Autumn in Seattle (UltraHD CD review)

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio. FIM UHD 043.

FIM owner and producer Winston Ma recorded the album Autumn in Seattle in 2001, initially releasing it in the audiophile XRCD2 processing format. In 2012, after hearing a number of newer audiophile mastering processes like SACD, XRCD24, K2HD, and DXD, Winston decided he had found one that genuinely improved upon the sound of XRCD2. He calls it UltraHD, a 32-bit mastering formula that does, indeed, sound different and in some ways better than his earlier release. We’ll look at the sound in a minute; first, the music.

Pianist Tsuyoshi Yamamoto has been a jazz artist for decades, and in ‘01 Winston persuaded him to do new renditions of some of his most-popular material for the album Autumn in Seattle. His accompanists are Ken Kaneko on bass and Toshio Osumi on drums. Winston describes the title tune as “warm, peaceful, even romantic,” and that pretty much sums all the music on the disc.

The first item is Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were” from the 1973 movie of the same name. The manner in which Yamamoto plays it, it sounds as laid back and friendly as most of us remember it from the film. Even more easygoing is Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which takes flight from the outset under Yamamoto and never lets go.

Then we come to the title tune itself, “Autumn in Seattle,” which Yamamoto wrote specifically for the album. It’s sweetly atmospheric, and like the other numbers, it is all Yamamoto and his piano, which is lightly resonant and expressively lyrical. He follows “Autumn” with “Misty,” a perennial favorite, only this time he takes it at a “more energetic,” upbeat tempo than he says he usually does. His seeming improvisations breathe new life into an old warhorse, and he allows his sidemen to introduce the piece. Although it won’t be to everyone’s liking because the cherished melody is often hardly discernible, it does take on a pleasant verve of its own.

And so it goes through another half dozen tunes, mostly music from motion pictures: “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” the theme from Spartacus, a medley from The Sound of Music, “A Time for Us” from Romeo and Juliet, and one of own preferences, “As Time Goes By,” featured in Casablanca. Dooley Wilson, who couldn’t play the piano, would have been proud.

Probably the best, and best-sounding, track in the album, though, is “No Problem,” which Yamamoto says inspired him in high school to become a jazz pianist after hearing a version by Art Blakey. The tune allows Yamamoto to demonstrate a wide flexibility of tone and color and provides opportunity for his accompanists to shine as well.

FIM made the recording in 2001 in Onkio Haus, Tokyo, Japan, and audio engineer Michael Bishop remastered it in 2011 via FIM’s UltraHD 32-bit processing system. The original analog recording, done on a Studer A829, is extremely plush and very dynamic, with good air, ambience, and transparency. The piano sounds especially lifelike in its transient response, and the music exhibits taut bass and extended highs. Does the new version sound better than FIM’s earlier XRCD mastering? Yes, in some ways, particularly in its velvety smoothness. However, I also found it subtly warmer, slightly softer, and a tad richer, which may or may not be a condition of the master tape. Certainly, it makes the album easy on the ear.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa