Van Morrison: Moondance
Warner Music R2 536560
Stereo/Multichannel Single Layer
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Review by Rick Kosmick - April 2, 2016
Occasionally an album of popular music will be released that is transformational as to be labelled iconic of the genre. Such is “Moondance”. Van Morrison is a unique talent and this album explores his conscious decision to write songs for the popular masses with less artistic intent and more interests in human love, spirituality and the wonders of life filled in with innovative hooks in optimist melodies. The music on this album is a synthesis of rhythm & blues, soul, folk and jazz that is all rolled up into Morrison’s rock and roll (or at least his spin on it). And of course, Morrison's great vocals are so distinctive with emotional expression infusing lyrics with soulful power and mysticism.
“Moondance” is Van Morrison’s third solo release and his first as producer. And he assumed control with his vision of how the music should be presented and, just as critically, how it should sound. He sought out top session players and he was in full charge for placement of instruments interwoven into the fabric of his music. You hear it in the songs. Originally released in 1970, the original mixing engineer was Elliot Scheiner. He remasters Moondance from the original master tapes for this Deluxe Edition and creates the 5.1 remix for the Blu-ray.
The Deluxe Edition liner notes are very informative and include an excellent essay from Alan Light and notes from Elliot Scheiner indicating he worked with the original eight-track masters to come up with a discreet 5.1 mix. He remarks on the difficulty of working with only eight-track masters for his remix and his pleasant surprise on the results of the surround sound when he states ‘it’s amazing how great it turned out’.
Scheiner’s 5.1 mix works on a fundamental basis of placing Morrison’s vocals in all 5 channels. The support at the bottom end is set out by a fine-toned, rich bass and understated drums with both spread out into the 4 corner channels. The vocals, bass and drums remain concentrated in the front and are well balanced in the surround field. Other instruments are discreetly moved around with strategic placement, maximized separation and excellent spatial qualities. It is a multi-dimensional framework that Scheiner holds consistently throughout each of the 10 songs on this album.
In assessing the opening four tracks, one gains a clear sense of the superb 5.1 mixing approach and the excellent production afforded the original recording sessions:
“And It Stoned Me” with it‘s R&B flavour….. Scheiner stakes out Morrison’s great, expressive vocals in all 5 channels as his unique voice becomes an emotional instrument unto itself…. the underscoring of a smooth, deep tone from the bass (John Klingberg) plus restrained drums (Gary Mallaber) that are similarly extended and constant in both front and rear channels….. and exceptional separation between acoustic guitar (L Front), piano (R Front) and sax (R Front).
“Moondance” the self-titled song with it's jazzy swing ….. Scheiner makes some bold decisions to liberally use the centre channel for more than vocals in the mix as he moves some flute and sax in and out…some distinctive piano figures in a solo from Jeff Labes from the L Rear channel while light jazz guitar chords (John Palatania) are discreetly placed in the R Rear…... plus a wonderful alto sax solo from Jack Schroer is placed in the centre channel..... and Morrison’s vocal is concisely clear as he scats reminiscent of a saxophone near the end of the song.
“Crazy Love” is a soulful love ballad….. the intimately of Morrison’s vocals can be heard with his lips literally placed against the microphone and captured with extraordinary clarity that are complimented by female backing vocals softly murmuring from the rear channels..... all the beauty of these vocals are set against a backdrop of delicate percussion and gentle acoustics guitars with breathtaking fidelity.
“Caravan” a joyful song that is uplifting and spiritual….. Morrison, instead of utilizing backing vocals, chooses to double and triple track his vocals and the superb audio of 5.1 reveals the detailed layering involved….. A lilting saxophone plays notes supporting the vocals….. when you hear the lyrics ‘turn up the radio and let me hear the song’ you are transported upward and onward by the expression of Morrison’s thrilling voice.
Elliot Scheiner has created an extraordinary 5.1 mix that captures the majesty of Van Morrison’s performance with studio quality sound and a strong sense of realism. The transparency of vocals and instrumentation is stunning! Morrison’s vocals engulf you with astonishing intimacy! Most importantly, Scheiner is respectful to the music as Morrison shines in the glory of these fabulous songs.
As a point worth noting, the 5.1 Dolby True HD 96K 24-Bit and Stereo Dolby True HD 192K 24-Bit cannot be accessed through the main menu. The default setting for audio is the 5.1 Dolby True HD 96K. In order to access the Stereo setting, you must press the Audio button on your remote (I use an Oppo 95).
And what about the Stereo? The remastered original mix by Scheiner has an exceptional soundstage with warm and detailed sound. The 5.1 mix meanwhile has a more natural brilliant sound. The Stereo is noticeably more bass heavy than the 5.1 which has better bass definition with a nice rich tone. Generally compared to the surround sound, however, the Stereo pales in comparison. If you ever want to hear the benefits of multi-channel audio, "Moondance" is it. And it is very dynamic so you can easily turn up the volume for every nuance of sound.
The Blu-ray is part of a five disc Box Set. There are various recordings from the Moondance sessions of August to November, 1969. It is a classic album worthy of this type of presentation. It all comes down to the matter of cost and value. For me it was an easy decision.
Yes, “Moondance” is timeless music. The Blu-ray is demonstration 5.1 audio at it’s best. It really does not get much better.
Copyright © 2016 Rick Kosmick and HRAudio.net