Multi-Grammy Winning Pianist Bob James releases “Feel Like Making LIVE!” as a celebration of his unique artistry, reflecting on a storied career stretching back nearly six decades. On this album he steps back to his piano trio roots, which is how the Missouri-born musician started his music career back in 1963. The line up on this release includes bassist Michael Palazzolo along with drummer Billy Kilson and the album was recorded live in the studio as a unique audio-visual spectacular, utilizing the best available filming and recording standards, including Dolby Atmos sound and 4K ultra high definition video.
High resolution audio enthusiasts will find a wide range of physical format options with a variety of immersive audio codecs. The five different physical formats include a DSD 5.1 surround and stereo multi-channel hybrid SACD, an MQA-CD + Blu-ray bundle, an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, a stand-alone MQA-CD, and for analog enthusiasts a 180 gram limited numbered orange double vinyl LP. The Ultra HD Blu-ray includes 4K video, with sound in Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D, and 96kHz / 24-bit LPCM stereo audio. Alternatively, the standard Blu-ray offers a 1080p picture with your choice of Dolby Atmos and 96kHz / 24-bit LPCM stereo or visit your favorite online music platform to get an uncompressed stereo edition in a 96kHz / 24-bit lossless format*.
On this 2022 release James delivers a range of material from different phases of his career, ranging from his gentle ballad, “Angela”, written for the US sitcom, “Taxi”, onto his iconic '70s jazz-funk groove “'Westchester Lady”. Plus, he revisits the cult classic “Nautilus”, originally a sleeper turned hip-pop sample favorite found on Bob James’ first CTI album, “One”, which was reissued on SACD in 2021 and reviewed here. Another gem lifted from his back pages is the mellow instrumental rendition of Roberta Flack's hit, “Feel Like Making Love”, and the trio also throws in some musical surprises such as an old school-style blues arrangement of Elton John's classic “Rocket Man”.
The immersive mix takes on the perspective of the listener seated at a live concert, with piano placed to the left, drums focused toward the right side and the bass primarily riveted in the center channel. Reflective ambience emanates from the rear channels, providing a nice spatial depth to the mix. This layout stays consistent across the 14 tracks, with a distinct difference between the 5.1 surround mix on the SACD and the Atmos mix on the Blu-ray. However, I must first note, that my system is not yet fully Atmos capable, thus the Atmos codec has been automatically adjusted for 7.1 playback, a feature of the object oriented TrueHD audio codec.
Technically speaking, the Blu-ray contains both the Dolby Atmos TrueHD and the 96kHz / 24-bit audio LPCM stereo codecs. Since the original recording was mixed in 96kHz, a comparison is worthy for one to make a pure audiophile physical format selection. But first I must digress for a moment by noting that the Blu-ray contains brief commentary between several tracks, which have been omitted on the SACD edition. Additionally, the Blu-ray contains film footage of the entire show, plus a couple of bonus tracks also mixed in both stereo and immersive audio. It is a complete pleasure to watch the musicians, really adding to the feel of being right there in the studio with them while the live recording was being made. I found the video to be very clear and unlike many concert films, there is no particular light show, instead the band is well lit making it easy to see all the nuances of their facial expressions and lots of close up shots of them playing.
Also, before digging into the different mixes, I must say that the audio quality is impeccable and the balance between the instruments is simply splendid. From the dynamic whack of the snare and the crisp rim hits to the shimmering cymbals, round kick and full tom-toms, the entire drum kit literally sits right there in my listening room. The bass falls deeply with the rippling rich tone completely present nearly to the point where one can feel it moving through them. The piano is spread out to the left with the top of the keyboard stretching toward the outer edge. The tingle of the keys is remarkably true to having James playing the grand piano in ones’ own home.
Now, the divergence of ambience and sparkle between the surround mix on the SACD and Dolby Atmos mix on the Blu-ray is like night and day. I can’t say that I like one over the other, as each has its merits. The SACD is absolutely brighter and more direct, while the Blu-ray offers a very spacious ambience that masks the upper end. Still, the bass is stronger and the Atmos mix makes heavier use of the center channel where the bass is focused. Additionally, even though the sub woofers yield only a little bit of sound, I sense that the combo between the subs and center really aid in elevating the robustness of the bass. In short, listeners who desire an absolutely full bass will be better served with the Blu-ray. In fact, the SACD makes no use of the sub-woofers, and with the bass mixed between the left and right speakers, it doesn’t come across as strong. Yet, the piano and drums are so crystal clear on the 5.1 surround mix found on the SACD, that listeners may find this edition to become their favorite mix.
Both the Blu-ray and SACD contain stereo mixes too, which more closely match each other. However, the mix does not follow the same instrument layout as the immersive mixes. Rather everything is pretty much centrally focused, spreading out across the left and right channels. The piano has been flip-flopped with the upper keys on the right and the lower keys toward the left. Naturally the bass still takes its place in the center, but the drums also fit snuggly on top and stretch out across the stereo field. The SACD still yields an overall brightness that also pushes the dynamics further and allows for a bit more air compared to the LPCM 96kHz / 24-bit stereo codec on the Blu-ray. Unlike the immersive version, the level and robustness of the bass seems almost identical, with favor given to the Blu-ray again.
Musically the album is a treat, with a fantastic range of pieces from ballads to funky grooves and jazzed out selections. “Rocket Man” is surely a standout instrumental arrangement of the classic Elton John song, but also his arrangement of “Downtown” which was originally popularized by Petula Clark quickly has become a favorite for me.
Regardless of the format one chooses, fans of Bob James, piano trios, and instrumental jazz will surely want to pick up a copy. While I have only focused on two formats here, the SACD and MQA-CD + Blu-ray editions, each have their merits and sound fantastic. I am certain that the 4K UHD Blu-ray rivals these, and those wishing to stay in the MQA-CD or analog Vinyl camp will find those editions to be compelling. Nearly 60 years on, James is as fresh as the day he started, with those decades of mastery driving him forward.
Scheduled for release January 28, 2022.
5.1 & 2.0 Hybrid SACD, Ultra HD Blu-ray with 4k Video and 48kHz / 24-bit Dolby Atmos in TrueHD, Auro 3D, and 96kHz / 24-bit LPCM stereo. MQA-CD+Blu-ray bundle with 48kHz / 24-bit Dolby Atmos in True HD and 96kHz / 24-bit LPCM stereo. Also available on MQA-CD or 180g double limited number orange vinyl. Additionally this release is available as a stereo lossless download in 96kHz / 24-bit or through streaming services in Dolby Atmos. The uncompressed stereo 96kHz / 24-bit lossless edition is available on Tidal Masters, Qobuz, Amazon Music HD, HDtracks, Apple Music, e-onkyo music and Acoustic Sounds.
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Get your copy here:
MQA-CD + Blu-ray Bundle
4k Ultra HD Blu-ray
- Rocket Man
- Niles A Head
- Feel Like Making Love / Night Crawler
- Mister Magic
- Westchester Lady
- Nardis (Blu-ray only)