Andre Previn & His Pals – West Side Story

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  • Previn’s stellar piano trio returns to the site with jazzy interpretations of the best songs from West Side Story, in stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound
  • You win shootouts with this kind of All Tube Analog sound – warm, natural, lively and clear, with solid support down low, a nicely extended top and a huge three-dimensional soundfield 
  • Andre Previn and his friends take eight classic tunes from West Side Story – it would be hard to imagine having better material to work with in a jazz setting
  • 4 stars: “The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story… As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.”

One of Previn’s best piano trio records, this album was recorded in 1959 by Roy DuNann while at the height of his engineering powers.

The two Must Owns from his many sessions at Contemporary are this album and Bells Are Ringing. We are not aware of any of his jazz piano albums on other labels being much better than passable and most are not worth picking up at any price. Believe me, we’ve tried. The one exception I can think of is Four to Go on Columbia. It’s pretty good. Not in the same league as his Contemporary recordings by a long shot, but better than most of his output from the ’60s.

For both the albums mentioned above the Black Label originals in stereo are the best way to go, but finding them in clean audiophile playing condition is no walk in the park, which is the main reason it’s been four years since we did either title, and I think we have not been able to find a single copy of Bells worth buying since then. Some records show up on the site and are never seen again. That may be one of them. Time will tell.

This vintage Contemporary stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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 trio, 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 the best sides of West Side Story 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 1959
  • 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 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.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

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 their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

The Piano Is Key

On the best copies of the album, the sound of the piano is solid, full-bodied, with both weight and warmth, just like the real thing. The copies of the album with a piano that sounded lean or hard always ended up having problems with the other instruments as well. (This should not be surprising; the piano was designed to be the single instrument most capable of reproducing the sound of an entire orchestra.)

What We’re Listening For on West Side Story

  • 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 for the guitars, horns and drums, 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, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Roy DuNann in this case — would put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

André Previn – piano
Shelly Manne – drums
Red Mitchell – double-bass

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Something’s Coming 
Jet Song 
Tonight 
I Feel Pretty

Side Two

Gee, Officer Krupke! 
Cool 
Maria 
America

AMG 4 Star Review

The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio of pianist Andre Previn, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Shelly Manne finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story (Previn and Manne alternated leadership, and it was the drummer’s good fortune to have the famous My Fair Lady album under his own name).

As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.