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Art Pepper - Meets The Rhythm Section Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 October 2002

Art Pepper

Meets The Rhythm Section
format: DVD-Audio
label: Contemporary Records (Japanese Import)
release year: 2002
performance: 9
sound 10
reviewed by: Jerry Del Colliano

ImageMusic enthusiasts who have invested in the DVD-Audio format are often left wondering, “Where are all the great titles?” They can see and hear the potential of the format, but a shopping spree at Tower Records or leaves them wanting better quality releases in many cases. Upon listening to an unacceptably large number of lousy-sounding and/or poorly mixed early titles, most of DVD-Audio’s early adopters are still seeking true reference DVD-Audio discs. DTS has some great ones, most notably Queen. Other small labels like AIX also have some tasty 5.1 recordings, too. During a recent phone call, I was whining about the lack of truly incredible DVD-Audio titles to Bob Stuart, founder of Meridian and creator of MLP found on DVD-Audio discs. He informed me some of hard to find titles available now, albeit only in Japan. One of these is Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, a stereo-only title that is low on added values and sky-high on sound quality.

Recorded in 1957, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section is the merger of some West Coast sax talent with Miles Davis’ band, including most notably drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Paul Chambers. Crashing the West and East Coast jazz sounds together was potentially risky, but the results are nothing short of brilliant. What is hard to accept is how unbelievably good the stereo sound is from this DVD. While Yes’ 1972 Fragile is the best-sounding rock record I have heard on either DVD-Audio or SACD, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section leaves Yes sonically in the dust. The instruments sound strikingly realistic. I can see it now – audiophiles finally loading up the trunk of their 20-year-old dilapidated Volvos with their beloved vinyl jazz collections to take to the pawnshop in order to move on to higher ground and superior technologies. Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section on DVD-Audio is just that good in terms of audio performance and realism.

The record starts out with a Cole Porter tune called “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” which sets up a mild swing and a luscious sax sound. You’d have to be dead not to be mesmerized by the insane layering of instruments on this 1957 recording. The sax sounds three-dimensional, while you can actually hear the tautness of the stings on Chambers’ bass. The piano is rich but back in the mix to start. That changes later in the tune, where the 88 keys pop forward with life and enthusiasm.

“Red Pepper Blues” was a tune written in the studio by piano player Red Garland, reminiscent of Coltrane jams from Blue Train. The melody is catchy and devoid of anything but smooth transitions from note to note, while the swing is solid and the bass neatly wanders all over the place. During the bass solo, you can literally feel the texture on the strings in Chambers’ solos. At this level of resolution, it is actually a physical event rather than just a listening session.

The guys get into a sneaky Dizzy Gillespie tune called “Birks Works” that has a sly James Bond feel. Philly Joe rides the cymbal with brushes and you can hear incredibly energetic high frequency information without a touch of brightness and or ill effect. A compact disc simply cannot resolve music at the level of this DVD-Audio disc. In fact, other classic jazz titles like Dave Brubeck’s Time Out on SACD can’t hold a candle to the reality, impact and presence heard on this title.

Not found on the original release is a George and Ira Gershwin song called “The Man I Love.” While it keeps the groove going and the sweet sounds keep keeping on, the song isn’t quite up to the lofty performances earlier in the record. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t be reaching for the remote to switch it off -- it's just not a 10.

Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section on DVD-Audio in stereo could serve as a wake-up call to the music industry as to how good archival music can sound. Even as a staunch supporter of surround sound for music, I beg to ask the question: Does every older record need to be remastered into surround? Most likely not. The issue of “no good titles on the market” comes up when discussing DVD-Audio – this record can be an example of what is possible. I guarantee you that Joe Average could actually discern the difference between the CD version of Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section and the DVD-Audio version. Make no mistake - they’d pick the DVD-Audio 10 out of 10 times. It is not a subtle difference -- it is jaw-dropping. If you have contacts in Japan or can get your best local record store to scare up a copy of this DVD-Audio title, it is worth the work. I paid almost $40 U.S. for the title and would have, in retrospect, paid $80. It is absurdly good.

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