Sessions at West 54th, The Best of-Volume 1 (1997) (NTSC)

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Released 5-Oct-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Notes-Courtesy Credits
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 77:59
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Jim Gable
Studio
Distributor

Sony Music
Starring Wynton Marsalis
Suzanne Vega
Richard Thompson
Shawn Colvin
Ani DiFranco
Nil Lara
Rickie Lee Jones
Daniel Lanois
Emmylou Harris
Ben Folds Five
Keb' Mo'
Sinead O'Connor
Yo-Yo Ma
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $24.95 Music Various


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Sessions At West 54th is the acclaimed weekly PBS network music series featuring some of the best musicians of our time, all performing at Sony's West 54th music studio at New York City. Now in it's third season, The Best Of Sessions At West 54th, Volume 1 is a compilation of songs by artists from the series' premiere season.

    The series tends to focus on blues, rock, folk, jazz and world music genres. I am familiar with some of the musicians featured in this compilation: Wynton Marsalis, Suzanne Vega, Rickie Lee Jones, Daniel Lanois, Sinead O'Connor, Yo Yo Ma, and Patti Smith. Others I have only heard vaguely of: Emmylou Harris, Ben Folds Five. The rest I have not heard of before. Season 1 of the programme also featured several artists who did not appear on this compilation (that I wish were represented): David Byrne, Sheryl Crow, Bill Frisell, Philip Glass, Joe Jackson, k.d. Lang, and Bobby McFerrin. But I guess you can't have them all.

    The musicians and songs featured on this compilation are:

    Season 1 was hosted by Chris Douridas, and he introduces the compilation and the first song by Wynton Marsalis. However, I wished he had stayed around to introduce the other artists. Unfortunately, the DVD does not provide any information for the musicians in the programme and I would have loved to get some information for artists that I wasn't familiar with.

    Although the musicians perform and are recorded "live" in front of an audience, this isn't exactly a series of concerts where the musicians are "on stage" and face the audience. Instead, the musicians are clustered in the centre of the studio facing each other, with the audience sitting all around them at the edges. The atmosphere created is a very intimate one - we get the feeling we are eavesdropping on musicians having a fun time rather than attending a concert.

    The Wynton Marsalis number, Back to Basics, was a little too free-form for me. The highlights as far as I was concerned were by artists I was less familiar with: Ben Folds Five singing Smoke, Keb' Mo' singing Just Like You, Jane Siberry singing Love Is Everything. Daniel Lanois does a solo act with a guitar but he doesn't seem to be really using the guitar as a musical instrument, but rather more as a control station for layering treatments onto pre-recorded music (if you are familiar with his collaborations with Brian Eno this statement will make sense to you). I was surprised and delighted by Yo Yo Ma's cross-genre piece entitled Libertango, and Sinead O'Connor literally brings the house down with a smokin' rendition of The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance (it starts off pretty quietly but ends with a bang!).

    All in all I highly recommend this DVD, especially if your musical tastes run into the eclectic. And if they don't, well give a disc a spin anyway - you may well be very pleasantly surprised.

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Track Listing

1. Program Start
2. Back To Basics
3. Caramel
4. I Feel So Good
5. Diamond In The Rough
6. 32 Flavors
7. How Was I To Know
8. Road Kill
9. Orange Kay
10. Wrecking Ball
11. Smoke
12. Just Like You
13. The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance
14. Libertango
15. People Have The Power
16. Love Is Everything
17. End Credit Roll

Transfer Quality

Video

    This is an NTSC full frame transfer. The sessions have been recorded directly onto digital component video, and the resultant clarity of the transfer is very much evident.

    Sharpness, shadow detail and colour saturation are pretty much spot on. The transfer is very easy on the eyes and is pretty much close to reference quality.

    The only problems with this transfer are minor but persistent video artefacts, including aliasing, shimmering, moire effects and very slight Gibb's effect. In addition, there is minor pixelization for very fast vibrating objects such as cymbals. I suspect these artefacts are caused by trying to fit nearly 80 minutes (including Linear PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks) onto a single layered disc. However, I think I am being very picky and most people will be quite satisfied with the transfer.

   I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the disc has an English subtitle track that contains the lyrics to songs sung. I can vouch for the fact that whoever who did the subtitles did a great job even during places where the singers weren't being very distinct.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two audio tracks on this disc (contrary to the packaging which advertises Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Stereo): Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536 Kb/s) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 Kb/s). Both tracks are incredibly good, and I'll explain why.

    Just as the seating arrangement for the musicians is somewhat radical (musicians facing each other in the centre of the studio surrounded by audience), the surround audio mix of the songs on this disc is equally radical. This is the first true surround music mix I have yet encountered, featuring aggressive and active usage of all speakers.

    The sounds of the individual instruments are spread across all channels, so don't be surprised to hear instruments and even vocals coming from the rear speakers as well as front speakers, and don't expect the lead singer to be always coming from the front centre channel. The effect is as if you are at the centre of the studio surrounded by musicians and it's mesmerizing.

    In fact, to reproduce the audio track faithfully, you pretty much need very well matched (if not identical) speakers on all channels. Some tracks, notably 32 Flavors as well as People Have The Power, direct copious amounts of low frequency information to rear channels, so if your rear speakers are not up to it, you'll be missing out on the whole story.

    Some of the tracks, most notably The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance, feature fairly aggressive panning of instruments to channels that follow the camera angle. For example, the drums towards the end of the track will appear from the channel that most closely approximate the location of the drums on screen.

    The subwoofer is mainly used to support the music, as there is no real ultra low frequency content in any of the music.

    In short, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty much demo quality for showcasing the wonders of surround sound.

    How does the Stereo Linear PCM track compare? Pretty well, I would say. In fact, if anything, the Linear PCM track sounds better than the Dolby Digital track, due to the higher resolution and lack of compression. Vocals in particular sound smoother and more subtle, and the Dolby Digital track sounds strident in comparison. The PCM track also sounds slightly more dynamic compared to the Dolby Digital track.

    However, once you've heard music in surround, it's very hard to go back to listening to a stereo mix. Don't get me wrong, this is an excellent stereo mix with lots of presence and dimensionality. It's just that having gotten used to instruments coming at me from all directions it seems pretty boring to have music only coming from the front.

    There are no audio synchronisation issues with this disc.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This disc doesn't really have any extras to speak of.

Menu

    The menus are static and non-16x9 enhanced.

Notes-Courtesy Credits

    These are a set of stills listing the various recording "labels" that the artists belong to. I noticed that a high proportion of the artists belong to the Sony/Columbia label, which is not surprising as the West 54th studio is owned by Sony and the programme was partly sponsored by Sony.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as I know, the Region 1 and Region 4 versions of this title are identically featured.

Summary

    The Best Of Sessions At West 54th, Volume 1 is a compilation of songs by artists featured in the acclaimed weekly PBS network music series entitled Sessions At West 54th. It is presented on a DVD with a superb video transfer and reference quality audio transfers (in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Linear PCM stereo). In particular, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track features a great surround mix. There are no extras worth mentioning.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Tuesday, October 02, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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