Genre – Jazz/Rock Fusion

Weather Report – Heavy Weather – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

This one is for Weather Report’s MASTERPIECE of Jazz Fusion, Heavy Weather.

Our Track Commentary below has lots of What To Listen For (WTLF) advice to help you evaluate any copies you may have.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Birdland

Not an easy track to get right; there’s so much upper midrange and high frequency information to deal with. If the synthesizers and horns are too much, the effect is exciting but won’t wear well. Too much 6k is the problem on most copies, along with not enough above 10. That is a deadly combination.

A Remark You Made (more…)

Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns

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  • An outstanding pressing, with both sides earning outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them
  • Lots of Tubey Magic, textured synths, big bass and breathy vocals – this copy brings Joni’s jazzy folky fusion to life
  • Check out the big bottom end on The Jungle Line, which features the Drummers Of Burundi
  • Who made a more original, forward looking and interesting album in 1975 than this? I can’t think of anyone, can you?
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Joni Mitchell evolved from the smooth jazz-pop of Court and Spark to the radical Hissing of Summer Lawns, an adventurous work that remains among her most difficult records [as difficult as it is brilliant] … a strange and beautiful fusion of jazz and shimmering avant pop.”

Both sides here are airy, open, and spacious, with plenty of ambience. The bottom end is tight and punchy throughout with good solid weight, and the top end is silky sweet. Many copies of this album have a phony hi-fi “glare” that made us wince, but the sound here is warm and natural.

After hearing a few copies that bored us to tears years ago we had pretty much given up on finding good sound for this album, but once we found some truly hot Hot Stampers we found ourselves really enjoying this sophisticated Jazzy Folk Pop music. (more…)

Miles Davis – A Tribute To Jack Johnson

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

Two White Hot Stamper sides on quiet vinyl for this 5-Star Jazz/Rock Fusion classic! If you love the crazy music that Miles was making with John McLaughlin in the early ’70s, I’m sure you’re already a fan of this album, but I bet you’ve never heard it sound like this.

Check out the especially insightful Five Star All Music Guide Review linked above to get a better feel of what this album is all about. We’ve been trying to track down a good copy for ages, so it was a treat to hear this crazy, progressive jazz finally sound right. (more…)

King Crimson – Lizard – Our Shootout Winner from 2018

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Incredible sound throughout with both sides of this copy winning our recent shootout and in the process earning our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++). 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. (more…)

King Crimson – Lizard – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This is a SUNRAY Island Records label British Import LP with No Bar Code — an Early Pressing. We can’t imagine Lizard sounding much better than this. Both sides have sweet and open sound. It’s rich, warm, and transparent! 

The dynamics on this pressing are unlike anything we have ever heard for this title. This copy has all of that and then some. There is big-time presence accentuated by sweet highs and rich lows. When we say this record is open and spacious, we mean it! You can peer directly into the soundstage due to it’s amazing transparency and detailed texture. Rounding out the bottom end is excellent bass tone with the WHOMP we love.

This is, in our humble opinion, a better record than the first King Crimson album, which is notoriously bass shy. Finding a quiet copy of either one of those titles would be an amazing feat. We are never going to have enough clean copies of this record to do a proper shootout, but in this case I am confident calling it as close to Right On The Money as it can get.

Miles Davis – At Fillmore – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

This is an Original Columbia 2 LP set on QUIET vinyl with tonally CORRECT sound. The music found here was recorded in the wake of Davis’ highly influential fusion opus Bitches Brew. Keith Jarrett is featured on organ along with a band that includes Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. It culls tracks from a four night stay at the Fillmore East in 1970. (more…)

Miles Davis – Filles de Kilimanjaro – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND on this ’70s Red Label pressing! This one even knocked out a handful of 360 Label Originals in a recent shootout. It’s richer and fuller with superior clarity compared to most of the copies we’ve heard. The overall sound on both sides is airy, open and spacious with excellent clarity. Most of the Red Label pressings we played were too dry and sterile to enjoy, but this one has some serious analog magic. (more…)

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire – What to Listen For

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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 Birds of Fire.

Birds of Fire as a recording is not about depth or soundstage or ambience. It’s about IMMEDIACY, plain and simple. All the lead instruments positively jump out of the speakers — if you are lucky enough to be playing the right pressing. This is precisely what we want our best Hot Stampers to do. The better they do it, the higher their grade.

The main problem with this record is a lack of midrange presence. If the keyboards, drums and guitars are not right in front of you,, your copy does not have all the presence it should. On the best copies the musicians are right in the room with you. We know this for a fact because we heard the copies that could present them that way, and we heard it more than once.

Which of course gets to the reason shootouts are the only real way to learn about records. The best copies will show you qualities in the sound you had no way of knowing were possible. Without the freakishly good pressings you run into by chance in a shootout you have no way to know how high is up. On this record up is very high indeed.

A True Demo Disc

Birds of Fire is one of the top two or three Jazz/Rock Fusion Albums of All Time. In my experience, few recordings within this genre can begin to compete with the Dynamics and Energy of the best pressings of the album — if you have the Big Dynamic system for it. (more…)

Chicago – Chicago VII – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This is the BEST Chicago VII we’ve ever played! Three of the sides rated better than A Double Plus (A++), which is LIGHT YEARS AHEAD of the typical pressing of this album. Finding great sounding Chicago records is not easy, which is why you rarely see them on the site. (Most copies of the second album are so bad sounding they defy understanding. I’ve heard Edison cylinders with more fidelity.) But some of their records are very well recorded, this being one of them, and even though the shootouts for double albums are twice as hard (duh), for Chicago we do them, and for only one reason: WE LOVE THIS MUSIC.

(Well, parts of it anyway. Chicago and consistency have one thing in common: they both start with the letter C.)

How can you write a better song than (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long? That track, with its huge buildup of strings and wall to wall big band brass just KILLS. It’ll send shivers up your spine at the live music levels we were trying to play it at. It actually has some real dynamics built into the mix, which is not something pop songs are supposed to have.

Wishing You Were Here (with Beach Boys vocals no less) is another one we love, along with Happy Man. These are some great Chicago songs, and the production is first rate all the way.

If you have a Hot Stamper. Most copies suffer from dull highs and smeary, compressed brass. We can’t abide that sound. The lively copies with real bite to the brass and plenty of ENERGY to the music are the only ones for us. Finding them is not easy but we came across a few that made the grade and proudly offer them here.

Let’s Get Down to Brass Tacks (more…)

Chicago – Chicago II – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

Chicago-Loving Audiophiles of the World, gather round, this is the week we took on one of the toughest challenges in all of Analog Rockdom — Chicago II.

Ever played one? Then you know that the average copy of this album is an unmitigated DISASTER. The smeary sub-gen brass alone is enough to drive you from the room.

To a list of the album’s faults you can confidently add some or all of the following: blurry out of control bass; opaque veiled mids; rolled off highs, or no highs, whichever the case may be, common to virtually every pressing you find: plain old distortion; and, last but not least, the kind of compressed, lifeless sound that manages to make even the best songs on the album tedious.

And that’s not easy to do — this one album spawned not one, not two, but three still-catchy tunes that get played plenty these days.

360 Original or Red Label Reissue

Both can be good. I did the shootout (TP) 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 all 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. In the case of this album probably around 2013 or 2014.) (more…)