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Reviews: Joe McQueen & friends: Ten at 86

Reviews: 6

Site review by Christine Tham September 18, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:    
If you like to listen to straight jazz ensembles in surround sound on an SA-CD, recorded using an innovative microphone setup, then this disc is worth checking out.

You may not have heard of Joe McQueen (his name does not even feature on the AllMusic database), but this guy can play sax, at least at the level that you will encounter at a typical jazz festival, and the music is certainly very listenable, being a combination of lesser known standards penned by the likes of Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington.

The title of the album "Ten at 86" is a reference to the number of tracks in the album and Joe's age (I'll leave it to you to guess which is which). Accompanying Joe are Evan Coombs on bass, Clayton Furch on the piano, Don Keipp on drums, Skip Musgrave on trumpet and Brad Wheeler on harmonica.

All tracks are instrumental, but if you let the disc play when the song in track ten finishes you'll discover (around 4:50 into the track) a hidden "bonus" track featuring Joe singing. He has a fairly decent voice, I wish there were more tracks featuring him singing.

As with other IsoMike recordings, this is a 4-channel recording utilizing an interesting microphone placement consisting of four mics suspended from four arms (capturing Front Left, Front Right, Rear Left, and Rear Right). Special heart shaped acoustic baffles are placed between the mics to ensure that the content captured by each microphone is as discrete and unique as possible. The theory behind this is that in a typical microphone setup, each microphone is capturing not only unique content but shared content also captured by other microphones. Unfortunately, the physical placement of these microphones means shared content is captured at slightly different phases by each mic, so when the recording is played back you get the possibility of phase cancellation from the channels. Hopefully an IsoMike recording should result in less phase cancellation, therefore a clearer and less muddy sound. You can see a photo of the IsoMike system used in the recording on page 5 of the cover booklet.

The theory seems plausible, but does it result in a better recording? Well, you can judge for yourself by listening to this disc. I certainly found the recording to be convincingly realistic, with a sense of spaciousness and wide soundstage that is possibly due to the higher channel separation, but it's also just a touch drier than a typical recording. Incidentally, the venue is the Austad Auditorium at the Val. A Browning Center for the Performing Arts at Weber University, Ogden, Utah. I would normally have expected a venue like this to be slightly more reverberant, but on the plus side the instruments come through with more clarity and detail (particularly the brushwork, and nuances in the piano tone) than I would have otherwise expected.

This is very much a front focused recording, the rear channels are mostly used to convey ambience and reflections from the rear of the venue, and are quite subdued. Therefore, I would have assumed that the stereo version should sound almost as good as the 4 channel version, so imagine my surprise when I played back the stereo track and immediately the music seemed more two dimensional. So the ambience channels are definitely worth it.

The cover notes claim that no "limiting or compression" has been used in the recording. Well, judging by the overall recording level (which is the lowest yet I've encountered on a commercial recording) I see no reason to dispute this claim. But the music itself isn't very dynamic, except for the last track (Broadway) where the extended dynamic range is clearly audible.

All in all, this is an excellent disc to sample the benefits of IsoMike, particularly if you like jazz.

Review by Oakland July 15, 2006 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Kudos are certainly due to Kimber Kable for its production of Joe McQueen’s “Ten at 86”. There is so much to be enthused about for both the music and the production.

First, I must admit there was a considerable deficit for me to overcome to allow even minimal enjoyment of this disc even before I opened it up. I saw the picture of this old guy (Joe McQueen) on the cover and I being completely and shamefully disrespectful of my elders said to myself “Hey, I better listen to this disc fast, quick, and in a hurry, because I don’t think this guy is going to make it to the end of the 5th track let alone the 10th” But let me give you firm assurance that was just my indiscreet and unthinking ageist bias rearing its ugly head. Like mother always says “never judge a book by looking at the cover”.

But even as I was listening to the first track (of 10) I was not particularly enthused with what I was hearing either in terms of musicianship or sound quality. There seemed to be a puzzlingly lack of dynamics or life in both. But midway through the first track I instinctively turned up the volume that had been set to “normal” for most discs. I quickly discovered I *really* had to crank it up to get the music to sound as loud to which I am accustomed for jazz (in a real setting). That is, loud but not overly so. Clearly, the musicians and the sound quality had been severely bottled up by the low volume setting and giving it some throttle was all that was needed to really make the music take off. (It has become increasingly clear that perceptively low recording levels, in the interest of dynamic range, have become a key ingredient in the recipe to making the best recordings. Good audio engineers seem to know that).

