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Miles Davis - Kind of Blue Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 August 2001

Miles Davis

Kind of Blue
format: Multi-channel, non-hybrid SACD
label: Columbia Legacy
re-release year: 2003
performance: 10
sound 9
reviewed by: Jerry Del Colliano

ImageI can hear the cries from the audiophiles now – “Kind of Blue in Surround Sound… They’ve ruined it!” But in fact “they” haven’t. As one of the most high-profile releases in the growing catalog of SACD, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue has been gently remixed for SACD in a multi-channel format that takes advantage of additional speakers (mostly front speakers) to create a wider and more open soundstage for an album that every true music enthusiast owns (possibly in several editions).

The fear of a bad multi-channel mix is understandable, considering what could be done with this artistic performance. With the power to put John Coltrane ping-ponging in the rear speakers, it takes restraint, taste and respect to avoid overpowering the recorded performance with audio trickery. That restraint and taste are just what you will find on this SACD. The center channel is used to add height and width to the sound stage. In direct comparisons to a number of versions of remixed Kind of Blue that I own on CD, the SACD clearly takes the cake. No matter how well your speakers are angled for optimum imaging, you simply cannot get the stereo version to spread out the way you will hear it do on the SACD. I found it fun to highlight the differences for some friends over for cocktails recently. They think I am a bit crazy with all of my audio talk, but when they sat down to listen to the differences they could hear them clearly.

I found that having additional space around the instruments brought to life new subtle details on a record where I thought I knew all of the subtle details. You can hear James Cobb spin his brushes on cymbals with such detail that you feel like you can hear the angle for which he attacks his set. The additional resolution from the SACD leads to increased overall smoothness in the sound without giving up one ounce of clarity. This is a definite advantage of SACD over CD or even LP (we aren’t still talking about LP, are we?). When Davis mutes his trumpet, you can hear the tone get brighter, but it is never shrill or overpowering. While this never was a problem for me on past CD versions of the album, the additional resolution from the SACD format and an excellent mix makes the virtuoso performance just that much better.

As far as the songs on the record go, you likely know them all by heart already. If you are buying or have invested in an SACD player at this point, it is very unlikely that you are unfamiliar with Kind of Blue. It is one of, if not the, most influential jazz records of all time and should be considered art, as well as a national treasure. Notable on the SACD version of the album is an alternate take of the last track, “Flamenco Sketches,” which isn’t found on most CD versions of Kind of Blue.

The SACD remix was compiled from master tapes, using an all-tube, three-track machine, which was reportedly the type used for the original mix. Another improvement on the SACD release is correction of the tape speed, which fixes a pitch problem that caused musicians trying to play along with the record to end up pulling out their hair in frustration. As a guitar player, I never had the urge to try to play along with Kind of Blue, but I surmise that the improvements made in the pitch of the album, along with other improvements, all add up to the discernable difference you can hear on the SACD version.

This record alone makes a strong argument as to why one could consider starting to upgrade their collection from CD to higher-resolution formats like SACD. The careful work done to remix and master the record, paired with the beautiful audio heard on SACD, makes it a must-own for any music lover, jazz fan and/or audio enthusiast. If it requires the investment in a new player, consider it a worthy expenditure to get this much closer to an important performance.

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