Genre – Jazz – Latin / Bossa Nova

Cal Tjader – Soul Sauce

xxxxx

  • Tjader’s 1965 Latin Cool Jazz release – dubbed “Mambo Without a Migraine” – arrives with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Rich, smooth and Tubey Magical, this pressing was simply bigger, livelier and more palpable than any of the other copies we played
  • Superb engineering by Rudy Van Gelder – Soul Sauce features jazz legends Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, and Jimmy Heath
  • 4 stars: “Soul Sauce is one of the highlights from Tjader’s catalog with its appealing mixture of mambo, samba, bolero, and boogaloo styles… he dodged the “Latin lounge” label with an album full of smart arrangements, subtly provocative vibe solos, and intricate percussion backing.”

(more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Bruce Botnick and The Big Bottom End

xxxxx

 

What separates Sergio from practically all of his ’60s contemporaries is the AMAZING SOUND of his recordings. The first album was recorded by the legendary BRUCE BOTNICK, the man behind the superb recordings of The Doors, Love and others too numerous to mention. This, in my opinion, is his Masterpiece. The Doors albums Bruce recorded represent some of his best work, but what Doors album sounds as good as Sergio’s debut? I can’t name one. [Actually I can: the first album, when you get the right pressing. It’s out of this world.] 

Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. When you hear one of those copies, you have to give Botnick his due. The man knew what he was doing. (Larry Levine, who recorded the subsequent albums, was no slouch either. Stillness is one of the ten best sounding records I have ever played, and that’s no exaggeration.)

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was close to twenty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the intervening decades.

Perez Prado (and Better Records) Implore You to Turn Up the Volume

xxxxx
xxxxx

Another in the long list of recordings that sounds its best when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Tube smear is common to most pressings from the late ’50s, and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least amount of smear, or none, yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich. Full sound is especially critical to the horns: any blare, leanness or squawk ruins much of the fun, certainly at the loud levels the record should be playing at.

Which brings up a point that needs making. The tonality of this record is correct when it is playing loud. The trumpets do not get harsh at loud volumes the way they will on, say, a Chicago record. The timbre of the instruments is correct when loud, which means that it was mixed loud to sound correct when loud.

The frequency extremes (on the best copies) are not boosted in any way. When you play this record quietly, the bottom and top will disappear (due to the way the ear handles quieter sounds as described by the Fletcher-Munson curve).

Most records (like most audiophile stereos) are designed to sound correct at moderate levels. Not this album. It wants you to turn it up. Then, and only then, will everything sound completely right from top to bottom.

If you like the sound of percussion instruments of every possible flavor, including some you have never tasted before, you will have a hard time finding a more magical recording of them than this. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

xxxxx

 

Finally, Hot Stampers are here for this notoriously difficult to reproduce recording. This side one was KILLER, earning a grade of A++ to A+++! It’s big and bold, with dramatically less grit and grain than the average copy. The sound is punchy and lively with wonderful transparency. You can really hear the sound of the room around the musicians with this one. Some of the tracks on this side one are DEMO DISC quality.  

Side One

Side one has virtually no strain, EXTENDED highs, and is overall so clear and open that you will have a hard time believing that it’s the same recording as whatever copies you may have heard in the past. It KILLED most of the copies we played against it.

It’s just much more FUN and LIVELY this way! (We had one copy that earned the full three pluses but the difference between them was minimal.) (more…)

Cal Tjader – Mambo w/ Tjader – Blue Vinyl!

xxxxx

This is an Original Fantasy LP pressed on EXCEPTIONALLY QUIET blue vinyl! Finding non-trashed copies of old Fantasy colored vinyl pressings is practically IMPOSSIBLE. And this is the STEREO LP, even more rare. It plays Mint Minus and maybe a tad worse, which, for Fantasy colored vinyl, is as good as it gets in our experience. The sound is good, not great. This is no demo disc by any means, but it is the real Tjader ’50s sound, and it works pretty well for this music.  (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Stillness – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including a BETTER THAN WHITE HOT A++++ SIDE TWO! That’s right folks, four pluses! This is an incredibly well-recorded album and a member of our Top 100, in fact. The soundfield itself has a three-dimensional quality that will absolutely blow you away. If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as good, look no further – this record is for you. 

We figure we’re about due for a thank you note from Mr. Mendes, because we’ve turned a huge number of audiophiles into die-hard fans of this album. It’s easy to see why when you play a copy that sounds like this. All of the qualities we look for on this album are right here.

