Pat Metheny Group-Imaginary Day (DVD-Audio) (1997) (NTSC)
|Year Of Production||1997|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Pat Metheny|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio MLP 88.2/24 5.1
Audio MLP 88.2/24 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
First of all, I have something to confess. I am a big fan of the Pat Metheny Group (PMG) and I own all their albums, not to mention all of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays' solo albums, as well as collaborations between Pat and other artists (including Charlie Haden, Jim Hall, Gary Burton, Steve Reich) plus albums by other artists that Pat has appeared in (and this includes esoterica by the likes of Akiko Yano and Milton Nascimento) not to mention a fair number or grey market releases and bootlegs. So don't expect this to be an unbiased review.
Imaginary Day is one of my favourite PMG albums, so when I saw a reference on the PMG web site hinting that it may be released as a DVD Audio disc I got extremely excited and pre-ordered a copy from Amazon - at that time I didn't even own a DVD-Audio player nor was I planning to purchase one in the near future.
The Pat Metheny Group was formed in 1978, and consisted of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, keyboardist Lyle Mays, bassist Mark Egan and drummer Dan Gottlieb. They released their self-titled first album in that same year, but it wasn't until the release of Off Ramp that the Group sound consisting of Pat's electric and acoustic guitars (coupled with the now infamous use of Pat's Roland guitar synthesizer) as well as Lyle's lilting piano and Oberheim "fluty" sound became entrenched. The band line-up has changed over the years, with Imaginary Day featuring the core band members of Metheny, Mays, bassist Steve Rodby, drummer Paul Wertico and two multi-instrumentalists; Mark Ledford and David Blamires.
Over the years, the band has experimented with different sounds, ranging from the straight-ahead jazz-rock idioms of the early albums, through to the Latin-influenced still life (talking) and Letter From Home. Imaginary Day is probably one of their more adventurous and complex albums to date, leading into complex sonic landscapes and fusing multiple influences including world music, heavy rock (The Roots of Coincidence) and even pop sounding tunes (Follow Me). Strangely enough, the result is very listenable, and I think it represents a tour de force for the band. It won two Grammies when it was released in 1997: Best Contemporary Jazz Performance and Best Rock Instrumental Performance (!) for The Roots of Coincidence.
My interest in the DVD Audio came from hints that Pat was dropping on the band's web site (www.patmethenygroup.com) in late 2000 and early 2001 - before the DVD Audio specs were finalised. An except from August 2000:
"we just finished remixing the entire IMAGINARY DAY album in 6 channel surround - and it IS THE GREATEST THING YOU WILL EVER HEAR IN YOUR LIFE!!! after this - stereo is obsolete, almost a joke. we are talking about 24 bit/96k full resolution in all the speakers. with ID, it is just totally mind blowing. more later....."
and from April 2001:
"the other development on the id front is (finally) the release of the dvd-audio 5.1 version of the album itself - which we actually mixed about a year and a half ago - finally showing up on the wb release schedule. this is an incredible opportunity to have a sonic experience that is really special - that music totally lends itself to this technology (i have always struggled with the limitations of stereo when mixing records - this is much more how music sounds to me in my head). and id in particular is a perfect set of music for this new way of hearing."
With quotes like that, needless to say I was all excited about hearing this album in high resolution multi-channel!
|1. Imaginary Day|
2. Follow Me
3. Into The Dream
4. A Story Within The Story
5. The Heat Of The Day
|6. Across The Sky|
7. The Roots Of Coincidence
8. Too Soon Tomorrow
9. The Awakening
Like most of the Warner DVD-Audio discs released to date, the video content on this disc is in full frame NTSC and consists of a number of stills - textual and photographic. A scenic photo accompanies each track (these photos are also used in the artwork in the booklet and also on the web site. The photos look rather grainy to me - I don't know whether this is intentional or not.
There are three audio tracks on this DVD-Audio disc: MLP 88.2/24 5.1 and 2.0 on the DVD-Audio portion of the disc and Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 Kb/s) on the DVD-Video portion of the disc. I listened to all tracks in their entirety. I also compared all tracks against the stereo version available on CD.
Given the superb recording quality of the CD (for the last few years, I have used it as a "test" disc for evaluating audio equipment), I was anxious to find out how much better the DVD Audio would be.
First of all, the MLP 2.0 audio track. As far as I can tell, this transfer contains exactly the same stereo mix as present on the CD, except we get a high resolution version that has not been downsampled to 44.1/16. In terms of detail, I don't think I was necessarily hearing additional levels of detail but the instruments are better defined especially at low levels. When the going gets tough and the CD starts blurring the notes, the MLP track was able to keep the instruments in focus and provide clarity to the densest and most complex passages. An example of this is the low level passage transitioning from track 7 to track 8 - this is so much better defined on MLP as to make the CD version sound like an MP3 rip-off. There doesn't seem to be any more bass in the mix but the low frequencies were more 'mannered' and controlled.
