|Various Artists - Big Band Christmas|
|Music Disc Reviews DTS 5.1 CD|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 23 May 2000|
This album consists of a round dozen well-known Christmas carols arranged for big band. Much as you might expect something like this to be pure corn, don’t dismiss it out of hand, as it’s actually extremely worthwhile: the arrangements are very impressive, the playing is excellent, and the crisp digital recording shows off 5.1 surround-sound very effectively.
Unfortunately, if you thought that DTS-encoded CDs told you too little in the sleeve notes, you should see this one. The only record number is in a barcode and we don't even get to know who the band was! What we do know is that it was produced at Iliad, Inc in Nashville in 1994, and it looks as though it may have been made specifically for surround purposes. The surround version was released earlier this year, but I was unable to find any previous stereo release of this material.
Thank goodness the lack of identification of the artists is not, in this case, an excuse for sub-standard work. On the contrary, everyone involved can be proud of their contribution. The sound is excellent; everything is clear and crisp; different parts emerge from different speakers... and suddenly we realize that we are listening to a DTS surround demonstration CD. This is exactly what you play if you are either wanting to impress your Christmas guests with your new home theater system (along with the latest Bond movie, no doubt) or your job is selling home theater systems during the holiday season in the local branch of a well-known electronics superstore. This disc will do the job admirably on either count, and there is no need to be ashamed. This album does not indulge in any superfluous ear-bending panning or ping-pang-pong-pung effects dancing around the speakers. Instead, it's the 5.1 equivalent of Johnny Keating's Hits in Hi-Fi which did the same kind of job for stereo years ago, namely bringing a new audio medium to life in an effective way with top-quality performances, arrangements and recordings of well-known tunes.
The twelve tracks range from the obvious "Good King Wenceslas," "Carol of the Bells," "Wassail Song," "God Rest Ye Merry" and so on, to a couple of less well-known offerings such as "Up on the Housetop." The numbers follow a fairly similar approach as far as surround placement is concerned, with a good solid rhythm section anchoring the front stage and instruments like rhythm keyboards and guitars spread into the surrounds to give a very tasteful, enveloping effect. The main power of the brass section, the trumpets and trombones, are also across the front with the reeds to the rear, adding a pleasing antiphonal quality to the interplay within the arrangement.
All the arrangements are lively and interesting, and everything is exceptionally well-played. Some of the arrangements really leap out, such as "Jingle Bells," which features a very lively middle section. Even the tunes that sound as if they would not take the big band treatment, such as "O Christmas Tree," come out well, expertly handled and invitingly presented.
Obviously, you’ll only bring this album out once a year. But even so, it’s a very effective and pleasant investment. And if you’re looking for a seasonal surround showcase, this album will definitely do the job. So if you need a seasonable album to show off a system, here it is. If you would prefer to knock their socks off with a stunning 5.1 rock album... boy, do I have the disc for you! Just see my review of Toy Matinee coming soon