Ellington-Basie / First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

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  • This original 6-Eye Stereo pressing was doing pretty much everything right, with both sides earning superb Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER
  • Reasonably quiet vinyl too, considering its age – how many early ’60s Columbia Stereo pressings survived with audiophile-quality playing surfaces the way this one did?
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1961 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • If all you’ve heard are the Classic Records reissues of Ellington, you are in for a treat, because there is a world of difference between the real thing and the Classic wannabe
  • It’s yet another Tubey Magical Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… a very successful and surprisingly uncrowded encounter… Ellington and Basie both play piano (their interaction with each other is wonderful) and the arrangements allowed the stars from both bands to take turns soloing.”
  • If you’re a fan of either or both of these jazz giants, this classic jazz album from 1961 belongs in your collection


Thelonious Monk – In Person

  • In Person returns to the site with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR sides of these vintage Milestone pressings – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • Unusually rich, full-bodied, lively and present sound which brings out the best in this music
  • Features incomparable jazz greats Donald Byrd and Joe Gordon
  • The 1976 transfers of tape to disc by David Turner are superb in all respects – remastering is not a dirty word when it sounds like this
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The first half of In Person contains the pianist/composer’s famous Town Hall concert of 1959… The second half of this two-fer finds Monk leading a strong sextet with trumpeter Joe Gordon and tenors Rouse and Harold Land live…”

The Riverside pressings we’ve auditioned of both The Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall and Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two – At The Blackhawk were just awful sounding. The OJC reissues from the ’80s, although better, were not overflowing with the rich, natural, relaxed sound we were looking for either.

Ah, but a few years back we happened to drop the needle on one of these good Milestone Two-Fers. Here was the sound we were looking for and had had so little luck in finding.

Which prompts the question that should be on the mind of every audiophile:

What are the rules for collecting records with the best sound quality?

The answer, of course, is that there are no such rules and never will be.

There is only trial and error. Our full-time staff has been running trials — we call them shootouts and needle drops — for decades, with far more errors than successes. Such is the nature of records. It may be a tautology to note that the average record has mediocre sound, but it nevertheless pays to keep this inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your audiophile hopes on a current reissue — and you have reasonably high standards and two working ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed.


Les Brown – Goes Direct to Disc

More Large Group Jazz Recordings

More Reviews of Century Direct to Disc Records

  • Boasting two solid Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, this original Great American Gramophone Company pressing will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Great energy, but the sound is relaxed and Tubey sweet at the same time, never squawky, with plenty of extension on both ends – that’s analog for ya!
  • Both sides here fulfill the promise of the Direct to Disc recording technology in a way that few – very, very few – Direct to Disc pressings can
  • Try “Tickle Toe” and “Gonna Fly Now” on side two to hear the best combination of excellent sonics and superb musicianship


Phineas Newborn, Jr. – A World of Piano!

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More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • One of the most musically impressive jazz piano recordings we’ve played in years – Newborn’s improvisational skills are operating at a very high level
  • The team of Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer insure that everything you want in an Audiophile Quality piano trio recording is here
  • If you don’t have any Phineas Newborn albums in your collection, this is definitely the place to start
  • 5 stars: “Phineas Newborn’s Contemporary debut (he would record six albums over a 15-year period for the label) was made just before physical problems began to interrupt his career…. He performs five jazz standards and three obscurities by jazz composers on this superb recital…”


Sonny Rollins – Sonny Rollins & the Contemporary Leaders

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More Contemporary Jazz Label Recordings

  • Boasting seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER throughout, this vintage pressing of Rollins’s sophomore Contemporary release will be very hard to beat
  • Both of these sides are textbook examples of the kind of rich, smooth, effortlessly natural Contemporary Jazz sound that Roy DuNann‘s All Tube Recording Chain was known for in 1958
  • “The last of the classic Sonny Rollins albums prior to his unexpected three-year retirement features the great tenor with pianist Hampton Hawes, guitarist Barney Kessell, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Shelly Manne… Great music.”

This Contemporary Label LP has THE BIG SOUND we love here at Better Records — rich and full-bodied with live-in-your-listening-room immediacy. The bass is deep, rock-solid, and note-like. There’s plenty of clarity and extension up top, bringing Shelly Manne’s fantastic work on the cymbals to life.

