Ravel: Bolero (UltraHD review)

Also, Loussier: Nympheas. Jacques Loussier Trio. FIM LIM UHD 079 LE.

Quick: Is it classical jazz or jazzy classical?

That's the question listeners have been asking of the Jacques Loussier Trio for the past fifty-odd years. Loussier and his jazzmen have been bringing us their renditions of popular classical tunes for a long time. Combining classical and jazz in really good recordings, they have also long been an audiophile's delight. The jazz ensemble has done Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Handel, Mozart, Ravel, Satie, Vivaldi, Schumann, you name it, and they've sold a ton of albums over the years. If you like what they do, this is another album that will please their fans, the disc sounding better than ever in its new remastering.

Pianist Jacques Loussier has worked with several different trio partners in his time. The present album lists the lineup here as Loussier on piano, Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac on bass, and Andre Arpino on drums. Loussier made the Bolero album for Telarc in 1999, and FIM (First Impression Music) and LIM (Lasting Impression Music) remastered it to audiophile standards in 2014 using their UltraHD and PureFlection technologies. With a warhorse like Bolero and a coupling of Loussier's own creation, though, this one may be toss-up for many listeners. But, then, there's the sound, about which there is little question: Audiophiles may want it for demo purposes alone.

Anyway, the program begins with a jazzy take on Bolero by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). After initially writing a part of it for piano, the composer asked a friend asked to listen to it, saying "Don't you think this theme has an insistent quality? I'm going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can." Most recordings of it last between twelve and eighteen minutes, the score indicating a Tempo di Bolero, moderato assai ("tempo of a bolero, very moderate"), and the composer preferred it taken fairly slow and steady. In a 1931 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Ravel went so far as to say the piece lasts seventeen minutes. He would even criticize conductors (like Toscanini) who took it too fast or conductors who sped up toward the end. I mention this because Loussier and his pals take it at just a few seconds over seventeen minutes.

Not that Loussier's rendition actually sounds a lot like the orchestral version Ravel envisioned or even the solo or two-piano arrangements of it. Still, that's OK; Bolero apparently has more uses in it than a Swiss Army Knife. Loussier's arrangement maintains Ravel's rhythms while seemingly improvising on the melody in new and, well, jazzy ways. So, yes, you still get the full flavor of Ravel's familiar number, and you get an all-new jazz rendering of it thrown in, with the cymbal and later the snare drum leading the way. It's like two for the price of one: Buy one, get one free. Remarkably, it's all highly musical and eminently listenable as well, thanks to the expert musicianship of the players.

Jacques Loussier
Coupled with Bolero is a seven-movement piece called Nympheas ("Water Lilies"), composed by Loussier himself. Loussier based the music on paintings by the French impressionist Claude Monet depicting Monet's flower garden at Giverny. It's important that the colors of the music at least somewhat remind us of the colors and nuances of the impressionistic paintings.

I found Loussier's Nympheas even the more compelling than his Bolero, perhaps because as good as Loussier's Bolero is, I've already heard it done enough different times in enough different ways to last a lifetime. With Nympheas we get a rich assortment of graceful lines, gentle beauty, and refreshing energy. The movements alternate a contemplative tranquility with a lively power, producing some fascinating and wholly engrossing results.

As usual for FIM/LIM, the disc comes packaged in a glossy, hard-cardboard fold-over case, the disc itself housed in a static-proof inner jacket, further enclosed in a bound paper sleeve, along with a twelve-page set of notes, text, and pictures.

Jacques Loussier and his ensemble originally recorded the album in 1998 for Telarc Records at Studio Grande Armee, Palais des Congre's, Paris. FIM/LIM producer Winston Ma and Five/Four Productions engineer Robert Friedrich remastered the album in 32-bit Ultra High Definition and PureFlection replication processing.

The clarity and definition on this disc are a joy to hear. Highs sound extremely well extended, clear and vibrant. Lows are appropriately robust. And midrange transparency is exemplary. Moreover, transient response is quick, the dynamic impact is solid, and the ambient hall resonance is lifelike. In essence, you have three musicians in the room with you, piano center, percussion right, bass very slightly left. Yet the stereo spread is not so great as to exaggerate the players' positions. They appear, in fact, well clustered between the speakers. As far as concerns FIM/LIM's remastering, the sound is clearer and more dynamic than ever, the aforementioned transparency all the more evident.


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 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