Miles Davis – Workin’ And Steamin’

  • An outstanding Double Album with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on all four sides
  • The best sounding tracks here can hold their own with ANY Miles Davis vinyl we’ve ever heard, and that’s a whole lot of Mile Davis albums
  • 5 Stars: “This two-LP set combines a pair of classic albums by the Miles Davis Quintet of 1956, the group that also featured John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. …the music has plenty of variety and does not sound rushed. Davis’s beautiful muted statements made these two of his most popular albums.”

You might be surprised that a reissue can beat the originals, but one play of this pressing should be enough to remove all doubt.

To the Jazz Fans of the World, we here present one of the BEST sounding jazz recordings we have ever had the PRIVILEGE to place on a turntable. I cannot ever recall hearing a better sounding Rudy Van Gelder recording, and I have a theory as to why this tape is as good as it is: it’s MONO. It also sounds like it’s recorded completely LIVE in the studio, direct to one track you might say. As good a recording as Kind of Blue is, I think the best parts of this album are more immediate and more real than anything on KOB.

Better than the Originals?

The record combines two Miles Davis albums recorded in 1956: Workin’ and Steamin’. The 1974 remastering here by Brian Gardner is excellent. Since RVG probably would have mastered these tapes himself for the original pressings, I’m going to guess that this album sounds better than any original, for two reasons.

One, modern cutting equipment did not exist in 1956. As good as the best tube cutting equipment may have been, not many records from the era do not suffer from bloated bass and a lack of extension on the top end. Starting in the ’70s record mastering equipment got a whole lot better. Most of the best-sounding pressings in our Top 100 for example were cut on these modern cutters. The sound is dynamic with very low distortion, with higher highs and lower lows, as well as transparency and openness far beyond anything that had come before.

Don’t get us wrong, we love that classic tube-mastered sound — warmer, smoother, and sweeter than the pressings that would come later, with wonderful breath of life. But, like all colorations, it comes at a price. That’s not what’s on the tape. What’s on the tape is what you hear on this amazing reissue, on the best of the four sides anyway.

Two, the vinyl used to press the original records was not as good back in 1956. Bad vinyl is not only noisier, it often imparts a gritty quality to the sound. Sometimes it’s just dull. On an issue that’s no doubt closer to home, could it be that the reason almost all the heavy vinyl pressings coming out of RTI are so veiled and lifeless is that their vinyl formulation is not up to the job? It would certainly be interesting to test the hypothesis. But how to explain the bad sound of Sundazed and other labels that are not pressed at RTI?

What the best sides of Workin’ and Steamin’ 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 1974
  • 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.

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.

What We’re Listening For on Workin’ and Steamin’

  • 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.

Warning: Stereo Editorial Follows

The same is true for audio equipment as I’m sure you’ve experienced first-hand. Some stereos can 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 forty-plus years in this hobby I’ve had my share of both. 90% or more of the stuff I hear around town makes me appreciate what I have at home. I’m sure you feel the same way.

Who Are These Guys?


Side One

It Never Entered My Mind 
In Your Own Sweet Way
The Theme

Side Two

Trane’s Blues
Ahmad’s Blues
Half Nelson 
The Theme

Side Three

Surrey With The Fringe On Top
Salt Peanuts
Something I Dreamed Last Night

Side Four

Well You Needn’t
When I Fall In Love

AMG 5 Star Review

This two-LP set combines together a pair of classic albums by the Miles Davis Quintet of 1956, the group that also featured John Coltrane on tenor, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Even though all but two of these 14 selections were recorded at the same May 11 session, the music has plenty of variety and does not sound rushed. Highpoints include “It Never Entered My Mind,” “Four,” “In Your Own Sweet Way,” “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” “Diane” and “When I Fall in Love.” Davis’s beautiful muted statements made these two of his most popular albums.