May 18, 2024

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CD review: Don Grusin – Out of Thin Air 2021: Video, CD cover

In case you don’t know, this is the first release from PS Audio’s Octave Records, which, to paraphrase, was founded to support musicians and covers 100% of the production costs so that artists may share in the sales revenues.

Their first release is a solo piano offering by the well-known Don Grusin, a pianist with a long discography of high-level stuff. So they have the best recording equipment and a well-known and credible artist. That was good enough for me to pop for the $29, as I am a big fan of solo piano music and always anxious to hear a company’s attempt at a “perfect” piano recording. My words, not theirs. PS Audio never claimed perfection, just that they were trying. OK – on to the music. I think that if you buy this disc, you should let it play in the background once before any serious listening in order to reset your expectations of the content.

The compositions, if you want to call them that, are very well-played and recorded ramblings, with hints of jazz, classical and whatever. They remind me of background music for a B-movie. Very well done, but nothing that would ever distract you from the film, which is exactly what they are supposed to do. Or picture a piano player in a fancy hotel lobby filling the space with “piano”, but without ever drawing any serious attention to themselves. The songs seem to have no form. You know, ABA, AAB, whatever. Every song is one long A. Absolutely nothing memorable whatsoever. Legally, copyright attaches at the moment of creation, but it would not be necessary to copyright these songs because they would never be copied by anybody. While this sounds negative, as someone who spent the first half of his life as a professional musician, I fully understand that Grusin, as a well-known name performer, is not going to put his best compositions on a no-name (for now) recording that nobody other than audiophiles will ever even know about. So IMO, he is totally absolved for the musical content. As to the quality of the recording, it is big, well-balanced and natural with the right amount of reverb and compression. Very good, but not the best I’ve heard. But the sonics are limited by my system and people with better stuff might come to a different conclusion. Remember also, I was not playing the SACD layer, which may be better on a very expensive player.

So while I will not say more on the actual sound, I do feel qualified to comment on the “perspective” of the recording, which I do not believe is system dependent. Perspective, as I am using it, refers to where the listener is standing/seated in relationship to the performer. Are you 10th-row center, seated at the piano bench, 10 feet away on stage? Perspective. And unfortunately, IMO, here’s where PS Audio made a poor choice. And it was a choice. I think that, in their attempt to be “audiophile”, the listener gets the impression that someone drilled a hole in the soundboard and the listener’s head is sticking up through a hole into the guts of the instrument. I think this was done to appeal to the non-musician audiophile with little experience of how a live piano sounds in actual space, but I think will be highly distracting to anyone who has actually sat behind a real piano or listened to a live piano in a relatively small space. Like a living room for example. The perspective reminds me of the old audiophile classic, Midnight Sugar, which was the darling of audio salons back in the day. Meticulously recorded, mastered and pressed, but with that “head inside the piano” perspective that made it very difficult to listen to.

Also, the piano playing on Midnight Sugar was highly amateurish at best, which was probably more of the reason I didn’t listen to it much. Summing up, as they say – While this review sounded negative, I’m certainly not sorry I bought the discs. I’ll probably listen to it a few more times while I’m working at home and, come to think of it, that’s what it is perfect for. Well-played, well-recorded solo piano that will never distract you from whatever you are trying to accomplish, but sounds really good in the background. Plus, I want to applaud PS Audio for trying to put out some actual product. It’s a lot easier to talk about something than to do it. I wish them all the success with Octave Records. PS- no pun intended.  IMO, some examples of recordings with a more realistic perspective are the Dick Hyman recordings on Reference Recordings, as well as the Rachmaninoff and Gould re-performance recordings on Zenph.

  1. Classical September (3:44)
  2. Carência (3:42)
  3. Hermano Hildago (11:52)
  4. The Last Train (6:11)
  5. 2-minute Study in E (2:02)
  6. Willow Dance (6:42)
  7. When Last We Spoke (3:34)
  8. Grusin Likes Gershwin (3:10)
  9. Self-Quarantine (4:55)
  10. Jam Suite 1 – Keyroes (7:30)
  11. Jam Suite 2 – Colorado Peach Jam (8:15)
  12. So Nan Desu (8:41)

Don Grusin – piano

Out of Thin Air | HIGHRESAUDIO

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