- A STUNNING original Reprise pressing with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- Sinatra is both natural and present – he actually sounds like he is standing on the same stage as Ellington’s band
- “Recorded on Sinatra’s birthday in 1967, this collaboration between America’s most popular singing icon and pre-eminent jazz composer still endures as one of Sinatra’s most enjoyable Reprise-era albums.” – Amazon
Recorded one year after the remarkable Sinatra-Jobim record that we treasure here at Better Records, Sinatra takes the opportunity to work with one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of jazz, the Duke himself. We had good luck with the stereo originals on the lovely Blue and Green Reprise labels — they can be as big, rich and warm as Sinatra’s legendary Capitol recordings when you find the right pressing, and that’s really saying something.
You Are There
The presence and immediacy here are really something. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime.
The sound is big, open, rich and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most by a long shot. Very few Sinatra records offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing.
He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.
What the Best Sides of Francis A. and Edward K. 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 1968
- 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.
Booth? What Booth?
Notice that, at least for most of the material, and perhaps all of it, Sinatra does not seem to be stuck in a vocal booth. He sounds like he is actually standing on the same stage as Ellington’s band.
Whether this is a recording trick — he’s in a booth but the engineer (Lee Herschberg in this case) did a great job creating a sound for the booth that matched the ambience and space of the studio — or whether he is standing front and center with the band, the illusion is convincing and adds greatly to the “reality” of the performance.
Here are some general guidelines as to what we listen for when playing Ellington’s Big Band recordings — what the better pressings get right and the lesser ones struggle with.
What typically separates the killer copies from the merely good ones are two qualities that we often look for in the records we play: transparency and lack of smear. Transparency allows you to hear into the recording, reproducing the ambience and subtle musical cues and details that high-resolution analog is known for.
(Note that most Heavy Vinyl pressings being produced these days seem to be quite Transparency Challenged. Lots of important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply not to be found. That audiophiles as a whole — including those passing themselves off as the champions of analog in the audio press — fail to notice these failings does not speak well for either their equipment or their critical listening skills.)
What We’re Listening For on Francis A. and Edward K.
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- 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.
Richness and Lack of Smear
Lack of smear is also important, especially on a recording with this many horns, where the reproduction of leading-edge transients is critical to their sound. If the sharply different characters of the various horns (trumpet, trombone, and various saxes) smear together into an amorphous blob, as if the sound were being fed through ’50s vintage tube amps (for those of you who know that sound), half the fun goes right out of the music.
Richness is important — horns need to be full-bodied if they are to sound like the real thing — but so are speed and clarity, two qualities that ensure that all the horns have the proper bite and timbre.
Lee Herschberg, Engineer Extraordinaire
One of the top guys at Warners and Reprise, Lee engineered this album as well as a great many others for Sinatra. You’ll find Herschberg’s name in the credits of many of the best Ry Cooder, Doobie Brothers and Gordon Lightfoot albums, titles we know to have excellent sound on the best copies — not to mention an album most audiophiles know all too well, Rickie Lee Jones’ debut. His pop and rock engineering credits run for pages. Won the Grammy for Strangers in the Night even.
The most amazing jazz piano trio recording we know of is on the list as well: The Three (Shelly Manne, Ray Brown and Joe Sample), along with most of the other Direct to Disc recordings released on Eastwind.
The album that gets my vote for Herschberg’s Pop Engineering Masterpiece would have to be Michael McDonald’s If That’s What It Takes. On the best copies the sound is out of this world.
All I Need Is The Girl
I Like The Sunrise
Come Back To Me
Recorded on Sinatra’s birthday in 1967, this collaboration between America’s most popular singing icon and pre-eminent jazz composer still endures as one of Sinatra’s most enjoyable Reprise-era albums.
The Ellington Orchestra stretches out in style, with the five-man horn section (including trumpeter Cootie Williams and saxophonist Johnny Hodges) expertly counterpointing the Chairman’s assured vocalizations on “All I Need Is the Girl,” “Follow Me” and Ellington’s “I Like the Sunrise.” Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” works surprisingly well (Sinatra sounds as if he’s singing it to Frank Jr.), and “Indian Summer” is heart-stoppingly lovely.
Francis A. & Edward K offers ample proof that, provided with properly challenging material, Sinatra could still astound and amaze. Sadly, the record sold poorly, presaging a move towards poppier pastures.