Jazz Demo Discs

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um

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More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • Don’t let the Columbia Red Label scare you off – this pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Most of the later pressings sound as bad as you would expect, but if you know your stamper numbers, gems like this one will come your way eventually
  • A superb 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer)
  • The rich, sweet, spacious sound of the vintage tubes used to record the session is reproduced faithfully here – without that sound, it would just not be Ah Um
  • 5 stars: “Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners… Mingus’ compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um”

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • This original Impulse Stereo pressing boasts INCREDIBLE Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from the first note to the last – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Impulse released a Heavy Vinyl pressing in 1995, as did Speakers Corner in 2003, but neither can hold a candle to the real thing
  • Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of the undeniability of that assertion
  • 5 stars: “It closes out the most productive and significant chapter of his career, and one of the most fertile, inventive hot streaks of any composer in jazz history.”

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. So high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of the undeniability of that fact. (more…)

Charles Mingus – Pre-Bird

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More Jazz Recordings

  • You’ll find INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout this original Mercury Stereo LP, only the second time this pressing has made it to the site
  • We used to think the early Limelight pressing was impossible to beat, but this killer original Mercury showed us just how wrong we were – it takes the recording to another level
  • This copy sounds like a big room full of musicians (25 in all!) playing live, which is exactly what it was
  • The Tubey Magical richness of this 1960 recording (released in 1961, and again in 1965 as Mingus Revisited) is breathtaking – no modern record can touch it
  • Two tracks are contrapuntal arrangements of two swing era pieces, whereby “Take the “A” Train” (left channel) is paired with a simultaneous “Exactly Like You” (right channel), and likewise “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” with “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”.

The best copies recreate a live studio space the size of which you will not believe (assuming your room can do a good job of recreating their room). The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it -so high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of the undeniability of that fact.

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Masterpieces By Ellington Circa 1951

More of the Music of Duke Ellington

More Large Group Jazz Recordings

  • You’ll find superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage 6-Eye mono pressing – remarkably quiet vinyl for such an early Columbia too
  • The 1951 mono sound is shockingly real, not for the era, but for any era – it’s remarkably big, rich and Tubey Magical
  • A mid-’50s pressing that is almost impossible to find in clean condition – this is one of the nicer copies we’ve seen lately
  • For his first LP, Ellington is freed from prior 3-minute constraints and the results are nothing short of breathtaking on a record this good
  • If you could have only one Ellington LP, Indigos or Masterpieces would have to be one of them
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he and the band rose to the occasion with extended (11-minute-plus) “uncut concert arrangements” of “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Solitude,””

We haven’t done this title in close to two years, mostly because there are so few clean copies around to buy. This was, in fact, one of the only copies in our shootout without audible scratches or groove wear. Let us hope we have more to offer in the months ahead.

We’ve known about this wonderful album for decades, since first got hold of a red label copy from the ’70s. Although not in the league with the best 6-Eye pressings, even that late reissue had enough Columbia magic in its grooves to impress the hell out of me.

And the fact that a jazz album recorded in 1950 was still in print more than twenty years later is testament to the lasting power of Ellington’s music. As Kenny Burrell would say, “Ellington Is Forever.”

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Bob and Ray / Throw a Stereo Spectacular

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More Living Stereo Recordings

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this Living Stereo pressing with be very hard to beat
  • Originally produced as a sampler record for the Living Stereo line, it is an absolute MUST OWN for serious audiophiles looking to take their system to the next level
  • Our reference copy here at Better Records is so vital to our operation that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price!
  • 4 stars: “The gleefully cacophonous Guckenheimer Sour Kraut Band takes the prize for providing the most unusual musical selection, but the overall program is extremely diverse [and] the comedy and music are enjoyable.”

Bob and Ray Throw A Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only: The Bob and Ray Test.

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: “The Song of the Volga Boatman.”

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is “The Song of the Volga Boatman” on Bob and Ray Throw A Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult track we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change, some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience very well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test, as well. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last several years.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right, the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection, you need to find one. It will be invaluable to you in the long run.

The copy we have is so good, and is so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Dynasty

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More Jazz Recordings

  • An original 6-Eye Stereo copy with superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • This pressing is rich and tubey, yet still clear and spacious, with a notably solid and articulate bottom end that does a superb job of captureing the beauty of Mingus’s double bass
  • Bucketfuls of studio ambience, and Tubey Magic to die for – this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • Be careful though – a record with this kind of sound will make all your Heavy Vinyl pressing sound as washed out, lifeless and veiled as we know them to be, news that may come as quite a shock
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Mingus Dynasty is still an excellent album; in fact, it’s a testament to just how high a level Mingus was working on that an album of this caliber could have gotten lost in the shuffle.”

