Before discussing this program itself, let’s get a little technical. New York-based composer David Chesky, the piano soloist and producer of this album, has written music intended for our increasingly frenetic times. To create the musical effect that will properly stimulate our aural senses, these pieces were performed on the Yamaha DCFX Mark IV Disklavier Pro Concert Grand Piano, possibly the most technologically advanced instrument of its type on the planet. This instrument can also be loaded with pre-recorded music and function as a faultless player piano. The recording was aided by the proprietary Bruel & Kjaer 4100 Head and Torso simulator system, a joint project with Princeton faculty member Edgar Choueiri, director of the 3D3A (3D Audio and Applied Acoustics) Laboratory. For the youngsters out there, the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center was the 1960s-1970s hot bed of creativity for avant-garde composers like Milton Babbitt and Charles Dodge. With that pedigree in mind, Professor Choueiri, by trade a physicist but by avocation an audiophile and acoustician, set out to create a “3-D” like effect from a stereo speaker array without compromising the music’s acoustic properties. How well this effect is carried off is discussed in the audio assessment section.
The New York Rags are 18 short piano solos, most lasting less than three minutes. Taking their cue from 19th century African-American dance numbers, rags were characterized by highly syncopated or “ragged” rather than smoothly flowing musical lines. Here, pianist/composer Chesky has created a scale-model sonic world of the Big Apple with most of the selections named after specific locations, as indicated in the playlist below. Unlike Scott Joplin’s earlier and well known piano rags, Chesky’s pieces feature a 21st century zeitgeist with a nervous, often jumpy “stride” style that recalls the fast pace of New York where things often happen without much warning. Looking back at the past, you will hear a good bit of George Gershwin, notably his Preludes for Piano or An American in Paris, as well as other influences, as in Rag No. 2, “The Bernstein,” that recalls dance sequences from West Side Story or in Rag No.3, “The Duke,” an homage to jazz great Edward Kennedy Ellington. Be sure to listen for “Old MacDonald” in the “Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
Playlist: Rags: 1-18
- The New Yorker
- The Bernstein
- The Duke
- Times Square
- Fourth Street
- Third Avenue
- Broadway Boogie Woogie
- Fifth Avenue
- Grand Central Morning
- Seventh Avenue
- The Circle at Fifth
- The Park Avenue Rag
- The Thanksgiving Day Parade Rag
- Kids You’re Late for School Rag
- The Manhattan Blues Variations Rag
- Penn Station
- The J Walker Rag
- The Coney Island Rag
This is the second Chesky Binaural+ recording that I have heard, the first being Mark Sherman/ Lenny White/Jamey Haddad download, Explorations in Time and Space, recorded in both stereo and binaural versions. The present recording is offered in three resolutions ranging from 192kHz/24-bit to 44.1kHz/16-bit. Not having the Red Book CD on hand for comparison, I cannot comment on how much better this hi-res version sounds. However, with a recording this good, why stop at a silver disk?
How good is the 3D3A sound processing? From my listening seat this recording, handled by my digital duo of the Bryston BDP-2 player and BDA-2 DAC, provided the big, rich, and percussive sound of the Yamaha Disklavier as it probably would have been heard in the studio. The sound stage is deep and broad with the piano well focused between the speakers. This is some of the most realistic piano sound that I have ever heard including virtually every keystroke and pedal depression.
There is a set of informative liner notes that covers Chesky’s inspirations for these compositions as well as some nice artwork. More information about the composer is available on his website (www.davidchesky.com). The HDtracks home page (www.HDtracks.com) permits a brief listen to the selections but at a much lower resolution.
The Definitive Word
The New York Rags, in spite of its throw-back title, is very much music of our times with literal echoes of NYC’s famous streets and buildings. I was continually delighted and impressed by how well these compositions capture the pulse of a city that I too have grown to love. Given how fast these selections move, this album, clocking in at 41:30, will be over before you realize it. Once heard, The New York Rags will be replayed frequently, with each reprise bringing even more enjoyment. And, if you like this recording (and I guarantee that you will), check out Chesky’s String Theory, a 2011 set of virtuosic chamber concertos for violin and cello.