The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: AIX Records - 2010
Feature running time: 68 minutes
Genre: Acoustic vocal music
Disc Format: BD-25
Video Aspect: 1.78:1
Audio Format(s): Dolby TrueHD 5.1, PCM Stereo 96/24
Performers/Band: John Gorka, Susan Werner, Russ Rentler, Amilia K. Spicer, Michael Manring
Produced by: Mark Waldrep
Region Code: A,B,C
Blu-ray Disc release Date: August 10, 2010
John Gorka – The Gypsy Life is the fourth Blu-ray music title released from AIX Records. John is one of the leading members of the “new folk” movement and a staple at folk festivals and intimate concert halls all over the country. Originally from New Jersey, his songs bring a real world, human aspect to the listening experience. Recorded in December 2007 it was shot/recorded using HD Audio/Video and is comprised of 19 of his best songs. John is joined by his long time friend Russ Rentler on mandolin, Amelia K. Spicer singing background vocals, Susan Werner on piano and background vocals and virtuoso Michael Manring electric bass. The ensemble plays and sings a personal private performance for the listener in 5.1 surround and high definition video.
Founded in 2000, AIX Records needs no introduction among music enthusiasts. With one of the largest catalogs of high definition, surround music recordings in the world they are an award-winning label whose name has become synonymous with high quality. Prior to receiving this disc for review I hadn’t heard of John Gorka. Seeing as I am not particularly a fan of folk style music I guess that makes sense. As someone who is certainly open to most musical genres I went into my initial listening session with an open mind. The performance is conducted in a studio and features John and his ensemble with no audience in a private setting. It isn’t high energy stuff but then again neither is the style of music so it works just fine. The first piece to catch my attention was “Let them in”. It features John on the piano singing lead accompanied by Russ Rentler on mandolin and Michael Manring on the fretless. It’s a beautiful, slow arrangement that pays emotive homage to our young soldiers that have lost their lives. It is followed by a toe tapping ditty called “Mean streak”. It features acoustic guitar, bass, layered vocals and an upbeat tempo that has a roadhouse appeal.
As I watched and listened I couldn’t help but notice the personal aspect in his writing and how it comes across during the performance. I reached for the lyrics and found myself looking to glean as much as possible from his music. Luckily this is a compilation of some of his best material which provides novices like me with an excellent way to experience him for the first time. I wouldn’t say that I am now a folk music convert however I thoroughly enjoyed this selection of music by John and the talented ensemble of musicians that accompanies him. The high quality of the presentation further enhances it by allowing us to experience the performance in a way that replicates the originally recorded elements as closely as possible. It should be noted that there is no sound at the main menu (even though there is moving video). This disc has found a home in my Blu-ray library and I look forward to checking out future high definition Blu-ray releases from AIX Records.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
John Gorka – The Gypsy Life comes to Blu-ray Disc from AIX Records featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 20 mbps and lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Channel Audio that has an average bitrate of 8.2 Mbps.
This presentation was shot on high definition video in a live recording studio environment. As such it doesn’t offer a variety of backgrounds, lighting and other visually engaging elements however the 1.78:1 framed video features pleasing colors, stable contrast and above average shadow detail that stand out well against the indoor static imagery. Fleshtones appear lifelike and quite natural in depiction. Resolution is good but doesn’t rise to a level that would be perceived as transparent. Images are well resolved though and the rendering of detail is appreciable. Blacks are stable but not noticeably strong but based upon the source this isn’t problematic. There is some intermittent aliasing that is primarily visible in the metallic mesh of John’s microphone. Unless you’re looking for it most may not even notice. Overall high definition video quality is naturally satisfying and perfectly suited for the source material.
AIX offers three listening options, two Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless options and 96khz/24-bit stereo (which I didn’t try) and for convenience a 5.1 channel identification test. The TrueHD surround mixes can be listened to in either a “stage” or “audience” presentation which is designed to change the aural perspective. I listened to both and can’t say that I preferred one over the other as each sounds equally good. The “audience” mix is a more traditional style surround mix with the vocals retaining a frontal orientation with low level ambient bleed through the rear channels. The same applies to the backing vocals. The instrumentation is mixed discretely within the soundstage with primary focus on the piano or acoustic guitar. The Mandolin and fretless bass provide articulated harmonic support with rotating prominence at discerning levels based upon the arrangement.
