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Patrick Leonard - Rivers Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 November 1997
Rivers (5.1 CD)
DTS Entertainment, 1998
| Performance 7 | Sound 8 |

ImageFollowing his enormous success producing albums for Madonna and working with other artists like Roger Waters and Elton John – and of course collaborating with Kevin Gilbert on the exceptional Toy Matinee in the mid-‘90s, Patrick Leonard decided to start his own label, Unitone Recordings, to cater to rather different tastes. We can imagine that his own 1997 release, "Rivers," is indicative of the style of music he is seeing for the label: thoughtful and instrumental, in this case largely piano-based and occasionally echoing composers like David Lanz. While pleasant, however, I would not rate this album at the top of its genre.

On the face of it, a piano & synth/bass/percussion/cello quartet is not going to go very far in surround, as presented on this 5.1 remix on DTS CD, confusingly packaged – as most recent DTS CD releases are – to look like a DVD-Audio disc (please, distributors, will you stop doing this?). However, there are a great many factors that will determine if there is "enough to go around" when remixing an album originally produced for stereo into surround. Often, it’s the number of tracks that make the difference. It can be tough to get enough meat out of a four-track multitrack, for example, and although some clever systems exist for reprocessing stereo – or even mono – for surround, most of the time that’s just how they sound: reprocessed. However, the material and what you try to do with it are equally important.

On Rivers, we have a modern recording, and thus no doubt plenty of tracks – instruments recorded in stereo provide a lot more depth. Additionally, the intent has not been to spread things around the room willy-nilly. Instead, the soundstage is based on a "wrap-around stereo" concept, with few attempts to localize something right behind you (which regular 5.1 can’t do anyway). Instead, a gentle feeling of envelopment helpfully enhances the largely gentle, lightly jazzy material. Judging by a note at the front of the beautifully produced, faux-handwritten booklet, Leonard himself was surprised at how well it works in surround. "I was concerned that Rivers wouldn’t have enough info to justify a five-channel mix," he says. "I was so happy with the results that I’ve been finding it hard to think in stereo."

This album was inspired by Leonard’s experiences on a fishing trip in 1995, in which he, his cousin and a friend spent nine days in Wyoming and Montana. "When the trip was over," he notes, "I spent three days at the piano recording improvisations." From these four hours of material, he developed nine pieces that, to him, capture the feeling of the trip, and generally named the compositions for the rivers that inspired them. Leonard conceives of the album as his "offering to the sport that’s brought so much pleasure to my life."

I’m afraid that fishing has never been one of my interests, but that does not stop the music being worth a listen. This being said, the album comes across as somewhat up-and-down, although this may be perfectly legitimate in terms of the source of inspiration. Some of the tracks – primarily the lively ones, of which "The Slough" is a fine example – are extremely appealing and hold the attention, while others, such as "Livingston D.C.," are too much like New Age noodling for me. The interspersion of the weaker pieces among the stronger ones tends to dissolve any momentum that the more up-tempo tracks attempt to generate. Despite this tendency, there is still material to be happy about here: another worthwhile track, with a slight Vince Guaraldi feeling, is "Boy Scouts and Cutthroats."

This album is by no means a worthless excursion, but Leonard has not yet developed the talent for taking inspiration from Nature that he will surely grasp better in the fullness of time.

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