Goldberg Variations Acoustica: A Brilliant Recording You Might Have Missed

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I am passionate about music AND I also happen to have spent a goodly portion of my career in marketing communications supporting (largely) entertainment technology related companies. So when I see an obvious missed opportunity, I frequently find myself scratching my head as to what led to a particular release's circumstance.

For example, a friend gave me a copy of a Blu-ray Disc album titled Goldberg Variations Acoustica. It wasn't opened and I too almost re-gifted it because (a) I'd not heard of it and (b) I was not compelled to open it as it looked like one of those a-typical, lame audiophile recordings that usually frustrate me. You know, the ones that are beautifully recorded but heartlessly performed. Yet, for some reason, I decided to put this one on, probably because of the superstar talent on it with whom I was familiar.

The performing group was named "The AIX All Star Band." Fortunately, I was knew a number of the musicians listed in the group: guitarist Dean Parks has played on records by everyone from Steely Dan to Billy Joel to Michael Jackson (Thriller, Off The Wall) and Laurence Juber who was in the later incarnation of Paul McCartney's Wings!

I am glad I decided to crack open this package as the recording is pretty wonderful; clearly a lot of care was put into its lush 5.1 surround (and 2.0 stereo) high resolution mixes (and 3D video). More importantly, it is played with a palpable sense of feeling.

There is little information on the outside of the package describing the music. If I had been hired to write the promotional copy for this album I might say something about how this music takes the listener on a journey fusing progressive rock and jazz improvisation with classical themes, creating a distinctive sound that is fresh, yet at once familiar, recalling influences from Pink Floyd and Pat Metheny to Ralph Towner's Oregon. In fact, this music reminds me of no less than Bruce Hornsby sitting in on a good night with The Grateful Dead over an extended Dark Star (a legendary two chord song/jam which serves as a launch a pad for extended musical exploration). This is a good thing.

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The first few minutes or so of the introduction has a bit of Bach flavor, but once Dean Parks' lovely digital-delay-drenched, Bill Frisell-esque guitar kicks in around the 3:30 mark (with lovely, trippy-but-subtle reverse effect), you know this music is going to travel well beyond its baroque roots.

By about 10 minutes into the piece, drums, acoustic stand up bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and acoustic piano are in full-on jam-band mode. Parks' guitar work is just gorgeous, played on his beautiful Paul Reed Smith electric with delicate use of whammy bar and effects giving way to a jam with Laurence Juber on acoustic guitar. Eventually, the whole band kicks into a rollicking section reminiscent of the end of Elton John's "Burn Down The Mission."

No pun intended, it's pretty smokin'!

Frankly given this type of music, it would have been a lot cooler to wrap this package in some really cool Roger Dean-quality artwork instead of the colorful-but-Silicon Valley-flavored digital swirl type graphic that graces the cover. Fortunately, scanning the label's website, it looks like the label, AIX Records, has improved their packaging quite a bit since this release. 

But I digress...

The surround mix is lush and enveloping, yet feels very natural. You can listen to the 96 kHz/24-bit surround sound audio two ways (stage and audience mixes) as well as in 2.0 stereo. The simple but effective camera work captures the group recording live in the studio. It was recorded in 3D HD (but as I do not have a 3D TV, I can only imagine that it would look pretty spiffy).

Anyhow, there you have it. Another cool release worth seeking out. Don't get thrown by the packaging for Goldberg Variations Acoustica. There is some good stuff in there.

 

Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com 

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