Jimmy Smith – Hobo Flats

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • Both sides are wonderfully big, rich and LIVELY, with boatloads of Tubey Magic and the kind of three-dimendional space that’s a hallmark of Bob Simpson’s engineering
  • “Smith bubbles and bounces through all of it at the B-3 while Nelson proceeds to fill every available corner with huge, sweeping orchestral washes and crescendos. The clear highlight, though, is the lead and title track, “Hobo Flats,” which moves at a languid but wonderfully funky pace and establishes a groove as wide as the Mississippi River.”

Both sides of this very special early stereo pressing are huge, rich, tubey and clear. As soon as the band got going we knew that this was absolutely the right sound for this music. There was practically nothing that could beat it, in any area of reproduction.

In the past we’ve complained about “echo-drenched brass” on some of these Oliver Nelson / Jimmy Smith collaborations, but on a killer copy such as this there is nothing to complain about. If you have a top quality front end (and the kind of system that goes with it), this recording will be amazingly spacious, three-dimensional, transparent, dynamic, and open.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack the full complement of harmonic information. 

In addition, when the top end is lacking, the upper midrange and high frequencies get jammed together — the highs can’t extend up and away from the upper mids. This causes a number of much-too-common problems that we hear in the upper midrange of many of the records we play: congestion, hardness, harshness, and squawk. (Painstaking VTA adjustment is absolutely critical if you want your records to play with the least amount of these problems, a subject we discuss in the Commentary section of the site at length.)

Tube smear is common to most pressings from the ’50s and ’60s. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have little or none, yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

Full-bodied sound is especially critical to the horns; any blare, leanness or squawk ruins at least some of the fun, certainly at the louder levels the record should be playing at.

The frequency extremes (on the best copies) are not boosted in any way. When you play this record quietly, the bottom and top will disappear (due to the way the ear handles quieter sounds as described by the Fletcher-Munson curve).

Most records (like most audiophile stereos) are designed to sound correct at moderate levels. Not this album. It wants you to turn it up. Then, and only then, will everything sound completely right musically and tonally from top to bottom.

Production and Engineering

Creed Taylor was the producer, Bob Simpson the engineer, with Val Valentin acting as Director of Engineering (whatever that is) for these sessions from 1963. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

Mono?

Never heard a good one on this title. We stopped buying them a long time ago.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

Hi-Fidelity

What do we love about these vintage pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange.

This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this record up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Hobo Flats 
Blueberry Hill 
Walk Right In 
Trouble In Mind

Side Two

The Preacher 
Meditation 
I Can’t Stop Loving You

AMG Review

Playing piano-style single-note lines on his Hammond B-3 organ, Jimmy Smith revolutionized the use of the instrument in a jazz combo setting in the mid-’50s and early ’60s with his recordings for Blue Note Records. After he moved to Verve Records, though, he began working in more big-band settings, experimenting a bit, although he was always the same Jimmy Smith whose rapid runs on the B-3 careened, stuttered, glided, and flashed all over the place at a frequently breathless pace.

This set, recorded in 1963 in New York City, finds him working with arranger and conductor Oliver Nelson in a combined orchestral and big-band setting and what strikes first, aside from the movie soundtrack feel of Nelson’s arrangements…

Smith bubbles and bounces through all of it at the B-3 while Nelson proceeds to fill every available corner with huge, sweeping orchestral washes and crescendos. The clear highlight, though, is the lead and title track, “Hobo Flats,” which moves at a languid but wonderfully funky pace and establishes a groove as wide as the Mississippi River. Smith arguably was at his best in small combos, and at times he gets overwhelmed here by the big cinematic arrangements, but there’s plenty to like with this set, even if it’s a bit on the atypical side for Smith. It works well more than it doesn’t.