Genre – Jazz – Big Band

Count Basie And His Orchestra – I Told You So

More Big Band Jazz

  • Boasting INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish, this vintage Pablo pressing could not be beat
  • A Top Basie Big Band title in every way – musically, sonically, you name it, this album has got it going on!
  • This is the way it must have sounded in 1976, in the New York studios where the famous RCA engineer Bob Simpson was still behind the board
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 stars: “This is one of Count Basie’s best big-band studio recordings for Norman Granz during his Pablo years. The arrangements by Bill Holman are both challenging and swinging, containing enough surprises to make this session a real standout.”

On the best pressings, the horns are so present and high-rez, not to mention full-bodied, this could easily become a favorite big band album to demo or test with — or just to enjoy the hell out of.

I never noticed until just now that the album cover picture for Farmer’s Market Barbecue and this album are exactly the same! Wow, Pablo, that takes balls. (more…)

Ted Heath / Shall We Dance

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More Big Band Jazz Recordings

  • This original London pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades from first note to last – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Both of these sides are huge, rich, weighty and dynamic like few records you have ever heard – it sets the Gold Standard for Tubey Magical Big Band sound
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than much of what we played
  • Credit Kingsway HallKenneth Wilkinson, and the Decca “Tree” microphone setup as the three elements used to create the magic in these grooves

Years ago we wrote in another listing, “We had a copy of Heath’s Shall We Dance not long ago that had some of the biggest, richest, most powerful sound I have ever heard. Watch for Hot Stampers coming to the site soon.” Well, now they’re here, and this copy fulfills the promise of the album better than most others we played in our recent Shootout.

DEMO DISC SOUND barely begins to do this one justice. This is Audiophile Quality Big Band sound to beat them all. The American big bands rarely got the kind of sound that the Decca engineers were able to achieve on records like this. For one thing they didn’t have Kingsway HallKenneth Wilkinson or the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

Unlike some of the American big band leaders who were well past their prime by the advent of the two-channel era, Heath is able to play with all the energy and verve required for this style of music. He really does “swing in high stereo” on these big band dance tunes.

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Duke Ellington – Blues In Orbit

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More Jazz Recordings

  • An outstanding original Columbia Six Eye stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, and Tubey Magic by the boatload – this amazing 30th Street recording from 1960 shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • “…an album worth tracking down, if only to hear the band run through a lighter side of its sound — indeed, it captures the essence of a late-night recording date that was as much a loose jam as a formal studio date, balancing the spontaneity of the former and the technical polish of the latter.”
  • Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious sounding 30th Street Studio
  • It’s yet another Tubey Magical Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording

For us audiophiles, both the sound and the music here are wonderful. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1959-1960 Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick.

This pressing is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

If Large Group Jazz Music is your thing, you should get a big kick out of this one. If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz — and what red-blooded audiophile doesn’t — you can’t do much better than the Ellington recordings on Columbia from this era. The warmth and immediacy of the sound here are guaranteed to blow practically any record of this kind you might own right out of the water. 

Both sides of this very special original stereo pressing are huge, rich, tubey and clear. As soon as the band got going we knew that this was absolutely the right sound for this music. 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.

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

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More Count Basie

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this early Columbia 6-Eye pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Reasonably quiet vinyl too, considering its age – how many early ’60s Columbia Stereo pressings survived with audiophile 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
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ellington’s elegance and unique voicings meet Basie’s rollicking, blues-based Kansas City swing, and it works gloriously. The Duke and his band accentuate their swinging dance band side, while Basie and company have never sounded as suave and exotic as when playing Billy Strayhorn arrangements. Everyone has a good time, and that joy infuses this album from start to finish.”
  • If you’re a fan of either or both of these jazz giants, this Classic from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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The Glorious Sound of Triple Flutes

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More of the Music of Count Basie

Hot Stamper Pressings of Big Band Recordings

Check out the triple flutes on the first track on side two – on a copy like this you will hear some shockingly Tubey Magical, breathy, sweet, natural flutes. And there are three of them! Only the largest classical orchestras have three flutes. The sound is to die for.

Play any number of copies and listen for the tri-flute sound – some copies are tubier and a bit smeary, some are breathier and a bit thin, some are recessed, some are more present. On a sufficiently resolving system, no two pressings will have those flutes sounding exactly the same.

Don’t judge the whole side by just the flutes, they are only one element in a complex array. But they are a very strong clue as to what the rest of the sound is doing better or worse. One might even go so far as to say right and wrong.

Basie Big Band is a Top Basie Big Band title in every way — musically, sonically, you name it, this album has got it going on.

If you like your brass big, rich, powerful and dynamic, you came to the right place. In practically every way this copy is Hard To Fault.

With 18 pieces in the studio (five trumpets!, four trombones!, five saxes!) this album can be a real powerhouse — if you have the right copy, and both White Hot Stamper sides here show you just how lively and dynamic this music can be. It’s got real Demo Disc qualities, no doubt about it.

When you get this record home, pay special attention to how natural and correct the timbre of the brass is. This is the hallmark of a well recorded album — it sounds right.

Gene Harris Big Band – A Concord Record that Isn’t Mediocre (!)

More of the Music of Count Basie

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Big Band Recordings

Since when did Concord learn to make a record that sounds as good as this one, with inspired, energetic performances from this solid group of veterans of the jazz wars no less.

Where is the typical Concord sub-gen, opaque, closed-in, compressed and lifeless sound we’ve been hearing all our lives?

