DMP Records CD-502
Digital Music Products (DMP) is a small, audiophile label based
in Stamford Connecticut, which, under the direction of the label's
producer and engineer Tom Jung, has been using 20-bit technology
to make purist recordings for more than five years. Although DMP
has been around for over twenty years, they seem to have a much
lower profile in the audiophile community than labels like Chesky,
Reference Recordings and Mobile Fidelity. This certainly isn't
because their recordings aren't first rate, as my recent exposure
to a handful of them indicates. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
While not exactly a household name amongst jazz lovers, the Lynne Arriale Trio have certainly taken my own personal jazz world by storm. Their debut recording, The Eyes Have It, released in 1994, is a wonderful mix of jazz standards and original Arriale compositions beautifully recorded by DMP's Tom Jung.
Arriale, a native of Wisconsin and now living in New York, is an exceptionally talented and multi-faceted pianist, possessing the rare ability to swing hard one minute and to display the most delicate of touches, reminiscent of the late, great Bill Evans, the next. While not yet obtaining the commercial success of some of her contemporaries, Arrialle's abundant talents certainly haven't gone unnoticed in the professional jazz world, as she was awarded first prize at the 1993 International Great American Jazz Piano Competition.
On The Eyes Have It, we find Arriale, with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis, in a mostly sentimental mood, covering tunes like Gershwin's My Man's Gone Now and Rodgers and Hart's My Funny Valentine, with lovely arrangements by Arriale. Arriale's Evans-like touch and minimalist approach to chord usage is much in evidence, and used to great effect, on tunes like My Man's Gone Now, My One And Only Love, and her own lovely compositions Elegy, Blues For T.J. and The Eyes Have It.
Arriale and her trio do take a few opportunities to crank up the meter a bit on tracks like Witchcraft and Jerome Kern's Yesterdays, a track which demonstrates Arriale's prodigious technical prowess.
No great piano trio is built on the foundation of a top-notch pianist alone, and the Lynne Arriale Trio is no exception in this regard, Arrialle getting superb support from her rhythm section of Davis and Anderson. Davis isn't a "busy" drummer but is, instead, content to sit back and wait for the right time to contribute just the right cymbal splash, or ride cymbal accent. Listen to his superb use of cymbals and toms to create the almost-dreamy atmosphere on My One And Only Love, a song he co-arranged with Arriale.
The 20-bit recording, engineered by Tom Jung using a Wadia Reference A/D converter and the Yamaha DMR8 20-bit digital mixer/recorder, is exceptional in every respect: Arriale's piano sounds very natural, even at the frequency extremes, Davis's cymbals shimmer and decay beautifully, and Anderson's bass sounds warm and woody. Tom Jung's recordings manage to capture the essence of a live drum kit better than any other that I know of.
The Eyes Have It is a wonderful recording, one which deserves
to find a place in every jazz lover's collection.
DMP Records CD-518
With Words Unspoken is Arriale's third outing for DMP (following 1995's When You Listen which, unfortunately, wasn't sent along for review). The safety net of The Eyes Have It's less demanding material has been stripped away, the trio diving head first into compositions by Thelonious Monk, Dizzie Gillespie and Antonio Carlos Jobim. On this recording, we also find a more mature Lynne Arriale in terms of her development as a pianist and as a composer/arranger.
The disc opens with Monk's quirky Think Of One, Arriale beautifully punctuating the shuffling, funky rhythm, laid down by Steve Davis and Drew Gress, with the "wrong" chords that Monk so loved. Arriale's innate lyricism doesn't allow her to recreate quite the same strangely punctuated and angular style that was Monk's hallmark, but this rendition works well nonetheless.
Arriale's phrasing and timing are terrific on the trio's blistering version of Dizzie Gillespie's Woody n' You, an arrangement which spotlights the cooking rhythm section of Davis and Gress, and gives Davis the opportunity to take a rare, but well-deserved drum solo. Davis is one of those rare jazz drummers who can work his magic on straight-ahead, be-bop style tunes as well as hushed ballads requiring subtle shadings and inflections in order to create the appropriate mood. Listen to Davis' wonderful playing on this disc's title track and The Peacocks, and see if you don't agree that he is one of the most underrated jazz drummers on the scene today.
