Great video; esoteric song selection; uneven sound
E. Uthman | Houston, TX USA | 09/08/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"So far, this is one of the few DVDs that were recorded live on digital video equipment. Accordingly, this is a must-have for anyone so fortunate as to have a progressive-scan DVD player, which will play the disk in native 480p DTV format on an HD-ready television. The resulting picture is startlingly excellent. The content consists 15 musical acts, each performing one song to a small audience in a recording studio. Most of the acts are of the rock or folk genre, but a little jazz (Wynton Marsalis) and one space music piece (Daniel Lanois) are thrown in. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma sort of falls between genres. There are no hip-hop/rap acts.There are several things to consider before buying this DVD. First, the song selections are _extremely_ esoteric. I have a fairly broad range of interest in various types of music, but I had heard of only 9 of the 15 acts. Furthermore, I have never before heard _any_ of the 15 songs. This is the antithesis of a pop music collection; it takes a sense of music appreciation bordering on snobbery to love the whole thing.Using a recording studio for live acts has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, the sound is crisp and clear, and every instrument can be heard in detail. On the other, the raw, unprocessed sound does not get the color it would enjoy if recorded at a real concert venue at high sound pressure levels. Drums and bass guitar sound especially weak on this DVD. The acoustic instruments fare the best here, with Marsalis' "Back to Basics" giving us the best mix of the bunch (but the most musically challenging, unfortunately). Another aural treat is Langlois' "Orange Kay" instrumental piece for drum sequencer and highly-processed electric guitar.Of the other cuts, I would award special kudos for Suzanne Vega's "Caramel," Shawn Colvin's "Diamond in the Rough," Sinead O'Connor's "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance," and Patti Smith's "People Have the Power."A full list of all the performances follows:1. Wynton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra--Back to Basics2. Suzanne Vega--Caramel3. Richard Thompson--I Feel So Good4. Shawn Colvin--Diamond in the Rough5. Ani DiFranco--32 Flavors6. Nil Lara--How Was I To Know7. Rickie Lee Jones--Road Kill8. Daniel Lanois--Orange Kay9. Emmylou Harris--Wrecking Ball10. Ben Folds Five--Smoke11. Keb' Mo'--Just Like You12. Sinead O'Connor--The Last Day of Our Acquaintance13. Yo-Yo Ma--Libertango14. Patti Smith--People Have the Power15. Jane Siberry--Love Is Everything"
Almost like being there...
JEM | Seattle, WA USA | 04/01/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD alone is worth the investment in a DVD player. Granted, the collection of artists assembled on this disc is eclectic, but all share a level of talent unsurpassed by anyone currently reaping a high level of commercial success. The first season of Sessions at West 54th featured performances by artists ranging from Ani DiFranco to Tricky (both of which I was fortunate to catch), and recent installments continue to showcase unique and innovating music from bands like Cibo Matto to Speech (of Arrested Development). This DVD captures some of the best performances from the first season, and does so with so much audio and visual perfection it's hard to believe you're not actually sitting at the Sony Music Studios on West 54th. In fact, the performances by Shawn Colvin, Ani DiFranco, and Sinead O'Connor almost match what they offer live -- absent are the tall people who usually end up standing in front of you and the lack of intimacy larger music venues tend to present. To be able to experience (over and over again) the raw, emotional energy of performers like DiFranco and O'Connor alone is worth the $25 -- I almost get the same goosebumps. Of course, nothing can ever compare to the actual live performances, but this disc comes as close to it as I'd imagine anything can ever get. Ben Folds Five, Keb' Mo', and Wynton Marsalis provide stand-out performances, as well. I, too, would like to see a continuation of the "volume" series on DVD, and full sets from select artists. Also, the disc could be even better with multi-angle functionality and the original interviews with Chris Douridas. Overall, though, it doesn't get any better than this! It is by far the best DVD I own."
Sessions at West 54th - What MTV Unplugged Aspires To Be
JEM | 09/13/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The most memorable of MTV's Unplugged shows was Eric Clapton's performance, and then, well, the show degenerated from there.Sony then sponsored Sessions at West 54th Street. All of the off beat and eclectic but really cool stuff I loved in college was given a venue. Jazz, "poetry", rhythms, sounds. I had forgetten what an eclectic collection of music was. That is until Sessions was broadcast on PBS this past year.The problem was I'd always forget to have a tape in the VCR to catch the shows. And of course the sound would be VHS Hi-Fi (ooh boy, pinch me I must be dreamin').I'd seen the Sessions DVD listed but never got around to buying it, until now. Why did I wait?!The performances captured on this disk are the ones I most liked. Rickie Lee Jones "Road Kill" is one of the funkiest spoken word with a groove pieces I've ever heard with some really twisted imagery (Moonlight on the hill -- lights up the road kill, moonlight on the hill -- lights up the future). Daniel Lanois' "Orange Kay" is an apocolyptic piece that amazes me every time I watch it. How can a man with a drum machine, a guitar, and an effects peddle create such dramatic music by himself? As for the DVD - it's a showcase piece for the technology. The mastered from digital video sources and with a phenomenal Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track, makes you wish you could watch the broadcast shows with the same clarity and audio.If you have eclectic tastes in music and want a disc to show off your DVD player and AV setup to yourself and your friends, "Sessions at West 54th" is a must have. END"
Where is volume 2 ?
JEM | 10/16/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"All right already - It will still be a while before I've played volume 1 to death, but I'm ready for volume 2 ! Where is it ? Vol 1 is such a great mix of high quality music/artists/sound/video."
Great Performances, Decent Sounds
ADM | New York City | 01/01/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sessions, the great PBS show, is well represented here, with performances by artists as diverse and talented as Ani Difranco, Wynton Marsalis, and Emmylou Harris.My one gripe is that I found the 5.1 soundtrack a bit muted (even compared to the 2-channel stereo track) and would be interested to see what other reviewers think.The video transfer is excellent, too -- the liner notes imply that the show is recorded on digital video.So, if you like the show, you'll love the disc, and be encouraged that "Volume 1" suggests an upcoming "Volume 2". Maybe the next volume will include the performances from Beck, David Byrne, and Luscious Jackson that are missing from this one.And, it's a fine introduction for those who like eclectic music but haven't seen Sessions yet."