Genre – Jazz – Large Group

Passion Flower Is Better Than For Duke

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This is one of the all time great Pablo sleepers.

Why is no one else writing about records like these? The music is wonderful and the sound is top drawer on the best copies. If you’ve tried and failed with other Pablo Zoot Sims records, fear not: this title is one of the best we have ever played, musically and sonically.
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Count Basie – Basie Plays Hefti

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Count Basie – Basie Plays Hefti

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

This is the followup to the smash Basie album The Atomic Mr. Basie, an album we would love to make available if we could ever find a clean, good sounding copy to play.

Side one is rich, tubey and lively, right up there with some of the best pressings we played.

Side two tends to start out a bit hot but by the second track it’s fuller, smoother, and every bit as dynamic as anything on the album. The sound just keeps getting better from there, with the next track coming across especially big and clear.

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. Superb Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides – what a great Basie album this is!
. Basie Plays Hefti catches Basie’s band at the peak of their powers in 1958
. Rich, tubey, dynamic and clear, we know of no better vintage Basie album than this
. “The Count Basie Orchestra was in top form for this set of Neal Hefti                       arrangements.”|

The liner notes tell the story of this album well; go to the bottom of this listing to read them.

Not Your Typical Vintage Basie Album

Basie was recording like a madman back in the late ’50s and even all through the ’60s. In 1958, the year of this release, he put out seven (7!) albums on the Roulette label. We’ve played quite a number of them over the years and found relatively few with audiophile quality sound.

Including the original Roulette pressing of this very title. We’ve only heard a few, and had only one for our shootout, but it was awful enough to make us swear off buying more, especially considering the prices vintage jazz albums are going for these days. Hard and sour brass, no real top or bottom, it’s the sound of a poorly mastered Old Jazz Record, fine for the consoles of the day, not so good on today’s advanced stereo systems. Emus seems to be the only way to go.

And of course we absolutely loved the music. I had a chance to see the Basie Big Band perform not long ago at Disney Hall and a fairly large chunk of the music and arrangements they play these days are Neal’s, practically half I would venture to guess. Meaning simply that Hefti’s music has clearly stood the test of time. Play this album and you’re sure to see what I mean.

Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

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Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

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

This is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others off the top of my head would be Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself).

On a killer copy like this the sound is out of this world. Rich and full, open and transparent, this one defeated all comers in our shootout, taking the Top Prize for sound and earning all Three Pluses.

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What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the orchestra’s string sections are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of.

Both sides blew us away with a deep, wide soundstage and full extension on both the top and the bottom.

The bass is deep and defined; the tonality of the guitar and its overall harmonic richness are Right On The Money. The piano has the weight and heft of the real thing.

This kind of warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever. You have to go back to 1971 to find it!

The Music

The high point for side one is clearly the first track. It’s got a Midnight Blue relaxed groove going on, the kind that Kenny Burrell seems to be able to bring to any session he plays on. Or maybe it’s the rhythms Ray Barretto works out in the songs that make them so relaxed and swinging at the same time.

Side two is magical from start to finish. The two extended songs, both more than eight minutes in length, leave plenty of room for the band and the orchestra to stretch out.

Duke Ellington – The Ellington Suites

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Duke Ellington – The Ellington Suites

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

An A++ side one, an A+++ side two and quiet vinyl throughout make this copy an Ellington LP that is sure to impress! Side one of this album features a piece called “The Queen’s Suite” that was recorded in 1959. On this A++ side, you get stunningly Tubey Magical late ’50s jazz sound — something that’s almost impossible to come by on any recording made after that.

1976 Grammy Award Winner for Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band.

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I know of no other Pablo record with sound so rich, full and warm. This one destroyed a big stack of copies we’d been collecting for years in order to do this shootout. Unless you have a good sized batch, ten or more, you will have a tough time finding one with sound anywhere near this amazing.

The Queen’s Suite, which takes up side one, was recorded in 1959 and sounds amazing. As you can imagine, this has one of the best Ellington bands ever assembled, with players like Clark Terry, Paul Gonzalves, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges… the list of jazz giants goes on and on. If you enjoy the classic albums by Mingus on Atlantic, you’re gonna love this work. The sound is excellent as well, earning an A++ grade — open, spacious and transparent with tight bass and an extended top end.

Side two has material performed by Ellington in the early ’70s, which though not as good musically, is still very enjoyable. On this copy, it sounds amazing, earning an A+++ grade with incredible transparency and immediacy. The overall sound is airy and open with lots of breathy texture to the horns and woodwinds. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

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Barney Kessel – Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

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

This Minty Original Black Label Contemporary Stereo LP from 1957 has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL. For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own (unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition).

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Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best.

From an audiophile point of view, how can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? It’s audiophile heaven. The sound is gorgeous, all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

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Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

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

This original CTI pressing has two wonderful sides, including an AMAZING A+++ SIDE TWO! This side two has amazingly good Demo Disc sound. RVG knocked this one out of the park, that’s for damn sure.

Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and the song Red Clay is possibly the funkiest jazz track he ever got down on tape. At 12 minutes in length it is a transcendentally powerful experience — and the bigger your speakers and the louder you turn them up the more moving that experience is going to be!

