Genre – Jazz – Piano & Vibes

Thelonious Monk – Big Band and Quartet – The Glorious Sound of Tubes – 1963 Tubes, That Is

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Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

On this record, more than most, the tubes potentially make all the difference. 

Keep in mind that we are referring specifically to 1963 tubes, not the stuff that engineers are using today to make “tube-mastered” records. Today’s modern records barely hint at the Tubey Magical sound of a record like this, if our experience with hundreds of them is any guide. We, unlike so many of the audiophile reviewers of today, have a very hard time taking any of the new pressings seriously. We think our position is pretty clear, and we have yet to hear more than a stray record or two that would make us want to change our minds.

If you’ve ever heard a pressing that sounds as good as this one you know there hasn’t been a record manufactured in the last forty years that has this kind of sound. Right, wrong or otherwise, this sound is simply not part of the modern world we live in. If you want to be transported back to Philharmonic Hall in New York circa 1963, you will need a record like this to do it. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Misterioso

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  • Monk’s live 1958 release makes its Hot Stamper debut, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness – just the right sound for this masterful quartet
  • Recorded live at the Five Spot Cafe in New York City, the energy here is palpable – according to Orrin Keepnews, Monk “played more distinctly here than on his studio albums in response to the audience’s enthusiasm during the performance”
  • 5 stars: “[The quartet’s] overwhelming and instinctual capacities directly contribute to the powerful swingin’ and cohesive sound they could continually reinvent.”

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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…)

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.”

This vintage Columbia 6 Eye Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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.

What the best sides of this Classic Album of Ellingtonia from 1960 have to offer is clear for all 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 domestic pressings like this one 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 keyboards, guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

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 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.

The Piano

If you have full-range speakers some of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano are WEIGHT and WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. This is what we look for in a good piano recording. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to reproduce the full spectrum of the piano’s wide range (and of course the wonderful performance of the pianist) on vintage vinyl, showing us the kind of sound we simply cannot find any other way.

What We’re Listening For on Piano In The Background

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • 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 for the piano, horns and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as 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 players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

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.

The Players

Duke Ellington – piano
Willie Cook, Fats Ford, Eddie Mullins, Ray Nance – trumpet
Lawrence Brown, Booty Wood, Britt Woodman – trombone
Juan Tizol – valve trombone
Jimmy Hamilton – clarinet, tenor saxophone
Johnny Hodges – alto saxophone
Russell Procope – alto saxophone, clarinet
Paul Gonsalves – tenor saxophone
Harry Carney – baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Aaron Bell – bass
Sam Woodyard – drums

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Happy Go Lucky Local 
What Am I Here For
Kinda Dukish / Rockin’ In Rhythm
Perdido

Side Two

I’m Beginning To See The Light
Midriff
It Doesn’t Mean A Thing
Main Stem
Take The “A” Train

AMG 4 Star Review

One of Ellington’s rarer studio sessions and last out on a French CD, the main plot behind this runthrough of his standards is that the leader’s piano is featured at some point in every song. His sidemen are also heard from and everyone is in fine form. 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.

Amazon Review

The great sleeper album of the period. It compares well to “Ellington Uptown” and “Blues in Orbit.” The standards are re-arranged and made newly fresh. And yet, they capture the essential beauty and spirit of the originals. Sublime example: “Main Stem.” “It Ain’t Got That Swing” is nearly a new composition entirely.

One superb number after another… And don’t worry: the piano is hardly in the background! The keyboard intros are genius. The never before released “Harlem Air Shaft” is especially infectious. What a find.

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.”

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Duke Ellington – Ellington ’66

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Ellington ’66

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  • Insanely good shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout and the first copy to ever hit the site!
  • This Grammy award winning title features Ellington performing some of the biggest pop hits of the day: Red Roses For a Blue Lady, I Want to Hold Your Hand, All My Loving, and more 

The album won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Large Group or Soloist with Large Group. (more…)

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

STUNNING A+++ SOUND AND QUIET VINYL ON BOTH SIDES! Breathtakingly spacious and transparent, this copy has the big three-dimensional soundstage that makes this record such a joy to listen to. The piano has weight and heft, the drums are big and dynamic, and everything is relaxed and sweet — in short, this copy does everything we want it to.

Listen to the drums on Everybody’s Jumpin’ . This album was recorded on a big sound stage and there is a HUGE room which can clearly be heard surrounding the drum kit. Add to that that some of the drums are in the left channel and some of the drums are in the right channel and you have one big drum kit — exactly the way it was intended to sound. (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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Oscar Peterson Trio w/ Milt Jackson – Very Tall

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  • An excellent copy which earned Double Plus (A++) grades for sound on both sides – there’s plenty of rich, Tubey Magic from 1962 to be found on this vintage stereo pressing
  • If you made the mistake of buying the atrocious Anadisq pressing MoFi put out in the ’90s, here is your chance to hear what a wonderful recording Val Valentin cooked up with these cats in their prime
  • “This first matchup on records between pianist Oscar Peterson and vibraphonist Milt Jackson was so logical that it is surprising it did not occur five years earlier… this first effort is a particularly strong set.”

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are wonderful. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1961-62 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

The Oscar Peterson Trio – Put On A Happy Face

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • On a live jazz club recording such as this, the transparency of this killer analog pressing has the power to transport you to the front row of a small jazz club circa 1962 – what a thrill!
  • Peterson’s live album from 1962 was recorded at the London House jazz club in Chicago and features Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums

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