Arriale's own compositions on With Words Unspoken are far more ambitious than those on The Eyes Have It. Windswept is a terrific blend of jazz and Latin rhythms and features an interesting "conversation" in the main theme between Arriale's left and right hand piano lines. After the opening, things really begin to cook and Arriale smolders in her own wonderfully understated fashion. As usual, Davis and Grew take up the rear admirably, providing a solid underpinning for Arriale's right-hand pyrotechnics.
With Words Unspoken is rounded out with beautifully played ballads written by George and Ira Gershwin (I Loves You Porgy), pianist Jimmy Rowles (The Peacocks), Antonio Carlos Jobim (the hauntingly beautiful Zingaro) and Richard Rogers' (Where Or When).
Once again, DMP's 20-bit HDCD-encoded recording is a sonic knockout - well balanced and dynamic with lovely piano and bass tone. As was the case with The Eyes Have It, the recorded drum and cymbal sound are top-notch and I dare say one of the best I've heard from digital.
DMP Records CD-515
Saxophonist, composer and arranger extraordinaire Bob Mintzer started his career playing in the legendary big bands of Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis. Over the past two decades, Bob has been honing his chops with the likes of Art Blakey, Joe Chambers and Jaco Pastorius - quite an education indeed! In 1984, Mintzer formed his own self-titled Bob Mintzer Big Band with which he has made a host of critically acclaimed recordings for the DMP label, including the Grammy-nominated Art Of The Big Band (1991) and Only In New York (1994). The band's latest recording for DMP, Big Band Trane, is a tribute to the music of John Coltrane. The title notwithstanding, this is not a disc full of big band arrangements of Coltrane's music - only Acknowledgment from A Love Supreme and Impressions are given such treatment, the remaining tracks left to serve as "dedications to Coltrane's music, and to his spiritual quest for something better." Regardless, Big Band Trane contains some terrific music making. Besides the wonderfully arranged and performed Coltrane tracks, Bob Mintzer's seven Coltrane-inspired originals are an appealing mix of jazz, pop and funk influences, resulting in a big band sound that is both fresh and unique.
Run For Your Life is a great Mintzer chart and the band absolutely nails it! Inspired solos, at breakneck speed, by Mintzer and Randy Brecker (trumpet), demonstrate why these guys are at the top of their professions.
The band slows things down considerably on Mintzer's lovely ballad, Prayer For Peace, a song of which I'm sure Coltrane would have been proud to be the dedicatee. Delicate, well-crafted solos by Mintzer and pianist Phil Markowitz showcase the talents of these two fine musicians.
Most bands would kill for one saxophonist with Mintzer's talent, but Mintzer's Big Band has no less than five masters of the instrument, each of them getting to strut their stuff on this outing. Pete Yellin does some wonderful solo alto work on Coltrane's Impressions as does Roger Rosenberg on My Favorite Things. Bob Malach gives us a searing alto performance of Coltrane's Acknowledgment from A Love Supreme, a reading that brought back the intense feelings I had when I first heard Coltrane scream out the notes on his original version.
Two more great Mintzer compositions, Softly Spoken and Trane's Blues, round out a terrific disc of big band jazz from one of the genre's masters.
DMP has recently begun encoding their new discs, including Big Band Trane, using a five-channel surround process known as Circle Surround©. DMP's liner notes explain that this process was originally designed for music, rather than home theatre, and leaves the stereo signal unprocessed, with additional signals being sent only to the center and rear channels. Encoded discs are compatible with all five and four channel matrix surround systems, and will also play back correctly on two channel systems. On my two-channel audio system, I couldn't verify DMP's claims as to the superiority of the Circle Surround© process. I did, however, feel that the recorded sound on Big Band Trane was very good, if not quite up to the high standard set by the two Lynne Arriale discs. There was an openness and naturallness to the sound of the Arriale discs that just wasn't there to the same degree on Big Band Trane.
Bob Mintzer and DMP have released yet another fine big band jazz recording, one which should appeal to fans of this popular jazz style. Heartily recommended.
-- Andrew Chasin