Genre – Jazz – Piano & Vibes

Red Norvo Quintet – The Forward Look (UHQR)

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This is a BRAND NEW UNPLAYED Reference 45 RPM Half-Speed Mastered UHQR LP. They only made 1,000 of these, so sealed or unplayed copies are virtually non-existent.

This is actually one of the best sounding Reference Records. It was recorded in the ’50s on location and has very natural sound. 

Dave Brubeck – A Cut Above – An Awful Direct to Disc Recording (with synths!)

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing.

This Direct Disk Labs Double LP is an exceptionally WELL-RECORDED Direct-to-Disc. The bass is punchy, the piano sounds tonally Right On The Money (ROTM) and the overall sound is lively and immediate. It’s one of the better sounding Direct-to-Discs we’ve played lately.

The music goes nowhere however, hence the grade.  

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Further Out

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this 360 label stereo copy was one of the better pressings we played in our recent shootout – it’s on quiet vinyl too
  • These early sides are incredibly tubey – rich, full-bodied and warm – yet clear, lively and dynamic
  • This copy demonstrates the big-as-life Fred Plaut Columbia Sound at its best – better even than Time Out(!)
  • “Brubeck treats the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth tunes in corresponding meters, to particular effect on the 7/4 hoedown of “Unsquare Dance,” the 8/8 barrelhouse changes of “Bru’s Boogie Woogie” and the engaging dissonances of his 9/8 mood piece “Blue Shadows in the Street.””

Time Further Out is consistently more varied and, dare we say, more musically interesting than Time Out.

If you want to hear big drums in a big room these Brubeck recordings will show you that sound better than practically any record we know of. These vintage recordings are full-bodied, spacious, three-dimensional, rich, sweet and warm in the best tradition of an All Tube Analog recording. 

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. (more…)

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto – Midnight Sugar – 2 45 RPM Discs

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Sonic Grade: B

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds.

This 45 RPM Three Blind Mice 180g Double LP has DEMO DISC SOUND! The 33 RPM versions were pretty darn amazing but these 45s take the sound of this recording to an entirely new level. 

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

There are a couple of quite obvious benefits to mastering this music at 45 RPM. One is that Yamamoto tends to use his right hand in a percussive manner, which creates tracking problems on most any set up. At 45 RPM the mastering engineer is able to cut those transients, full of difficult to deal with harmonics, much more cleanly and accurately. The result is a sense of “ease” that you don’t hear on the 33.

It’s a bit like having a slightly underpowered system which makes loud passages or transients seem to be right at the edge of distortion, and then switching to a more powerful amplifier and hearing those passages reproduced with the relaxed quality that more headroom gives you.

Also the sound opens up quite a bit on these 45s so that more of the room ambience is heard. The Japanese are famous for their close-miking, and sometimes the sense of real musicians in a real space is lacking. Here much of that quality is restored.

Yamamoto is one of the few Japanese jazz players who has any feel for the medium. If you like bluesy jazz piano with amazingly dynamic sound, you can’t go wrong here. 

TRACK LISTING

Midnight Sugar
I”m A Fool To Want You
The Nearness Of You
It Could Happen To You
Sweet Georgia Blues

Bill Evans Moon Beams – Superb on the Right OJC Pressing

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this is one of the better copies of Bill Evans’ 1962 classic to ever hit the site
  • Full-bodied and warm, exactly the way vintage analog should sound, yet as clear and as open as any pressing you’ve heard (or your money back)
  • The first album Evans recorded after Scott LaFaro’s death and it is deeply immersive experience
  • Allmusic raves it’s “…so well paced and sequenced the record feels like a dream … Moonbeams was a startling return to the recording sphere and a major advancement in his development as a leader.”
  • Great sound for this rockin’ soul album with two live tracks. Just listen to the drums on Black-Eyed Blues — the way the percussion and bass mingle sonically with Alan White’s skins takes this listener right into the room where the magic happened.

