Unless you happen to follow uber-niche enthusiast forums on the Internet, chances are you haven’t heard about a somewhat new series of seemingly officially authorized reissues of original “Quadraphonic” (aka “Quad”) recordings from the 1970s. These recordings were issued on long playing Quad vinyl records and / or 8-track tape cartridges back in the day, formats which never really caught on in a mass market sense. So, I think it is a fair guess that the majority of people never really got to hear the full discrete quad mixes.
I didn’t know about the relatively new reissue series until recently when, in fact, I was reminded by Facebook that I hadn’t been to a particular audiophile-type forum I’d joined years earlier. It had seemingly stopped notifying me along the way of new posts so, it faded from my daily view. The information superhighway is a busy place, kids…
Fast forward, after I started participating in said forum again with some related posts I noticed a few folks talking about latest SACDs they’d ordered from a company called Dutton Vocalion out of England. Tracking down the website, I was far too tempted to do a lot of research and just went ahead and took a chance on ordering some titles.
Amazingly, they arrived in the mail rather quickly! And, generally, I’ve been pleased. Not all of them are perfect, details which I’ll call out as necessary in future reviews. But, overall, it is great to finally officially be able to enjoy some of these rare mixes in a high quality modern disc format that can still be played over a home theater system with minimal hassle.
You do of course need a surround sound system equipped with a disc player that can support multi-layer SACDs. These being pretty much straight transfers of the original Quadraphonic mixdown tapes, you will only hear the music coming through your front and rear, right and left channels. Unless indicated otherwise there is no information in the center channel nor in the subwoofer.
The first SACD in this reissue series that I’ve been exploring is a 1974 collaboration between Carlos Santana and Alice Coltrane called Illuminations. I have owned and enjoyed this spiritually inclined and mostly instrumental album on vinyl for a number of years but the Quadraphonic mix has been a revelation.
With the music opened up into the room across the four channels, I find it much easier to immerse myself into the welcoming warmth of this powerful music which Devadip Carlos Santana and Turiya Alice Coltrane created. While the mix is discrete, the overall effect is more like a deep enveloping sonic hug. For the most part Carlos and the band are in the front channels while Alice Coltrane’s Harp and orchestral parts flow in from the rear. The effect is spectacular and rich, especially when you are sitting in the sweet spot of your listening area. There are lovely moments when Santana’s Guitar seems to flow into Coltrane’s Harp and orchestra in a dance above you in the middle on the room.
The liner notes in the Illuminations SACD — by David Zimmerman — are particularly enlightening for this modest fan of Santana’s music. I have long appreciated his early albums and the multitude of side projects which came out in parallel with that first run of albums (Caravansarai being my favorite, in case you are wondering). This release trajectory was admittedly a bit perplexing at the time, what with side projects appearing — successfully so, mind you! — with the likes of John McLaughlin and Buddy Miles.
It turns out that Santana was grappling with some serious business related problems — that is, band member drug problems were affecting his business as a band-leader and music maker. It is a fascinating story which I won’t try to summarize here (you should buy the physical SACD to hear the music and read it yourself) but I will say that it was a process of an artist regaining control of his art and the future of his career. So all these side projects make much more sense now in the grand scheme of things.
Overall, I am very happy with this SACD of Devadip Carlos Santana and Turiya Alice Coltrane’s Illuminations. The remastered Stereo mix on the disc sounds very much like my original 1974-era vinyl LP copy of the album. Coltrane’s orchestrations are appropriately rich with a certain just-bright-enough sparkle.
Santana’s guitar tone comes across rich, round and heartfelt, with a McLaughlin-esque fire appearing when needed, mostly on “Angel Of Sunlight.”
When the band kicks in — which includes jazz legends like Jack DeJohnette on Drums and Dave Holland on Bass — the result is simply mesmerizing.
But really, the Quadraphonic mix of Illuminations is really what this disc is all about and you’ll want to give yourself the time to close your eyes and float away with the music on this one.
I am very happy that Illuminations is one of my first SACDs from Dutton Vocalion. It is a refreshingly simple but affordably-priced package that puts the these Quad mixes within reach of most anyone who owns a home theater system.