Genre – Jazz – Drummer Led

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Blackhawk Vol. 2 – Reviewed in 2008

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

WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! This Contemporary Yellow Label LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! The sound is SUPERB — airy, open, and spacious with an STUNNINGLY GOOD bottom end. You won’t believe how ALIVE the bass sounds — the depth and definition are OUT OF THIS WORLD! Each instrument here sounds just right — weighty, percussive piano; punchy drums; and lovely leading edge transients on the brass. Contemporary got live nightclub jazz sound down to a T here.   

“These lengthy performances (“Vamp’s Blues” is over 19 minutes long) give trumpeter Joe Gordon, the cool-toned tenor-saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Victor Feldman, bassist Monty Budwig and the leader/drummer a chance to really stretch out. Fine 1950s bebop.” — AMG (more…)

Mendelssohn / Scotch Symphony / Maag – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Scotch Symphony / Maag

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

Both sides of this record have that classic Decca chocolatey, rich, sweet sound. It”s not for everybody, it”s probably not the sound one would hear in a concert hall, but we love it and so do many audiophiles. 

The performance here by Maag is legendary and definitive. The sound is perfectly suited for this music, with massed strings to die for. This is classic Tubey Magical Decca orchestral sound. If you want immediacy, buy a Mercury. If you want luscious, rich string tone, this London should be right up your alley.

Side two had less smear and less distortion and congestion than we heard on side one. It’s also even RICHER sounding, if such a thing is possible. More transparent too. A good balance of clarity and richness. A++ all the way. (more…)

Art Blakey Quartet – A Jazz Message

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A Jazz Message

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  • This original Impulse stereo pressing has stunning nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish 
  • Both sides here are superb — big, full-bodied and super dynamic with a huge bottom end and lots of space around all of the players
  • “Although this session was under Blakey’s leadership, Stitt (on both tenor and alto) emerges as the main soloist, playing his trademark bebop lines with creativity and typical enthusiasm.” – All Music

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Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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

Better Than a Dream, the second track on this side, has one of the best sounding jazz pianos I have ever heard. My notes say “you cannot record a piano any better” and I stand behind that statement one hundred percent.

There is not a modern reissue on the face of the earth that can hold a candle to the sound of this record. For any of you out there who doubt my words please take this record home and play it against the best piano jazz recordings you own. If it doesn’t beat them all we are happy to pay the domestic shipping back. Even our much vaunted 45 RPM pressing of The Three (some do not present the listener with a piano that sounds as real as the one on this side two. (more…)

Shelly Manne and Friends – My Fair Lady

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  • This early Black Label Stereo pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades from start to finish – practically unheard of quiet vinyl for an original!
  • This Contemporary pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce 
  • Recorded entirely in one session, this album was the first jazz recording comprised entirely of songs from a Broadway musical – the results are decidedly provocative
  • 5 stars: “This trio set by Shelly Manne & His Friends… was a surprise best-seller and is now considered a classic…The result is a very appealing set that is easily recommended.”

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Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak my stereo and many of those that were owned by friends. 

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Wellthings have certainly changed.

I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Shelly Manne – Sounds Unheard Of!

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

This Super Hot Stamper Black Label Original Contemporary pressing has SUPERB sound on BOTH sides. All that stuff we tend to say about the original tube-mastered Contemporary pressings being fat and dull does not apply here whatsoever. This record is mastered beautifully, we real transient attacks to all the percussion. When Shelly bangs on the bass drum it goes Ka-Boom and really rattles the walls. As a Demo Disc this one is pretty hard to beat!  

Remember the old Acoustic Sounds Analog Revival series mastered by Stan Ricker? This was one of the titles they did, and completely ruined of course. Ricker boosted the hell out of the top end, as is his wont, so all the percussion had the phony MoFi exaggerated spit and tizziness that we dislike so much around here at Better Records but that many if not most audiophiles never seem to notice.

The whole series was an audio disaster, but funnily enough, I cannot remember reading a single word of criticism anywhere discussing the shortcomings of that series of pressings. Outside of my own reviews of course. Has anything in audio really changed?  (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Black Hawk, Vol. 1

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  • An excellent sounding vintage stereo copy with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • This is West Coast Jazz at its best, and if anyone can capture the realism of a live jazz club, it’s the engineers and producers at Contemporary
  • The sound is clean, clear and lively with tons of detail and a huge bottom end
  • Each instrument here sounds right – weighty, percussive piano; punchy drums; and lovely leading edge transients on the brass

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Shelly Manne & His Men – More Swinging Sounds

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More Swinging Sounds

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

This Contemporary Yellow Label MONO LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! 

One quality of this side one that really took us by surprise was how DYNAMIC it is. The second track gets loud in a way that only one or two out of a hundred records does. (This is about the number of records we play in a week and I would have to say that no other record this week was more dynamic, hence the rough estimate above.) 

As you can imagine there’s not much going on at the frequency extremes, high or low; we have yet to hear a Mono recording from 1956 that boasts full bandwidth sound, but the middle sure can be awfully nice!

Side One

A+ to A++, with rich, smooth, lovely West Coast jazz sound. The horns can get a bit hard when loud.

Check out the dynamics on track two — Wow!

Side Two

A+ to A++, clean and lively. Zero smear and nearly as dynamic as side one. Track two, more than fifteen minutes long, is richer than track one by the way.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Moose the Mooche 
The Wind 
Pint of Blues

Side Two

Tommyhawk 
Quartet

Shelly Manne – Sounds Unheard Of! – Another Analogue Productions Disaster

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Analogue Productions LP debunked.

Remember the ’90s Acoustic Sounds Analog Revival series mastered by Stan Ricker? This was one of the titles they did, and completely ruined of course. Ricker boosted the hell out of the top end, as is his wont, so all the percussion had the phony MoFi exaggerated spit and tizzyiness that we dislike so much around here at Better Records, the phony top that many audiophiles do not seem bothered by to this day. 

The whole series was an audio disaster, but funnily enough, I cannot remember reading a single word of criticism in the audiophile press discussing the shortcomings of that series of (badly) half-speed mastered LPs — outside of my own reviews of course. Has anything in audio really changed?  (more…)