The MLP 5.1 audio track was a complete revelation. Pat was right. This disc truly delivers on the promise of multi-channel high-resolution audio - the increased clarity, detail and precision is astounding. Pat obviously painted the town red in remixing the 24 bit multi-tracks into 5.1 surround (actually 4.1 - the centre channel is silent). The mix is quite aggressive with liberal (and intelligent) positioning of instruments across all channels - this is definitely not a front-focused minimalist mix.
There are some purists who argue against aggressive surround mixes on the basis that they sound "gimmicky" or "artificial" or "not what the band heard or intended to be heard." This does not apply to this disc, as the surround mix was supervised by the band and therefore obviously "what the band intended." Also, Imaginary Day was never conceived as a minimalist "put two microphones in front of the band and press the record button" type recording - it is based on Pat's "layered" approach which superimposes multiple levels of musical information on top of the basic "sound" so that the higher the fidelity of your playback equipment the more level of "detail" you can hear. This concept really shines on DVD-Audio as we finally have a medium that can accurately capture every subtle nuance in the mix and more.
Separating the instruments across both front and rear channels allows the subtle nuances to be heard more clearly - I heard more in the multi-channel mix than I have ever heard before despite multiple listenings to the CD. All the parts are present on the CD, it's just that they are a lot harder to differentiate when they are just coming from the front speakers.
There also seems to be significantly more low level information present in the multi-channel mix than in the stereo mix, and not just because of the presence of an LFE track since I have full range speakers front and back. An example is the low frequency rumble in track 1 around 0:19-0:35 which is much more subdued on the stereo mix but is almost over-poweringly loud in the multi-channel mix.
A note of caution: please note that this disc features copious low level bass mixed into all channels so you either need five full range speakers to accurately reproduce the music or have a DVD Audio player with bass management capabilities. Also, depending on your room setup, you may encounter irregular bass response caused by augmentation/cancellation of sound waves generated by different speakers. Some have criticised this as a fault of the mix, but I didn't notice any problems in my own room setup.
Incidentally, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix sounds superb and loses very little to the MLP 5.1 track - except that the presentation is somewhat harsher and the high frequencies a lot less accurate and realistic.
In summary, this is truly a "reference quality" DVD Audio disc and I fully intend to use it in the future both as a "demo" disc and also as a "test" disc for evaluating audio equipment.
|Surround Channel Use|
As is typical for other Warner DVD-Audio discs, the extras are mainly a set of textual and photographic stills. It remains to be seen whether we will see imaginative and extensive inclusion of extras on DVD-Audio (hmm - audio commentary on the music, perhaps, or a documentary showing how the songs were composed and recorded?).
Full frame and static. The navigation to the surround music track (Group 1) follows standard Warner principles (the disc starts up at the Main menu, and pressing Enter twice will commence playback). The stereo track can be accessed either by pressing Down, followed by Enter twice from the main menu, or you can select Group 2 using the remote control.
The disc packaging, cover and booklet seems to be full of strange hieroglyphic symbols. It doesn't take much to figure out that each symbol stands for a letter in the English Language and therefore one can "translate" these symbols into readable text. For example, the railway crossing stands for the letter "T," a mountain is "M," an elephant "E" and so on. Now you can work out which symbol corresponds to which letter the hard way, or, (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) the disc itself acts as a Rosetta stone if you align the arrow sign on the edge of the disc with the right "colour" box on the disc holder that corresponds to one of three coloured boxes that precede each block of text. If you do this right the symbols on the disc are aligned with the letters on the inner back cover. Alternatively, you can also download Windows or Macintosh programs on the web site that will do the translation for you.
This consists of 10 stills containing Pat Metheny's notes on the making of the album (this information is also available in expanded form on the web site).
This is an extremely short discography, consisting of two stills promoting the soundtrack to A Map of The World, and Trio 99->00. Neither of these are even PMG discs, and I was surprised that the DVD author did not make a more serious attempt at actually listing real PMG discs including the latest album Speaking Of Now.
This consists of 8 stills providing black and white photos of the band members.
This consists of four stills crediting the musicians and those involved in the recording. This information is also available in the accompanying booklet.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This disc is not region coded and appears to be identically featured across all regions.
Pat Metheny Group - Imaginary Day is a superb reference-quality DVD-Audio disc featuring an aggressive surround mix as well as a high resolution stereo version of the Grammy-winning album. Fans of Pat Metheny and the Pat Metheny Group will of course already be well acquainted with the material - for the rest of you I would still highly recommend this as a "demo" disc to showcase the quality of your multi-channel setup. Also, it would be a shame to listen to this in stereo. If you have the equipment, enjoy the multi-channel mix. You will never go back to stereo again!
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Front and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500|