We had six (yes, six!) of these 45 RPM pressings (and five Inner City’s and a couple of Eastwind 33’s — it was a big shootout), and this side one had the most ENERGY of any of them. This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, it took the performances of the players to a level beyond all expectations.
Our lengthy commentary entitled Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound talks about how rare these kinds of pressings are and how to go about finding them.
We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.
This album checks off a number of important boxes for us here at Better Records:
- It’s a Jazz Demo Disc, especially when played on big speakers at loud levels
- It’s the Best Sounding Joe Sample album we know of
- It’s a Masterpiece as well as a member of our Core Jazz Collection
- It’s a Personal Favorite, and a record we’ve been obsessed with for close to 30 years
Folks, you are looking at the BEST SOUNDING RECORD we have ever played here at Better Records, and the good news for you dear reader, whether you’re a true believer, a skeptic, or fall somewhere in between, is that it can be yours. There was a time when a record like this would go directly into my collection. If I wanted to impress someone, audiophile or otherwise, with the You-Are-There illusion that only Big Speakers in a dedicated room playing a LIVE recording can create, this would be the clear choice, possibly the only choice. There is simply nothing like it on vinyl in my experience.
This copy was so amazing we awarded it the almost unheard of grade of A++++ on both sides. DEMO DISC QUALITY only BEGINS to do this one justice. We guarantee you have never heard a better sounding jazz record in your life or you get your money back. And it’s not the Direct Disc. It’s better than the direct to disc. It’s live to TAPE.
When we say this record has MASTER TAPE SOUND on both sides, we mean it. This record is made from the “backup” tape for the session. It is of course a master tape, the master for the recording of the live sessions.
Now comes this crazy hybrid: on the East Wind label, pressed in Japan, but cut at 45 from the master tape. Any good? How about this bit of hyperbole: it’s the closest to live music I have ever heard in my home, or anyone else’s for that matter.
I could go on for days about the sound of this album and how much I like the music, but for now I’m going to let our previous commentary suffice. Just add a sizable amount of sonic improvement to everything you read below and you will get an idea of what’s in store for you when you get this one home. Believe me, you have never heard a record like this in your life, it’s that good.
Open, airy, and so transparent. The transients are superb, conveying TONS of energy. The piano, bass, and drums — what else is there? — all sound JUST RIGHT.
Both sides here are lively and full-bodied with STUNNING clarity. The piano has real weight to it just as it should, allowing you to really appreciate both the power of Joe Sample’s performance and the percussive qualities of the instrument.
The bass is deep and punchy with definition that defies understanding. You will not believe how real Ray’s bass sounds here. There’s plenty of extension on the top end — just listen to the sustain on the cymbals.
Overall the sound is open, spacious, and tonally correct from top to bottom with virtually no distortion.
Side one is so transparent you can hear Shelly Manne vocalizing as he’s playing the drums. Side two as well. The drum solo on side two is killer here. So full of energy and so dynamic. Why aren’t more drum kits recorded this well? Check out the pictures inside the fold-open cover to see all the mikes that were used on the drums. That’s where that wall to wall, floor to ceiling sound comes from.
The transients are uncannily lifelike, conveying the huge amounts of kinetic energy produced when Shelly whacks the hell out of his cymbals. On a copy like this you can really tell how HARD he is hitting everything.
A++++! Why Four Pluses? We had six (yes, six!) of these 45 RPM pressings (and five Inner City’s and a couple of Eastwind 33’s; it was a big shootout), and this side had the most ENERGY of any of them. This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, it took the performances of the players to a level beyond all expectations.
It is positively SHOCKING how lively and dynamic this record is. I know of no other recording with this combination of sonic and musical energy. It is sui generis, in a league of its own.
A++++, ditto everything you read above.
Ne Plus Ultra Piano Trio
This is without a doubt my favorite piano trio record of all time. Joe Sample, Shelly Manne and Ray Brown only made one album together, this one, recorded direct to disc right here in Los Angeles for Eastwind in the Seventies. Joe Sample for once in his life found himself in a real Class A trio, and happily for jazz fans around the world he rose to the occasion. Actually it was more like an epiphany, as this is the one piano trio album I put in a class by itself. All three of The Three are giving us the best they’ve got on this one. When it comes to small combo piano jazz, there is none better.
This album is made from the analog tape copy of one of the two performances of the music from those sessions. Both performances were turned into direct to disc pressings on East Wind, Take One and Take Two. Take One is good, Take Two is terrible.
Note that this record has only two of the original three songs per side.
On Green Dolphin Street
Round About Midnight
Excerpts from the Liner Notes
On a windy and unusually cold night in Los Angeles, each of the three musicians arrived before the session start time of 10 PM on November 28, 1975. At exactly 10 PM, The Doobie Brothers session that was going on since morning ended. Two assistants immediately started setting up for the session. The Steinway concert grand piano, delivered the previous day, was wheeled in to the center of the room and got tuned. Shelly Manne’s drum kit was assembled in a makeshift “booth.” Microphones were set up, checked and positions adjusted.
