Al Di Meola – One of These Nights DVD Review
Price: $19.98 | Get the Best Price
What a funky box, I thought when I unwrapped this DVD. Like most people, I am used to having to unwrap the DVD, fight with three different security tapes along the edges, and spend hours trying to get the last remnants of the glue off the cover. This box had none of that. In fact, it isn't even plastic - it is cardboard. All I had to do was rip off the plastic wrap and - tada! - the box opened right up. A tear appeared in the corner of my eye as I encountered what was one of the most enjoyable first experiences with a DVD of my life... which was a little short lived once I realized that the box was never going to stay shut on its own. A quick examination revealed a mechanism to hold the lid down, but the cardboard had deformed so that it was rendered inoperable. With a sigh, I prepared to review what, I was told, was one of the great guitar players, known for infusing Latin rhythms into his Jazz performances.
Discs are listened to a minimum of twice with at least a 24 hour separation between the listening sessions. During session one, notes are taken on the subjective experience of the implementation of the DTS surround sound mix (in this case, except track 1 - mixed in DTS-ES) along with notes on other features. During session two, the original notes are compared and expanded upon during the listening experience. Additional listening sessions are added as needed. Before each session, speaker calibration is checked using an SPL meter and the test-tones on the receiver, in this case the Denon AVR-3805 .
(see Audio Quality and Surround Implementation )
4) Orient Blue
5) Rhapsody Of Fire
6) This Way Before
7) One Night Last June
10) Beyond The Mirage
11) Egyptian Danza
Progressive jazz has a distinct and sometimes confusing sound. Usually, one of the band members will carry the beat and/or the melody while the others will solo on their own. What this amounts to is moments when it seems no one is playing the same song. They are all taking cues from each other and building on what the others are playing. To the uninitiated, it may sound a little disjointed. Adding the Latin rhythms adds yet another layer of complexity to the mix.
Overall, the Audio Quality of this instrumental DVD is amazing. All the percussive instruments, especially the cymbals, sound incredibly life-like and clear. The piano and string instruments (2 violins, 1 cello, and 1 viola) are all well blended together yet still (for the most part) retain their unique contributions that the listener can pick out if they desire. The key, of course, is the lead guitar. Di Meola's guitar playing is nothing sort of amazing. After the first few minutes I realized two things: 1) his fingers bend in ways that are completely unnatural and 2) man, is he fast! The accuracy and speed at which he plays the guitar is simply stunning. Any fan of the guitar in general (or jazz guitar in specific) will really be impressed by this man's talent.
One thing that may or may not agree with you is Di Meola's use of a Roland pedal assembly (looked very large and complicated and a little research on my part revealed that it was actually three different machines all hooked together). I know it is Roland as they tend to put their name in big block letters across the front of everything they make (which is why I believe they don't make speaker cables - not enough advertising space). This pedal assembly can make Di Meola's guitar sound like anything (it seems) though it tended to fluctuate between a pure guitar sound and something that sounds like a sitar run through a keyboard. I'm not making any value judgments about changing the sound of a guitar so dramatically, I'm just informing you.
The only critique I have about the Audio Quality is that there were times that I thought the guitar was a little buried under the sound of the other instruments. There are a few reasons that I could be wrong about this (though I don't think I am):
The guitar can also be a backup instrument and therefore this may have been the role that it was playing during the moments in question (doubtful).
Changing the guitar sound so dramatically may have tricked my ears into thinking that it was being recessed when in fact it was just different sounding (possible).
The 4.1 format somehow changed the nature of the sound, obscuring the guitar (extremely unlikely).
On my second, third, fourth, and fifth listens to this album (you getting the picture here?), I tried to prove one of the reasons above correct but was unable to find an explanation for every instance where the guitar was overshadowed by the other instruments. The fact is that the guitar should be the focal point of every song on this album - and if it is not, that decision should be obvious (if that makes any sense). During a guitar solo, having the other instruments overshadow it seems counterintuitive.
