Written by 6:53 am Audiophile Music

Goldberg Variations Acoustica: A Brilliant Recording You Might Have Missed

If you don’t mind a bit of electric in your Bach, Mark Smotroff has something you may like…


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

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

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

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.


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 ind
ustries, 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.

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