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Various Artists - Inside the Music: New Age Print E-mail
Tuesday, 09 October 2001
Inside The Music,
New Age (DVD-A/V),
Silverline/5.1 Entertainment, 2001
| Performance 8 | Sound 8 |

ImageThis album is one of a fairly enormous series of "DVD Music" compilation albums being released by Silverline, one of the labels of 5.1 Entertainment Group, founded by – among others – Fleetwood Mac engineer Ken Caillat. The series as a whole spans all kinds of music. There are also a number of other DVD-A releases on this label, including classical albums featuring specific works, rather than compilations like this one. There are additionally a number of DVD-Video-only series.

As a whole, the "Inside the Music" series is an excellent introduction to the benefits of DVD-A. 5.1 Entertainment’s approach has been to assemble high-quality multi-track masters from top artists in a number of genres and remix them with DVD in mind, assembling the results into genre-based compilations. All of the albums in the series that I have heard so far are excellent, even though quite a few of the original multi-tracks would have been analog recordings.

Note that I said "DVD" in the previous paragraph. I was deliberately vague. The earliest albums from Silverline are DVD-Video albums with, I believe, DTS and Dolby Digital surround tracks. The later ones are DVD-A/V discs, adding an MLP 24/96 surround DVD-A stream to the other two listed. If you are on the lookout for DVD-Audio titles, look very carefully. There are two ways of telling. One is to look for a sticker on the shrink-wrap saying something like "Plays on any DVD player" and sporting a DVD-Audio logo. More reliable is to look very carefully at the DVD logo, which might be on the back and/or inside the front of the transparent jewel case spine. If the logo says "DVD Audio/Video", it’s a DVD-A/V disc with a DVD-A MLP stream. If it just says "DVD Video," then you will be looking at a DVD-V-only disc. To compound the confusion, I notice that some titles are now appearing in super jewel cases, rather than the regular jewel boxes in which Silverline’s earlier DVD-A/V releases appeared.

Another thing to look at carefully is the price. I have seen these discs for $15.99 in Frye’s, my local electronics superstore – the same discs sell for $26.99 in Tower Records (all of Tower’s "audiophile" discs seem to be $26.99: DVD Music, DTS CD, Super Audio CD, or even gold CDs – and all in the same rack, aaargh). They are also available as free rentals at some video stores. They’re a good introduction to surround, they’re good value, and they’re all nicely done – just be sure you’re buying the format you think you’re buying.

Now on to the music. These tracks have been licensed from EMI-Capitol Special Markets, so the artists will be familiar to those who have experienced releases from this stable’s New Age and "smooth jazz" labels Narada and Higher Octave in the past. Artists like Los Angeles duo Vas (Narada) are here, as are Ottmar Liebert (from his Higher Octave days) and Cusco (also a Higher Octave artist). There’s David Lanz and David Arkenstone, and a few artists who may be lesser-known to some listeners. But it’s all good stuff and a good demonstration of the surround medium.

The album opens with "Here Comes the Night" from 3rd Force, who I personally had never heard of before. It’s a nice opener, though, with night sounds in the surrounds while the instrumentation enters initially across the front stage only. Later, when the track really gets going, the electronic percussion, clean synth bass end and other instruments are spread pleasingly around the room.

The following few tracks are very guitar-oriented, particularly acoustic, and while the playing is excellent and the mixes equally good, we are a little inclined to prefer background music here, as opposed to foreground.

A change of tone – and a significant change of mood – is heralded by David Lanz’s exquisite piano playing on "Cristofori’s Dream," the title track of his album of some years ago inspired by the inventor of the "arpicembalo che fà il piano e il forte," or "harpsichord that plays soft and loud," aka pianoforte.

Lanz is followed by the unmistakable sound of Vas, a duo marrying the fluid vocal talents of Azam Ali with the jazz-influenced percussion of Greg Ellis. Like Karl Jenkins ("Adiemus" – and when can we hear those albums on DVD-A, please?) in concept but totally unlike in sound, Ali’s words are in "a language of her own design": a melisma if you will. It’s the sound that counts, not what the "words" mean.

On past the smooth, lyrical electric guitar of Brian Hughes, we encounter "Barcelona Nights" from "New Flamenco" artist Ottmar Liebert. The album from whence this came was originally recorded, I seem to recall, for Higher Octave at Sound Design in Santa Barbara, and a nice piece of work it is, too.

Also getting their initial U.S. releases on the formerly independent Higher Octave label, Cusco’s "Montezuma" is a typical up-tempo example of this band’s blending of South American influences with modern electronic and New Age sonorities.

Winding down towards the end of this 12-track release, "Firedance," the offering from New Age megastar David Arkenstone is again a good example of his work, and the album closes with "Loose Change" from EKO.

Assuming that you enjoy the New Age/"Smooth Jazz" genre, this album will provide a good way into the 5.1 audio, and particularly DVD-Audio, experience. The tracks are expertly mixed to 5.1 by Gary Lux, one of the top guys at 5.1 Entertainment: the opening number is an excellent example of how good surround placement can set the mood and create excitement. Plus the DVD-A stream is 24/96, fully showing off the possibilities of the medium, including still photos while the tracks play, plus speaker tests and placement guides and some text-based background info. There are also DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks if you don’t have a DVD-A-capable player this week. Soundwise, the DVD-A stream sounds best on my system, with DTS rather far behind and Dolby behind that. Lossless compression, excellent lossy compression and good lossy compression in that order – exactly what you’d expect.

Like the rest of the series, this is a good compilation and exceptionally well-produced. You can safely pick up a disc in the genre(s) of your choice and enjoy – and this is certainly true here. And the price is right if you go to the right place.

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