Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics


Barney Kessel – Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Minty Original Black Label Contemporary Stereo LP from 1957 has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL. For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own (unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition).

More Barney Kessel

Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best.

From an audiophile point of view, how can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? It’s audiophile heaven. The sound is gorgeous, all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio.

Talk About Timbre

Man, when you play a Hot Stamper copy of an amazing recording such as this, the timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off. To paraphrase The Hollies, you get paid back with interest. If you hear anything funny in the mids and highs of this record, don’t blame the record. (This is the kind of record that shows up audiophile BS equipment for what it is: Audiophile BS. If you are checking for richness, tubey-magic and freedom from artificiality, I can’t think of a better test disc. It has loads of the first two and none of the last.)

Common Sonic Problems

Some copies have a little too much Ampex 300 loose bass, always a potential shortcoming of the unit; sad because it’s so good in every other respect. Bloated, slow and ill-defined bass can be found on virtually every black label Contemporary LP. We often prefer the later yellow label stereo pressings which usually have tighter, cleaner bass with less hang-over, although often at the expense of the tubey magic.

But there is no reissue of this album — no ’70s pressing by Contemporary and no Fantasy OJC. (Maybe the tape is damaged or lost?) The shootouts involve only the original stereo and mono pressings, no reissues, and since original pressings of this album are so hard to find, you can be sure it will be quite a while before we have enough copies to shoot out this title again.

The copies that kept the bass under control tended to have the best sound as a rule, with the least amount of tube smear and the most transparency, spaciousness and transient information. Like countless examples before it, when the sound is right the band really seems to swing with solid energy and enthusiasm. When the sound is murky the players sound dull and tired.

Warning: Stereo Editorial Follows

The same is true for audio equipment as I’m sure you’ve experienced first-hand. Some stereos can just bore you to tears with their dead-as-a-doornail sound and freedom from dynamic contrasts. Other stereos are overly-detailed and fatiguing; they wear out their welcome pretty quickly with their hyped-up extremes. As Goldilocks will gladly tell you, some stereos are just right; they have the uncanny ability to get out of the way of the music. Some equipment doesn’t call attention to itself, and that tends to be the kind of equipment we prefer around here at Better Records. After thirty five years in this hobby I’ve had my share of both. 90+% of the stuff I hear around town makes me appreciate what I have at home. I’m sure you feel the same way.

And The Winner Is…

This copy, with A Triple Plus Sound on BOTH sides! It’s got all the top qualities of the recording we discuss above, and the least amount of shortcomings. Really, nothing could touch it. It’s pretty much everything you want in a record like this. I’d love to keep it but when would I have time to play it? Instead I’ll sleep well knowing that it’s going to a good home.

Wonderful West Coast Jazz

Musically this is one of my favorite jazz records. Barney Kessel and his five reed players take these standards and make magic with them. For relaxing fun jazz it’s hard not to love this one.

Delightfully insightful liner notes from Andre Previn by the way. Did you know that Kessel won every major jazz poll for guitarist in 1956? What’s interesting about that is that this album allows all the other players plenty of time to share the spotlight. Barney is a member of a team here. The sophisticated arrangements find space for everyone’s contribution to be heard. At least one track has five woodwind players and you can easily pick them all out. Others have short duets for pairings such as bassoon and oboe. From an audiophile perspective, this one is hard to beat.