Genre – Jazz – Big Band

Thelonious Monk – Big Band and Quartet – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

An amazingly well-recorded Big Band Concert from 1963, and these White Hot sides make the case like nothing you have ever heard. Our early pressing here is so rich, Tubey Magical, spacious and lively we simply could not fault the sound. Monk alternates between a 10 piece Big Band and his standard quartet, with magical results. 

Normally our notes for the sound of the records we are comparing in our shootout fall into two categories: what the record is doing right and what the record is doing wrong. In this case there was nothing wrong about the sound to write about.

I could have tried to pick some nits, but when a record is so clearly superior to its competition, what’s the point? (more…)

Bob and Ray – Throw a Stereo Spectacular – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

It’s been nearly two years but the waiting is over — we’ve found another copy of the famous Bob and Ray on Living Stereo with DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Without a doubt this is the best sound I have ever heard for side one of this album. The sound here is so amazing I’m willing to go out on a limb and make the following recklessly bold statement. Buck Dance on this pressing has the most extended, natural and harmonically correct high frequencies I have ever heard from my speakers (or anyone else’s for that matter). 

And the crazy thing about it is, when played against an actual original pressing of Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp, this copy, which one would assume is made from a dub, SOUNDS FAR BETTER. Now of course we don’t have ten copies (or even two copies) of LSP 1866 which would allow us to find one with an even better Buck Dance than the one heard here on Bob and Ray, which means we cannot be definitive in any way about the disparity in sound between the two albums. We can only judge the records we have in hand, not the ones we might have heard years ago or — even worse — speculate about the sound of records we have not actually played, recently or otherwise. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Yale Concert

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

There is some interesting mic placement going on with this recording. Some of the instruments seem to be off-mic, creating an unusual effect that has its charms.

Only one song was actually recorded live, Boola Boola. The rest of the material was taped in the studio and an audience dubbed in. (more…)

Charles Mingus – Me Myself an Eye

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More Me Myself an Eye

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

If you hear something that sounds like Frank Zappa’s music circa Waka Jawaka don’t be surprised, we heard it too. Mingus and Zappa were both eccentric geniuses so it only makes sense that they arrived at some of the same musical ideas as they evolved as composers. 

Side one is big, rich, Tubey Magical and natural. The saxophone that solos is front and center and lively. Above all the music works on this side.

Side two is especially rich and tubey. It will sound thick and dark unless you get the volume up to the level it wants to be for the mix to work (which simply means that the album was balanced at louder levels to sound correct at louder levels). A little more top end extension would be nice but the music sounds right on the copy the way it is. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Blues – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

WONDERFUL BIG BAND MUSIC, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, and QUIET VINYL! 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 JUST RIGHT — totally free of the “RVG squawk” we often hear on old Blue Notes. The clarity and transparency are superb throughout.   (more…)

Ted Heath – Swing Session

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Swing Session

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  • Ted Heath Swing Session makes its Hot Stamper debut with KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This pressing is bigger, bolder and richer, as well as more clean, clear and open than any copy we played (which is of course the way it earned those Triple Plus grades)
  • These original pressings are ridiculously hard to come by with this kind of superb sound AND quiet vinyl – this one has it all!  
  • “… the sound is open and airy with great separation of instruments and very much alive. The band is tight and the music is energetic.”

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

Shorty Rogers – The Swingin’ Nutcracker

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The Swingin’ Nutcracker

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  • Insanely good Living Stereo sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades and playing reasonably quietly
  • Al Schmitt handled the engineering duties, brilliantly, with Shorty and dozens of his West Coast Pals contributing to the dates, the likes of Conte Candoli, Art Pepper, Bill Perkins, Bud Shank, Harold Land, Richie Kamuca and more
  • “The most remarkable aspect about the score is how boldly it re-imagines the original. The Swingin’ Nutcracker is contemporary from an American perspective without patronizing the European original.” – Marc Meyers, Jazz Wax

This vintage RCA 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.

Hi-Fidelity

What do we love about these Living Stereo Hot Stamper pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The instruments here are reproduced with remarkable fidelity. Now that’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi”, not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that too often passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. (For a taste of the ridiculously phony sound I’m talking about, click here.)

There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange. There’s no added digital reverb (Patricia Barber, Diana Krall, et al.). The microphones are not fifty feet away from the musicians (Water Lily) nor are they inches away (Three Blind Mice). This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this one up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it. 

What amazing sides such as these 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 1960
  • 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.

What We Listen For on The Swingin’ Nutcracker

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Al Schmitt in this case — 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.

The Players

Bass – Joe Mondragon 
Drums – Frank Capp, Mel Lewis 
Piano – Lou Levy, Pete Jolly 
Saxophone – Art Pepper, Bill Holman, Bill Hood, Bill Perkins, Bud Shank, Chuck Gentry, Harold Land, Richie Kamuca 
Trombone – Frank Rosolino, George Roberts, Harry Betts, Kenneth Shroyer 
Trumpet – Conte Candoli, Jimmy Zito*, Johnny Audino, Ray Triscari 

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of 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.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Like Nutty Overture (Finale)
A Nutty Marche (Marche)
Blue Reeds (Reed Flute Blues) 
The Swingin’ Plum Fairy (Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy)
Snowball (Waltz Of The Snowflakes)

Side Two

Six Pak (Trépak)
Flowers Of The Cats (Waltz Of The Flowers)
Dance Expresso (Coffee)
Pass The Duke (Pas De Deux)
China Where? (Tea Dance)
Overture For Shorty (Overture In Miniature)

Count Basie And His Orchestra – I Told You So

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I Told You So

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – fairly quiet vinyl too 
  • A Top Basie Big Band title in every way – musically, sonically, you name it, this album has got it going on!
  • This is the way it must have sounded in 1976, in the New York studios where the famous RCA engineer Bob Simpson was still behind the board
  • 4 stars: “This is one of Count Basie’s best big-band studio recordings for Norman Granz during his Pablo years. The arrangements by Bill Holman are both challenging and swinging, containing enough surprises to make this session a real standout.”

On the best pressings, the horns are so present and high-rez, not to mention full-bodied, this could easily become a favorite big band album to demo or test with — or just to enjoy the hell out of.

I never noticed until just now that the album cover picture for Farmer’s Market Barbecue and this album are exactly the same! Wow, Pablo, that takes balls. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Piano In The Background

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Piano In The Background

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  • This original Six Eye has a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two – exceptionally quiet vinyl too  
  • Full-bodied and warm, exactly the way you want your vintage analog to sound – the piano is surprisingly real here, solid and dynamic
  • Classic Records remastered the album in the 2000s, as has Speakers Corner, but if you think either one of those versions can hold a candle to the real thing from 1960, let us send you this record and disabuse you of that notion
  • 4 stars: “One of Ellington’s rarer studio sessions… Ellington’s solo abilities were always a bit underrated due to his brilliance in other areas, but this set shows just how modern he remained through the years as a player.”

(more…)

Junior Mance – Get Ready, Set, Jump!!!

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Get Ready, Set, Jump!!!

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  • This outstanding copy of Mance’s 1964 release boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Wonderfully big, rich and LIVELY, with boatloads of Tubey Magic and three-dimensional space
  • This vintage stereo pressing boasts exceptionally natural piano sound and the live-in-the-studio energy of a swingin’ group of veteran horn players
  • 4 stars: “Mance is joined by some of the cream of the West Coast studio and jazz players for a session that features Mance doing his blues thing on piano while the band swings at various tempi… resembling somewhat the style of the Count Basie Orchestra.”

(more…)