Artist Overview – Jazz

Listening in Depth to Airto’s Masterpiece – Fingers

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.)

The Highs Are Back

This copy has the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play this against most copies there is an extension to the top end that you don’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical. The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these.

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull stereo. Those “Old School” stereos are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound”, look out.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Fingers

This is the most problematical track on the entire album — please DO NOT JUDGE the album by this song! The sound is much better on the tracks that follow. This may have been an attempt to get that hot hit single sound for track one, the kind that would jump out of your radio speaker, but the effect can be a bit much, depending on how low distortion and high resolution your equipment is. The better your system, the less of a problem you will have getting this track to play well. If this track sounds decent, everything after it will really shine.

The biggest problem one typically runs into is a lack of bass and lower midrange. On the better copies the bass will be fine on the next track and those that follow.

Romance of Death

The guitar work on this track is stellar, some of the best musicianship on the album. Credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for making the guitar jump out of the mix. One of the things he can do, practically better than anyone, is make a lead instrument sound as big and as bold as you’ve ever heard it.

Merry-Go-Round

This track has a tendency to be overly compressed. Some stampers have so much added compression that the guitar and the percussion in the middle of the soundfield turn into undifferentiated muck. Those copies are what we refer to as “Not-So-Hot Stampers”.

Wind Chant

Side Two

Note that the sound on side two tends to be more open, rich and clear as a rule.

Parana

Perhaps my favorite track on the album; it builds into a chanting jam towards the end of its six minutes that grows to be as powerfully hypnotic as any I know. It’s the main reason this is a Desert Island Disc for me. I simply cannot get enough of Airto’s driving rhythms on this album. I’ve been playing this record my entire adult life and never once tired of it.

We wish Airto had made a string of albums as good as this one, but unfortunately we are not aware of any others of this quality. Which makes sense I suppose: one awe-inspiring masterpiece is more than most artists will ever produce.

San Francisco River
Tombo in 7/4

Great in Stereo, Bad in Mono. What Else Is New?

More of The In Crowd

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Skip the Mono

This album is more common in mono than stereo, but we found the sound of the mono pressing we played unsatisfying. Where is the wall to wall space of the live club? It has been drastically shrunken into the area between the speakers. Much of the ambience disappeared with it, destroying the illusion the album was trying to create, that you are there.

In mono, you really aren’t.

Here are some other records that we don’t think sound very good in MONO.

Here are some we think can sound amazing in MONO.

OUR HOT STEREO COPY

  • An excellent copy with both sides rating a Double Plus (A++) or better
  • It’s taken us years, but Lewis’s breakout bestselling album The In Crowd finally makes its debut at Better Records
  • If you want to know what jazz at an intimate nightclub would have sounded like in 1965, play this record – this is that sound
  • AMG raves “…this is the moment where Lewis shined the brightest, the “in crowd” at the club was verbally into it, and the time for this music was right.”

 

See all of our Ramsey Lewis Trio albums in stock

This original Argo Blue Label Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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 a real jazz club, this is the record for you. It’s what Vintage Records are known for — this sound. (more…)

Monk’s Criss-Cross from 1963

1963 – A Great Year for Top Quality Recordings of Timeless Music

When you look closely at all the great records that were released that year — some of which can even be purchased in Hot Stamper form on this very site — you may come to agree with us that 1960 was a wonderful year for recorded music.

Click HERE to see the records currently on the site that were recorded or released in 1963.

And HERE to see the records from 1963 that we’ve reviewed, a substantially larger group as you can imagine, with more than 90 entries at the time of this writing.

 

  • This early stereo pressing won our shootout – Triple Plus (A+++) on the first side and Double Plus (A++) on the second
  • Columbia records produced by Teo Macero in the early ’60s have consistently open, natural sound – this one from ’63 is no exception
  • The piano sounds amazing here — natural and dynamic, letting Monk’s passionate playing shine
  • “Thelonious Monk’s second album for Columbia Records features some of the finest work that Monk ever did in the studio with his ’60s trio and quartet … This is prime Monk for any degree of listener.” — Allmusic

 

See all of our Thelonious Monk albums in stock

I wish more Blue Note records had this kind of sound — natural, full-bodied, and sweet up top. The bass here is well-defined with real weight and lots of punch. Monk’s piano sounds correct from the highest notes all the way down to the lower register, and the sax sounds tonally right on the money. The clarity and transparency are superb throughout.

