Duke Ellington – Piano In The Background

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Piano In The Background

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  • Two KILLER sides: Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second 
  • Ellington was inspired on this date and clearly playing his heart out – eleven of the twelve tracks were recorded in one session (at Radio Recorders right here in L.A.)
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl for a vintage 360 stereo Columbia LP – this copy played well beyond our expectations, with Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus surfaces
  • “This 1961 trio recording, with his orchestra’s rhythm section of drummer Sam Woodyard and Aaron Bell, clearly unveils the maestro’s powerful touch, black-and-tan chords, and unstoppable swing, all often overshadowed in the work of his bigger bands.” – Amazon

This vintage Columbia 360 pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What amazing sides such as these 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 1961
  • 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 studio space

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 qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The Piano

If you have full-range speakers some of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano are WEIGHT and WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. This is what we look for in a good piano recording. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to reproduce the full spectrum of the piano’s wide range (and of course the wonderful performance of the pianist) on vintage vinyl, showing us the kind of sound we simply cannot find any other way.

What We Listen For on Piano in the Foreground

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The instruments aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • 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 on the piano, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Happy Go Lucky Local 
What Am I Here For
Kinda Dukish / Rockin’ In Rhythm
Perdido

Side Two

I’m Beginning To See The Light
Midriff
It Doesn’t Mean A Thing
Main Stem
Take The “A” Train

Allmusic 4 Star Review

This rare trio session by Duke Ellington was the first of several in the early ’60s that featured his piano in a variety of settings. It is particularly interesting hearing Ellington, along with three standards and a blues, performing some of his rarer compositions…

One wishes that today’s revivalists when playing “the Duke Ellington Songbook” would bring back some of his true obscurities such as the ones on this somewhat forgotten session.”