Artists: Markus Schwartz and Lakou Brooklyn
Album details: CD "Kay Sa" - 2019 - by Soundkeeper Recordings
Sample under test: Made in the USA
Price: 15$. It can be purchased directly at Soundkeeper Recordings (there you can also download free MP3 samples)
Reviewers: Andy Norman
Reviewed: November, 2019
One factor I've always found interesting in discussion about audio is the idea of the recreation of "live sound" as a criterion for the assessment of hi-fi systems. As someone who generally listens to rock and pop music I have tended towards the view that live sound is seldom the object of the recordings I listen to and that, in any case, the live sound of a band (say at a rock festival) is seldom, if ever, good enough that I would want to listen to it repeatendly. Recordings are nearly always produced by multitrack techniques which may even involve tracking performances in several studios - possibly in different countries - on a single song. So I go along with the idea that I want a system that makes my source material sound good, without much reference to whether it sounds "real".
It was against this background that I stumbled across a link to the Soundkeeper Records album "Kay Sa", by Markus Schwartz and Lakou Brooklyn. It had been mentioned in an email from our Editor who thought it worth a listen. TNT had reviewed several Soundkeeper records before so I thought I'd have a quick listen to the online samples. Initially I confess I wasn't paying a lot of attention but something about the album - even in the short, low resolution, samples - grabbed me. Here was an album that had such a genuinely live sound that I felt compelled to listen to it and consider that "recreation of live sound" question again.
Soundkeeper Recordings is the brainchild of studio engineer and producer Barry Diament. The Soundkeeper website outlines the philosophy behind Barry's recording technique. It says: "In our experience, once the signals are leaving the microphones, 90-95% or more of the recording's ultimate quality ceiling has already been determined. Everything after the microphones (i.e., mic cables, AC mains power, AC mains cables, mic preamps, recording format, recording device, mix, if any, mastering, playback format, playback device, interconnecting cables, amplification, speaker cables, speakers, speaker positioning, vibration isolation, room acoustics, etc., etc.) merely determines how much of what was captured the listener gets to hear." So the recordings are made live, in a specially prepared acoustic space (in this case, in a church), using a single pair of microphones and the highest quality electronics. But none of this would help if the music wasn't any good!
The album is by percussionist Markus Schwartz and singer Lakou Brooklyn, supported by Monvelyno Alexis on electric guitar, Bobby Raymond on bass and Godwin Louis on saxophones. An earlier recording by them, “Equinox” was reviewed back in 2010. The music itself has a jazzy, relaxed Afro-Caribbean groove. Two tracks were written by Thelonius Monk, the others being traditional Haitian tunes arranged by various members of the band. As a European point of reference, the album is reminiscent of certain ECM Records albums, having a modern jazz feel in a spacious acoustic.
The recording of the album is a very complete exposition of the Soundkeeper philosophy. It is so well recorded that the tangible feeling of being in the room with the musicians carries across different systems. I listened to the album in two different rooms, on both speakers and headphones and the live quality shone through on each of them. A large part of the authenticity of the sound comes, I'm sure, from the presence of real room reverberation rather than that which is electronically, or digitally, generated. Although digital and analog reverb is now of very good quality it still cannot perfectly recreate the sound of instruments recorded at the same time and in the same acoustic space.
The bottom line is that this is a strong, well played jazz album, simply but superbly recorded. I have no reservation in recommending it as source material for testing the ability of your hi-fi to reproduce acoustic music in a sympathetic space.
It is available from www.soundkeeperrecordings.com as a physical CD or as a download in 16/44, 24/96 and 24/192 formats. The 16/44 download looks to me to be the best value at just $10, whilst $30 for the 192kHz version seems a little expensive given the relative cost of production. Having said that, my comments are based on the high resolution version and it is very good. Given Soundkeeper's assessment that 90-95% of the quality comes down to the original recording I suspect you'll get most of the sound quality from the more reasonably priced download.
© Copyright 2019 Andy Norman - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com