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Belafonte at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert in 3 Channel SACD Stereo

05-24-2015 | By Brian Moura | Issue 78

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert

Photo: Courtesy of Acoustic Sounds

Sometimes, the best things are worth waiting for. That's certainly the case with this week's long-awaited release of the Living Stereo album Belafonte at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert in 3 Channel SACD Stereo on the Analogue Productions label.

I'm sure that most of the people reading this review are very familiar with the preious releases of Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. Some consider it to be the best live album of all-time. It features Belafonte and a 47-piece orchestra performing many of his most famous hits. The album certainly put Harry Belafonte on the map when it was originally recorded in April 1959 and released on vinyl LP later that year.

Many Versions over the Years

Over the years, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall has seen many versions. This has included releases of the album in mono and 2-channel Stereo in CD, vinyl LP and two editions in JVC's K2 HD CD format—a one CD edition as well as an expanded 2-CD edition with more of the original concert (19 tracks), albeit at a premium price ($60).

During the early days of the SACD format, RCA's Hong Kong division issued the album on a Hybrid Stereo SACD in its standard one-disc lineup. Unfortunately RCA Hong Kong was working from a second or third generation tape when this SACD was created. It resulted in a stereo SACD that was only a slight improvement over earlier editions sonically—and a disappointment to many.

A Big Announcement

At last year's edition of The Show in Newport Beach, I reported on the popular DSD Panel that our editor David Robinson hosts twice a year to update the industry and music fans on the world of SACD and DSD Audio. At that event, Chad Kassem owner of Acoustic Sounds and Analogue Productions announced that he had licensed the rights to reissue Belafonte at Carnegie Hall in a never-heard-before 3-Channel Stereo SACD edition that would include 22 tracks, 3 more than had been previously released. The Analogue Productions version of the album would be titled Belafonte at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert to emphasize the additional music and tracks.

The news was greeted with enthusiasm following his company's earlier triumphs with Analogue Production SACD releases of 3-channel analog master tape recordings transferred to 3-channel stereo SACD of classic recordings by Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Betty Carter and The Weavers.

The 3-Channel Stereo SACD Arrives

Well, it's taken longer than expected—almost a year has passed since the original news—but the moment fans have been waiting for has arrived. Belafonte at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert in 3-channel SACD Stereo is now available for purchase. The final release comes on two discs (1 SACD and 1 CD) which Analogue Productions tells us is due to the length of the full concert on this release (1 hour and 48 minutes of music and live performances!).

Disc 1 is a hybrid SACD with the complete concert in 3-channel SACD Stereo, SACD Stereo and tracks 1-10 in CD Stereo. Disc 2 is a Stereo CD with tracks 11-22 of the concert. This results in a slightly higher priced SACD release than usual ($40 vs. the $30 for one-disc SACDs from Analogue Productions, but still under the $60 the 2-CD Set from JVC).

As promised, the 3-Channel SACD Stereo edition uses the original 3-channel analog master tapes and features the entire concert including two bonus tracks. The new SACD was mastered by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound and is now available from Acoustic Sounds.

Some Thoughts from Analogue Productions

The team at Analogue Productions is very excited about the release of Belafonte at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert in 3-channel SACD Stereo. They tell us:

"We've gone all out for this deluxe reissue. Starting with premier mastering by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound from the original analog tapes.

Belafonte's mastery in front of an audience was never better displayed than here, a mastery that resulted in him becoming one of the most popular concert draws in history. Producer Bob Bollard and orchestra leader Bob Corman deftly integrated the 47-piece orchestra into the performance but knew when to lie back to let Belafonte sing, accompanied by a small combo of two guitars, bass, and percussion. The concert is divided in three sections: Moods of the American Negro, In the Caribbean, and "Around the World." All the hits are here: "Day O," "Jamaica Farewell," "Mama Look a Boo Boo," and others, plus calypso, folk songs, chain gang songs, spirituals, and songs from other lands, representing a veritable best-of package of Belafonte's first decade with RCA Victor.

From the opening trumpet fanfare and brief orchestral overture to the epic 12-minute version of "Matilda" (which set a standard for audience participation), the album never lets up. It is exciting, poignant, thrilling, intimate, and at times, spontaneously hilarious. Have a seat, sip a beverage and enjoy!"

It's Time to Have a Listen

After opening up the 2-disc package from Acoustic Sounds, there is only one thing left to do and that is to give this new 3-channel SACD Stereo release a listen. The album's producer and recording engineer chose to record the album with the musicians in the background and Belafonte up front. On the 3-channel SACD version of the album that makes Belafonte's bold singing style and energy even more dramatic and electric. It also eliminates the need to turn up the sound level when listening to the album. The difference between the orchestra and Belafonte's vocals, especially when set off by the sonic quality of SACD, is all you need to enjoy this dramatic and compelling vocal performance.

Sonically, I enjoyed the excellent sound stage and presentation of the album. It is very well recorded with very natural sound of instruments like the guitar, bongo drums, strings and horns. Audience applause is well distributed across the 3 speakers at the end of each song.

This edition of the album has 3 extra tracks—comments by Belafonte after the end of the concert, an encore selection ("Scarlet Ribbons") and a closing medley of the songs in the concert done instrumentally by the orchestra.

When the 3-channel SACD edition of Belafonte at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert was first announced, I asked Chad Kassem how it would compare to the earlier editions on vinyl LP, CD and SACD. He confidently predicted that Analogue Productions use of the original master tapes and the work of the team at Sterling Sound would surpass all earlier releases.

After listening to this new 3 Channel SACD edition I can tell you he was right. The 3-channel SACD of Belafonte at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert is a standout. The SACD has excellent imaging, sonics, acoustics and sound. There is no doubt; this is the definitive edition of this classic live recording, and a must-have for every Belafonte fan and serious music collector.

Chad Kassem Gives HiRez Audio Update in Newport Beach

Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez Web Site – Stereo DSD 64 Downloads

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall

Nat King Cole – The Nat King Cole Story

Ray Charles and Betty Carter

The Weavers – Reunion at Carnegie Hall, 1963