This Home Audio Exercise entry was inspired by the wonderful qualities of the Contemporary recording you see pictured, qualities brought to our attention while doing a shootout of various pressings of the album in early 2009.
We addressed a number of issues in our commentary: first and foremost what we were listening for on the album (and what we were hearing). A bit of mono versus stereo (in this case both can be good), followed by some Audiophile Equipment bashing.
We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your own equipment. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc.
Two of the best sounding jazz guitar records in the history of the world were made by Barney Kessel for Contemporary: this one, and Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By. (We have a fabulous mono copy on the site as I write this.) I used to have them both in my personal collection. [This was written many years ago when I actually had a personal collection. With 40,000 records in stock I don’t need a collection of my own anymore. Any record I might want to play is in stock, waiting to be shot out.]
Such a wonderful idea for an album. The melodies from Bizet’s Carmen are unforgettable and perfect fodder for jazz improvisation. Don’t think that this is just guitar and rhythm. This is a full band with lots of horns, clarinets of all kinds, bassoons, oboes, flutes, piano, vibes — the variety of sounds to be found on this album is practically unlimited. And with Roy DuNann’s engineering, you will never hear richer, fuller sound with more accurate timbers for all the instruments mentioned above. The guy was a genius. His recordings define High Fidelity for me. I know of none better.
The best Hot Stamper Original Yellow Label Mono pressings have the Tubey Magic we’ve come to expect from Contemporary circa 1958, with that warm, rich, full-bodied sound that RVG often struggles to understand. However, some pressings in our shootout managed to give us an extra level of transparency and ambience that most original pressings rarely do.
There’s a room around this drum kit. So many copies don’t show you that room, not if they have the full sound that a copy like this does. (It’s amazing all the detail you can hear in a leaned-out record, but what good is that? The sound is all leaned out! If you like that sound buy the OJC or the CD. Leave these wonderful originals to those of us who know the sound we’re after.)
Mono Versus Stereo
The best sound is usually found on side two and here there is an interesting story. I have the stereo version of this record, and on the opening track of side two there’s a lot of punchy drum work that sounds better on this mono pressing than it does on the stereo version. I’ve run into this situation before: sometimes mono cuttings just have a punchy bottom end that you don’t find on the stereo copies.
(I had the OJC pressing of this record years ago and couldn’t get in to the music. The OJC’s tend to be a bit on the thin side and it killed my enjoyment of this album.)
The Sound We Love
For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own (unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition). Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best.
From an audiophile point of view, how can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of so many instruments? It’s audiophile heaven. The sound is gorgeous, all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio.
Talk About Timbre
Man, when you play a Hot Stamper copy of an amazing recording such as this, the timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off. To paraphrase The Hollies, you get paid back with interest. If you hear anything funny in the mids and highs of this record, don’t blame the record. (This is the kind of record that shows up audiophile BS equipment for what it is: Audiophile BS. If you are checking for richness, tubey-magic and freedom from artificiality, I can’t think of a better test disc. It has loads of the first two and none of the last.)
Warning: Stereo Editorial Follows
The same is true for audio equipment as I’m sure you’ve experienced first-hand. Some stereos can just bore you to tears with their dead-as-a-doornail sound and freedom from dynamic contrasts. Other stereos are overly-detailed and fatiguing; they wear out their welcome pretty quickly with their hyped-up extremes. As Goldilocks will gladly tell you, some stereos are just right; they have the uncanny ability to get out of the way of the music. Some equipment doesn’t call attention to itself, and that tends to be the kind of equipment we prefer around here at Better Records. After thirty five years in this hobby I’ve had my share of both. 90- plus per cent of the stuff I hear around town makes me appreciate what I have at home. I’m sure you feel the same way.
Instruments Used on This Album