Moon Beams is one of the best sounding Bill Evans records we’ve ever played. You can see why we chose it to be the first OJC Hot Stamper of his to hit the site back in 2015. Play It Might As Well Be Spring for the kind of sublime musical experience you only find on 20th century analog. (more…)

The Three – Liner Notes and a Rave Review

 

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The Three – The Three

Excerpts from the Liner Notes

On a windy and unusually cold night in Los Angeles, each of the three musicians arrived before the session start time of 10 PM on November 28, 1975. At exactly 10 PM, The Doobie Brothers session that was going on since morning ended. Two assistants immediately started setting up for the session. The Steinway concert grand piano, delivered the previous day, was wheeled in to the center of the room and got tuned. Shelly Manne’s drum kit was assembled in a makeshift “booth.” Microphones were set up, checked and positions adjusted.

Initially, Telefunken microphones were positioned on the piano, but later were replaced by two Neumann U87s. The piano lid was opened to the concert position and microphones were centered relative to the keys and placed a foot (30 centimeters) inward from the hammer and a foot (30 centimeters) away from the stings. One mic was pointed toward the bottom notes and the other pointed toward the top.

To record Ray Brown’s bass, a Shure SM56 and a Sony 38A were pointed at the bridge of the bass, two inches above it. The Shure was used to capture the attack and the Sony mic was used to capture the rich low tones.

Seven microphones were used to capture the sounds of the drum set. Two U87’s were placed overhead, roughly 16-inches above the cymbals facing down. The bottom quarter of the kick drum was dampened with a blanket on the outside and was mic’ed with a Shure SM56. SM56’s were also used for toms and bass toms. Sony 38A was used on the snare and Sennheiser’s Syncrhon on the high-hat.

Each mic was placed 2 inches away from the instruments in a close mic set up. Mr. Itoh got involved with fine tuning mic positioning for tone, stereo placement and balance. Meanwhile, final adjustments were being made on the cutting machine set up.

Within the hour, the set up was done and all preparations were completed. The musicians finished warming up and were ready for Take One. The usual banter subsided and everyone put on their “game face.” Even Ray Brown, who usually cracked jokes in a loud voice, looked serious as he turned his attention to Mr. Itoh, waiting for his cue. As soon as he was notified through the intercom that the cutting needle was put down, Mr. Itoh gave the signal with his hand, and the recording started. In 16 minutes, three tracks were recorded in rapid succession.

Relieved that the initial take was over, the musicians joined the producer and engineer in the control room to listen back from the 2-track tape that was used as back up. With the initial tension gone, all three excitedly made comments and evaluated their own performance and the sounds they got. The thumbs-up was given by the cutting engineer for take one and the musicians went back to the live room for the next take. This process was repeated until 4 AM the following morning, resulting in a total of three takes per track.

Interview with Producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh

I have to say that The Three by Joe Sample, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne was by far the most challenging experience of all the East Wind titles.

We wanted to use direct-to-disc or direct cutting recording technique for the project, which we heard was being used in Los Angeles. Since we were always interested in the latest technology, we wanted to try this new method. So we booked the session at a Los Angeles studio to work with a certain cutting engineer. We later realized that the booking was made on the week of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the studio cancelled the session on us at the last minute. I was already on a plane headed to Los Angeles. The session was cancelled on the day I arrived. I found out about it from our coordinator after I landed. The coordinator had already notified everybody of the cancellation.

Refusing to give up so easily, I started to look for an alternate location to record. I was able to find Amigo Studio, owned by Warner Brothers, who happened to have an excellent cutting engineer, Bobby Hatta, on staff. The Doobie Brothers was recording there until midnight and we were able book a session afterwards. We had to call and round up all the musicians and had to set up everything again and make sure everyone was rehearsed.

We finally got out of the studio around 6 AM. I felt sorry for Ray Brown, who had to go to Japan that day for a one-day session. Overall, I was very pleased with the session and thought the recording came out very good.

I was gratified when the record sold extremely well. We sold the first LP with all first takes until the stamper mold for the vinyl gave out. We put out another LP with second takes and that sold well. The CD version has both the first and second takes of each song.

The success was particularly sweet because we had to go through so much to get the project finished. It was both a trying and memorable experience.

