Tonight I made time to carry out some attentive listening to the Bruford 5.1 mixes.
>>> Executive Summary: I can live with these discs, there is enough in the package to have it
Qualifiers: One Of A Kind is burned into my head the way DSOTM or Sgt. Peppers may be burned into yours. The Maxell C-90XL-IIS cassette of that album went to the moon and back. I bought Feels Good To Me later and considered it less satisfying by comparison. I can begin to see that is unfair; probably skewed by the presence of Annette Peacock. She's great, but I when first hear her voice in this context I have to get used to it every time. Saw them play live when Gradually Going Tornado came out, enjoyed the Bruford Tapes as well. Haven't heard the unreleased live or 4th album rehearsals as yet. As for technical detailed comparisons, there are others here that can do that so much better that I which is great as I don't really have the inclination to do much of that.
Music Review: Because the box showed up just as I was getting ready to travel for a week, I got right into One Of A Kind immediately. Having just moved the 5.1 system components to a different wall, I was less confident that channel volumes were where they used to be due to a Denon microprocessor reset to the settings. Tonight I am more confident that things are back to familiar settings I can trust to form a judgment of what I'm hearing. Decided that it would be a twist to start with the Feels Good To Me 5.1 DVD and started enjoying it right away. Because I am less familiar with this album (less expectations baggage but also less tuned for differences from existing mix too) it sounded fresh and interesting in a way that it would not if it was burned into my head. Oh yeah, I remember this tune or I heard it on Bruford Tapes at some point. There really is a lot of stellar interplay here even if the tunes are not as good as those on One Of Kind. All well and good, it was time to take OOAK for another spin. Off to the races with Hell's Bells; it always seems dull sounding (dry) on cymbals whether it's CD or vinyl and I console myself once again that this is how the album has always sounded like that. I attribute this expectation to that undecoded Dolby cassette that gave me that brighter top end. (and we LIKED it) Unlike Feels Good To Me, it is much more difficult for me to maintain average listening volume with OOAK as there are truly emotional peak moments within these tracks that simply call for increasing the gain! There were two moments where the peak would musically sound different either by levels applied or something previously buried rearing its' head in the mix. This can be disconcerting the first time because it's simply not "what comes next" in my head. I can report that this second playback was far more enjoyable that the first as it was free of some ecstatic expectations for this desert island disc.
Surround Mix Review: Both albums have similar mixes so I will speak in a general sense. I must first say these discs have DISCRETE elements overall which comes as some relief. Dave Stewart's keyboards are creatively placed around the room. As a bass player, I expected the brilliant interplay between Bruford and Berlin to be showcased as the righteous, creative foundation that it is. Berlin's bass is present in the LFE and that's the way I would want it! This for the most part is true; my hurried car playback before I left gave me the impression it was clumsy or inarticulate. I'll have to revisit that with settings verified. The curious thing for me with these mixes, is that the drums seem trapped in a cage in the front and center position much of the time. Sometimes there is a sense of a larger drums presence by way of other drum kit elements reaching back from the front soundstage. Since the credits reveal Bill Bruford's own involvement in the mixes, this must be the way he preferred it to sound or was unaware of other approaches.
Box Set Comments: Okay much of this has been noted; the box is 1) an inch wider than any other 12x12 box you own, 2) has NOTHING for name lettering on the black spine, but you know its this one cause it's sticking out on the shelf! The gatefold sleeves that hold the discs are plain glossy black to ensure you're always guessing which sleeve has the disc you want. The Young Person's Guide sized "booklet" seems adequate, haven't read Sid Smith's worthy wordsmithing just yet. The onscreen graphics for the discs feel like 1997 laserdisc or early DVD but functional. Menu music clips used here as if their annoying presence hadn't been realized long ago. Apparently they didn't really study any existing box sets for style points or configuration, preferring to take what seems like a direction in the spirit of Red Green (TV loon). Yes I'll keep it for a number of smaller reasons that still add up somehow.