The Mastersounds – Swinging With The Mastersounds

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  • The Mastersounds’ 1960 release finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one – exceptionally quiet Red Vinyl too   
  • These sides are doing everything right — full, clear, and solid, with the Tubey Magical Midrange that can only be found on recordings from this era
  • If you’re a fan of the Modern Jazz Quartet, you may feel as I do that the Mastersounds’ Montgomery brothers on vibes and bass play this kind of smooth jazz much better than the often-sleepy MJQ
  • “Swinging With the Mastersounds is accurately titled; its six tracks are all standards, and all are taken at a gentle, loping tempo and spin out sweetly…”

This reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s and ’80s. We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 35+ years ago, not the generally opaque, veiled and lifeless mastering so common today.

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on these superb sides.

We were impressed with the fact that these pressings excel in so many areas of reproduction. What was odd about it — odd to most audiophiles but not necessarily to us — was just how rich and Tubey Magical the reissue can be on the right pressing.

This leads me to think that most of the natural, full-bodied, lively, clear, rich sound of the recording was still on the tape decades later, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound on to a record was simply to thread up the tape on the right machine and hit play. The fact that practically nobody seems to be able to make a record nowadays that sounds remotely this good tells me that I’m wrong to think that such an approach tends to work, if our experience with hundreds of mediocre Heavy Vinyl reissues is relevant.

What the best sides of Swinging With The Mastersounds have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1960
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above.

What We’re Listening For on Swinging With The Mastersounds

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

Bass – Monk Montgomery
Drums – Benny Barth
Piano – Richie Crabtree
Vibraphone – Buddy Montgomery

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Golden Earrings
People Will Say We’re In Love
There Is No Greater Love

Side Two

West Coast Blues
I’ve Never Been In Love Before/Don’t Blame Me
I Could Write A Book

AMG Review

…the quartet’s gentle sound invited you to relax and think about other things while they played. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; not all jazz has to grab you by the collar and force you to listen closely. Swinging With the Mastersounds is accurately titled; its six tracks are all standards, and all are taken at a gentle, loping tempo and spin out sweetly over the course of anywhere from five to ten minutes.

The Mastersounds’ take on Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” has a hint of muscle to it and the group’s version of “I Could Write a Book” trips along nicely, but the remainder of the tunes are quiet love ballads that drift slowly and prettily along. Very nice.

Jazzprofiles Site

For a variety of reasons both personal and professional, the Mastersounds decided to disband as a performing and touring group in 1960, although the fact that they all took up residence in the greater San Francisco area after this decision made it easy for them to regroup later in the year to record the two sessions for Fantasy.

From the standpoint of what might have been, and to my great delight since these are their only recordings in a digital format, the Fantasy recordings made on August 10 and November 2, 1960 which have been combined and issued as The Mastersounds show the group to be in exceptional form both individually and collectively.

The ensemble work is superb, the arrangements are intricately complex, and their improvisations are, to a man, their best on record, especially those of Benny Barth who had developed into a inventive and technically adroit drummer over the 4 year span of the group’s existence.

Unfortunately, the Mastersounds existed during a time when the World of Jazz, unlike today, basked in a surfeit of riches making their superb contributions to the genre all too easy to overlook.

And, with all due respect to Messer’s Jackson, Lewis, Heath and Kay, the Mastersounds during its brief life, were the equal musically, of anything offered by the MJQ with the exception of its longevity which, in and of itself is not always the ultimate standard of judgment.

The problem in any “Age of Excess” is that the star that burns the longest is not necessarily the brightest.

And yet, the existence of the Mastersounds made my formative days in the World of Jazz all the better for having not missed the opportunity to know them and their music.

It is always important to remember those who helped “make you as you go,” thus – a remembrance of the Mastersounds.

[The Jazzprofiles editorial staff wishes to acknowledge Ralph J. Gleason, Russ Wilson, Nat Hentoff, Richard Bock and C.H. Garricules whose Mastersounds liner notes provided much assistance in the factual and interpretive material contained in this feature.]

CD Liner Notes

Because their instrumentation of vibes-piano-bass-drums mirrored that of the contemporaneous Modern Jazz Quartet, one of the finest and most celebrated groups of all time, the Mastersounds may have been somewhat overlooked.

Moreover, the Mastersounds best known members, vibist-arranger Charles “Buddy Montgomery [b. 1930] and William “Monk” Montgomery [1921-1982], who pioneered the electric bass in jazz, were the younger and older brothers, respectively, of Wes Montgomery, merely the greatest jazz guitarist of the post-bop era. (The ensemble was completed by drummer Benny Barth who, like the Montgomerys, was from Indianapolis and pianist Richie Crabtree).

Still, the West Coast foursome’s coolly soulful, tastefully-arranged approach won them their share of fans, as well as the 1959 Down Beat Critic’s Poll for Best New Group.