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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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa