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NativeDSD Albums of the Year 2020 – The Nominees

NativeDSD celebrates all that 2020 brought us in terms of very high resolution music released in Stereo, Multichannel and Binaural Direct Stream Digital (DSD). With over 70 music labels contributing to our listeners music enjoyment there is much to celebrate. This year, the NativeDSD family of music labels released over 250 DSD albums in a wide variety of musical genres – from Pop and Rock to Jazz, Blues, World, Gospel, Christmas, Classical and more. Next comes the difficult part.

How do we select the Best of DSD for the year?

As we have done in the past few years, NativeDSD called upon two of our music experts – Senior Reviewer Bill Dodd and Technical Advisor Brian Moura – to carefully review the year’s releases and bring our listeners 3 to 5 nominations in several musical categories. 

This is a great way to applaud and reward the excellent music and performances that the music labels and artists have brought us this year.  And it also is a guide for our listeners to see what Bill and Brian have selected as the best DSD music in 2020.  It also highlights what you may have missed during the year.  But don’t worry – all of these Best of DSD releases are still available at the Native DSD Music store. Just in time to enhance your personal DSD collection as you prepare for some really fine holiday musical enjoyment.

And now, the 34 nominees for The Best of DSD in 2020…..

Singer/Songwriters

Higher: DXD Edition by Patricia Barber (Impex IMP-7001D)

Patricia Barber brings her songs and distinctive vocal stylings to NativeDSD with Higher.  Recorded in DXD Stereo and Surround Sound by Grammy Award Winning Producers and Recording Engineers Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz, Higher originally debuted on a Stereo CD with occasional audio show demos of the album by Merging Technologies’ founder Claude Cellier in its original Stereo DXD recording. 

NativeDSD was able to track down the album masters at Impex Records and bring the album to our listeners in full DXD and DSD Stereo and Surround Sound.  When you hear the special DXD edition of Higher by Patricia Barber (only available at NativeDSD) you will be very thankful that they did.  It’s an album of vocal stylings and delights that should be heard in its full high resolution DSD and DXD glory.  – Brian Moura

Amsterdam Moon by The Coo (Just Listen JL018)

Startling present, right there in front of you, The Coo (Matt Arthur and Jara Holdert) make their songs seem as if they are flowing right out their hearts for the first time.   – Bill Dodd

The songs and music from The Coo are deeply rooted in a musical connection.  There is no doubt about the singing, passion, and the pure joy of the songs on this album.  An excellent debut from a vocal duo that you will be hearing more from in the future.  – Brian Moura

The Slender Thread by Carrie Newcomer (Stockfisch 0132088)

So many singer-songwriters sing their songs of sorrow, of loss, of unrequited love, of lament— Carrie Newcomer sings of things that are happy– in a way that makes us happy as well.   Nothing weighty here– just warm smiles.  – Bill Dodd

Vocals

Embrace Me by Denise Jannah with the Gideon Nunes Jazz Quartet (Sound Liaison SL 1039A)

The team at Sound Liaison in Europe scored a musical coup with Embrace Me featuring Jazz Vocalist Denise Jannah (of Blue Note fame) and the Gideon Nunes Jazz Quartet.  It is a Live to DXD recording that was then transferred to a Studer A80 Analog Tape Recorder (for what Sound Liaison tells us is “a bit of what they call Mojo”) and then transferred to DXD. 

Despite the exotic signal path used on the recording, it delivers the wonderfully warm sound of Jannah’s vocal stylings backed by the Jazz Quartet.  Jannah has been called one of the best Jazz vocalists of the last 25 years.  This album demonstrates that in a set of excellent performances that Jazz fans won’t easily forget. – Brian Moura

Love Flows Like A River by Jacintha (Groove Note/Harmony HR0001)

Jacintha brings us an album of love songs, sung entirely in Mandarin with Love Flows Like A River.  Originally released on the Harmony label as a Hybrid Stereo SACD, it is now out of print on disc. 

