John Snyder's resuscitated Artists House label has just blown to hell all assumptions about what $16.98 should buy you in an album. Island contains a DVD with the entire recording in two audio formats: a 24-bit/96 kHz stereo mix and a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital surround mix. That same DVD also contains video: a documentary section with commentary from all five musicians and footage from the recording session, solo transcriptions and analyses and discussions of songs by their composers, in-depth interviews with all five players and spoken bios of the two leaders. If you have a DVD-ROM drive on your computer, you can access Web links and printable files including lead sheets, transcribed solos and discographies as well as encoded MP3s of the recording. As a concession to antiquarians, the package also contains a throw-in regular CD.
Of the audio formats, the 24/96 mix is subtly but consistently superior, like adjusting a focus ring just a hair and sharpening the clarity and detail. The 5.1 channel mix is yet another shot across the bow in the multichannel-for-music wars, and mixing engineer John Klett uses the technology tastefully. Properly executed, three channels across the front are more fun than two. The ambient information in the rear channels creates a convincing illusion of musical space.
Oh, by the way, the music is first class. Bob Brookmeyer and Kenny Wheeler had never recorded together before, and it would have been reasonable to wonder whether the former's linear, logical language would complement the latter's personal harmonic unpredictability and floating melodicism. No worries. Brookmeyer's valve trombone and Wheeler's flugelhorn irrefutably belong together, in a common zone of golden color and rich timbre, whether flowing and commingling or arraying exactitudes of counterpoint or suggestively offsetting, in contrapuntal opposition. Both provide memorable, fresh, bittersweet songs for this project. Wheeler's "Before the First Time" could become a standard. Its "simple 32 bars" (in Wheeler's description) are like the gradual release of one long sigh of sadness. Brookmeyer describes his "Song for Kenny" as "too pretty, on the edge of corny." It is not. Not when played by these two definitive, lyrical, unsentimental horns.
This package is a total immersion in a particular musical undertaking. The interview and session footage is amateurish as videography, but its cinema verite quality creates a unique sense of intimacy with these artists. The members of the rhythm section-pianist Frank Carlberg, bassist Jeremy Allen and drummer John Hollenbeck-are not only articulate on their instruments, in their interviews they provide revelatory details about this music's meaning and intention and offer insights into what makes the two leaders special.