Regarding the performances, while I know what I like, I’m certainly not qualified to differentiate “good” jazz from “great” jazz. I enjoyed the renditions of what was, for me, a balanced eclectic mixture of familiar and not so familiar compositions. The more learned devotees of jazz among us could find the presentations overly safe or pedestrian. While certainly not “innovative”, I found the musicianship to be outstanding. I thought the sidemen were especially accomplished and the combo well rehearsed. The arrangements abundantly illuminated their respective talents. In addition to McQueen on sax the combo includes bass, piano, drums, trumpet and harmonica and, in the final track, a jazzy and quite enjoyable vocal by McQueen himself. I have found that a combo of this size and mix has a lot more creative upside potential than, say, a comparably talented trio or quartet.

Note: McQueen’s vocal is actually “hidden" in the 10th and final track. That is, the 10th track ostensibly comes to an end but the disc keeps spinning for about 25 seconds and McQueen’s vocal unfolds without the designation of an 11th track, that it clearly should have. The vocal is not at all related to the “Broadway” composition listed as track 10. Why was it done like this I have no idea. There is no way on my transport (EMM Labs) to directly access this part of the track.

The more I listened to the sound the more it became apparent that, with respect to quality, something was undeniably different here. The music was so completely “unsmearing”, presented with a sunlit clarity when compared to the vast majority of recordings I have heard, even “good” recordings. And this applies to not just the percussion, but to all the instruments and the space in which they were being played.

After listening to the disc for the first time I reached for the liner notes and learned about the Isomike technique. Actually the picture of the mike set up that is shown in the liner notes looks a bit nerdy or eccentric. Sort of like those dumb looking “Serious Listening” leather (vinyl?) ear appendages that some donned (including yours truly) 15 or so years ago. Was it this Isomike technique or just careful microphone placement and great mastering that makes for extraordinary sound quality? It was probably equally important doses of each.

Over the past year I have learned almost to an incontrovertible conclusion that two channels for classical music are hopelessly inadequate (when there is a multi-channel alternative of the same performance). But it is not always so clear-cut for jazz. But I have found that rear channel intrusion, which I don’t generally care for, that is found in some jazz music is simply because the artist or the engineers or both want it that way. An aggressive mix found in some jazz releases, such as Telarc’s “Monte Meets Sly and Robbie (see my comments at /showreviews/449#3198) is an artistic choice, not an insoluble mix of the genre and the technology.

And over the past two years or so it is clear to me that sound engineers are learning (and it is a learning process) to better exploit the virtues of multi-channel. To be sure, Joe McQueen’s “Ten at 86”, is the quintessential utilization of multi-channel in jazz. There is no center channel utilized here, although you would never suspect it by listening. And the surround channels are utilized to an effective perfection. As with the best multi-channel SACDs in my collection, to the listener who is not aware that a multi-channel source is being played it simply sounds like the best “stereo” presentation that a two-channel system could muster. That is, until you switch to stereo and the acoustic space significantly flattens. In listening to this SACD the first couple of times I don’t recall being aware, even sub-consciously, of the rear channels unless I was intent on making a two-channel/multi-channel comparison (which I rarely do anymore because it’s rudely disruptive and almost always a waste of time).

I have one other Kable Kimber IsoMike production I have yet to listen to, the Hayden String Quartets Op 9 and Opus 77, performed by the Fry Street Quartet. Based on my most positive and sensory experience with Joe McQueen’s “Ten at 86” I await my first listen to these performances with heightened anticipation.

Robert C. Lang

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Review by Beagle May 1, 2008 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
There are many different jazzes; Joe McQueen’s jazz is one I know and can happily re-enter. We're talking Jazz Standards: tunes ‘as old as the Hills Bros.’ but rebrewed fresh on the fly by composer-musicians. First there’s the theme which I shudder to admit I probably heard in its AM-radio originality, then the deconstructions soloist-by-soloist which open up musical spaces within the cliché. It’s a fun mental game for listener as much as for jazzman. From the 1960s to the 1980s I listened to lots of jazz, especially ‘cool school’, along with classical and just plain weird stuff. When I finally recognised that I understood too little about too much, I dove into quartets and trios – but I never broke faith with that other chamber music: improvisatory jazz. Listening to this disc was therefore a walk down memory lane, and a delightfully pleasant one.

It’s IsoMike, with the timbral and spatial clarity which Ray Kimber's UFO delivers with such spartan simplicity. And with jazz, we get to hear what IsoMike can do with those deep percussion beats and light brushes. With the lights turned down low, I can almost smell the ashtrays and beer schooners of my younger days.

In 1945 Joe McQueen got dumped in Utah because the band-leader had gambled away all the money in Las Vegas. Joe stuck to Utah and it was good to him and better for him than the live-fast-die-young of life on the road. So here he is, an elder-prodigy at the age of 86, laying it down as smooth and subtle as ever. I don’t know how old Coombs, Furch, Keipp, Musgrave and Wheeler are, but they go down well with ten shots of Joe McQ. It's not Coltrane or Davis, but it is exquisitely comfortable and seductive.

