Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD Player
Sunfire Classic Tube Preamplifier
Tara Labs RSC Air 1 Interconnects
Monster Sigma Retro Interconnects
Kimber Kable Select KS-3035 Speaker Cables
MIT Z-Cord III Power Cord
Manley Labs Mahi Monoblock Tube Amplifiers
Lexicon MC-12B Preamplifier
Pioneer DV-047A Universal Player
Thule Space 250B DVD Player
MIT AVT2 Speaker Cables
Stealth Speaker Cables
MIT AVT2 Interconnects
Tara Labs RSC Air 3 Interconnects
Sunfire Signature 7 Cinema Amplifier
Dali Evidence Speaker System
06/18/2003 8:20p ET
Brett Rudolph - Reviewer
Sometimes when you do reviews you have to drop everything you're doing to pay complete attention to a particular album. I can tell you that Pete Whitman’s X-tet’s Where’s When? just happens to be one of those albums. In fact, I believe it was a favorite of the recording studio itself. It's easy to hear a certain loving care that comes when those working on the album itself are excited about its content as well.
The album, represents the culmination of an idea from Pete Whitman and Laura Caviani and is something of a cross between a great jazz recording and a sort of “mini big band.” The group. as the name suggests, consists of ten musicians coming together in a single session to record. Although it also represents the first time the group recorded an album together, I would hope, as the crowds continue to grow at their live performances, that many more releases will follow.
The music is something of a puzzle that waits for the listener to put the pieces together, if such a thing is possible. The chords are well defined and exceptionally detailed allowing the listener to not only experience the excitement but hear the synergy between the different instruments and musicians alike. This experience combined with an exceptional creativity of musical works makes even the casual listener want to tap their hands and feet to the upbeat and light-hearted music.
Now, while the music itself is exceptional I would be remiss in any review if I didn’t actually make some comments on the fidelity of the recording itself. This particular recording is available as a hybrid multi-channel SACD by Artegra Records. This means the disc itself contains three separate versions of the same recording. The first is what everyone has been listening to for years, the classic CD version, or red-book layer as it's referred to. The second is the stereo SACD which has the added benefit of increased frequency range and greater overall fidelity. The final version is the multi-channel SACD version which takes the already higher fidelity stereo SACD version and adds the ability to incorporate as many as six independent channels.
It really isn’t fair to begin any review of a hybrid disc with the SACD versions since in many cases once you experience the added fidelity, an impartial review of the CD version becomes extremely difficult. So, before listening to the SACD versions, I listened to the CD layer and the following are my conclusions.
The CD version of Where’s When?, is a good example of a fairly well done recording. Given that the recording was done in one session according to the liner notes, it is impressive that all the instruments were captured in the amount of detail that they were. Imagine trying to capture 10 separate instruments in one session and then creating a meaningful and great sounding recording with the twelve generated DSD tracks. However, Studio M in St. Paul, Minnesota accomplished just such a feat with John Scherf who was in charge of engineering and who also mixed the album.
Track ten, “Star Eyes” is a great example of this accomplishment. It is easy to hear all the instruments together in the locations they must have occupied in the studio itself. Even more impressive is that there seems to be no occasion where one instrument is overpowering the other. This is fairly commonplace, even on a good recording. The instruments and musicians appear to work together to create a well heeled work that is dynamically stunning without being overdone.
A second example that shows just how well the group and studio worked together is "Epicycle.” Once again the music comes together to form a tapestry of elegant sounds and tonal balance. The capture of the horn’s resonance in its nearly overwhelming grandeur can be a somewhat daunting task, especially on a CD. However, in this case it was accomplished with the grace and poise of the rest of the album.
If I were forced to make one negative comment about the CD version, I would have to say that it tends to suffer somewhat from a lack of depth. While there is a well defined soundstage there isn’t what I would call an overly holographic presentation. Everything is there but, unfortunately, you can’t quite get the feeling of the music being more then a wonderful snapshot of the performance. However, I would also be quick to point out that many CDs suffer from this selfsame flaw. I wouldn’t even think twice about purchasing an album in any form for this reason alone.
In case you haven’t already guessed, my personal opinion is that this particular recording really shines when in the SACD mode. It appears to me that the studio made full use of the added flexibility and improved fidelity of the newer higher resolution format. It become readily apparent with the stereo SACD version as this review continues.
Starting with “Star Eyes” this cut really takes on a life of its own. While the actual music itself hasn’t changed, the sound recording gives the music a three dimensionality that the CD layer lacks. In fact, there is an almost palpable feeling of overall happiness and comradely that can be felt as you listen to the track between instruments, musicians and studio staff. The pieces to the puzzle, I mentioned earlier, in this particular track seem to fall into place far easier for me in the Stereo SACD version then in the CD version. I believe this is due, in part, to an even better integration between the different sounds of the multitude of instruments used.
Another great example of this is the title track, “Where’s When?” While bass and treble extensions on the CD version were fairly good, the SACD recording takes it a step further. Using the increased range, the track actually allows the listener to gauge the skill that each musician used in their performances on the recording. In fact, you can almost picture their individual faces and moods as you listen more and more intently to the track over and over again.
Finally, moving from the stereo SACD version to the multi-channel SACD can be a somewhat unique experience all by itself. I say this for several reasons. The first being that unlike many recordings that utilize the additional channels to somehow change the perspective of the music and recording itself, this album did nothing of the sort. In fact, the multi-channel presentation only uses four channels, front left, front right, rear left and rear right. Therefore, like a stereo recording, the image is created through the integration of the stereo speakers. This creates a very natural sounding image.
The second reason is that, unlike many multi-channel releases, the purpose of the rear channels are to add to the ambience of the recording itself. Therefore, they are not overpowering and don’t add new information to the recording. Instead they are used to add a greater sense of ambience to the room which enhances the recording to the point of appearing almost alive.
While I would like to point to specific tracks, I find that quite impossible as it is pervasive throughout the entire album. The increased detail and added depth is somewhat startling on the right system. In my listening room while I could hear the potential, my reference stereo system was far better at accurately conveying this recording, limiting my ability to verify this entirely.
In short, this is an absolutely amazing jazz album. It is one worthy of any collection, even if the listener isn’t always a huge fan of jazz. The music offers simplicity and complexity at the same time, which integrating the ability to form one’s own thoughts and feelings from the music itself. In addition the actual recording and disc’s overall fidelity is so good that you will find not yourself not only enjoying the music but the instrumental sounds themselves. The only thing to note is you might find out just how good, bad or indifferent your system is at resolving truly correct sounding instruments.
Copyright © 2002-2003 Matthew Rowe. All rights reserved.
Pete Whitman's Xtet
Released: January 24, 2002
Pete Whitman's X-tet: