June 1998

King/Bluiett Trio - Makin' Whoopee
Mapleshade Productions
Released: 1997

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Several weeks ago I received a call from DAS who asked if I had ever listened to any Mapleshade Productions recordings. It seems that he had spoken to Pierre Sprey, Mapleshade’s visionary founder and recording engineer, during the CES, and Sprey was enthusiastic about sharing his recordings with SoundStage! and its readers. A couple of days later, I spoke to Pierre from his mansion recording studio in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. It was clear from the outset of the conversation that this was a special man who is unusually and refreshingly passionate about the quality of his work. In today’s world of mass-produced recordings by flash-in-the-pan artists with the only focus on the commercial success of the product, Pierre Sprey is committed to the art and science of re-creating the live event in your home with the finest musicians he can muster. The Mapleshade imprimatur, which appears on virtually all of their new recordings, is, "Music Without Compromise." Sprey believes in the more-is-less theory of recording. He uses no mixing boards, no filtering, no compression, no reverb, no equalization, no noise reduction, no overdubbing and no multi-tracking. Whew! I guess that just leaves pure, live music.

Getting back to the original question from DAS, I quickly looked through my files and found that, indeed, there were several Mapleshade recordings that I owned. One in particular, Young Warrior, Old Warrior [Mapleshade 02932], by the Hamiett Bluiett Sextet is a favorite on rainy days and lazy Sunday mornings. Hamiett Bluiett is a magnificent baritone saxophonist who can swing and groove with the very best of them. On this recording, the Bluiett Sextet includes some great jazz musicians. Keter Betts on bass and Larry Willis on piano are superb. But I’m getting away from the business at hand; let me tell you about the Makin’ Whoopee experience.

The King/Bluiett Trio on Makin’ Whoopee is more than just three people. The core of the trio is, of course, Hamiett Bluiett on baritone saxophone, the great Keter Betts on acoustic bass, and Rodney Jones on acoustic guitar and synthesizer—sharing half the tracks with Ed Cherry on electric guitar. Joining these musicians on selected tracks are Gali Sanchez on percussion, and Myrrh, doing the vocal narration on the second track, "Route 66."

As the title implies, this recording is a nostalgic tribute to the great Nat King Cole Trio. Don’t expect, however, to get a verbatim interpretation of these great compositions on this recording. This CD is experimental, daring and unconventional. Yes, the music (particularly Bluiett’s saxophone and Jones’s acoustic guitar) is beautiful, but it is also very imaginative, fresh and complex. The third cut, "When I fall In Love," is elegantly mesmerizing right down to Bluiett’s last note at 6:37.

The last track on the disc, "Christmas Song," really shows off the slick and masterful bass lines of Keter Betts. Bluiett’s powerful, sultry and raw contrabass clarinet changes the tune from a sleepy holiday fireplace standard to a late-night jazz-club standing-ovation performance. Just listen to the riff from about 4:36 to the end. Great stuff.

The liner notes reflect that this recording was "mastered live to two-track analog tape at 15 IPS, 18Hz-42,000Hz (+/-3db). Digitized on the Mapleshade custom A/D converter at 2,823K samples per second. Minimum miking and minimum-length cabling. Omega Mikro interconnects; microphone cables by AudioQuest and Mapleshade. No mixing board, filtering, compression, equalization, noise reduction, multi-tracking or overdubbing." Folks, this is about as close as you get to the music without leaving your house. The quality of timbre in the notes emanating from the guitar and Bluiett’s sax is smooth, crisp and airy. The spatial character of the recording venue is preserved, as evidenced in the way that the musicians are located within the soundstage. In my system, on track five, "These Foolish Things," the musicians are palpably on different planes, front to back and side to side. This phenomenon is particularly apparent during a passage that occurs beginning at about 1:59 of the tune, when Betts is "gently" plucking the hell out of his bass strings on one side and Jones is on the acoustic guitar on the other but slightly forward of Betts. Finally, Bluiett joins in at about 4:05 and he is center-stage but well behind both Betts and Jones. It’s magical.

Makin’ Whoopee is a beautiful tribute to the music of the Nat King Cole Trio. Perhaps more importantly, however, this recording, like everything that comes out of the Mapleshade studio, is a true labor of love—a product of one man’s commitment to deliver to our homes "Music Without Compromise." Makin’ Whoopee is an outstanding audiophile recording and a great jazz performance.