Harry James & His Big Band – The King James Version

  • This KILLER Sheffield pressing has insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Both sides here fulfill the promise of the direct to disc recording technology in a way that few – very, very few – direct to disc pressings can
  • Big Band energy and enthusiasm unlike any other copy we played, as well as the most natural sounding ambience of any copy in our shootout
  • This one has everything going for it from top to bottom, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension and more – it’s a real Demo Disc, make no mistake about it

On the best pressings, the horns are so lively and high-rez, not to mention full-bodied, this could easily become a favorite big band album to demo or test with — or just to enjoy the hell out of.

Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings, this album actually contains real music worth listening to — but only when the pressing lets the energy of the musicians through, with actual fidelity to the sounds of the real instruments. Brass without bite is boring. Drummers who are too delicate in their drumming will put you to sleep.

Many copies of this album will do exactly that, which is a real shame. During our shootout, the more we played the good copies, the more we appreciated the music these guys were making. They were swinging, a big group of top quality players totally in the groove. When it’s played well, and the sound is as good as it is here, there’s nothing boring about these Big Band Jazz Classics. The music works. It swings. If you like the kind of big band recordings Basie made — and who doesn’t — you will find much to like here.

What outstanding 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 1976
  • 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.

Pressing Variations

The typical pressing of The King James Version leaves much to be desired. As a rule two areas are especially lacking: there is a noticeable lack of presence on most copies, causing the brass to get stuck in the speakers and lose its bite; and, every bit as bad, the sound is often just plain compressed, lacking energy and life. The musicians on most copies are just not giving it their all.

But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc process? Maybe so, but there is some very strong evidence to the contrary, and this record is that evidence.

Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which no doubt affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the acetates and many, many stampers made from those mothers.

Bottom line? You got to play ’em, just like any other pressing. If no two records sound the same, it follows that no two audiophile records sound the same, a fact that became abundantly clear very early on in the listening. Of course not many audiophiles are in a position to shootout multiple copies of The King James Version, and I’m not sure most would even want to. Here at Better Records we have a whole system set up to do exactly that, so we waited until we had a pile of them, got them all cleaned up, and off to the races we went.

What to Listen For

No matter what copy you have, when you play it notice how the brass in the center of the soundfiield sounds so different from the brass on either side, where, obviously, closer mics allow their solos to be picked up and mixed more easily. There are lovely trumpet solos in the left channel and a baritone sax solo in the right that have amazingly realistic fidelity. Close your eyes and those instruments are RIGHT THERE.

One thing Sheffield got right is tonally-correct, hi-fidelity brass in a real acoustic space. (The latter is where For Duke fails so miserably, although no one ever seems to notice or bother to write about it. To me that dead acoustic is like fingernails on a blackboard, completely inappropriate to the sound.)

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.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Corner Pocket
Lara’s Theme
Cherokee
More Splutie, Please

Side Two

Traces
Don’t Be That Way
Sweet Georgia Brown
Shiny Silk Stockings
Blues Stay Away From Me

AMG Review

In late July 1976, trumpeter Harry James recorded enough music for two LPs. This particular set gives one a good sampling of his 1976 orchestra and finds James happy to emulate the swing sound of Count Basie.