This is no Heavy Vinyl slogfest. Just listen to the leading edge transients on Sonny’s sax.

The guitar is warm, rich, and sweet, and just swimming in ambience.

Sonny is backed here by a heavy-hitting lineup of Barney KesselShelly ManneLeroy Vinnegar and Hampton Hawes — all favorite players of ours here at Better Records.


Thelonious Monk – Underground

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • With two incredible Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Charlie Rouse – featured on many of the tracks here – is particularly wonderful on sax. His saxophone is full-bodied and natural with breathy texture and just the right amount of honk
  • So many copies just sound like an old jazz record, but this one lets you feel like you are right there as the music happens
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The instantly recognizable stride piano lines are delivered with the same urgency and precision that they possessed over two decades earlier…”

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top-quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” meaning relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

This is an outstanding Monk album from 1968. Thanks to Columbia’s state of the art engineering — still using tubes I’d wager, based on the sound — the recording really comes to life, or at least it does on a copy that sounds as good as this one does.

Monk’s piano has powerful dynamics and real weight, just like a real piano.

So many copies just sound like an old jazz record, but this one lets you feel like you are right there as the music happens. What more could you ask for?

Unlike a lot of Columbia jazz records, both the 360 originals and the early Red Label reissues can sound good on this title.


Stanley Turrentine with Milt Jackson – Cherry

More Stanley Turrentine

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

  • This original CTI pressing was doing practically everything right, with both sides earning KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Rudy Van Gelder really knocked this one out of the park – the sound here is solid, punchy and present, just the way we like it
  • You will have a very hard time finding a better sounding funky Soul Jazz album than this copy of Cherry
  • “Stanley Turrentine’s husky tenor is a perfect match for Milt Jackson’s soulful vibes, and when Bob James’ masterful work on the Fender Rhodes is thrown into the mix we get a heady blend of soul-jazz, hard bop and the burgeoning funk-jazz sound all wrapped into one cohesive and very enjoyable record.” – The Jazz Record.com


Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Stillness (with Correct Polarity)

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More Bossa Nova

  • An excellent A&M pressing of this incredibly well-recorded and criminally-overlooked LP with Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them throughout
  • Both sides of this copy are in correct polarity, so no need to worry about switching the polarity, as we must do with many of the copies – just drop the needle and enjoy!
  • The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that will absolutely blow you away (assuming you have big speakers and like to turn them up good and loud)
  • Wonderfully present and breathy vocals from the lovely ladies in Sergio’s band – they provide most of the audiophile  appeal (and all of the sex appeal), and we know of nothing else like them on record
  • A permanent member of our Top 100 and Demo Disc par excellence
  • 4 stars: “Stillness is a concept album — the title tune opens and closes it in moody stillness — and a transition piece all at once…. Overlooked in its day, Stillness is the great sleeper album of Sergio Mendes’ first A&M period.”
  • This is a Must Own album from 1970, which just happens to be a great year for Rock and Pop Music, maybe the greatest of them all

We figure we’re about due for a thank you note from Mr. Mendes, because we’ve turned a huge number of audiophiles into die-hard fans of this album. It’s easy to see why when you play a copy that sounds like this. All of the qualities we look for on this album are right here.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, “For What It’s Worth” on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are. This one being from 1970 fits the bill nicely.

Side two of this album can be one of THE MOST MAGICAL sides of ANY record — when you’ve got a killer copy. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s an excellent test disc as well. All tweaks and equipment changes and room treatments must pass the Stillness test.

To fail to make this record sound better is to fail completely. The production is so dense, and so difficult to reproduce properly, that only recently have I begun to hear just how good this record can sound. There is still plenty to discover locked in these grooves, and all of us here at Better Records enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, locked away in the 50+ year old vinyl.


We Get Letters – Do the “Wrong Stampers” Sometimes Win Shootouts?

mendestill_depth_1102533608More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Soren has some questions about shootouts and our White Hot Stamper pressing of Stillness. His questions are indented, our answers are not.


Does it ever bug you to realize, maybe one or two years down the road and with (as Tom mentions) better playback/cleaning technology, that stampers which you dismissed in a shootout turn out to win the next one, meaning that you could have let many possible hot stampers go?


