Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,Take five
THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET Take Five PRODUCER: Teo Macero 5.1 MIX ENGINEER: Mark Wilder Columbia/Legacy CS 65122 JOHNNY CASH Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison PRODUCER: Bob Johnston 5.1 MIX ENGINEER: Thom CConcurrent with the rising tide of DVD-Audio titles entering the marketplace, new and, especially, catalog recordings are increasingly available on the Sony/ Philips-developed Super Audio CD (SACD) format.
Like DVD-Audio, SACD is a next-generation format featuring high-resolution audio and up to 5.1-channel mixes. The format, like its DVD counterpart, is a great benefit to both studio and live recordings, as these new releases from Columbia/Legacy demonstrate.
Recorded in 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Take Five has been remixed in 5.1 and remastered by Sony Music Studios engineer Mark Wilder. An experiment in odd time signatures, the groundbreaking album became an unexpected hit and is now considered a classic in the jazz lexicon.
As with most multichannel mixes, the benefit of five discrete sound sources (plus a subwoofer for low frequency information) is quickly apparent. On "Blue Rondo a la Turk," for example, Brubeck's piano and Paul Desmond's alto saxophone are placed prominently in the center channel, giving the steady ride cymbal of Joe Morello plenty of space in the left-front speaker in which to keep the unusual 9/8 time signature. The 2-channel CD has no such luxury.
Likewise, the realism delivered by SACD cannot be matched by a 16-bit, 44.1kHz CD. Brubeck's piano, as on "Strange Meadow Lark," features all the richness of the master recording. The fullness and resonance of the instrument is conveyed, via SACD, with far greater fidelity. Suddenly, the compact disc doesn't sound quite so pristine.
The title track is especially satisfying: The Desmond-penned "Take Five," framed by Morello on the left and Brubeck on the right, is conveyed with every nuance and characteristic of the instrument. One can actually hear the player breathing through the saxophone. With Eugene Wright's upright bass in the center channel, providing the essential link between Brubeck and Morello, "Take Five" on SACD gives the listener a far greater sense of depth and realism than a two-channel mix—the very reason for these next-generation delivery formats. With light reverberant information in the rear speakers, the three-dimensional effect carried by SACD is an engrossing experience.
As a celebration of Johnny Cash's 70th birthday, Columbia/Legacy has an ambitious schedule of releases and rereleases. While many titles are only now available on CD, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison can now be enjoyed in surround sound, thanks to its release on SACD.
This 1968 classic, chock full of right-to-the-point tales of murder, drugs, prison, and desolation ("Cocaine Blues," "Joe Bean," "I Got Stripes," "Send a Picture of Mother," "Greystone Chapel," the title track), also benefits from the high-resolution/surround sound of SACD. As it is a live recording, 5.1 mix engineer Thom Cadley, also of Sony Music Studios, takes a subtle approach to the surround mix of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Cash's rich baritone and the Tennessee Three—a stripped-down, no-nonsense outfit—fill the front, center, and right speakers. Cash and the Tennessee Three are also joined by June Carter, the Carter Family, and the Statler Brothers on vocals.
As on Take Five, the rear speakers are filled with ambient information, in this case reverb bouncing off the back walls of a cavernous prison hall. Unlike the cool jazz of Dave Brubeck, however, Cash and the Tennessee Three are joined, largely in the surround speakers, by 2,000 raucous inmates, who roar their unqualified approval of the Man in Black, himself no stranger to the outlaw life. With a 2,000-strong chorus emanating from all sides, the Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison SACD allows the listener an almost too-real visit to a tough California penitentiary. Fortunately, that realism can be enjoyed from the safety of one's living room.