The Three – The Three

xxxxx

  • A true Demo Disc of this wonderful recording, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • The transients are uncannily lifelike – listen for the huge amounts of kinetic energy produced when Shelly whacks the hell out of his cymbals
  • My favorite Piano Trio Jazz Album of All Time; every one of those six tracks is brilliantly arranged and performed (if you have the right takes of course; more about that later)
  • 4 Stars: “One of Joe Sample’s finest sessions as a leader” – with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown, we would say it’s clearly his finest session, as a leader or simply as the piano player in a killer trio

If you want to hear the full six tunes recorded by The Three at that famous Hollywood session (which ran all day and long into the night, 4 AM to be exact), these 33 RPM pressings are the best way to go. The music is so good that I personally would not want to live with less than the complete album. The Three is, in fact, my favorite Piano Trio Jazz Album of All Time; every one of those six tracks is brilliantly arranged and performed (if you have the right takes of course; more about that later).

This Inner City Records 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 this stellar 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 The Three 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
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
  • 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

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 sound of the piano (and of course the wonderful performances of the musicians) on vintage vinyl, showing us the kind of sound we never expected from a non-descript jazz album such as this.

What We’re Listening For on The Three

  • 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.

More on the Subject of Energy

This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, the more energetic copies took the players’ performances to a level beyond all expectations. It is positively shocking how lively and dynamic the best copies of this record are. I know of no other recording with this combination of sonic and musical energy. It is sui generis, in a league of its own.

Both sides are so transparent you can hear Shelly Manne vocalizing as he’s playing the drums. The drum solo on side two is killer here. So full of energy and so dynamic. Why aren’t more drum kits recorded this well? Check out the pictures inside the fold-open cover to see all the mikes that were used on the drums. That’s where that wall to wall, floor to ceiling sound comes from.

The transients are uncannily lifelike, conveying the huge amounts of kinetic energy produced when Shelly whacks the hell out of his cymbals.

Ne Plus Ultra Piano Trio

This record is made from the “back up” tape for the session. East Wind released two versions of the famous direct to disc version at 33 RPM, and for those of you who bother to read the commentary, you know that take one of that pressing presents a completely different performance of the music than the one found on the Inner City on offer here.

There was a time when the best copies of a recording like this would go directly into my collection. If I wanted to impress someone, audiophile or otherwise, with the You-Are-There illusion that only Big Speakers in a dedicated room playing a live recording can create, this would be up near the top of the list. There is practically nothing like it on vinyl in my experience.

This is without a doubt my favorite piano trio record of all time. Joe Sample, Shelly Manne, and Ray Brown only made one album together, this one, recorded direct to disc right here in Los Angeles for Eastwind in the Seventies. Joe Sample for once in his life found himself in a real Class A trio, and happily for jazz fans around the world, he rose to the occasion. Actually, it was more like an epiphany, as this is the one piano trio album I put in a class by itself. All three of The Three are giving us the best they’ve got on that November day in 1975.

When it comes to small combo piano jazz, there is none better.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

On Green Dolphin Street
Satin Doll

Side Two

Round About Midnight
Funky Blues

Amazon Rave Review

Ken Dryden

Before Joe Sample detoured into smooth jazz, he was a first-rate bop pianist. This 1975 set found bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne (the latter two had worked together often, particularly with Barney Kessel), getting together for a session of standards, familiar jazz compositions, and one original.

The abbreviated liner notes don’t explain the challenge of making this recording. First, the scheduled studio booking was canceled at the last minute, requiring that a new studio be found once original producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh arrived in California, while they also had to wait until the Doobie Brothers finished recording at the new location.

It was also done direct-to-disc, requiring that an entire LP side be recorded in one take. Fortunately, the performances went well and the limited-edition project sold well until the stampers literally wore out, then the two sides of second takes were separately issued.

The [current] CD compiles both editions of the original LP and was evidently remastered from the session’s backup tapes, though this release oddly lacks credits for the composers and lyricists. Comparing the two takes of each tune is illustrative. The first take of “On Green Dolphin Street” has a longer, more inventive introduction and Sample’s energy seems a bit higher, though Brown’s bass work sizzles in each one.

Both versions of Oliver Nelson’s “Yearnin'” (which debuted on his landmark album Blues and the Abstract Truth) include a motif from his “Stolen Moments” and are cut from similar cloth. Brown introduces each version of the dramatic “‘Round Midnight” unaccompanied, with Sample’s bluesy piano sounding elegant yet never in a cocktail mood.

Finally the collaborative “Funky Blues” (likely composed on the date) has infectious gospel roots and swings like mad. Manne, always a superb drummer, complements his partners beautifully throughout the session.

Leave a Reply