Live Is Life (UltraHD CD review)

Arne Domnerus and his young friends. Proprius PRUHD 914 LE.

Anyone who likes Jazz at the Pawnshop, which includes anyone who likes good jazz and great sound, will undoubtedly like Live Is Life. It’s basically more of the same. The album features the same star performer, saxophonist Arne Domnerus, and Five/Four Productions and First Impression Music have helped Proprius Records remaster it in the UltraHD format that renders audiophile sonics. Except for its price, the package seems pretty hard to resist.

Arne Domnerus (1924-2008) was probably the most-famous Swedish jazz saxophonist in the history of Swedish jazz. He was practically a national institution, so enthusiasts cherished almost any recording by the man. Jazz at the Pawnshop and Live Is Life, because of the additional benefits of their excellent sound, are among Domnerus’s most-popular albums. In Live Is Life, Swedish vibraphonist Lars Erstrand (1936-2009) joins Domnerus, along with pianist Jan Lundren, bassist Hans Backenroth, and drummer Rasmus Kihlberg.

The music itself is of the plush, laid-back variety, relaxing, never raucous, piercing, or too far out of the old-fashioned jazz mainstream. Domnerus and his colleagues know what dedicated jazz enthusiasts want and pretty much give it to them in fresh arrangements of old favorites that sound improvisational yet well rehearsed at the same time. It all comes through with a polished professionalism that probably earns them new fans to this day. Certainly, Live Is Life shows these performers at their best.

The program contains fourteen selections for a generous seventy-five minutes of material. Among the tunes you may recognize are Benny Goodman’s “Flying Home,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A-Train,” Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing,” Gene Krupa’s “Drum Boogie,” and Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You.” Among my own favorites are "Prelude to a Kiss" for its great vibraphone work; Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" for its energy and commitment; Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom" for its remarkable percussion work (and sound); and Raymond Hubbell's "Poor Butterfly" for its lyrical beauty. The performers are swinging when they need to be and just as often poignant when necessary.

Producer Jacob Boethius and engineer Gert Palmcrantz originally recorded Live Is Life for Proprius Music at the Club Doppingen, Uppsala, Sweden in 1995, using Didrik de Geer’s microphones for optimum stereo effect. FIM producer Winston Ma and Five/Four Productions’ producers and engineers Michael Bishop, Robert Friedrich, and Thomas C. Moore remastered the album in 2013 using Ultra High Definition 32-bit technology. The result is a live recording with excellent presence and sense of occasion.

If you’ve familiar with Proprius’s Jazz at the Pawnshop, you’ll know what to expect from the sound of  Live Is Life. It’s that of a live performance in a small nightclub. There is an uncannily vivid sense of air and space around the instruments, with a wide dynamic range and an extended frequency response. Not only is the bass impressive, but the highs are clear and shimmering as any you’ll hear on record. It’s a truly reach-out-and-touch-it experience; one of those recordings where you feel as though you really are sitting in the audience with a small jazz ensemble playing a few yards away. You get the full impact of the instruments, with all their sonic nuances captured in a natural environment. You are simply there, the sound well defined, well etched, transparent yet with just enough of a lifelike ambient bloom and resonance to create the illusion of actually being in the time and place of the event. The cymbals glisten and shine, the drums are taut, and the sax, vibraphone, piano, and bass are mellow and vibrant respectively. It’s an impressive achievement.

As always, the premium price brings you a premium package: The disc comes in a hardback, book-like container with sixteen pages of bound notes. The CD has its own static-proof liner, housed in an inner paper sleeve. Is it worth the extra cost, considering that the standard Proprius product costs half as much? For audiophiles, even small improvements in sound may be enough to justify higher prices, and there’s no doubting this thing sounds darned good.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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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 John 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 ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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 simple-minded, 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 Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. 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 LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. 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.

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