Review by Audiophile.no April 25, 2014 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
|This release is based essentially on the music of the TV-series "Christmas in Blue Mountain", a popular Christmas program that I missed every time. Therefore I will not connect Quiet Winter Night to this TV series. And after all it is not necessary, and it may be an advantage for me that I have not seen the TV series, letting me set the nooks and build new images based on the music on the album. Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that the music here is reinterpreting a selection of music on Christmas in Blue Mountain, music by Geir Bøhren and Bent Åserud in 1998 and 2002. Okay, then we are done with Christmas in Blue Mountain.
The edition of Quiet Winter Night I listened to, is Pure Audio Blu-ray. It is also released on vinyl, in addition to that you can buy in different download formats, from MP3 to multi-channel HiRes FLAC or DSD. If you buy the Pure Audio Blu-ray, you also get the ability to download files for free using mShuttle. A very good arrangement, providng good flexibility.
Some other Pure Audio Blu-ray releases from 2L has also featured a SACD. This is dropped in this release. 2L has also cut down on the number of available audio tracks to 5.1 DTS HD MA in 24bits/192kHz and 2.0 LPCM in 24bits/192kHz.
We are gradually accustomed to the fact that sonic mix of Morten Lindberg`s works are quite bold compared to the audiophile establishment's perception of "good latin" regarding the sound mix. Morten tend to get very close, and in addition he spread the musicians around him - or microphone core - in a semicircle, and then some. This time it's a more conventional production, although he also here is very close to the musicians. However, with an exception. The percussion section is located directly behind the microphone array. In addition to being unorthodox, it is actually quite challenging for replicating setup. In my setup the surround speakers are placed about 95-100 degrees from the center axis, dependig on the day and how much I'm hanging my head. This does not work with this recording. Or rather - it sounds like there are two half drummers, one on each side. Onbly as I modify the placement of listening position forward to the surround speakers, at least approximately. 120 degrees from the center axis - or preferably more, the percussion starts to join as one. This makes me think that maybe just on this release had been an idea to add a 7.1 track as well. It would make it easier for some of the listeners who have a 7.1. speaker setup with SB-speakers to get a homogeneous representation of percussion. This issue will certainly be applicable also in some other multi-channel recordings from 2L, but the difference in sub-optimal speaker placement is not as obvious as when there are instruments which are placed so that you actually get a backwards stereo rendering of the instrument.
Although the surround mix - with the exception of percussion - is partly less daring than what we're used to from 2L, this is still sonically one of the boldest I've heard of Lindberg`s productions. The boldness this time is primarily in that he challenges us in a new way by creating a unique sound on the disc. This was a bit unusual and unexpected initially through listening, and I wondered at first if it was some settings that were wrong in my setup. But it was not, and eventually I have been fascinated by the sound that dominates the entire release.
It's a bit difficult to get to grips with what it is that makes the components of this sound, but an important part is that this in a double meaning is a low-key production. All vocal performances are low-key in the usual sense, as essentially also in a physical sense. However, they are also low-key in the sense that they are mixed low. Though really, I suspect that this is more about placement of singers in terms of microphone array instead of leveling on a mixing desk. Or maybe absence of close dedicated microphones for the singer. Anyway, the result is that the singers do not have the dominant position in the sound that they usually have. Most apparent is this issue on track 2, where the vocals of Unni Wilhelmsen has an almost mysterious remoteness. And this I take for granted is an intentional effect.
Another parameter that has helped to create this particular sound I'm tempted to guess, is about the relationship between the direct sound and reflected sound, caused by the microphone placement and microphone characteristics. This is how far I dare to take my wild guesses.
What Morten Lindberg has achieved with this sound reproduction is that it enters as a very dominant "instrument" in the release, and provides a synergy with the music. It is obviously consistently felt across all tracks, and it enables that you are left with an almost dream-like or hypnotic mood. It is an exceptionally uniform temperature in all tracks, providing a highly unusual overall mood, despite the fact that there are different vocalists and varying amount of instrument crew.
I am sure that a typical successful producer at the major record companies have a stencil on how progression in songs on an successful album should develop. You start with a catchy upbeat song, followed by a subsequent ballad, etc. This guy was not present during the planning of this album ...
There are many strong personalities of the singers here. Bjørn Eidsvåg and Sondre Bratland are singers that rarely blend in with the wall-paper - they tend to set the mood on their recordings. And although they also on this album have their own unique style intact, they do not sticks out at the expense of the magical atmosphere this disc provides.
We need to describe what kind of music this album contains. I see that 2L defines it as acoustic jazz, and it is appropriate. But then, one can of course be tempted exceedingly to amend the definitions of jazz in such a degree that sometimes wonder if jazz is the only obvious definition of the music on Quiet Winter Night. My memories go to the radio interview of Trygve Seim after the release of the album "Sangam" many years ago, where he was asked about why this record is jazz. Trygve Seim replied that it is jazz because he is a jazz musician ... An interesting answer to a really insignificant, yet obvious question. If we go back to Quiet Winter Night, we can confirm that this is jazz, but still well out on the shoulder, into the border area to show singer-sogwriter, and other benevolent music genres.
In the bottom veneer we find Hoff Ensemble, described as a quartet. Although I had been inclined to either define this as a trio with frequent additional touches of Børge Petersen-Øverleir on guitar. Whatever we find in addition to Jan Gunnar Hoff on piano, Arild Andersen on bass, and Rune Arnesen on drums. This quartet of eminent musicians is like all other actors soft-spoken and unvirtuose on this album, but still delivering stunning music. In a good number of songs Mathias Eick plays as well. He plays amazingly beautiful and is an important part of the musical expression of the record. He is also an essential ingredient to tie together many of the different vocalists in a kind of dialogue with in the tunes in which he participates.
On a production where it to such an extent is the totality that dominates, it is also a bit problematic affair to point out some single tunes. Yet there are some who bites occur, and both the beautiful opening song with Helene Bøksle, and the subsequent ghostly tune with Unni Wilhelmsen come forward. The latter is also the first in which Mathias Eick playes, and it is beautiful. The song by the fire with Cecilia Vennersten and Bjørn Eidsvåg is perhaps my favorite, followed closely by both tracks where Sondre Bratland sing.
The album Quiet Winter Night is probably one of several candidates to be one of the best albums of the 2L, and then both the music and the sound considered not to talk about the symbiosis of these two exercises.
This review was originally written and published by me at www.Audiophile.no
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