Joe’s story is there in the disc booklet. Behind these ten tunes there are other stories which aren’t in the booklet, but are hidden here and there on the internet. With Joe at 86, it’s not too surprising to hear him playing tunes from the 30s and 40s, written by people born a century ago. Roots run deep.

‘What a Difference a Day Makes’ has been lodged in my brain for most of my life; what I didn’t know was that it was originally ‘Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado’ and written by a Mexican woman born in 1894. She wrote numerous other multimillion-seller tunes, but this was the one I heard Dinah Washington sing on the radio in 1959 (I vastly prefer McQueen’s version).

That’s a short, sweet story; here’s a short bitter one. Miles Davis made the blues tune ‘Walkin'’ famous, and the copyright is assigned to Richard Carpenter (not of The Carpenters). This Carpenter was a former accountant who got himself into musician management and earned himself an immortal reputation as a thoroughly bad person to do business with: “He had the air of a gangster, like he'd kill you in a second”*. Jimmy Munday wrote a tune called ‘Gravey’, perhaps with some input from Gene Ammons or even Miles himself. Whatever the case, the title was rubbed out, ‘Walkin'’ written in, and Richard Carpenter put himself down for authorship and copyright royalties.

It’s a less tangled tale, but ‘Satin Doll’ apparently owes more to young W.T. ‘Billy’ Strayhorn than to band-leader Ellington; I’m sure it’s all arguable.

Here is a love-story, or at least the hint of one. If you trust those shameless gossips, New York composers in the 1930s, twenty-six year old Ann Ronell was ‘doing it’ with George Gershwin, and he gave her the lyrics, music and copyright of ‘Willow Weep for Me’ as a thank-you-ma’am.

Yes, I had fun tracking down the authorship of these tunes, almost as much fun as listening to Joe & Co. bring them into the twenty-first century for us on this beautiful recording. My favourite moment is a bit of lead-in where another musician asks “How fast you want to take this Joe?”; then we hear Joe give the beat and “Are you ready, Ray?”. He was; thank you Mr Kimber for taking me back in time, and forward in audio.

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Review by FullRangeMan October 24, 2009 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This SACD have a serius sound problem, after listen it everyone will have real difficulty to hear others non IsoMike SACDs. This IsoMike system is veeery good to the point of I reject others less good recordings.
The overall sound quality is unbelievable, same or better sound quality than OPUS3, Channel, Pentatone etc... there is a musical presence in the room I never listen before.
Really there is no compression on this recordings, this make all the difference, you will be aware that almost all others SACDs recordings are compressed.
The 11 tunes are beautiful songs and the performance is excelent. If you can afford buy various copies of this SACD and later thanks me, after it be out of stock, the price will go to stars.
This SACD was very well planned, I want more IsoMike Jazz releases. Mr.Kimber and the team are congratulated.

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Review by analogue June 1, 2010 (3 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I had to listen to this album several times over just to sort of understand what I was listening to. At first I confess it sounded sort of odd. There seemed to be a strong sense of realism but the sound seemed diffuse and flat. I could hear the different instruments and could sense the rhythm of what the musicians were trying to do but I was slightly put off by the sound. Something was wonky.

The isomike engineers are constantly trying new recording methods and they use a sort of baffling systems where they can better control sound that may stray from one channel into another channel. While its not hard to appreciate and underdstand what they are trying to do....does it make for better sound???

In the beginning it seems that the microphiones were placed so far back that the actual sound of the instruments they were recording was having a hard time getting into said microphone and this was why I felt that it sounded stuffy or as if the instruments were too far back in the mix and venue. As if the sound of an instrument was taking its sweet time while slowly floating into the microphone because it was suspended to far up.

When I got to the last track.....which is actually two tracks, one being hidden and not mentioned in the track listing I understood things a little better.

When you play track 10 wait for the first track to be complete. A moment later you will hear Mr. Mcqueen sing a song and play sax. I noticed that of all the tracks this one was very closely miked and that the sound was powerful.
It was at this point that I understood what difference I was hearing in their intent.

That said...the music is wonderful and McQueen can certainly play. There are also isolated instruments that sound extremely real and full bodied like the trumpet in track six and certain drum solos.

Recommended for the unique sound of this sacd and the terrific jazz playing.

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Review by RWetmore October 28, 2011 (0 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This disc is a sure winner. The musical selections are are all very good and the performances excellent from all involved, especially the sax playing of McQueen. The sound is really natural without any artificiality, spot miking or level manipulation. Just a great disc overall. Highly recommended.

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