DVD: Art Farmer

Farmer DVD.jpgArt Farmer, Live in ’64 (Jazz Icons). Farmer’s quartet with guitarist Jim Hall was one of the greatest small groups in jazz history. For this television appearance, he featured pieces never released in the quartet’s recordings. Among them are an exhilarating “Bilbao Song,” Sonny Rollins’s “Valse Hot” and Cole Porter’s “So in Love.” Steve Swallow is the bassist, Pete LaRoca the drummer. Deeply experienced together by this time, the four were breathtaking in their individual and collective performance. The BBC-TV video is crisp, the audio clear. This is a jewel in Jazz Icons’ eagerly anticipated fourth release.

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  1. Jim Brown says

    I just received the new Jazz Icons set and have been enjoying them, but I am VERY troubled by what I heard (or did not hear) on the Art Farmer set. The sound track suffers from VERY bad post production work that causes us to miss much of the rhythm section’s work behind solos. What I’m hearing is wildly excessive noise reduction, intended to kill tape hiss, but having the unintended result of also killing much of what Pete was playing. This is most annoying on the ballads.
    There are two possible causes. 1) The original recording had noise reduction (Dolby or dbx) and the playback system didn’t decode it properly. 2) The post production engineer decided that there was too much tape hiss, so he applied after-the-fact noise reduction in the editing software. Both of these are post-production errors, not the fault of the original recording.
    As you probably know, I’m no purist with respect to sound and jazz recordings, but am concerned with the musicality of what I hear, and the result really degrades that. It’s so bad that I’d like to send the DVD back as defective, have them recall it, and remaster it. As your review notes, the music is great, and demands far better treatment.
    A purist would complain about the rather high level of distortion on this DVD, but that would be wrong — the audio track on videotape (and some film systems) in those days didn’t have a lot of dynamic range, so recordings usually hit the tape pretty hard to avoid hiss. Also, video studios often had poor audio monitoring — as late as the mid-70s, the CBS O&O WBBM-TV was producing the Mike Douglas show with the audio guy listening to a cheap 8-inch ceiling speaker mounted over the mix console (all rotary pots, no EQ) — so they couldn’t hear the distortion they were putting on the tape.
    There are other disturbing lapses in audio quality in what I’ve heard so far, but this is the only thing I can blame on the Jazz Icons producers. For example, the mic used for trombone solos and Woody’s vocal on the Woody Herman set was badly distorted. This, combined with the relatively high levels of distortion on the Farmer set, suggest to me that the BBC engineers either weren’t very good listeners or didn’t have good monitoring.