Side One

The vocals on this side are Right On The Money — present and breathy. It could use a bit more extension up top but at A+ – A++, this side is a nice step up over the average copy.

Side Two

A++++, absolutely As Good As It Gets! The side is doing everything right. It’s big, bold, rich and lively with none of the vocal edginess that plagues the average copy. The vocals are wonderfully breathy and it’s tonally correct from top to bottom.

Even if you don’t know much about this music we encourage you to take a chance on this one. We’re fairly confident that anyone who values amazing sound enough to be in the Hot Stamper market will get a LOT out of this record — it’s pure, unadulterated, audiophile gold. We have turned a lot of people on to this album, and we’ve received quite a few letters from folks who had totally missed out on this wonderful music back in the day, only to fall in love with a Hot Stamper copy forty years after its release. (The album bombed when it was released, which accounts for the fact that it’s not nearly as common in the used record bins as others by Sergio and his bandmates.) (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Equinox – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This Original A&M pressing has one of THE BEST SIDE ONES WE’VE EVER HEARD backed with a side two that’s nearly as amazing! The sound is DEMO DISC QUALITY from start to finish, first note to last. Side two was no slouch either, with A Double Plus sound, very nearly as good as we heard but falling just a tad shy of the best in the loudest passages. These old Sergio Mendes records can be VERY DYNAMIC, and only the best of the best will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that you only hear in analog.

We audiophiles love female vocals, always have; it’s a sound that a high end stereo can reproduce very well. But why do some audiophiles listen to poorly recorded junk like Patricia Barber and Diana Krall? Their recordings are DRENCHED in digital reverb; who is his right mind wants to hear the sound of digital reverb? Rickie Lee Jones may not be my favorite female vocal of all time, but at least you can make the case for it as a Well Recorded Vocal Album; it’s worlds better than anything either of the two artists mentioned above have ever done. (more…)

Walter Wanderley – Rain Forest – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

Spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. White Hot on side one where the big hit Summer Samba can be found. A huge seller in its day, both the sound and the music are crazy fun. A Classic 1966 Rudy Van Gelder All Tube Analog recording with Demo Disc sound.

This White Hot Stamper copy of Rain Forest has a lot in common with the other Jazzy Bachelor Pad / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Esquivel, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Martin Denny and others.

It’s all about the Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation, complete with syncopated percussive arrangements. This copy is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, this is vintage analog at its best, so rich and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to “improve” it. If you like the sound of luxurious organ, accompanied by flutes, guitars and percussion, you will have a hard time finding a more magical recording of any of them.

If you’re an audiophile, both the sound and the music are crazy fun. If you want to demonstrate just how good 1966 Rudy Van Gelder All Tube Analog sound can be, this is the record that will do it! (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Equinox

xxxxx

  • An incredible copy with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them
  • The engineering team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of the wonderful female leads – Lani Hall and Janis Hansen
  • Watch What Happens, Night and Day, Wave – Mendes brings his innovative Bossa Nova arranging skills to these timeless classics
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equinox continues the scrumptiously winning sound that Sergio Mendes cooked up in the mid-’60s, this time a bit more fleshed out… Again, the mix of American pop tunes old and new and Brazilian standards and sleepers is impeccable, and the treatments are smooth, swinging, and very much to the point.”

These Sergio Mendes records can be surprisingly dynamic, and only the better copies (such as this one) will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that only analog is capable of reproducing correctly in our experience.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re the world’s biggest fans of Sergio Mendes here at Better Records. Brasil ’66, Stillness, and this album are ALL Desert Island Discs for us, and we even enjoy the hell out of some of the later albums. You can search all you want, but outside of The Beatles you are going to have a very tough time finding the diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy, multi-part female vocals, their unusually voiced multi-tracked harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us not forget, Mendes’ superb keyboard work anchoring as well as jazzing up the whole production.

His stuff never sounds dated to us, and we’ve never heard another artist do anything in the ’60s samba idiom nearly as well. We love Astrud Gilberto’s albums from the period, which no doubt served as a template for the style Sergio wanted to create with his new ensemble, but Brazil 66 is clearly a step up in every way: songwriting, arranging, production, and quality of musicianship.

Just play the group’s amazing versions of Watch What Happens, Night and Day, or Jobim’s Wave to hear the kind of Mendes Magic that makes us swoon. For audiophiles it just doesn’t get any better. (Well, almost. Stillness is still the Ultimate, on the level of a Dark Side of the Moon or Tea for the Tillerman, but Equinox is right up there with it.) (more…)