Thanks to the dedication of audiophile specialty labels like Audio Fidelity, Analogue Productions, and Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, the high-resolution Super Audio CD (SACD) format remains alive and well. Yet most of these labels’ recent releases have featured stereo mixes only. Audio Fidelity is finally making its first major leap into the world of 5.1 multi-channel surround sound with two upcoming reissues of classic albums including one long-coveted title. On August 5, the label will premiere Al Kooper’s never-before-issued surround mix of his seminal 1968 Super Session album, a collaborative effort with Michael Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. The label also restores to print the surround mix of George Benson’s 1976 commercial breakthrough Breezin’, which topped the U.S. Pop, Jazz and R&B Albums charts. In addition, both of these hybrid CD releases will also happily feature the albums’ original stereo mixes as newly remastered by Steve Hoffman. (The stereo mixes will be playable on both the SACD and standard CD layers whereas the surround mixes, of course, can only be played on SACD-compatible players.)
Having departed his group Blood, Sweat and Tears, Al Kooper was working in A&R (Artists and Repertoire) for the band’s label Columbia Records when he conceived of a blues-rock jam session record with Mike Bloomfield of The Electric Flag and Paul Butterfield Blues Band fame. Enlisting Barry Goldberg and Harvey Brooks (both of The Electric Flag) and “Fast” Eddie Hoh for support, producer-keyboardist Kooper booked two days of studio time in Los Angeles in May 1968. The group jammed on a number of songs the first day, including Kooper/Bloomfield originals “Albert’s Shuffle,” “Really” and the John Coltrane tribute “His Holy Modal Majesty.” When Bloomfield failed to show up for the second day of the session, however, Kooper called in young gun Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield. The guitar slinger joined Kooper for songs by Bob Dylan (“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”), Donovan (“Season of the Witch”), bluesman Willie Cobb and bassist Brooks. With both Bloomfield and Stills firing on all cylinders, Kooper’s Super Session, issued in July 1968, went on to a Gold certification.
Kooper revisited Super Session early in the 2000s for a 5.1 surround mix to be issued by Legacy Recordings alongside a new surround mix of BS&T’s Child is Father of the Man. Unfortunately with the label abandoning the SACD format, both titles were relegated to the vaults. Kooper confirmed this in 2004: “They both came out incredible and so I mastered them with Bob Ludwig. Now it seems they will languish on the shelves…” Audio Fidelity has belatedly come to the rescue. The label’s deluxe Super Session reissue will feature new liner notes by the great raconteur Kooper chronicling both the making of the album and the 5.1 mix. Kooper’s mix, mastered by Ludwig, will be joined by a new mastering of the stereo tracks for SACD Stereo and CD Stereo by engineer Steve Hoffman.
After the jump: details on the new edition of George Benson's Breezin', and more!
Wes Montgomery disciple George Benson completed his leap from jazz to mainstream pop and R&B when he departed Creed Taylor’s CTI label for Warner Bros. Records in 1976. The guitarist's gamble more than paid off. His primarily-instrumental WB debut Breezin’, produced by jazz vet Tommy LiPuma, topped three Billboard charts (Jazz, Pop, R&B) as did the single of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade” with Benson on vocals and guitar. Benson was joined by a top-tier roster of musicians: keyboardists Ronnie Foster and Jorge Dalto, rhythm guitarist Phil Upchurch, drummer Harvey Mason, bass player Stanley Banks and percussionist Ralph MacDonald.
The triple-platinum album, which also featured Bobby Womack’s title track and songs by Upchurch, Foster, Benson and Jose Feliciano, cleaned up at the 1977 Grammys. It won Best Pop Instrumental Performance for Benson and Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) for Al Schmitt and was nominated as Album of the Year for Tommy LiPuma and Benson. "This Masquerade" received Record of the Year for LiPuma and Benson, along with nominations for Song of the Year for Leon Russell and as Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, for Benson.
Original engineer Al Schmitt’s surround mix of Breezin’ was previously issued in DVD-Audio format by Warner Bros. in 2002 and reissued in 2011 in Japan by Warner Bros. on SHM-SACD. Audio Fidelity’s new edition boasts Schmitt’s mix mastered by Doug Sax, and new stereo SACD and CD remastering by Steve Hoffman.
Both titles are due to arrive on August 5 and can be pre-ordered below!
Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills, Super Session (Audio Fidelity AFZ5 186, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Albert’s Shuffle
- Man’s Temptation
- His Holy Modal Majesty
- It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
- Season of the Witch
- You Don’t Love Me
- Harvey’s Tune
George Benson, Breezin’ (Audio Fidelity AFZ5 185, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- This Masquerade
- Six to Four
- So This Is Love?
I have to confess that whilst the 5.1 of SuperSession is welcome, the Benson title is a strange choice having already been released to less than stellar reviews from the Surround community.
SACD is also an odd choice - specialist hardware is required & DSD is not an ideal format and is neither high resolution or audiophile quality. DVD-A/V would have made much more sense from a commercial point of view given there are in excess of 500,000,000 DVD players out there, and Blu-Ray audio would have made more sense than SACD as well. At $30, I shall pass on both.
Not me! Can't wait!
I'm in for Super Session and can't wait for Al's surround mix for the debut by his group Blood, Sweat and Tears, which he also prepared and delivered to CBS, which kindly sat on it for years. And, given the quality of the surround mix of the Chicago debut that Rhino released a few years ago, I hope that Audio Fidelity will mine the archive of other four-channel mixes of classic albums that were prepared and released in the 70s for its SACDs.