Donald Byrd – Royal Flush

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  • A superb sounding copy of Royal Flush, with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades or very close to them 
  • Remarkable Tubey Magical richness, as well as the kind of immediacy and transparency that few copies have – all qualities essential to reproducing both the trumpet and the baritone sax with exceptional fidelity
  • Byrd’s trumpet sounds wonderful here, with just the right amount of bite
  • “Donald Byrd was at his peak as a straight-ahead hard bop band leader in the early ’60s, turning a series of remarkably solid, enjoyable sessions for Blue Note. Royal Flush is no exception to the rule.”

If you like your jazz to sound BIG, BOLD and DYNAMIC, this is the record for you my friend. This one’s got that jumpin’-outta-the-speakers quality — but never in a forced or phony way — that we love so much about the better copies of Dexter Gordon’s One Flight Up.

Play Shangri-La on side two and prepare to be blown away. Billy Higgins is busting out some seriously heavy staccato snare drum work, and on a copy with superb presence like this one, those big snare thwacks are gonna hit you right in the gut and leave you begging for mercy.

I defy anyone to find a Heavy Vinyl Blue Note reissue with this kind of life and energy.

What the best sides of Royal Flush 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.

Blue Note Hard Bop

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.

What We’re Listening For on Royal Flush

  • 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 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

Hush
I’m A Fool to Want You
Jorgie’s

Side Two

Shangri-La
6M’s
Requiem

AMG Review

Donald Byrd was at his peak as a straight-ahead hard bop band leader in the early ’60s, turning a series of remarkably solid, enjoyable sessions for Blue Note. Royal Flush is no exception to the rule. Recorded in the fall of 1961, Royal Flush finds Byrd once again working with baritionist Pepper Adams, but adding bassist Butch Warren, drummer Billy Higgins, and, most importantly, a young pianist named Herbie Hancock. For the most part, the quintet plays a set of vital hard bop, swinging hard on the bluesy groove “Hush” and laying back on the pop standard “I’m a Fool to Want You.” But what’s really interesting is when they begin pushing the boundaries of bop.

All three of Byrd’s original pieces — “Jorgie’s,” “Shangri-La,” “6M’s” — are harmonically complex and have subtly shifting rhythms; all three are successful, but “Shangri-La” is particularly noteworthy. Similarly, Hancock’s graceful “Requiem” calls attention to its fluid melodic lines and rhythm. Throughout the date, Byrd and Adams are typically impressive, alternating between punchy, hard-hitting, and graceful solos, but Hancock is just as good, signaling early on in his career his deep, unique talent.