Genre – Jazz/Rock Fusion

Airto Fingers – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. 

Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.

In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

Listening in Depth to Fingers – Airto’s Masterpiece

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.) (more…)

King Crimson – Lizard – Heavy on the Mellotron

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  • An excellent sounding copy with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Every bit the sonic equal of the first album, if you colorful Big Production Jazzy Prog Rock (with mellotron!) is your thing you can’t go wrong here
  • This early UK pressing plays as quietly as any we have ever heard – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Lizard is very consciously jazz-oriented — the influence of Miles Davis (particularly Sketches of Spain) being especially prominent — and very progressive, even compared with the two preceding albums.”

(more…)

Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo Is Crazy Tubey Magical

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  • KILLER sound from start to finish: Triple Plus on side two, nearly that good (A++ to A+++) on side one 
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY – full-bodied, rich, spacious, BIG and PRESENT, with practically zero smear on the horns (nice!
  • The Tubey Magical keyboards found on the title cut are really something to hear, especially on this copy
  • The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free)

Wow – big, present and clear, with lots of lovely studio space, yet full-bodied. These sides about as right as any we’ve ever heard.

As noted above, the Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding here. How Zappa ever decided to go digital when he managed to record so well in analog (from time to time, let’s be honest) is beyond me.

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. (more…)

The Recordings of Weather Report – Four that Didn’t Make the Grade

Weather Report Albums with Hot Stampers

Weather Report Albums We’ve Reviewed

More Albums that Didn’t Make the Grade

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These are just some of the recordings by Weather Report that we’ve auditioned over the years and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your collection, and may even belong in our Hall of Shame.

Free Service provided to the Audiophile Public, courtesy of Better Records.

Chicago II – 360 Original or Red Label Reissue?

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Both can be good. I did the shootout and often tried to guess the label for the copy I was hearing, for fun more than anything else. I have to admit that my batting average was not much better than chance. 

The 360s tend to be a little fuller and smearier, but plenty of red label copies sound that way and some 360s don’t, so trying to match the sound to the label was even more pointless than usual.

When comparing pressings in a shootout it’s too late for the label to have any predictive value. We’ve already bought the records, cleaned them up and now just want to know what they actually sound like — not which ones might be the best, but which ones are the best.

The time for guessing games has passed. Of course, if we do actually figure out what the right stampers are, this helps us next time around. (more…)

The Grand Wazoo and Its Prodigious Amounts of Tubey Magic

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More The Grand Wazoo

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  • KILLER sound from start to finish: Triple Plus on side two, nearly that good (A++ to A+++) on side one 
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY – full-bodied, rich, spacious, BIG and PRESENT, with practically zero smear on the horns (nice!
  • The Tubey Magical keyboards found on the title cut are really something to hear, especially on this copy
  • The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free)

Wow – big, present and clear, with lots of lovely studio space, yet full-bodied. These sides about as right as any we’ve ever heard.

As noted above, the Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding here. How Zappa ever decided to go digital when he managed to record so well in analog (from time to time, let’s be honest) is beyond me. (more…)

The Recordings of Weather Report – Three that Didn’t Make the Grade

Weather Report Albums with Hot Stampers

Weather Report Albums We’ve Reviewed

Three More that Didn’t Make the Grade

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These are just some of the Weather Report recordings we’ve auditioned over the years and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your collection, and may even belong in our Hall of Shame.

Free Service provided to the Audiophile Public, courtesy of Better Records. 

Al Dimeola – Elegant Gypsy – His Masterpiece

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  • One of the best copies of this phenomenal Fusion Guitar Jazz Classic to ever hit the site, Triple Plus (A+++) throughout 
  • Both sides are incredibly lively, full-bodied, open and present – the sound is HUGE and WEIGHTY and it rocks
  • There is a mark that plays during track one on side one so we’ve discounted this one accordingly
  • 5 stars: “Generally an explosive affair, although it does have a fair amount of variety. A near classic in the fusion vein.”

SHOCKINGLY GOOD SOUND for one of the all-time great guitar albums! We were positively BLOWN AWAY by how lively, dynamic and full-bodied this copy sounds. There’s real texture to all the instruments and the bottom end is tight and punchy beyond belief. They just don’t make records with this kind of Tubey Analog Magic anymore.

If you’ve enjoyed the sonics on one of our Hot Stamper pressings of Return To Forever, Weather Report or Santana, I think you’ll find a lot to like about this record.

This album still holds up today. The All Music Guide gives it five big stars, and on a copy like this one I bet you’ll rate the music just as highly. When you have a pressing with this kind of weight, power, clarity and transparency, you can easily appreciate just how amazing the musicianship is. (more…)

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire

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

This WHITE Hot Stamper Birds of Fire has a side one that will blow your mind. Turn this one up and prepare yourself for the kind of sound that perhaps one out of fifty records has to offer, with cymbal crashes that really crash, bass that threatens to move your house off its foundation, and the kind of jazz rock fusion POWER that few groups in the history of music have ever been capable of. It’s 100% guaranteed to bring your stereo to its knees. Was it really possible to encode this kind of energy onto a slice of vinyl decades ago? This side one proves it was.

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We tried doing a shootout for this album in 2008 and failed miserably. At that time, not that long ago when you think about it, there was no way we could get this music to play so LOUD, so CLEANLY, and with such CORRECT TONALITY, from the deepest bass to the highest highs, complete 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. (These Sound Improvements really made a difference in our system and they can make a difference in yours, guaranteed.)

The amazing engineer Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century) is the man responsible for the superb sound here, but the explosive dynamics are not just for show. They’re here for a reason. This music requires that level of sonic realism; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively ENHANCES it. (more…)