Initially, Telefunken microphones were positioned on the piano, but later were replaced by two Neumann U87s. The piano lid was opened to the concert position and microphones were centered relative to the keys and placed a foot (30 centimeters) inward from the hammer and a foot (30 centimeters) away from the stings. One mic was pointed toward the bottom notes and the other pointed toward the top.
To record Ray Brown’s bass, a Shure SM56 and a Sony 38A were pointed at the bridge of the bass, two inches above it. The Shure was used to capture the attack and the Sony mic was used to capture the rich low tones.
Seven microphones were used to capture the sounds of the drum set. Two U87’s were placed overhead, roughly 16-inches above the cymbals facing down. The bottom quarter of the kick drum was dampened with a blanket on the outside and was mic’ed with a Shure SM56. SM56’s were also used for toms and bass toms. Sony 38A was used on the snare and Sennheiser’s Syncrhon on the high-hat.
Each mic was placed 2 inches away from the instruments in a close mic set up. Mr. Itoh got involved with fine tuning mic positioning for tone, stereo placement and balance. Meanwhile, final adjustments were being made on the cutting machine set up.
Within the hour, the set up was done and all preparations were completed. The musicians finished warming up and were ready for Take One. The usual banter subsided and everyone put on their “game face.” Even Ray Brown, who usually cracked jokes in a loud voice, looked serious as he turned his attention to Mr. Itoh, waiting for his cue. As soon as he was notified through the intercom that the cutting needle was put down, Mr. Itoh gave the signal with his hand, and the recording started. In 16 minutes, three tracks were recorded in rapid succession.
Relieved that the initial take was over, the musicians joined the producer and engineer in the control room to listen back from the 2-track tape that was used as back up. With the initial tension gone, all three excitedly made comments and evaluated their own performance and the sounds they got. The thumbs-up was given by the cutting engineer for take one and the musicians went back to the live room for the next take. This process was repeated until 4 AM the following morning, resulting in a total of three takes per track.
Interview with Producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh
I have to say that The Three by Joe Sample, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne was by far the most challenging experience of all the East Wind titles.
We wanted to use direct-to-disc or direct cutting recording technique for the project, which we heard was being used in Los Angeles. Since we were always interested in the latest technology, we wanted to try this new method. So we booked the session at a Los Angeles studio to work with a certain cutting engineer. We later realized that the booking was made on the week of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the studio cancelled the session on us at the last minute. I was already on a plane headed to Los Angeles. The session was cancelled on the day I arrived. I found out about it from our coordinator after I landed. The coordinator had already notified everybody of the cancellation.
Refusing to give up so easily, I started to look for an alternate location to record. I was able to find Amigo Studio, owned by Warner Brothers, who happened to have an excellent cutting engineer, Bobby Hatta, on staff. The Doobie Brothers was recording there until midnight and we were able book a session afterwards. We had to call and round up all the musicians and had to set up everything again and make sure everyone was rehearsed.
We finally got out of the studio around 6 AM. I felt sorry for Ray Brown, who had to go to Japan that day for a one-day session. Overall, I was very pleased with the session and thought the recording came out very good.
I was gratified when the record sold extremely well. We sold the first LP with all first takes until the stamper mold for the vinyl gave out. We put out another LP with second takes and that sold well. The CD version has both the first and second takes of each song.
The success was particularly sweet because we had to go through so much to get the project finished. It was both a trying and memorable experience
Amazon Rave Review
Before Joe Sample detoured into smooth jazz, he was a first-rate bop pianist. This 1975 set found bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne (the latter two had worked together often, particularly with Barney Kessel), getting together for a session of standards, familiar jazz compositions, and one original.
The abbreviated liner notes don’t explain the challenge of making this recording. First, the scheduled studio booking was canceled at the last minute, requiring that a new studio be found once original producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh arrived in California, while they also had to wait until the Doobie Brothers finished recording at the new location.
It was also done direct-to-disc, requiring that an entire LP side be recorded in one take. Fortunately, the performances went well and the limited-edition project sold well until the stampers literally wore out, then the two sides of second takes were separately issued.
The [current] CD compiles both editions of the original LP and was evidently remastered from the session’s backup tapes, though this release oddly lacks credits for the composers and lyricists. Comparing the two takes of each tune is illustrative. The first take of “On Green Dolphin Street” has a longer, more inventive introduction and Sample’s energy seems a bit higher, though Brown’s bass work sizzles in each one.
Both versions of Oliver Nelson’s “Yearnin'” (which debuted on his landmark album Blues and the Abstract Truth) include a motif from his “Stolen Moments” and are cut from similar cloth. Brown introduces each version of the dramatic “‘Round Midnight” unaccompanied, with Sample’s bluesy piano sounding elegant yet never in a cocktail mood.
Finally the collaborative “Funky Blues” (likely composed on the date) has infectious gospel roots and swings like mad. Manne, always a superb drummer, complements his partners beautifully throughout the session.