August 1999

Art Johnson and Frédéric Alarie - Contact
Fidelio Audio FACD 001
Released: 1998

by Doug Schneider

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

[Reviewed on CD]Fidelio Audio is a relative newcomer to the audiophile recording scene. I first met the owners of the company this year at Montreal's annual high-end audio show, Festival du son et de l'image. Like other audiophile recording companies, Fidelio is one that values the minimalist approach using outstanding equipment to capture the most natural and realistic sound. Besides this recording, the company also produced the official show CD that was distributed at the Festival.

Contact features US jazz guitarist Art Johnson and double-bass player Frédéric Alarie from Montreal. The CD was recorded at Studio Morin-Heights in Quebec and contains a total of ten tracks with two of these performed solo by each of the artists (actually, 11 tracks counting a little addition at the end). There are no other musicians.

The disc is reminiscent in some ways of Rob Wasserman's Duets. Alarie and Johnson play exceptionally well together, and Contact can be summed up as an easygoing blend of jazz numbers that are relaxing on the ears. If there is something to fault in the musical performance it's that it may be just a tad too relaxing. I found myself hoping for just a little more life from some of the cuts. Still, I found some nicely inspired moments, particularly "Angel Eyes," my favorite.

This is a minimalist recording that sounds, in a word, outstanding. It reminds me of some of the VTL recordings with its tubey warmth and effective capturing of space. It really does sound like two musicians playing in the room with spot-on image specificity and a natural sense of dynamics. For almost all the tracks, Johnson's guitar is placed firmly to the left and Alarie's bass on the right. The cover of the disc shows both artists in a recording studio with wooden walls and floors, and it's easy to hear into that exact room, both in terms of its construction and space. Those not used to hearing high-quality recordings like this may find the natural reproduction a little unsettling at first, but they should quickly be able to pick out the merits.

The equipment used to make this recording will be a treat to audiophile ears. At the heart is a RODE Classic tube microphone. The recording device is a TASCAM ATR-60-2T with wiring from Nirvana and Transparent. Sonic Solutions, Apogee, B&W, Stax, and YBA are all credited in the liner notes too.

If you're a fan of smooth, easy-on-the-ears jazz, Contact is a good bet. For sonic performance alone, Fidelio Audio should be applauded for an exceptionally fine effort, and we look forward to more recordings from this new company.