NativeDSD partnered with Ying Tan’s Groove Note to bring the album back to market with new Stereo DSD 128, DSD 256 and DSD 512 editions created with Signalyst’s excellent DSD modulation software.  The result is a wonderful listening experience with beautiful music, vocals and renditions of classics including Henry Mancini’s Moon River.  An album not to be missed.  – Brian Moura

Ella On Our Mind by Aubrey Logan & Bill Cantos with the L.A. Network (2xHD-Resonance 2XHRE1168)

In addition to their excellent series of Analog to DSD and DXD transfers of classic Jazz albums, 2020 saw 2xHD Mastering teaming up with the Jazz experts at Resonance Records to record and release a series of Live to 2 Track Analog Recordings featuring top recording session players in the Los Angeles area.  A highlight in this series of three albums (so far) is Ella On Our Mind. 

The album features the multi-talented Jazz vocal duo of Singer and Trombone Player Aubrey Logan and Singer and Keyboard Player Bill Cantos bringing listeners a modern take on classics including Our Love Is Here To Stay, Hernando’s Hideaway, Too Darn Hot and Summertime.  The music is upbeat, fresh, and performed at a very high level of musicality.  In short, it’s a winner.  – Brian Moura

Chorale & Gospel

Grace by Broadway Inspirational Voices (DMP 345335)

Grace is an album of gospel standards performed Live to DSD by an all-star choir of singers and musicians who are best known for their theater appearances on Broadway.  In addition to the talent and musical chops of this group what sets the album apart are the powerful vocal performances on each song. 

To really get your attention, the solo vocalists are placed in the Center Channel in the album’s 5 Channel Surround Sound mix.  If you ever wanted to know what a properly setup 5 Channel audio system can deliver with a Center Channel speaker, this album should be in your listening library.  Tracks like “Down by the Riverside” and “Changed My Name” are moving experiences, even for listeners who are not usual fans of gospel recordings.  – Brian Moura

Sacred Feast by Gaudeamus (DMP 345265)

Long out of print on a physical disc this incredibly beautiful recording is once again available and deserving of attention if you love superb choral works.   – Bill Dodd

Sacred Feast gained fame in audio circles as the first Surround Sound Super Audio CD (SACD) disc.  Beyond that, it offers an excellent example of Stereo and in particular Surround Sound chorale performances and sonics.  Now out of print on SACD, NativeDSD teams up with Tom Jung’s DMP label to bring Sacred Feast back to market.  Better yet, the original DSD 64 Stereo & Surround Sound recordings have been remodulated to DSD 128, DSD 256 and DSD 512 with Signalyst’s HQ Player Pro 4 mastering tools.  Taking this album to a new sonic high.  – Brian Moura

Part: Stabat Mater by Gloriae Dei Cantores (Paraclete GDCD065)

You can count on anything recorded by this marvelous choir to be beautifully performed and recorded– without exception.  And you can count on Arvo Part, for finding ways to express spirituality in music that will always connect.  – Bill Dodd

All Things Common by Pacific Chorale & Musicians from Salastina Music Society (Yarlung YAR02592DSD)

What’s unexpected from these contemporary choral works is composer Tarik O’Regan’s music, which is modern, but accessible and beautiful.  The Pacific Chorale and musicians from the Salastina Music Society.  This is amazing music, beautifully recorded. – Bill Dodd

Jazz Ensemble

Live At The Top Of The Gate by Bill Evans Trio (2xHD-Resonance 2XHDRE1174)

This is absolutely self-recommending to those who love Bill Evans– and how he excelled at bringing qualities similar to Debussy and Ravel to modern jazz.  – Bill Dodd.

