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Muriel Anderson - Guitarscape Planet
There aren't many concerts that have been released in the Blu-Ray format. In fact, the only one that I'm aware of is A Guitarscape Planet, that presents classically trained guitarist Muriel Anderson playing 25 of her songs. Though not the type of music I'd first turn to when looking for something to listen to, I quite enjoyed this soothing music paired with appropriate visuals.
For those of you not familiar with her, Muriel Anderson is an acclaimed guitarist who has been described as "one hell of a great player" by no less than Les Paul. The first female National Fingerpicking Guitar Champion, Muriel is technically capable but is also able to fill her music with emotion and fun. A Guitarscape Planet presents the acclaimed player in a small setting concert where she performs over two dozen of her original compositions. The shots of her playing are intercut with nature scenes from around the globe that help inspire the music.
For some of the songs, Muriel is joined by up to three other musicians. These are drummer Paul Wertico from the Pat Metheny Group, Les Paul Trio bassist Nicki Parrott and cellist, Julie Adams. I enjoyed these songs a bit more. The solo efforts were good, but they were mainly done in the same style and tended to blend together after a while. There was a greater range of songs when she was joined by other musicians, and I found myself liking these pieces the best.
The nature shots fit the music well, but some of these are better than others. I really enjoyed the spacescapes and the images of the space shuttle taking off, and many of the aquatic scenes were nice too. The scenes filmed in the African savanna however were a bit jerky for my tastes. The cameramen zoomed in a bit too much so that any little movement of the camera was clearly noticeable and this jarring movement ruined many of these scenes for me. Still, there are some wildlife images that avoid this problem and they were nice to watch.
A nice disc to watch or just have on as background music, this is a niche item but one that fans of acoustic guitar music will want to pick up. The songs included on this disc are:
Prelude to a New Morning
Stroll in the Sand
Suite African Day
Wild Dog Days
Living Out a Dream
Shark Fin Soup
Calm Before the Storm
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, or even an official announcement from Samsung.
This concert was recorded in 1080i and encoded in MPEG-2. The 1.78:1 widescreen image looks good overall, but is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the concert shots are excellent, especially the close-ups of Ms. Anderson. You can clearly see the vibrations of the guitar strings and the strands of her hair. The wide angles were less impressive, being just a tad soft. The nature shots were a mixed bag. Some of them were beautifully detailed and sharp, while others were rather soft and not as three-dimensional as they could have been. The footage of the space shuttle taking off and in flight were the best looking parts of this disc. These scenes were exceptionally clear and really impressive.
The colors were nicely reproduced with the blacks being solid and firm and the blue African sky looking really beautiful. There was a bit of digital noise in some scenes but this was significantly less than appears in most Blu-Ray DVDs. Overall not a perfect image, but a very good one.
This disc offers views the choice of a DD+ 5.1 audio track or a stereo mix. I screened the concert with the 5.1 audio and spot checked the stereo track. I usually cringe when I see a concert was mixed in 5.1, since many times the sound engineer wants to show off and includes a lot of pans and throws odd instruments to the rear channels or something that ends up distracting from the music itself. I'm happy to report that the urge do this was resisted on this disc. The music came from all five speakers with the accent placed on the front channels and the rears sounding almost identical to what was coming out of the front. This created a nice enveloping sound field that made it seem like the viewer had a front row seat. When other musicians joined Muriel the mix didn't really change that much. The other instruments weren't mixed to one side, it was all pretty even. I was less impressed with these songs, as it gave a flat feeling to the music. The applause at the end of each song is thrown to the rears.
The sound quality was very good. The highs were clear and distinct, the mids and lows were warm and clear. You could hear the sustain from the notes fall off gradually as a song ended and the notes were nice and distinct. The only real complaint I have is that Muriel, who doesn't sing, wasn't mic'ed herself so the few times she does say anything the volume is rather low.
There are no extras on this disc.
This was a nice sedate concert filled with some very good acoustical music. Muriel Anderson looks like she's having a good time through the concert and her enthusiasm for the music shines through. The audio quality is very good, and the high definition image is generally pleasing. Some of the nature scenes were a bit jerky and others were soft, but many of the scenes, especially the ones of Endeavour taking off, were excellent. This is recommended for fans of acoustic guitar music.