Amazon Rave Review

Ken Dryden Before Joe Sample detoured into smooth jazz, he was a first-rate bop pianist. This 1975 set found bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne (the latter two had worked together often, particularly with Barney Kessel), getting together for a session of standards, familiar jazz compositions, and one original.

The abbreviated liner notes don’t explain the challenge of making this recording. First, the scheduled studio booking was canceled at the last minute, requiring that a new studio be found once original producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh arrived in California, while they also had to wait until the Doobie Brothers finished recording at the new location.

It was also done direct-to-disc, requiring that an entire LP side be recorded in one take. Fortunately, the performances went well and the limited-edition project sold well until the stampers literally wore out, then the two sides of second takes were separately issued.

The [current] CD compiles both editions of the original LP and was evidently remastered from the session’s backup tapes, though this release oddly lacks credits for the composers and lyricists. Comparing the two takes of each tune is illustrative. The first take of “On Green Dolphin Street” has a longer, more inventive introduction and Sample’s energy seems a bit higher, though Brown’s bass work sizzles in each one.

Both versions of Oliver Nelson’s “Yearnin'” (which debuted on his landmark album Blues and the Abstract Truth) include a motif from his “Stolen Moments” and are cut from similar cloth. Brown introduces each version of the dramatic “‘Round Midnight” unaccompanied, with Sample’s bluesy piano sounding elegant yet never in a cocktail mood.

Finally the collaborative “Funky Blues” (likely composed on the date) has infectious gospel roots and swings like mad. Manne, always a superb drummer, complements his partners beautifully throughout the session.

Dave Brubeck – Time In from 1966

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides of this pressing of Time In, the last album recorded in Brubeck’s “Time” series
  • This 360 Stereo pressing boasts the clean, clear, solid, lively piano sound we love about Brubeck’s records from this era
  • The best vintage pressings of Brubeck’s Columbia albums from the ’50 through the ’60s are exceptionally natural, with unerringly correct sound from top to bottom
  • 4 stars: “The last of pianist and composer Dave Brubeck’s “Time” recordings, and one of his most musically adventurous. Though it is seldom celebrated as such, this is one of Brubeck’s finest moments on Columbia.”

This vintage Columbia 360 stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign 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 audience at the live show, this is the record for you. It’s what Live Jazz Recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Straight, No Chaser – Now That’s a Piano

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If you want to hear just how good Monk’s big, rich piano can sound, look no further.

Rudy Van Gelder, eat your heart out. This is the piano sound Rudy never quite managed. Some say it’s the crappy workhorse piano he had set up in his studio. Others say it was just poorly miked. Rather than speculating on something we know little about (good pianos and the miking) let’s just say that Columbia had the piano, the room and the mics to do it right as you can easily hear on this very record. (more…)

Ray Charles – The Best Of His Jazz Piano Performances

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  • An excellent sounding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • This compilation gives you a taste of Ray’s great instrumental tracks, all in surprisingly good sound

Like any compilation the sound varies from track to track, but most of the material here sounds WONDERFUL!

You may have noticed that Tom Dowd, the recording engineer for these tracks, receives a fair amount of criticism on our site. We’re not always fans of his work on rock albums, but on jazz music he usually managed to do a great job. The sound is open, sweet, transparent, rich — all the stuff we like here at Better Records. (more…)

Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington in 1955

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  • Monk’s brilliant interpretations of Duke Ellington classics come to life with Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides of this wonderful mono LP
  • Clear and open, with rock-solid bass and a present, full-bodied piano, this copy delivers 1955 piano trio magic in spades
  • One of our favorites by Monk, this album includes 8 Ellington classics such as “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo” and quite a few more
  • 4 stars: “The delicacy and inherently intricate melodies that Duke Ellington is best known for are perfectly matched to Monk’s angular and progressive interpretations.” 

This album was originally released on Riverside in 1955, and was the first 12 inch disc the label chose to put out, in mono of course. As we all know, a mono recording only sounds right in mono. And this copy sounds very right indeed.

This copy has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that most modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio, this is the record for you. It’s what good Analog is known for — this sound. (more…)