Benny Goodman Live In Hamburg 1981 by Benny Goodman (Stockfisch 132805)

One of the first vinyl LP sets I ever had was Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.  His band was the tops.  Incredible music from some of the finest musicians to walk the planet!   Even if Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, and Teddy Wilson are missing from this 1981 concert, the recording shows that Goodman still had his chops more than 40 years later. – Bill Dodd

Cool Jazz by Gabor Varga Jazz Trio (Hunnia Records MRC2008)

For me personally, this was the non-classical album of the year!  It’s been a time when “cool” is welcome, and the guys combine a relaxed attitude with marvellous sophistication.  Don’t hesitate! – Bill Dodd

Hunnia Records released several DSD albums during the year featuring the Gabor Varga Jazz Trio and their passion for cool jazz.  I enjoyed them all but this one – simply titled “Cool Jazz” – highlights the trio’s musical talents in a relaxed, cool setting and style.  – Brian Moura

The Art of Traveling Light by Angelo Verploegen, Jasper van Hulten, Wim Bronnenberg (Just Listen JL023)

I’m tempted to retitle it “The Art of Traveling Cool”. These guys settle beautifully into a vibe that suggests the best of times in a smokey club surrounded by friends.  – Bill Dodd

Last year Angelo Verploegen and Jasper van Hulten performed an album of Duke Ellington classics simply with flair and style with just a Flugelhorn and Drums in The Duke Book.  This year they return with the addition of guitarist Wim Bronnenberg in The Art of Traveling Light (i.e. without a bass player). It’s another fine DSD 256 Stereo and Multichannel recording from Just Listen that brings a very intimate sound to this very talented Jazz ensemble.  It’s just you, the trio, and the music.  And it delivers the goods in an understated yet fine way.  – Brian Moura

Gypsy Jazz Trio (Forward Music Italy 990011906)

This album is a follow up of sorts to the earlier album Les Chats Noir (The Black Cats), a wonderful tribute to the music of France and its Chanson style of singing.  On Gypsy Jazz Trio, guitarist Augusto Creni and double bass player Renato Gattone return and add to the mix Moreno Viglione who some regard as a “guitar god”. 

Gypsy Jazz Trio features an outstanding selection of music performed in the style of guitarist Django Reinhardt.  The music and the sound quality in Stereo DSD 256 are among the best I’ve heard all year.  And just to make sure you are paying attention, the trio throws in Gypsy Jazz takes on the theme from the TV series “I Dream of Jeannie” by Hugo Montenegro, “I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown and Bach’s “Badinerie”!  The Gypsy Jazz Trio is having way too much fun on this live DSD 256 recording, and I loved every minute of it.  – Brian Moura

Guitar Solo

Leo Brouwer – Guitar Sonatas by Ricardo Gallén (IBS Classical IBS142019)

This was an easy choice for me. The world’s greatest contemporary composer for guitar and one of the world’s finest guitarists!  I would encourage anyone who loves “classical” guitar– or for that matter anyone who doesn’t — to listen to this album and not be impressed.  Included are excellent notes from both Brouwer and Gallen. – Bill Dodd

This is Ricardo Gallen’s third album at Native DSD.  Following two Native DSD 256 Stereo & Multichannel recordings from Eudora (Fernando Sor Guitar Sonatas and En Silencio).  Once again Gallen is at the top of his game when it comes to bringing listeners some fine classical guitar performances.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  My advice, just buy the album – and his two earlier ones as well – and enjoy.  – Brian Moura

Madama Terra by Fausto Mesolella (Fone SACD201)

This is the fifth album from the late guitarist Fausto Mesolella from Fone.  It’s an album with Mesolella playing different guitars and comfortably highlighting a wonderful selection of music.  Madama Terra has been called “stunning”, “on fire” and “inspiring” by listeners.  It was one of NativeDSD’s best sellers this year and for good reason. After finishing my first listen of this album, all I could say was “Wow!”  – Brian Moura

The Early Years by Bucky Pizzarelli (2xHD-Jazzology 2XHDJA1179)

Legendary Jazz Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli passed away earlier this year.  In tribute to his many years of fine albums, 2xHD teamed up with Jazzology Records to bring our listeners a double album of 18 tracks of his early recordings. 

