Sessions at West 54th, The Best of-Volume 2 (2000) (NTSC)

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Released 5-Oct-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Main Menu Audio & Animation
Gallery-Photo
Episode Introductions-David Byrne Introductions
Interviews-Cast
Music Video-Painted From Memory-Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach
Notes-The Best Of Sessions From West 54th Volume 1
Main Menu Introduction
Listing-Cast & Crew-Program Credits
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 72:45
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:11) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Jeb Brien
Studio
Distributor

Sony Music
Starring None Given
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 its third season, The Best Of Sessions At West 54th, Volume 2 is a compilation of songs by artists from the series' second season.

    The disc continues from where Volume 1 left us, and focuses on blues, rock, folk, jazz and world music genres. The second season programmes are hosted by David Byrne (Talking Heads) instead of Chris Douridas. Again, I found myself confronting an eclectic mix of musicians that I am familiar with plus others I have not heard of before. I recognised names such as the Kronos Quartet, Neil Finn (yes, of Split Enz and Crowded House), Lyle Lovett, Randy Newman and of course the superb collaboration between Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach (I own a copy of their Grammy award winning CD Painted From Memory). Unfortunately, this compilation does not include any performances by my favourite jazz group: the Pat Metheny Group.

    The musicians and songs featured on this compilation are:

    As for Volume 1, the musicians perform live but are not arranged in a typical concert or night club environment 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.

    Some of the performances are pretty forgettable, but it was a pleasure for me to hear the Kronos Quartet again and I still remember the recital they gave in Sydney over ten years ago. The musicians have all aged (and so have I) but still deliver a scintillating performance. Likewise, it was a delight to see Neil Finn in action playing one of his lovely mellow songs and he is even accompanied by his teenage son on the guitar. Unfortunately Randy Newman looks like he has lost his singing voice as he was basically croaking (out of key) to his song, but his piano playing still had that nice, light touch.

    The highlight for me is of course being able to see Elvis Costello singing to the accompaniment of Burt Bacharach and his orchestra the title track from Painted From Memory. The entire Costello/Bacharach Sessions at West 54th performance is currently available only on NTSC VHS video (and yes - I own a copy which I bought via the Internet). It was immensely satisfying to be able to view this excerpt in the stunning clarity of digital video and surround audio instead of blurry VHS stereo. I am now waiting (with bated breath) for Sony to release the entire performance on DVD in hopefully the near future.

    This is a worthy complement to Volume 1 and deserves a spot in your DVD collection.

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Track Listing

1. Show Open
2. Dance The Night Away
3. Legend Of A Cowgirl
4. Four For Tango
5. Try Whistling This
6. Step Inside This House
7. Amor Verdadero
8. Wonder
9. Cry Love
10. I Miss You
11. Como Ves
12. Right In Time
13. Ellis Unit One
14. Painted From Memory
15. Set The Twilight Reeling
16. End Credits

Transfer Quality

Video

    Like Volume 1, 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.

    If you recall my review of Volume 1, the transfer (which was done in the early days of DVD) was very good but contained a number of minor but persistent video artefacts, including aliasing, shimmering, moire effects, pixelization and very slight Gibb's effect. I suspected these artefacts were caused by trying to fit nearly 80 minutes (including Linear PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks) onto a single layered disc.

    I am now happy to report that almost all of these issues have been corrected in Volume 2 and now we get pretty much a reference-quality transfer. By spreading the relatively short feature (72:45 minutes) over two layers of a single sided disc, the producers have opted to minimise compression (transfer rates including audio are consistently very close to the maximum bandwidth of 10 Mbps), and the results are self-evident: reference quality detail, black levels and colour saturation and no hint of MPEG artefacts whatsoever.

    The only video artefact I can spot are very occasional instances of minor aliasing, but that's about all.

    As for Volume 1, 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.

    As mentioned before, this is a single sided dual layered disc (RSDL). The layer change occurs at 55:11 in between songs and is about as well placed as you can get, but does result in a slight pause in the background audio (audience applause).



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

Audio

    Again as for Volume 1, there are two audio tracks on this disc: Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536 Kb/s) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 Kb/s). Both tracks are incredibly good, but the surround sound mix is not as adventurous in the placement of instruments as in Volume 1.

    In Volume 1, the recording engineer decided to go for a radical 5.1 surround mix that aggressively placed musical instruments and vocals across all channels, including the rear surround channels. The results were fascinating and I felt as if I was at the centre of the studio surrounded by musicians all around me. The mix also aggressively panned instruments in certain cases to "follow" the camera angle so that we sometimes hear drums for example coming from different speakers depending on the camera viewpoint.

    Although this seems like a very innovative use of a surround speaker configuration, it pretty much demands that you have very well matched (if not identical) full-range speakers on all channels.

    Somebody must have told the recording engineer to tone it down, because the surround mix on this disc is much more conservative and traditional. Musicians come from the front nearly all the time and the rear surround channels are reserved for audience noises and ambience.

    The are a few notable exceptions to the front focused mix: I can spot the sliding guitar in Lyle Lovett's piece coming from the rear right speaker and the opening of Como Ves (where the members of Ozomatli progress from "backstage" into the centre of the studio whilst loudly banging on their percussion instruments) is supported by the mix panning the group from left front to left rear and eventually back to front centre.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is still very good, in fact slightly better than in Volume 1 but I can't help but be disappointed by the conservative audio mix. The PCM track of course is still reference quality: sounding even 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. Given the conservative audio mix in the 5.1 track, my preference on this disc will be to go for the PCM track due to the higher quality.

    The subwoofer is mainly used to support the music, as there is no real ultra low frequency content in any of the music. There are no audio synchronisation issues with the disc, but the audio is very significantly out of sync in the bonus feature (alternate version of Painted From Memory).



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

Extras

    Volume 1 didn't really have any extras to speak of, but thankfully this has been rectified in Volume 2 and we get not only David Byrne's introductions to each of the musicians but also snippets from his interviews with them (these interview segments are scattered throughout each TV programme in the series).

Menu

    We get audio and animation for the main menu as well as an introduction to the main menu. However, sub menus are not animated nor do they include audio. All menus are full frame.

Gallery-Photo

    This features a number of stills arranged within sub-menus of various photographs of the musicians taken during the session performances.

Episode Introductions - David Byrne Introductions

    This contains extremely brief videos of David Byrne doing his spoken introductions giving a bit of background to each of the musicians for each session. All videos are presented in full frame with a Linear PCM stereo audio track. The video timings are:

Cast Interviews

     This contains very brief excerpts from interviews conducted by David Byrne with each musician. Unfortunately, the interview excerpts are all too short and provide no more than a taste of the full interview. All videos are presented in full frame with a Linear PCM stereo audio track. The video timings are:

Music Video - Painted From Memory-Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach (4:38)

    This seems to be a very scratchy black and white (with a brownish/sepia tone complete with film marks) alternate take of the song (I suspect of the same performance but I could be wrong). I'm not sure whether the "film marks" and black and white look are deliberate to give the video a newsreel kind of look, but in any case the transfer is extremely low resolution and pixelated (it looks like a mini AVI file blown up to DVD resolution). In addition, the audio track is badly out of sync. Perhaps they shouldn't have included this as an extra.

Notes - The Best Of Sessions From West 54th Volume 1

    This is just a still providing a DVD cover picture and some details of Volume 1.

Cast & Crew Listing - Program Credits

    This simply selects the end titles chapter on the main feature.

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 2 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 reference quality video and audio transfers (in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Linear PCM stereo), plus a number of extras. However, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track features a more conservative surround mix compared to that of Volume 1.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Thursday, October 04, 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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