The “stage” mix has similar attributes and places the listener in more of a centrally located position (seemingly on stage) by bringing the lead vocals toward the listening position while increasing the instrumental/backing vocal presence within the rear channels. This is only my interpretation as I am positive that the technicality involved isn’t nearly so simple. Switching between them can be done on the fly which is nice. The outcome in either case is an involving musical experience that features excellent surround sound integration and aural depiction. The instruments and vocals are clearly articulated within the room’s acoustic space and don’t feel confined by the boundaries of the speakers, but ebb and flow with placement that naturally coincides with the performance. As enthusiasts we have grown accustomed to the improved quality that lossless sound has imparted to digital movie soundtracks. Fortunately those same attributes can apply to music which is certainly the case with the superb reproduction on this John Gorka set from AIX.
I don’t consider myself much of a fan of folk style music but couldn’t help but be drawn in by the enveloping, silky smooth and strident free sound in this recording. John Gorka doesn’t have an extensive vocal range but he is always in key and inflectionally adept. I had no trouble discerning the subtle melodic shifts or textural character in his voice. The piano sounds amazing with velvety mid range frequencies that are airy, free of harshness and non-fatiguing. High level detail is in abundance. Listening to the intricately plucked and fervently strummed strings of the mandolin as well as the audible essence in the tonal pitch of the fretless bass is enamoring. Putting it all together in upbeat tunes such as “Mean Streak” proves very rewarding as the room comes to life with toe tapping dynamism, precise imaging and crystal clarity. Slowing things down with “Let them in” provides engaging focus that allows the harmonics in the lead vocal and richness of the melody to shine through. The presentation is designed so it can be enjoyed with or without the video which is a matter of preference that I found worked well either way. As audio/video enthusiasts we strive for improved quality and appreciate attention to detail and I believe that AIX Records shares that philosophy. This is an impressive and well executed Blu-ray offering that is proof of that.
- (HD) John Gorka interview – 3 minutes
- (HD) Behind the scenes – 4 minutes
- (HD) Live performance, Fall 2006 at McCabes – 8 minutes
- Branching out
- Stranger with your hair
- Let them in
- Mean streak
- Flying red horse
- Snow don’t fall
- When she kisses me
- Mercy of the wheels
- I’m from New Jersey
- Italian girls
- Writing in the margins
- Love is our cross to bear
- Houses in the field
- Land of the bottom line
- Road of good intentions
- Blue chalk
- Lightning blues
- The Gypsy life
John Gorka – The Gypsy Life is the fourth Blu-ray music title released from AIX Records. John is one of the leading members of the “new folk” movement and a staple at folk festivals and intimate concert halls all over the country. Recorded in December 2007 it was shot/recorded using HD Audio/Video and is comprised of 19 of his best songs. I am not much of a folk music fan however as I watched and listened I couldn’t help but notice the personal aspect in John’s writing and how it comes across during his performance. This is a compilation of some of his best material which provided a novice like me with an excellent way to experience him for the first time. I wouldn’t say that I am now a folk music convert however I thoroughly enjoyed this selection of music. It comes to Blu-ray Disc from AIX Records in a high quality presentation that features superb lossless surround sound (in both “audience” and “stage” mix options) and clear high definition picture quality. The combination enhances the music performance by allowing listeners to experience the originally recorded elements in a way that replicates them as closely as possible. The supplied bonus content doesn’t add much and consists of two brief interview segments and a recording of John playing before a live audience in 2006. John Gorka – The Gypsy Life has found a home in my Blu-ray collection and comes recommended. Enjoy!
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Reference Review System:
JVC DLA-RS20 1080p High Definition Front Projector (Calibrated by Jeff Meier)
Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen
Anthem AVM50v THX Ultra 2 Preamp/Video Processor
Sherbourn Technologies - 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier
Oppo BDP-83 Universal disc/Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Oppo 970HD universal disc DVD Player (480i HDMI)
Philips TSU9400 Pro Series Touch Panel Remote Control
Canton "Ergo" Series speakers
Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers
SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Furman SPR-20i Stable Power Regulator
Wireworld, VizionWare, Audioquest, Better Cables, Best Deal Cables - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package