Transferred from the Original Analog Master Tapes to Stereo DSD and DXD, the album features Pizzarelli performing a host of standards composed by Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, Neal Hefti, Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Henry Mancini.  It’s an excellent selection of music all performed with Pizzarelli’s upbeat, swinging yet mellow guitar style.  You can almost see his smile as you listen to the album.  A real treat for guitar fans.  – Brian Moura

Piano Solo

Skylark: Solo Piano and Beyond by Mike del Ferro (Sound Liaison SL1041A)

Sound Liaison brings us a recording of pianist Mike del Ferro performing a mix of his own compositions with standards by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Miles Davis, Leonard Bernstein, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Chet Baker. The album is recorded with just two microphones a Josephson C700S and a AEA R88. There is something special about this album that makes you enjoy it more each time you listen. — Brian Moura

Beethoven Sonatas OP 10 No3, OP 57, OP 110 by Naum Grubert (Navis Classics NC20010)

This is a recent release. That hasn’t been far from my player since it came out.  Beethoven was a giant– a towering figure in music.  But sometimes I think that some pianists try to make his sonatas a bit too monumental!  Grubert lets the music flow without exaggeration or artifice.   It’s Beethoven without doubt, but it’s like some layers have been removed– allowing us to really get to the heart of this music.  I think it’s impossible to listen to only one artist’s interpretations, but this is an album I will return to often. – Bill Dodd.

Tzumo – Hungarian Folk Songs (Hunnia Records MRC2011)

This is the most difficult album to categorize.  Many will point out that Tzumo Arpad is a celebrated jazz pianist.  And yet listening to his first piece (translated) “I want to get through the Tisza River”, I instantly recognized the same melody that Miklos Rozsa used in his Theme, Variations, and Finale—one of his most performed concert pieces.  Hmmm.  Tzumo (he mostly uses just his first name) is classically educated along with jazz, and this music seems to defy being put into any box.  It’s simply lovely. – Bill Dodd

Eternal Longing by Yukiko Hasegawa (TRPTK TTK0053)

Beethoven, Franck, and Schumann never had a more loving interpreter than Yukiko Hasegawa. In her debut album she coaxes dreamlike waves of emotion from a modern replica of a fortepiano, recorded beautifully. It’s music to fall into and become part of. – Bill Dodd

Classical – American & Western Music

Rhapsody in Navy Blue –Originals by Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy conducted by (Channel Classics 42920)

George Gershwin himself on the piano!  Now, that is something!  I won’t go into all the details of how they managed to do Gershwin’s piano roll so perfectly, but they did!  And the band arrangement is how people first heard this work.  All that aside, this Rhapsody, this Copland Fanfare, and the rest of these pieces are superbly rendered!  Reset your expectations of what band music is and take a listen.  – Bill Dodd

Over the years, the Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy has made 6 appearances in Stereo and Surround Sound DSD at NativeDSD.Com on both the Aliud and Channel Classics labels.  On this album they turn to the music of America and the West.  The album includes stellar performances of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Rhapsody In Blue from a piano roll of George Gershwin, among other treats.  If you love the sound of a full military band in DSD Surround Sound, this is the ticket.  – Brian Moura

Dvorak: Symphony No. 9, Copland: Billy the Kid – Gianandrea Noseda conducting the National Symphony Orchestra (National Symphony NSO0001)

The National Symphony Orchestra launched its own label in 2020 with this album of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From The New World” and Aaron Copland’s “Billy The Kid”.  It is a Live DSD 256 Stereo and Multichannel recording that offers up both excellent sonics plus fine performances.  — Brian Moura

Aspects of America – Pulitzer Edition by Oregon Symphony conducted by Carlos Kalmar (Pentatone PTC5186763)

Carlos Kalmar and The Oregon Symphony have made a number of first-rate albums which I recommend highly!  You can’t go wrong with any of them.  People who may not be familiar with the work of Walter Piston, Morton Gould, and Howard Hanson, will find these three works are accessible, marvelously melodic, and yet full of structural integrity.  Kalmar and his players are great exponents of this 20th Century American music.  – Bill Dodd

Classical – Chamber Music

Lento Religioso by Amsterdam Sinfonietta with Artistic Director Candida Thompson (Channel Classics 36620)

This is a very different kind of album.  As leader Candida Thompson says, “This tender, melancholy and languishing album is intended for the inquisitive listener.”  These are surprising string orchestra works from Berg, Korngold, Wagner, Bridge, Strauss, Bruckner, and Lekeu that will occupy your senses– long after you have finished listening.  – Bill Dodd