First of all, this video is presented in 4.1 surround - typically thought of as a gaming surround format. I'm not sure but it seems to me that the only reason to mix music for 4.1 is if you are running four identical speakers around but also have a sub. I would guess that most people that are running four identical speakers would be running four full range speakers which tends to negate the necessity of a sub in my mind. But this is neither here nor there, it just seemed odd to me.
There really wasn't much to the Surround Implementation to speak of. No side to side movement, no instruments coming out of one speaker for the whole album, no, well, anything really. Other than expanding the sound around the room I could not discern any specific use of the surrounds at all. Even the audience was spread around the room equally so you never really got that "live" feeling of being placed in the audience. It was more like stereo sound using four speakers. I'm hesitant to even give it a score as there was potential and they did nothing with it.
Ack. I'm starting to think live performances shouldn't be filmed. I've said in the past that you can either light a stage for the audience or for the camera. This film chose the later. I'm ok with that in principle but you really need to plan out how things will look once you film it. Get the stage hands out of the way, buy some good looking fans and take the WalMart specials back, dim the lights in the audience, take the bumper sticker off the piano, wipe down both of the guitars and the piano, match the blacks when you Photoshop out the cameras in the orchestral pit, get rid of the Plexiglas between the violins and the drummer (what, has he been known to throw sticks and the violinists are afraid for their eyes?), and try the keep the other cameras/cameramen out of the way. The problem is, when you have stark white lighting (I know that it is really a mixture of amber and blue but it looks white) EVERYTHING shows up. You really need to plan carefully.
Overall, I thought the filming was done pretty well. There seemed to be a hierarchy of importance with Al Di Meola being the most important to be filmed (rightfully so) followed by the two percussionists, the pianist, and the strings (which saw very little film time and almost no close-ups).
There seemed to be a large number of cameras: some fixed, some handheld, and some on large booms suspended over the audience. These cameras had relatively good coverage, but there were also some gaps. The pianist was filmed primarily from the side and behind; and the percussionist (as opposed to the drummer) played an instrument between his legs that you never could see (I'm refraining from the obvious jokes here). There were times that it seemed that, if there was any other shot available, certainly it must have been better than the one they used. Overall, I thought the filming was done rather well and gave the viewer a good look at what was happening onstage.
As I mentioned previously, as far as the audience - there was far too much light in the room. I've never been to a concert that had that much light on the audience. Personally, as an audience member, I enjoy having the house lights dimmed; it helps everyone focus on what is on stage and basically shut up. The pans of the audience were generally OK though there is always that one guy that is just too cool to clap. Audience interaction was at a minimum (an "OK, here we go" at the beginning and a couple of introductions of the band members) but this was probably because it was filmed in Germany and he didn't seem to (or attempt to) speak German.
Lastly, and I only mention this for you non-jazz aficionados out there, be prepared for the faces. You jazz people already know what I'm talking about. When a jazz player (and to some extent any musician but particularly in jazz) get "into" what they are playing, they make faces. Some have one face, others alternate. Be prepared to see expressions of surprise, disgust, indigestion, pain, sour, "o" face, and many, many others. It can get a little creepy when they start making those faces at each other, but a real jazz fan would already be making their own faces and probably not notice.
The DVD extras included a loooooooooooong written biography of Al Di Meola (the man has been in the business forever) and a "making of" video good for a view or two. While there was nothing spectacular in the Extras, in my opinion there was nothing wrong. There could have been more, but what they included was at least interesting.
This was, by far, the hardest review I've ever done. I'm a fan of all kinds of music, but the atonal and arhythmic nature of this album challenged my listening skills like never before. This type of Latin-influenced Jazz fusion may not be for everyone, but I believe that most will be able to appreciate, if nothing else, the skill of the performers. While the Surround Implementation is Spartan at best, the Audio Quality and the ability to see the performers in action more than makes up for this lack of originality. If Jazz Fusion isn't for you, this may not be either, but if it is, Al Di Meola is by far one of the best guitarists I've ever heard or seen.