We talk about that a bit here:

But being bugged by it does no good. It is a reality that must be accepted.

Because we know how easy it is to be wrong, or, more precisely, to not know everything we would like to know, we never stop doing Research and Development for the titles we sell.

We tell people all the time, go play your heavy vinyls and half-speeds that you haven’t played recently. If you’ve made improvements to your system, they will often start to show themselves to be not as good sounding as you remember, and that means you are making progress.

I was actually reaching out to you to inquire whether the super hot Sergio Mendes Stillness that I bought from you a couple of years ago is the version with the phase reversed on side 2?

I ask because I don’t recall a phase issue on this specific title was ever mentioned on your site back when I bought it (i would have remembered, I think) so maybe you only found out recently?

Side 1 on the record sounds better to me than side 2. The matrix on this side 2 ends in “M3”.

Both M2 and M3 are in correct polarity. M3 used to win shootouts by the way. For the longest time, at least ten years, I thought M3 was the ultimate side two.

Having done many, many shootouts since then, along with making many changes to everything involving the cleaning and playing of records, we believe Super Hot (2+) is about the highest grade any M stamper can earn.

The fact that you like an M2 pressing better than the Hot Stamper you bought from us is not a polarity issue. It is most probably a system-dependent issue.

Your stereo is different from ours. Our stereo probably would prefer the M3 we sent you, and your stereo likes the M2 you have. It’s really not much more complicated than that.

Finally concerning this magic Stillness white hot stamper (and don’t worry, I am not going to ask you which one it is because you wouldn’t tell me, and you shouldn’t, because it’s a trade secret that you worked hard for and besides I am probably better off with my own super hot copy where I don’t have to bother about that phase issue on side 2).

But out of curiosity: Has this “magic” stamper/pressing turned out to be great on other Sergio Mendes records also (and thereby defied your previous knowledge and caused you to evaluate your game on those titles also), or was it simply a magical one-off revelation with Stilness?

Part of the reason we were wrong about Stillness is that the best copies broke the rule we tend to use about stampers for A&M albums. In this case, the “wrong” stampers turned out to be the best! The stampers we tend to like for most A&M records, the “right stampers,” are not the ones that currently win shootouts.

But that’s what shootouts are for, so that we take our biases and previous judgments out of the search and just go with what actually does sound the best.

How beautiful actually, that the “wrong” stampers turned out to be the best on this one title. Records are nice that way. You must always keep on your toes. Thank you for taking the time to answer my three questions.

Best regards,


Staying on your toes is indeed the name of the game when it comes to records. With every change to your system, the record you used to like the best could turn out to be second-rate compared to the record you used to think was second-rate but is now first-rate.

This, of course, drives most audiophiles crazy, so they ignore or downplay the possibility.

Being in the shootout business means we have no way to avoid these realities, which is why it is so easy for us to accept them.

The amateurs and professionals alike who review records for audiophiles want there to be clear-cut answers for every album they write about. Uncertainty and trade-offs upset them no end.

We recognized twenty years ago that the empirical pursuit of record knowledge, practiced scientifically, must be fundamentally Incomplete, Imperfect, and Provisional, and that is never going to change no matter how upsetting anyone may find it.

Thanks very much for writing.


Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto / Getz-Gilberto on Japanese Vinyl

Hot Stamper Pressings of Bossa Nova Albums Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Japanese Pressings

Sonic Grade: C

This is a Minty looking Verve Japanese Import LP. It’s not competitive with the best domestic pressings, but you could definitely do worse. Trying to find domestic copies that aren’t trashed is getting harder every day, so if you’re a click and pop counter, this copy may be the ticket.

Stan Getz is a truly great tenor saxophonist, the cool school’s most popular player. This LP is all the evidence you need. Side 1 has those wonderfully relaxed Brazilian tempos and the smooth sax stylings of Stan Getz.

Side two for me is even more magical. Getz fires up and lets loose some of his most emotionally intense playing. These sad, poetic songs are about feeling more than anything else and Getz communicates that so completely you don’t have to speak Portugese to know what Jobim is saying. Call it cool jazz with feeling.

A Must Own Jazz Record

We consider this album a Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious Jazz Collecton.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.

Further Reading