360 Reality Audio: A Jazz Primer
You’re relaxing in your living room—and you’re sitting in with Billie Holiday’s band. This is what 360 Reality Audio, the immersive new format now available on TIDAL’s mobile app, sounds like. An example of object-based audio, 360 Reality Audio works with any set of headphones to open up your music. This experience is a boon particularly to jazz, which gets its magic from off-the-cuff moments played by human beings.
By now, you may have heard classics like Holiday’s Lady in Satin (1958), Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959) and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out (1959) countless times. But even the best remaster can’t capture the thrill of a live performance, the sensation of bodies in space. 360 Reality Audio restores this by mastering each sound—a horn, a drum, a singer—to its own carefully positioned channel. Close your eyes and you can nearly locate the players in front of and around you.
Now’s a great time to revisit the classic jazz albums currently offered in 360 on TIDAL, from torch songs to cool jazz to fusion.
Ed. Note: 360 Reality Audio is now available on TIDAL exclusively through the mobile app. To survey TIDAL’s 360 playlists and albums, visit the mobile app’s Explore page and scroll down to “360 Reality Audio.” New albums are added weekly.
Bitches Brew (1970)
Davis spent the late 1960s wading into rock and soul; the agitated Bitches Brew is where this vision came to a head. Expanding his personnel to a whopping 13 musicians, Davis acted less like a conductor than a conjurer, letting the unrehearsed musicians—saxophonist Wayne Shorter, guitarist John McLaughlin, keyboardists Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul, bassist Dave Holland and others—noisily claw at a motif. With Miles and cut-and-paste producer Teo Macero at the helm, Bitches Brew was also a breakthrough in the use of electronic effects, on full display with 360 Reality Audio; listen to how the music trippily phases from channel to channel.
Birds of Fire (1973)
The classic second album by John McLaughlin’s fusion juggernaut begins with an initiating gong, then explodes into raga-inspired fireworks. With little definition from one instrument to next, the original mix is slightly hard on the ears. 360 Reality Audio crucially puts space between McLaughlin’s guitar, Jan Hammer’s keyboards and Jerry Goodman’s violin, making this space-rock landscape more inhabitable than before.
Lady in Satin (1958)
Billie Holiday’s last album in her lifetime is one of the best entryways into her world, even though her voice had coarsened due to substance abuse. (Arranger Ray Ellis called hers “one of the most evil voices I’ve heard in my life”—a compliment.) Most 1950s mixes are a soup of voices and instruments; 360 Reality Audio gives Lady in Satin needed definition. Instead of blaring on top of the mix, Holiday is like a lonesome, reedy oboe, just one instrument in the orchestra. Given how exhausted Lady Day was in 1958, the added distance feels like a metaphor.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Time Out (1959)
Arguably jazz’s greatest crossover, Time Out made listener-friendly jazz out of unorthodox time signatures—so much so that “Take Five” peaked at No. 25 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Part of its commercial appeal was that it was mixed like a pop album, with Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone placed high as the lead voice. With 360 Reality Audio, you can better hear how each member interlocked equally to become a polyrhythmic machine.
Kind of Blue (1959)
Donald Fagen compared Kind of Blue to the Bible; its drummer, Jimmy Cobb, called it “made in Heaven.” Sixty years later, the modal explorations of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans still have an otherworldly undertow. The 360 Reality Audio version gives each player more separation, transporting you to those luminous sessions at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio.
Alice Coltrane & Carlos Santana
Alice Coltrane and Carlos Santana’s only album together is an odd one, a mix of Vedic chants, Disney-style strings and guitar noodling. Illuminations isn’t a spiritual statement on par with his Welcome or her Translinear Light, but it works as a curio of the early new-age movement. 360 Reality Audio unfreezes the album from its mid-1970s production amber, letting its tanpura drones, tabla hits and soprano sax ruminations breathe.
Head Hunters (1973)
After ethereal, experimental albums like 1971’s Mwandishi, 1972’s Crossings and 1973’s Sextant, Herbie Hancock was ready for some less esoteric grooves. “I had been spending so much time exploring the upper atmosphere of music,” he wrote in the mid-’90s. “I was tired of everything being heavy.” For his next album, Head Hunters, he dug into the clavinet and played earthy funk. 360 Reality Audio gives the taut production some air and shines up the little details, from percussionist Bill Summers’ blown beer bottle on “Watermelon Man” to the spectral Mellotron on “Vein Melter.”
Body Talk (1973)
Before he became a staple of quiet-storm radio, George Benson earned his reputation as a heavy-duty jazz guitarist, tearing it up alongside giants like Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson and Lonnie Smith. The excellent Body Talk is a median between these two worlds, anchoring Benson’s jazz explorations with R&B grooves. 360 Reality Audio lets you be a fly on the wall at the Van Gelder Studio, privy to an underrated session featuring Jack DeJohnette, Ron Carter and more.
After bringing his sound and vibe back down to earth with Head Hunters, Herbie Hancock stayed grounded while also leaning harder into the technical complexities of jazz-rock fusion. Swapping drummer Harvey Mason for Mike Clark and utilizing additional ARP synths, like a 2600 and a String Ensemble, Thrust is nearly as strong as its predecessor (and tops it with ridiculous cover art). Here, Thrust’s synth whines and bass grooves sound cleaned up and wide open, helping usher a spaceship-bound Hancock into the future.
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