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Side One

Side one gets going with the perennial favorite, Red Clay. The intro starts off with a stylized free-form jam, sounding like a bop-jazz band of old, then takes form and solidifies into a groove of monstrous proportions. Ron Carter’s bass playing is stellar and that fingers-on-frets sound is heard on this copy. Super clear and present, this side has zero smear and amazingly explosive transients! A touch more top and this would be right there with side two.

Like many of our funky favorites, this one was eventually sampled for a popular hip-hop song. That may not mean much to you, but it definitely means that nice copies of this album get swiped up quickly by young DJs and producers. (more…)

Michel Legrand – Legrand Jazz

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Michel Legrand – Legrand Jazz

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

A 4 1/2 Star Album In The All Music Guide!

This original Six Eye Mono Hot Stamper is THE NEW ALL-TIME CHAMPION LEGRAND JAZZ! It has a LIFE and IMMEDIACY that is not usually found on any pressing of this album — mono or stereo. It’s the kind of difference that can be heard from another room.

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The sound is smooth, sweet, and SILKY. The flute sounds exceptionally good — it’s rich and surrounded by lots of ambience. There’s a wonderful breathy quality to the horns and just enough deep bass. No other copy we’ve ever played has sounded nearly as full-bodied as this one. We don’t know if we’ll ever hear a better copy.

One of my favorite jazz albums and also an excellent TEST DISC for stereo set up and tweaking.

As this is one of my all-time favorite jazz records (see the commentary below), I can’t recommend this record any more highly.

Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a section for many of the worst records we have auditioned: The Better Records Hall of Shame.

We have a section for all the Heavy Vinyl Rock and Jazz Records we have reviewed on the site to date.

Bud Shank And the Sax Section – A Forgotten Jazz Classic

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Bud Shank And the Sax Section

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

A True Demo Disc of the highest order! The sound of multiple saxes playing these lively arrangements is audiophile magic to these ears. We played a ton of copies and none of them had two sides like this! You aren’t going to believe how open, lively and tubey magical the sound is throughout.

Both sides here are SUPER HOT. It must have something very close to 100% of the sound the engineer recorded, because it is just out of this world. The engineer in question? None other than Bruce Botnick, the man behind Sergio Mendes’ first album, The Doors, Love and countless others, a true wizard in the studio if ever there was one.

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Botnick Is The Man

He sure knew what he was doing on this session. Botnick succeeded brilliantly in capturing the unique sound of each of the saxes. The album is really more of a West Coast pop jazz record than it is a “real” jazz record. The arrangements are very tight, the songs are quite short — none exceed three and a half minutes — so there is not a lot of classic jazz saxophone improvisational blowing going on. (If you’re looking for the kind of thing Rudy Van Gelder did back in the day, it’s not here.)

The Bass Sax — What a Sound!

The reason this album is so appealing to us audiophiles is that the sound of each of the saxophones is clearly recognizable as they weave in and around these arrangements. On the back cover you can see a fellow holding a bass saxophone, an instrument you don’t hear too often — perhaps it’s fallen from favor. (It solos at the beginning of Sidewinder on side one. Once you hear it you will be dying to play that song for your audiophile buddies, I guarantee it. What a sound!) (more…)

Caldera – Carnavalito!

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Caldera – Carnavalito!

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Carnavalito is a track that really comes ALIVE when you Crank Up the Volume. I played it FULL BLAST on two different occasions for audiophile friends of mine just to show them what happens when a Big Speaker Stereo meets a Large Scale Recording with absolutely AMAZING audiophile quality sound — BIG and BOLD, wall to wall and then some!

It’s my favorite track not only for the album as a whole but for the band’s entire recorded output. It just doesn’t get any better than this if you have the system for it.

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Hearing the megawatt energy in the section when the soprano saxophonist jumps in, right into an ongoing orgy of wild percussion, who then proceeds to blow his brains out — now that is a thrill beyond belief. Played REALLY LOUD it’s about the closest to The Real Thing, the Live Event, that you will ever hear in your livingroom. (Unless you have a very large livingroom and lots of latin jazz musician friends.)

Even a year ago there was no way I could get that music to play that LOUD, that CLEANLY, and that tonally CORRECT, from the deepest bass to the highest highs, with the wild swings in dynamics that the recording captures so well. The Audio Revolution Is Alive and Well and making progress all the time. It’s never too late to join in the fun. (more…)

Oscar Peterson – If You Could See Me Now

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Oscar Peterson – If You Could See Me Now

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

This is a SUPERB set from Oscar Peterson’s sometimes underwhelming Pablo period. This one is from 1983 and includes the estimable Joe Pass on guitar. Side one has the kind of sound one associates with late-’70s jazz, jazz that often seems to be recorded in dead studios. Side two sounds much better somehow — more clear, present and lively. The liner notes tell us it’s the same studio, even the same day, but there is simply no mistaking the better sound quality. Such are the vagaries of the vinyl record. if you’re in the market for a top quality Oscar Peterson piano trio recording (with bonus guitar), this side two should be just the ticket.

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