A Flute For The Tzar by Natalia Frolova & Denis Lupachev (Reach Sound Art RS0602)

Beautiful and transporting.  Lupachev and Frolova play and the world becomes an enchanting place you thought you could see only in dreams.  It’s one of my 5 favorite albums released this year.  Just a flute and a piano, but totally involving. – Bill Dodd

Mozart and Romantic Encores for Clarinet and Strings by Russell Harlow and the Sonolumina Ensemble (IsoMike 7010)

The amazing Russell Harlow and the equally talented players who make up his backing string quartet have produced a delightful, tune-filled album that is guaranteed to make you sit back, take a breath, and smile.  – Bill Dodd

Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable fame and his IsoMike label brings us another in his Direct to Stereo and 4 Channel Surround Sound DSD 256 recordings.  This time featuring clarinetist Russell Harlow and the Sonolumina Ensemble.  The IsoMike recordings feature fine performances and excellent sound quality.  This album was originally used for an audio system demo at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  Now NativeDSD teams with IsoMike to bring it to our listeners.  You will be glad it is now available for your music collection.  – Brian Moura

Wim Van Hasselt, Koen Plaetinck – Imaginary Mirror (EP) (Channel Classics 41920)

The Native DSD EP release of this album does not include the works that were recorded in PCM.  But what is there is choice!  My favorite is the arrangement of Arvo Part’s Spiegel im Spiegel.  This is another album that blurs the lines between classical and jazz.  The result is remarkable. – Bill Dodd

Classical – Orchestral

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde Mahler by Ivan Fischer conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Channel Classics 40020)

Ivan Fischer and his world-celebrated orchestra extend their survey of Mahler with Das Lied von der Erde.  It is a welcome addition!  The orchestra plays beautifully, the soloists are everything one could want.  Der Abschied is among the most moving I’ve ever heard.  – Bill Dodd

Rimsky Korsakov by Vasily Petrenko conducts the Oslo Philharmonic (LAWO Classics LWC1198)

What?  Another Scheherazade?  Yes!  And most welcome!  Vasily Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic with Concert Master Elise Batnes put this story-telling lady right up there with Reiner, Beecham, and others.  Add to that the modern DSD recording quality, and you’ve got a winner.  Oh yes, the Capriccio Espagnol and Russian Easter Overture are both excellent.  – Bill Dodd

LAWO Classics brings us an excellent new recording featuring Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol.  The performances and sound quality are excellent.  The only disappointment is that unlike earlier LAWO releases that were issued in both Stereo and Surround Sound DSD and DXD, this one is a Stereo only recording.  Still, even in Stereo this is one to consider as we look at the Best of 2020.  – Brian Moura

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 and Leshnoff Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon by Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Reference Recordings FR738)

“An outstanding reading of the Tchaikovsky 4th!!” — Tom Caulfield, NativeDSD Mastering Lab

Opera & Lieder

Cavalleria Rusticana by Marek Janowski conducting the Dresdner Philharmonie (Pentatone PTC 5186772)

“Oh yeah, that’s that other opera they always put with Pagliacci on CD’s…”  Cavalleria Rusticana has never been first in line when people think of great opera, but finally we have a recording that should bring real credit to this Opera.  Janowski conducts the Dresdner Philharmonie and some well-chosen soloists in a fine performance of Mascagni’s famous opera about love, betrayal, violence, and (of course) Mama!  The opera was a huge hit when first performed in 1890, and this performance reminds us why!  — Bill Dodd

The Cunning Little Vixen by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle (LSO Live LSO0850)

Sir Simon surprises us with another very interesting opera performance.  In this case, Janacek’s delightful, “The Cunning Little Vixen”.  One can tell that this was a performance that Simon Rattle was totally committed to.  The LSO plays beautifully, and the soloists and the children’s Chorus are quite fine.  This is a first choice for this opera.  Also included is Janacek’s marvelous Sinfonietta.

Written by

Floor Van der Holst

Floor is Marketing & Label Manager at NativeDSD Music

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