Johnny Hammond / Wild Horses Rock Steady

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You’ll find Super Hot Stamper sound on this side one, with a side two nearly its equal, making it a Top Copy of one of our most recent CTI/Kudu “discoveries”. Who knew that so many of these CTI records were recorded so well? Does anyone in the audiophile community bother to talk about superb original pressings such as this other than us? Does music that’s currently not available on a heavy vinyl reissue simply cease to exist? I remember a time not that long ago when reviewers for the audiophile mags encouraged their readers to seek out wonderful records such as this. That time has long since passed, and more’s the pity.

With Rudy Van Gelder at the board, Bob James doing the arrangements, and supporting players such as Airto, Billy Cobham, Ron Carter (who has played on more than 2500 albums!), George Benson, Eric Gale, Grover Washington, Jr., Snooky Young and Pepper Adams, you’re sure to have another funky jazz winner on your hands.

And if you have a copy that sounds as good as this one, you definitely do!

If you love the sound of the Hammond B-3 and want to hear what somebody other than Jimmy Smith can do with it in a large group setting, this album should be right up your alley. (By the way, Smith’s Bashin’ is one of our all time favorite jazz albums, one that belongs in your collection.)

Side One

A++, big bass, an extended top, lots of space and huge amounts of depth (just listen to how far back the strings are) make this a top copy. The tambourine is perfection on the first track, and that’s not an easy instrument to get to sound right. The best copy we played was slightly more present, so we are calling this one Super Hot, the next best thing to our White Hot shootout winner.

By the way, watch out for GW’s sax. It has a tendency to get a little squawky and thin on even the best copies.

Side Two

A+ to A++, big and rich but not extending all the way on either end of the spectrum, a common problem with records in general. However, the midrange is certainly clear; just listen to those congas so present and lively in the mix. A bit more bass would be nice as well.

Lately you may have noticed that we’ve been adding this Mea Culpa to many of our listings:

RVG, Please Forgive Us

A few years back, having discovered some superb RVG recorded and mastered pressings, we wrote:

Rudy Van Gelder does it again! I hear virtually none of his bad EQ, compressor overload and general unpleasantness. Instead, this recording has smooth, sweet mids; open, unexaggerated highs; and rich, tonally correct bass. In other words, you would never know it was an RVG recording.

With your kind permission we would like to take it all back now.

The really good RVG pressings (often on the later labels) sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located on a soundstage with layered depth, surrounded by the natural space of the studio. As our stereo has gotten better, and we’ve discovered the better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has come to impress us more and more.

We wrote this about another of our favorite RVG jazz recordings, All the King’s Horses:

Let’s Cut RVG Some Slack, Okay?

Some of the credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for recording and mastering this album exceptionally well…

Speaking of Rudy Van Gelder, he comes in for a lot of criticism on a regular basis here at Better Records. We played four copies of this record. Obviously all four of them were recorded by RVG. They also all happen to be mastered by Van Gelder, but only one of them sounded like this [White Hot]. You can’t fault Rudy Van Gelder for the sound of pressings that, for one reason or another, do not have the LIFE and ENERGY of the copy we are listing here. He obviously cut this record properly, and for whatever reason the magic didn’t end up in the grooves most of the time.

All this sounds very obvious to us now.

Of course the sound of the master tape does not end up on the record most of the time. It almost never does. If it did we’d be out of business by now. You have to work hard to find the good RVG pressings. When you do find one, they can be as good as any jazz recording you have ever heard.

To belabor the point a bit further, the early pressings, the ones made with the crude cutting equipment of the day, are often lacking in many important areas. Same with any of the imports, especially the Japanese pressings. The fact that many owners of these records have failed to notice their shortcomings is nothing new, and takes nothing away from the pressings that actually do sound good, such as the ones we offer.

The early ’70s were a good time for Van Gelder. Red Clay is from 1970, All the King’s Men from 1973, and both are amazing Demo Discs in their own right — one for quintet, one for large group. But that’s only true for the best pressings, a fact that has eluded most jazz vinyl aficionados.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Rock Steady
Who Is Sylvia?
Peace Train

Side Two

I Don’t Know How to Love Him
It’s Impossible
Wild Horses

AMG  Review

Johnny Hammond’s 1972 soul-jazz beauty is another stunning example of great creativity at Creed Taylor’s Kudu label through the mid-’70s. Arranged by Bob James, Hammond’s trademark B-3 work is showcased here on six extended cover versions of tunes from the pop vernacular… There are grooves galore in this wondrously mixed set, from the smoking guitar breaks in the read of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” to the syncopated organ pyrotechnics in “It’s Impossible,” with Washington playing his ass off around Hammond’s organ breaks, and the beautiful horn arrangements by James in “Peace Train.”

Wikipedia’s Bio

Smith played with Paul Williams and Chris Columbo before forming his own group. His bands featured singers Etta Jones, Byrdie Green, saxophonists Houston Person, Earl Edwards, guitarists Eddie McFadden, Floyd Smith, James Clark, vibist Freddie McCoy. His career took off as he was serving as accompanist to singer Nancy Wilson. One of his last accomplishments also included Nancy Wilson. He wrote the song “Quiet Fire” for her “Nancy Now” release in 1989.

After a 10-year spell on Prestige Records throughout the 60s resulting in a series of albums, he signed for soul/R&B influenced Kudu imprint of Creed Taylor’s well-regarded CTI Records jazz record label in 1971. His first album for Taylor, “Break Out” was chosen that year to launch Kudu. The album featured Grover Washington Jr. as a sideman prior to the launch of his career as a solo recording artist. Three further albums followed with Taylor on Kudu, as he decided to refer to himself as “Johnny Hammond”, after deciding to drop “Smith” from his name.

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