderson, Rocket Lab, CA
From the Age of Swing is pianist Dick Hyman's small-group tribute to his big-band roots—the black music that grew up in the '30s in the dance halls of Kansas City and Harlem. But in paying his respects to Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Hyman had not relegated the music to the museum. These performances swing.
The track I chose for Test CD 3, "Topsy," was the first piece written for Count Basie by Eddie Durham, who joined the orchestra in 1937. Richard M. Sudhalter quotes Count Basie as saying that " 'Topsy' is the kind of simple yet inviting 32-bar structure jazzmen love: eight bars in D-minor, a second eight shifting to G-minor and back to D-minor, and a straightforward bridge opening on a D-major chord, and moving around the circle of fourths, returning to D-minor."
Dick Hyman's sparse vamping pays homage to Basie—as a pianist, the Count's style was more concerned with what was left unstated in the spaces between the notes—but, again as Sudhalter notes, the real hero of this performance is Bucky Pizzarelli, "whose unamplified guitar provides the kind of heartbeat pulse Freddie Green imparted to more than four decades of Basie Rhythm sections."
In 1958, "Topsy" was a surprise pop hit for drummer Cozy Cole—with Hyman as organist and arranger. "We even appeared on Dick Clark's TV Show, synching it," said Hyman.
What you should hear: Check out the superb manner in which "Professor" Keith Johnson has captured the sounds and images of musicans playing acoustic instruments in a real space. The drums should be well set back behind the plane of the loudspeakers, the double-bass should have a rich roundness to its tone, and Duck Hyman's jabs on the piano should be almost icy in their clarity. And when the track is HDCD-decoded—see my and Robert Harley's Follow-Up on the Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 Mk.II D/A processor in the March 1995 issue of Stereophile—you're transported into their presence. Check out also with HDCD the way in which the sound of wooden stick on brass ride-cymbal sounds simply more real than you've heard from digital before.
For more information on Reference Recordings releases, contact Reference Recordings, P.O. Box 77225X, San Francisco, CA 94107, USA.
 Sara K.: "History Repeats Itself" (DDD) 5:54
(from Play on Words, Chesky Records JD105)
Composer: Sara K. (Sarak Music/BMI)
Musicians: Sara K. (vocals, four-string guitar); Joel Diamond (piano, musical director); George Naha (guitar); Bruce Dunlap (six- and ten-string nylon-strung guitars); John Goldsby (bass); Gary Burke (drums); Lou Soloff (trumpet)Producers: David Chesky, Joel Diamond
Assistant Producer: Steve Guttenberg
Executive Producer: Norman Chesky
A&R Director: Steve Kaiser
Recording Engineers: Bob Katz, with David Merrill (Mastersound) and Jeremy R. Kipnis
Editors: Jeremy R. Kipnis, Steve Kaiser
Piano: Yamaha CFIII Concert Grand
Recording Venue: Mastersound Studios, Queens, NY
Recording Date: September 27-30, 1993
Recorder: Chesky/Bob Katz Mk.III 128x-oversampling A/D Converter with UltraAnalog modules and vacuum-tube equipment built by George Kaye
The combination of producer David Chesky and engineer Bob Katz has proved a powerful one for Chesky Records. But when I was looking for a track to represent the New York-based company, there was no doubt in my mind: it had to be something from Sara K. In Richard Lehnert's insightful words (footnote 2), "K. shares with middle-period Joni Mitchell a husky, deep, back-of-the-throat breathiness that draws the listener in, but the voice itself is stronger and richer than Mitchell's...The persuasiveness of the illusion of a small group of musicians spread out in a deep arc behind the speakers is startling...only in such recordings is it made clear just how rarely any of us hears the incredibly subtle cues—the echoes of the snare brushes off the studio walls, for instance—that we take for granted when we're actually in the same room where and when the music is being made." I have nothing to add, other than to say that, on "History Repeats Itself," K.'s band cooks. Which is why I chose it.
What you should hear: Engineer Bob Katz has also worked hard to capture the true sounds and images of musicans playing acoustic instruments in a real space. Rather than sounding like shaped and textured white noise, the cymbals should all sound very different from one another. The brushed snare drum should be heard illuminating the acoustic, while the kick drum supplying musical punctuation should be delicately outlined rather than being an indistinct-sounding boom or thud. The double bass on this track sounds more reedy than the one on the Hyman cut, but is less well-defined, overall. The muted trumpet should be readily identifiable as an acoustic instrument, not some kind of synthesized squarewave.
For more information on Chesky releases, contact Chesky Records, P.O. Box 1268, Radio City Station, New York, NY 10101, USA.
Footnote 2: Stereophile, April 1994 (Vol.17 No.4, p.237).—John Atkinson