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Willie Nelson - Night and Day Print E-mail
Friday, 21 September 2001

Willie Nelson
Night and Day
format: DVD-Audio
label: Surroundedby Entertainment
release year: 2001
performance: 9
sound 9
reviewed by: Richard Elen

ImageMost manufacturers of DVD-Audio discs go to great lengths to make their releases as accessible as possible. These efforts extend to, for example, including a DVD-Video side to create a "DVD Universal A/V" disc that will play on any machine with a "DVD" logo on it. My traditional view has always been that if you have the room on the disc, this IS EXACTLY what you should do, so that the discs will be compatible with any DVD player and don’t oblige the consumer to rush out and buy a new player. The same philosophy informs the SACD hybrid disc, which has a Red Book CD layer to allow the disc to play on a standard CD player.

Willie Nelson's Night and Day, along with other releases from Connecticut-based Surroundedby Entertainment’s small but impressive catalog (which we will be looking at in the future), flies in the face of common practice by being DVD-A only. "Our software is not dumbed-down to leave room for backward compatibility," says the "Forward compatible only" flyer that arrived with the disc. "We further refuse to compromise the quality of our products, the work of our artists, or the dignity of our listeners by embedding copyright management measures," it goes on, referring to the Verance "watermarking" scheme, cracked within days of its release, which is used on many DVD-A discs and is held by many "golden ears" in the professional audio industry to audibly compromise the sound (see our previous article on this topic).

Night and Day, then, is pure DVD-A. You need a DVD-A player to listen, but once the disc is unlocked, there is a real treat in store. The original 1999 stereo mix of Nelson’s instrumental album Night And Day won a Grammy Award, and it is not hard to hear why. This original stereo 16/44.1 mix – actually nothing more nor less than the rough mixes that Willie heard coming into the control room for playbacks – is provided on the disc at the artist’s request, and indeed, it would be hard, if not impossible, to better it. But the surround remix, engineered by John Klett and produced by Jim Mageras, is a real ear-opener. In a single phrase, this album is simply "sweet and soulful". It’s a real listening pleasure.

"There are no edits. No overdubs," Mageras notes. "The recording is an aural snapshot of the musical magic that was happening in Texas on December 1st and 2nd, 1998." It is simply a group of top musicians sitting around and playing. And that’s just what we hear, from the perspective of sitting on a stool with the band. And what better place to experience that magic? "In creating the surround mix," says Mageras, "we chose to acknowledge what it was like to be in the studio during those sessions – more accurately, to create a perspective that is representative of what the musicians heard themselves." This is no mere excuse to spread the tracks around the room for effect without artistic direction; it’s a careful choice that suits the material, and the artists, down to the ground.

This collection of instrumental pieces includes familiar items like Cole Porter’s "Night And Day" and Fats Waller’s "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Sweet Georgia Brown," along with expressive renditions of Django Reinhardt’s "Nuages" and Nelson’s own composition, "Bandera" – 10 tracks in all.

Nelson’s unique playing style, featuring "Trigger," his Martin gut-string electric-acoustic guitar, is fully complemented by the rest of the band, which includes Micky Raphael on harmonica, Bobbie Nelson on piano, Johnny Gimble on fiddle and mandolin, and B. Spears on bass. Drums and percussion are provided by Paul and Billy English, respectively.

The recording and surround mix complement the band, too, and the experience of sitting within the circle of musicians is an entirely pleasant one, although it is as open to criticism as any other surround placement strategy you can imagine: a proscenium "super-stereo" approach, with rear room ambience, would have been really incongruous. What you want to do is hang out with these guys—and that’s exactly what you get here.

For clarity, sweet sound, excellent use of surround, and of course marvelous instrumental renditions of some wonderful classics, this album really shows off the potential of DVD Audio. In addition to the liner notes, a photo scrapbook, original stereo and new surround mixes, there is a complete DVD-ROM section with printable lead sheets, solo transcriptions and loads more that will suit musicians and those who demand a deeper knowledge of the material and the playing of it. Agree with the "DVD-A only" philosophy or not, this is a brilliant DVD-Audio demo disc and a real joy to hear, with plenty of "added value." May this little label go from strength to strength.

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