July 2000

Starker Plays Baker
Classic Records DAD 1032
Released: 2000

by Roger Kanno

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on 24/96DVD]Starker Plays Baker is another in the series of Classic Records 24-bit/96kHz DVDs (or DADS as Classic likes to refer to them). It is an eclectic collection of jazz-inspired arrangements for cello and percussion, with a cello and piano sonata all composed by David Baker. While this type of music might not pique your interest, the outstanding sonics are of reference quality. This disc makes use of the added resolution of the 24/96 format to provide a recording with great depth, detail, and imaging.

The first seven selections are referred to as "Singers of Songs/Weavers of Dreams." They consist of arrangements dedicated to legendary jazz/blues greats and are described in the liner notes as "abstract portraits or sense-impressions" of the artist’s life and music. While I did not get a sense of this as I listened to these tracks, I was nonetheless impressed by the quality of the recordings. The many different types of percussion are rendered with incredible timbral accuracy and the cello is rich, yet well delineated.

The opening track is dedicated to Sonny Rollins and features much of the aforementioned percussion with all of their complexity and layering intact. From each individual movement of a shaker to the attack and decay of drums, everything is reproduced with spooky accuracy. This track also features a sunny calypso xylophone solo. The cello purrs as it resonates when bowed with a warmth and solidity that belie the transparency and detail of the sound.

Throughout the next six tracks, chimes float across the soundstage (sometimes imaging outside of the speakers), bells ring with a truly bell-like clarity, and even the low-level cadence of a snare drum sounds startlingly lifelike. There is always a wonderful sense of air around the instruments and a great sense of the recording space; it almost made me feel as if I were sitting in a large studio during the recording session. The caliber of the performances by Alain Planès on piano and especially of George Gaber on percussion is first rate and is aided by the high resolution of the 24/96 format.

Also included on this disc is a cello and piano sonata featuring pianist Planès and Janos Starker on cello. I must admit that I was not captivated by this piece and even the sonics were not quite as good as on the previous jazz tracks. However, there is a wonderful interlude in the second movement that is titled "Second Movement: Slow" which features the cello being gently plucked with the piano delicately mirroring it in the background. The first and third movements are also titled in the same manner as the first, but are both "Fast." Both of these movements feature the cello and piano in a state of disarray that was not to my liking.

While the 24/96 DVDs I have heard do not offer massive improvements in sound over well-recorded 16/44.1 CDs, the improvements are significant nonetheless. If you have the ability to play these DVDs, you owe it to yourself to check out this disc. The improved sonics of the 24/96 format make this recording sound better than almost every recording that I have heard before.