May 2004

Jim Hall - Concierto
Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2012
Originally Released: 1975
Remaster Released: 2003

by John Crossett

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

When jazz guitar veteran Jim Hall entered Rudy Van Gelder's New Jersey studio in April of 1975, little did he realize that some 29 years later the album he was about to record would be given the full-monty Ultradisc UHR Gain 2 hybrid SACD treatment from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Heck, regular ol' Red Book CD wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen at that point, though MoFi was already doing their thing on vinyl. Nearly 30 years later, Hall’s unique musical vision is served very (very!) well by Mobile Fidelity’s SACD reproduction. And it was definitely worth the wait.

Joining Hall at the session were alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, trumpeter Chet Baker, pianist Sir Roland Hanna (one of the fine unsung pianists that dot jazz history), bassist Ron Carter,and drummer Steve Gadd (whose name was just beginning to appear on both jazz and rock albums). Together they laid down some smoothly swinging, laid-back jazz that sounds as fresh today as it did back then (and given the state of modem jazz today, maybe even better). A casual perusal of the lineup brings one fact quickly to the fore -- all these guys come from backgrounds of quiet introspection. Each is a master at understanding the use of space in creating his music. All are gifted accompanists, and all are well versed in group interplay. None feels the need to dominate the proceedings, even the leader.

Each of the four tracks that made up the initial release of Concierto, "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To," "Two's Blues," "The Answer Is Yes," and "Concierto de Aranjuez," is a demonstration of team play. The music just seems to flow forth, slipping effortlessly from one musician to the next with only the music itself drawing the listener's attention. And because of this, the album tends to fly by, drawing to a close just as you're beginning to settle in for the long haul. Fortunately, Mobile Fidelity has realized that fact and went the extra mile to ensure your satisfaction by adding two cuts that were not used on the original album. "Rock Skippin'" and "Unfinished Business" add another ten minutes of musical enjoyment. And that’s not the end of MoFi’s beneficence. Three alternate takes, "You'd Be...," "The Answer...," and "Rock Skippin'" round out this disc.

The sound recorded by Van Gelder on Concierto is typical of his body of work. The piano is clearly rendered if still a bit too boxy-sounding, while the rhythm section, and Hall, are clustered between two speakers in a fat-mono sort of arrangement. When Desmond and Baker play, they are panned hard left and hard right. Tonal balance, then as always a Van Gelder strong suit, is very nicely done. And Hall’s guitar receives lovely treatment, too.

The CD layer is fully the equal of anything Mobile Fidelity has turned out using their Ultradisc UHR Gain 2 process. Anyone who purchases this disc, whether a hi-resolution convert or not, will have nothing to complain about. But, if you want to hear this stereo hybrid disc at its absolute best, listen to the SACD layer. The added resolution of SACD is fully demonstrated there. The instruments take on more fullness, and the recording studio's boundaries are more easily defined on SACD than on the Red Book layer.

While Concierto is not a perfect recording (is there any such beast?), it is nonetheless a fun, musically worthy album that will provide much enjoyment and find a solid spot in your jazz collection. It contains some absolutely wonderful playing by a group of cool jazz's finest practitioners, and its sonics will knock your socks off. If you are a Jim Hall fan, this is a must-buy SACD. If not, then this is the perfect introduction to his unique style, as well as to high-resolution digital.