Chick Corea’s New Montreux Years 2LP set shines on remarkably cohesive-sounding MQA mastered 180g vinyl
The latest album in the stunning series of official releases from Claud Nobs’ private collection features none other than the late and great keyboard master, Chick Corea. Excerpt from the archives of the Montreux Jazz Festival, Chick Corea: The Montreux Years 2LP 180g tuned via BMG sounds remarkably thin and consistent over the years that span the multiple eras of these recordings.
For those who don’t know him, Claud Nobs (who died aged 76 in 2013) was the founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, which is in its 55th edition! – which attracts some 250,000 music fans from all over the world every year. If that weren’t enough, his contribution to the world of recorded live music is, frankly, a bit mind-numbing, when you think about it. From the foundation’s website run on his behalf, we learn the following, which appears here in italics:
The Claude Nobs Foundation oversees the curation and preservation of Claude Nobs’ audio and visual archives, which constitute one of the world’s largest private collections of “live” music recordings – all of which were recorded at Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland) since 1967. Beginning with jazz in its infancy, over the next 55 years the collection grew and was enriched with new musical genres ranging from blues and rock, to rap, soul, Latin and many more… Today, the library has become one of the greatest testimonies of live music in the world, with more than 5,000 individual performances. The collection is unparalleled and has universal significance for current and future generations.
You can probably imagine the variety of recording formats used over all these years, and thus the massive enterprise involved in preserving, maintaining – and in some cases, likely restoring – archival recordings of this nature. . Browsing through the “Facts & Figures” section of the website, some startling statistics from the Montreux Jazz Festival came to light (following in italics): 11,000+ hours of video, including 5,000 in High Definition… 6,000+ hours of audio, of which 2/3 [are] in multitrack format… 20 million records sold by record companies… 20,000 musicians have played in Montreux… More than 5 million spectators since ’67…. The list is lengthened increasingly. Talk about achievements!
Returning to the new Chick Corea: The Montreux Years Together 2LPs, the challenges of simply making it a fine-sounding, modern version—one that does justice to the music within, while still providing listeners with an exciting and cohesive sonic experience—add up to significant hurdles for players to overcome. producers.
Something you’ll likely find of keen interest as you explore this concert series is the method the producers used to master the music. From the official press release we learn (again, in italics): Mastering was done by Tony Cousins at London’s iconic Metropolis Studios, incorporating MQA to capture the original sound from the special live performances.
I’ve reviewed a number of these Montreux archive releases elsewhere, so I won’t recount all of the related information here – but in short, prior investigations into the reasoning behind using the MQA software have resulted in the transmission of this rather simple objective: consistency in the transfer process. The MQA encoder is said to “blur” the recording of artifacts that may be introduced in the transfer process, such as “time smear”. Then the MQA decoding and rendering in the DAC is supposed to provide a clean path to bring the music back into the analog domain, without new artifacts being reintroduced during the conversion.
Having some really flawless transfers to work with, one of the things that has impressed me with this release series as a whole is the consistency from track to track. Consider, for example, that there are nine representations on Chick Corea: The Montreux Yearsdating as far back as 1981 and going all the way back to 2006. I contacted the folks at MQA and also Fraser Kennedy, the producer of The Montreux years, who explained via email that the album had indeed been made from a variety of sources, including “1/4 inch analog tape, then hard drives as technology improved”. Given that these recordings were mixed live on the fly, straight to stereo – alas, not multi-tracked, leaving no real room for “remixing” – and recorded by four different engineers over the years, this track-to-track consistency makes Chick Corea: The Montreux Years all the more remarkable.
Kudos to Kennedy and mastering engineer Tony Cousins for taking on this challenge of bringing together 30 years of recordings to create such an enjoyable listening experience. They created a beautiful album with great sequencing and rhythm. You would have a hard time distinguishing between analog and digital recordings used in the making of this album. The Montreal years sounds rich and warm, without any of those harsh, crusty edges that can occur from poor transfers and sloppy digital processing. This was undoubtedly a project to be handled with care.
Of course, as you’d expect from Chick Corea (who died aged 79 in 2021), the performances here are exemplary. Consider some of the players who accompany Corea on this album, including bass players Gary Peacock John Patitucci, Avashai Cohen and Christian McBride; drummers Roy Haynes and Dave Weckl; and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Kenny Garrett, Eric Marienthal and Bob Berg – oh, and there’s also a track with the Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra for good measure.
Some of my favorites on Chick Corea: The Montreux Years include Chick’s wonderful 1981 cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle Trinkle”. Undoubtedly an homage to the classic Jazzland Records version Monk recorded with John Coltrane, this performance with Joe Henderson on sax somehow retains the Monk feel, but sounds decidedly Chick Corea. It features a lovely epic bass solo from Gary Peacock, and is overall a marvel of freewheeling fun and crazy fantasy.
While we’re talking about the fancy stuff, “Interlude” (from a 2004 performance by Chick’s Elektric Band) is a fun call-and-response segment of the gig where Chick engages the audience to follow his lead, and in fact to sing the melodic lines he throws at them. Obviously, a Montreux Jazz Festival audience is more musically inclined than others, and I bet a good percentage of them are musicians themselves. It’s always wonderful – sometimes even amazing! — to hear a concert hall sing the quirky melodies of Chick, and with a lot of precision. In a word, Chick Corea: The Montreux Years is fun – and how often do you get to say this on a jazz recording?
“Bud Powell” is a Corea classic, and this 2010 version is smoking hot. In fact, all of Chick Corea: The Montreux Years pretty much smokes – so overall I’m pretty happy with the song choices here that aren’t the usual fare (i.e., don’t expect to hear hits like “Spain”, for example). I also really enjoyed the version of “Quartet No. 2 (Part 1)” by The Chick Corea Akoustic Band, recorded in 1988.
Consistent with other albums in this series that I have reviewed, the thick, dark black 180g vinyl of Chick Corea: The Montreux Years (which was made in Germany, at Optimal) is quiet and well centered. Each of the 2LPs is housed in an inner sleeve with custom full-color artwork and liner notes. The cover is so pretty it is almost suitable for framing.
At this point, you’re probably getting the idea that, if you’re a Chick Corea fan, you’ll probably want this new Chick Corea retrospective of her many performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Today, September 23, is the official release date of this album, in fact, so you will easily find Chick Corea: The Montreux Years available for $39.99 via the link provided below, and/or at your favorite well-stocked vinyl store. Have it!
(Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who’s also worked in marketing communications for decades. He’s reviewed music for AudiophileReview.com, among others, and you can see more of his impressive resume on LinkedIn.)
THE MONTREUX YEARS
180g 2LP (Montreal Sounds/BMG)
In front of
1. Fingerprints (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 2001)
2. Bud Powell (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 2010)
1. Quartet n°2 (Pt.1) (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 1988)
2. Interlude (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 2004)
1. Who’s inside the piano (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 1993)
2. Dignity (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 2001)
3. America (Continents Pt. 4) (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 2006)
1. New Waltz (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 1993)
2. Trinkle Tinkle (Live – Montreux Jazz Festival 1981)