The Piano Is Key

The copies of the album with a piano that sounded lean or hard always ended up having problems with the other instruments as well. (This should not be surprising; the piano was designed to be the single instrument most capable of reproducing the sound of an entire orchestra.)

If you have big, full-range speakers one of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano is WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to capture these wonderful musical performances on vinyl, showing us the sound we never expected to hear.

 

 

   

Today’s Cool Record Find from 1961 – Jack Sheldon And His All-Star Band

Our White Hot Shootout Winner

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) side two and a better than Double Plus (A++ to A+++) side one, here’s a copy that’s practically as good as it gets
  • This fun, lively, superbly well-recorded 1961 release is a real SLEEPER of Demo Disc Quality West Coast Jazz
  • Huge, spacious, clear, Tubey Magical, natural and above all REAL, this copy blew our minds when we stumbled on it in our shootout
  • 4 Stars: “High-quality and consistently swinging West Coast jazz … this was the initial album to gain wide recognition and helped to introduce the L.A.-based trumpeter’s talents to the East Coast.”

See all of our Jack Sheldon albums in stock

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If you large group swinging West Coast Jazz is your thing — think Art Pepper Plus Eleven — you should get a big kick out of this one. (more…)

Art Pepper’s Modern Jazz Classic

A Superb Hot Stamper Pressing

  • A Big, Bold and Lively copy, with each side rating a Double Plus (A++) or BETTER for this exceptionally well recorded album
  • The sound is rich, warm and full-bodied, both clear and open — the brass sounds phenomenal on this pressing
  • Here is the Tubey Magic of the originals without the problems that make the average original so much less involving
  • A longtime audiophile favorite – 5 stars on Allmusic: “This is a true classic. Essential music for all serious jazz collections.”

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has got that Modern Jazz Classics Magic. On a great copy such as this one you can really pick out each of the musicians and follow them throughout the course of the track. When you’re able to appreciate everyone’s contributions you really get a sense of how much work went into the making of this album. It’s nothing short of epic.

This is one DYNAMIC jazz record — drop the needle on any track and prepare yourself to be very impressed. The sound is full-bodied and energetic with tight bass, breathy brass, and lots of ambience.

See all of our Art Pepper albums in stock

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Sketches Of Spain on the Original Six Eye Stereo Label

See all of our Miles Davis albums in stock

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1960 – It Was a Very Good Year

When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the sound is truly MAGICAL. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) Tons of ambience, Tubey Magic all over the place; let’s face it, this is one of those famous Columbia recordings that shows just how good the Columbia engineers were back then. The sound is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite just like the real thing. What more can you ask for?

We Was Wrong in the Past About HP and Six Eye Labels

In previous commentary we had written:

Harry Pearson added this record to his TAS List of Super Discs a few years back, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording?

Of course you can be quite sure that he would have been listening exclusively to the earliest pressings on the Six Eye label. Which simply means that he probably never heard a copy with the clarity, transparency and freedom from distortion that these later label pressings offer.

The Six Eyes are full of Tubey Magic, don’t get me wrong; Davis’s trumpet can be and usually is wonderful sounding. It’s everything else that tends to suffer, especially the strings, which are shrill and smeary on most copies, Six Eyes, 360s and Red Labels included.

Over the course of the last few years we’ve come to appreciate just how good the right Six Eye stereo pressing can sound.

In fact, the two copies earning the highest grades were both original stereo pressings. Other pressings did well, but none did as well as the originals. This has never been our experience with Kind of Blue by the way. The later pressings have always done the best job of communicating the music on that album. (more…)