Genre – Jazz – Large Group

Ry Cooder – Jazz – Transparency Is Key

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Jazz. 

The best copies realistically convey the live-in-the-studio quality of the sound. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.

But the better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can’t help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings You really get the sense of actual fingers plucking those guitar strings. You hear mouths blowing air through horns and woodwinds. (more…)

Grover Washington Jr. and All The King’s Horses

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Without a doubt the best album Washington ever made, a desert island disc and a true Must Own

Both sides of this original Kudu pressing are OUT OF THIS WORLD. The sweetness and transparency of Grover Washington Jr.’s breathy sax went beyond any copy we’ve ever played. Who knew it could sound like this? We sure didn’t!

It’s spacious and full of life with virtually no distortion. Of special note, this copy has amazingly articulate bass which brings out the undeniable funkiness of the music in a way that no other copy did. There’s so much life in these grooves. The sound jumps out of the speakers right into your lap.

The early ’70s were a good time for Van Gelder. All the King’s Men from 1973 is an amazing Demo Disc for large group. But it only sounds good on the copies that it sounds good on, on the pressings that were mastered, pressed and cleaned right, a fact that has eluded most jazz vinyl aficionados interested in good sound.

But not us. We’ve played the very special pressings that prove the album can sound amazing.

I’m a Big Fan

I’ve been a big fan of this record since I first heard it all the way back in High School. I only found out later that this is not what most people would consider “real” jazz — it’s CTI jazz, more in the pop jazz or soul jazz vein. But I love the music more with each passing year and would not hesitate for a moment to recommend it to any jazz lover or audiophile. If the first track doesn’t knock you out, this album may not be for you. Without a doubt, in my book it’s the best thing Grover Washington ever did.

The really good RVG jazz pressings sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located and surrounded by the natural space of the studio. As our stereo has gotten better, and we’ve found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has begun to impress us more and more.

Obviously the credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for recording and mastering the album so well.

Yer Average Copy

The sound we most often find on original pressings (the only ones that ever sound any good; the later pressings are awful) is full of heavy compression, and suffers as well from the kind of high frequency restriction that prevents the top end from extending in a harmonically correct way. The result: Grover’s horn often will take on a somewhat sour quality. Our better Hot Stampers are both uncompressed and open up top.

 

 

 

Ray Charles – Genius + Soul = Jazz

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  • With stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides and Count Basie backing up The Genius himself, this copy is As Good As It Gets! 
  • Most of this album is Ray stretching out with “some pretty mean and lean, cut-to-the-heart-of-the-matter B-3 Hammond organ licks.”
  • Big and rich, clear and Tubey Magical, the 1962 sound of this vintage stereo pressing is just right; quiet vinyl too!
  • Allmusic notes: “…one of those instrumentals, a cover of the Clovers’ “One Mint Julep,” would give Charles one of his most unpredictable (and best) early-’60s hits.”.

This album has long been a personal favorite of mine. It features Ray on the organ playing with every bit as much soul as he sings with, and who sings with more soul than Ray Charles?

Both sides here are open and transparent with HUGE amounts of room-filling bass. (more…)

Jimmy Smith – Hobo Flats

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • Both sides are wonderfully big, rich and LIVELY, with boatloads of Tubey Magic and the kind of three-dimendional space that’s a hallmark of Bob Simpson’s engineering
  • “Smith bubbles and bounces through all of it at the B-3 while Nelson proceeds to fill every available corner with huge, sweeping orchestral washes and crescendos. The clear highlight, though, is the lead and title track, “Hobo Flats,” which moves at a languid but wonderfully funky pace and establishes a groove as wide as the Mississippi River.”

Both sides of this very special early stereo 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.

In the past we’ve complained about “echo-drenched brass” on some of these Oliver Nelson / Jimmy Smith collaborations, but on a killer copy such as this there is nothing to complain about. If you have a top quality front end (and the kind of system that goes with it), this recording will be amazingly spacious, three-dimensional, transparent, dynamic, and open. (more…)

Charles Mingus – Mingus Dynasty

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  • Superb sound on both sides, with each rating nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++), right up there with our shootout winner (!)  
  • The Six Eye original Stereo pressing is rich and solid, yet still clean, clear and spacious, with a rock-solid bottom end to capture 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
  • 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. (more…)

Sketches Of Spain on Six Eye in Stereo

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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…)

What We Listen For – Timbre, Richness, Tubey Magic and Freedom from Artificiality

More of Our Favorite Contemporary Jazz Recordings

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This Home Audio Exercise entry was inspired by the wonderful qualities of the Contemporary recording you see pictured, qualities brought to our attention while doing a shootout of various pressings of the album in early 2009. 

We addressed a number of issues in our commentary: first and foremost what we were listening for on the album (and what we were hearing). A bit of mono versus stereo (in this case both can be good). This is followed by some Audiophile Equipment bashing.

We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your own equipment. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc. (more…)

Sonny Rollins – Alfie

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  • This Sonny Rollins classic boasts killer Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Though I’ve been playing this album for more than 25 years, for some reason this is only the third copy to ever hit the site 
  • A triumph for Rudy Van Gelder, a Top Impulse title, and as much a showcase for Oliver Nelson (+11) as it is for Sonny Rollins
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Rollins attempts to capture the textures of life through his incisive and energetic playing, his coherent improvisations, and variations on musical themes.”

This album is on the TAS Superdisc list, which is probably what first alerted me to it. I know I was listening to this album 25 years ago, just from the memory of hearing it in the condo I used to live in. It sounded great back then and it sounds even better now! It may just be my personal favorite of all his work.

What makes this album so great? For starters, great players. Kenny Burrell is wonderful as always. Interestingly, I never realized that Roger Kellaway is the pianist on these sessions. I saw him live years ago with Benny Carter (who was 90 at the time) and he put on one of the most amazing performances at the piano I have ever seen. For some reason, he was never able to make it as a recording artist, but the guy is a genius at the keyboard.

Of course, any orchestration by Oliver Nelson is going to be top flight and this is no exception. Two of his records are Must Owns, in my book: Jimmy Smith’s Bashin’ and his own The Blues and the Abstract Truth. No jazz collection without them can be taken seriously. (more…)

Marty Paich Big Band – What’s New

Our White Hot Shootout Winner

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  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides, this copy has Tubey Magical Big Band sound to die for
  • If you large group swinging West Coast Jazz is your thing – think Art Pepper Plus Eleven – you will really get a kick out of this one
  • With All Tube 1957 engineering from the legendary Bones Howe at Radio Recorders, this record’s audiophile credentials are fully in order
  • Amazon 5 Stars: “…there’s a wonderful, almost nostalgic, fifties West Coast Jazz vibe warmly glowing throughout.”

See all of our Marty Paich albums in stock

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

Albert Marx was the producer of the original sessions back in 1957. Fast forward to the ’80s and Marx is now the owner of his very own jazz label, Discovery Records. Who would know the sound of the original tapes better than he? Working with Dave Ellsworth at KM, Marx has here produced one of the better jazz reissues we’ve heard in years. (more…)

Oliver Nelson’s Masterpiece – Better Sounding on the (Right) Reissue

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For those of you who still cling to the idea that the originals are better, this record will set you straight.

Yes, we can all agree that Rudy Van Gelder recorded it, brilliantly as a matter of fact. Shouldn’t he be the most natural choice to transfer the tape to disc, knowing, as we must assume he does, exactly what to fix and what to leave alone in the mix?

Maybe he should be; it’s a point worth arguing.

But ideas such as this are only of value once they have been tested empirically and found to be true. (more…)