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

If innovative Large Group Jazz is your thing, you should get a big kick out of this one. If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz — and what red blooded audiophile doesn’t — you can’t do much better than the Mingus recordings on Columbia from this era. (We’ve now done shootouts for the album before this one and the one to follow. Both are amazing, musically and sonically.) The warmth and immediacy of the sound here are guaranteed to blow practically any record of this kind you own right out of the water.

Both sides of this very special pressing are huge, rich, tubey and clear. As soon as the band got going we knew that this was absolutely the right sound for this music. There was practically nothing that could beat it, in any area of reproduction.

Amazing Tubey Magic

For we audiophiles, both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1960 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy should be just the record for you.

It’s spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This is the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of the album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

We played a handful of later pressings that didn’t really do it for us. They offer improved clarity, but can’t deliver the tubey goodness that you’ll hear on the best early pressings. We won’t be bothering with them anymore. It’s tubes or nothing on this album.

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Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

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  • Charles Mingus’s avant-garde jazz masterpiece makes it back to the site with superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • This copy is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • One of the most acclaimed jazz records of the 20th century – a dizzying blend of jazz and classical, and also elements of African music and Spanish themes
  • 5 stars: “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history. Charles Mingus consciously designed the six-part ballet as his magnum opus, and — implied in his famous inclusion of liner notes by his psychologist — it’s as much an examination of his own tortured psyche as it is a conceptual piece about love and struggle.”

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Return to Forever – Romantic Warrior

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More Jazz Rock Fusion

  • A STUNNING pressing with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner (and just a half plus short of our most recent $399 White Hot Stamper pressing)
  • Our favorite Jazz Rock Fusion Album of All Time – on the right stereo this is a Demo Disc like no other
  • None rocks harder – of course that wouldn’t mean much without the music being so exciting and brilliant, and we’re happy to report it is!
  • These are four instrumental pyrotechnicians – the band is absolutely on fire like no other album they recorded together
  • If you’re a Jazz Fusion guy, this title from 1976 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

If you’re a fan of ’70s jazz fusion there aren’t many albums better than this. (It’s the only RTF record we bother to carry as a matter of fact.) It’s an absolutely phenomenal recording, and if you have any doubts about that fact, these two pressings are more than capable of disabusing you of such like. (more…)

Jimmy Smith / Bashin’ – The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith

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More Oliver Nelson

  • An outstanding copy of this Big Band Jazz classic led by Jimmy Smith with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • If you own only one Jimmy Smith album, make it this one – with Oliver Nelson’s arrangements ferociously blasting away, at good loud levels the first side here has the power to swing like you will not believe
  • 5 stars: “On the first half of the program, Smith was for the first time joined by a big band. Oliver Nelson provided the arrangements, trumpeter Joe Newman and altoist Phil Woods have a solo apiece, and “Walk on the Wild Side” became Smith’s biggest hit up to that point.”

This is tube mastering at its finest. Not many vintage tube-mastered records manage to balance all the sonic elements as correctly as this copy does.

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1962 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

Ted Heath / Shall We Dance – Absolutely Amazing Sound (and We Love the Music Too)

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

One of the best sounding records we have ever played, the Gold Standard for Tubey Magical Big Band. Both sides are huge, rich, weighty and dynamic like few records you have ever heard. Three elements create the magic here: Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson and the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

Years ago we wrote in another listing “We had a copy of Heath’s Shall We Dance not long ago that had some of the biggest, richest, most powerful sound I have ever heard. Watch for Hot Stampers coming to the site soon.” Well, now they’re here, and this copy fulfills the promise of the album like no copy we have ever played.

DEMO DISC SOUND barely begins to do this one justice. This is Audiophile Quality Big Band sound to beat them all. The American big bands rarely got the kind of sound that the Decca engineers were able to achieve on records like this. For one thing they didn’t have Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson or the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

Unlike some of the American big band leaders who were well past their prime by the advent of the two-channel era, Heath is able to play with all the energy and verve required for this style of music. He really does “swing in high stereo” on these big band dance tunes. (more…)