John Coltrane Quartet – Ballads

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of John Coltrane

  • Ballads makes its Hot Stamper debut with outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this vintage Impulse Stereo copy
  • Full-bodied, energetic, and tonally correct from top to bottom, this pressing is guaranteed to bring Coltrane’s music to life – it’s possible that you would not own any Coltrane record that sounds as good as this one
  • The sound is everything that’s good about Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings – it’s present, spacious, full-bodied, Tubey Magical, dynamic and, most importantly, ALIVE in the way that modern pressings never are
  • 4 stars: “[A] perfectly fine album of Coltrane doing what he always did — exploring new avenues and modes in an inexhaustible search for personal and artistic enlightenment. [H]e’s introspective and at times even predictable, but that is precisely Ballads’ draw.”

This vintage Impulse pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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 the band, 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 Ballads 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 1963
  • 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.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For On Ballads

  • 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.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The saxophone isn’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. It’s front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — the one and only Rudy Van Gelder in this instance — would put it.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.

Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded that open and clear. And how many even dedicated audiophiles would have more than one or two clean copies with which to do a shootout? These records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of vintage pressings of classic jazz albums.

When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different — and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Say It (Over And Over Again)
You Don’t Know What Love Is
Too Young To Go Steady
All Or Nothing At All

Side Two

I Wish I Knew
What’s New
It’s Easy To Remember
Nancy (With The Laughing Face)

AMG 4 Star Review

Throughout John Coltrane’s discography there are a handful of decisive and controversial albums that split his listening camp into factions. Generally, these occur in his later-period works such as Om and Ascension, which push into some pretty heady blowing.

As a contrast, Ballads is often criticized as too easy and as too much of a compromise between Coltrane and Impulse! (the two had just entered into the first year of label representation). Seen as an answer to critics who found his work complicated with too many notes and too thin a concept, Ballads has even been accused of being a record that Coltrane didn’t want to make.

These conspiracy theories (and there are more) really just get in the way of enjoying a perfectly fine album of Coltrane doing what he always did — exploring new avenues and modes in an inexhaustible search for personal and artistic enlightenment. With Ballads he looks into the warmer side of things, a path he would take with both Johnny Hartman (on John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman) and with Duke Ellington (on Duke Ellington and John Coltrane).

Here he lays out for McCoy Tyner mostly, and the results positively shimmer at times. He’s not aggressive, and he’s not outwardly. Instead he’s introspective and at times even predictable, but that is precisely Ballads’ draw.

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