This is one jazz label that has done almost nothing of any real interest from the very start, and yet somehow they not only managed to get Gene Harris and his band of All Stars to play with tremendous enthusiasm and skill, they actually managed to capture, with considerable fidelity I might add, the prodigious big band energy they produced onto a reel of analog tape.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it with my own two ears.

Not only is the sound EXCELLENT, but the big band really swings. They pull out all the stops. Gene Harris, one of my favorite pianists, leads an all star crew on a series of tracks performed in the spirit of Count Basie. Not a slavish recreation, but an inspired performance in his style. This has to be one of the best sounding Concord records I’ve ever heard. Without a doubt one of the real sleepers from that label. (more…)

Glenn Miller Orchestra – The Direct Disc Sound of…

  • An outstanding original pressing of a Great American Gramophone Company Direct to Disc recording, with Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • 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!
  • This is no sleepy over-the-hill Sheffield Direct to Disc (referring to the later Harry James titles, not the excellent first one) – these guys are the real deal and they play their hearts out on this live-in-the-studio recording
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you

One of the all time GREAT Direct to Disc recordings. For sound and music, this one is hard to beat. And the vinyl is as quiet as any you will find.

We went a bit overboard years ago when we wrote, “I don’t think you can find a better sounding big band record on the planet.” Well, we’ve heard plenty of amazing big band albums in the course of our Hot Stamper shootouts for the last five or ten years, albums by the likes of Basie, Zoot Sims, Ellington, Shorty Rogers, Ted Heath and others.

Not to mention the fact that the shockingly good Sauter-Finegan track “Song of the Volga Boatman” from the LP Memories Of Goodman and Miller is played regularly around these parts for cartridge setup and tuning, as well as general tweaking.

But that should take nothing away from this superb recording, made at the famously good-sounding Capitol Records Studio A, with none other than Wally Heider doing the mix and Ken Perry manning the lathe.

We also noted that, “It absolutely murders all the Sheffield big band records, which sound like they were made by old tired men sorely in need of their naps. Way past their prime anyway”, which is mostly true.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra heard here was an actively touring band. They know this material inside and out, they clearly love it, and they’re used to playing the hell out of it practically every night.

If you like the tunes that Glenn Miller made famous — “String of Pearls,” “In The Mood,” “Tuxedo Junction” — you will have a very hard time finding them performed with more gusto, or recorded with anything approaching this kind of fidelity.

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Glenn Miller – “The Best Sounding Big Band Record?”

We went a bit overboard years ago when we wrote, “I don’t think you can find a better sounding big band record on the planet.”

Well, we’ve heard plenty of amazing big band albums in the Hot Stamper shootouts we’ve carried out over the course of the last ten or fifteen years, albums by the likes of Basie, Ellington, Shorty Rogers, Ted Heath and others.

Not to mention the fact that the shockingly good Sauter-Finegan track “Song of the Volga Boatman” from the LP “Memories Of Goodman and Miller” is played regularly around these parts for cartridge setup and tuning, as well as general tweaking.

But that should take nothing away from this superb recording, made at the famously good sounding Capitol Records Studio A, with none other than Wally Heider doing the mix and Ken Perry manning the lathe.

We also noted that, “It absolutely murders all the Sheffield big band records, which sound like they were made by old tired men sorely in need of their naps. Way past their prime anyway.” Which is mostly true.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra heard here was an actively touring band. They know this material inside and out, they clearly love it, and they’re used to playing the hell out of it practically every night.

If you like the tunes that Glenn Miller made famous — String of Pearls, In The Mood, Tuxedo Junction — you will have a very hard time finding them performed with more gusto, or recorded with anything approaching this level of fidelity.

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Duke Ellington / Masterpieces By Ellington Circa 1951

More of the Music of Duke Ellington

More Large Group Jazz Recordings

  • You’ll find superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage 6-Eye mono pressing – remarkably quiet vinyl for such an early Columbia too
  • The 1951 mono sound is shockingly real, not for the era, but for any era – it’s remarkably big, rich and Tubey Magical
  • A mid-’50s pressing that is almost impossible to find in clean condition – this is one of the nicer copies we’ve seen lately
  • For his first LP, Ellington is freed from prior 3-minute constraints and the results are nothing short of breathtaking on a record this good
  • If you could have only one Ellington LP, Indigos or Masterpieces would have to be one of them
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he and the band rose to the occasion with extended (11-minute-plus) “uncut concert arrangements” of “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Solitude,””

We haven’t done this title in close to two years, mostly because there are so few clean copies around to buy. This was, in fact, one of the only copies in our shootout without audible scratches or groove wear. Let us hope we have more to offer in the months ahead.

We’ve known about this wonderful album for decades, since first got hold of a red label copy from the ’70s. Although not in the league with the best 6-Eye pressings, even that late reissue had enough Columbia magic in its grooves to impress the hell out of me.

And the fact that a jazz album recorded in 1950 was still in print more than twenty years later is testament to the lasting power of Ellington’s music. As Kenny Burrell would say, “Ellington Is Forever.”

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Bob and Ray / Throw a Stereo Spectacular

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More Living Stereo Recordings

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this Living Stereo pressing with be very hard to beat
  • Originally produced as a sampler record for the Living Stereo line, it is an absolute MUST OWN for serious audiophiles looking to take their system to the next level
  • Our reference copy here at Better Records is so vital to our operation that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price!
  • 4 stars: “The gleefully cacophonous Guckenheimer Sour Kraut Band takes the prize for providing the most unusual musical selection, but the overall program is extremely diverse [and] the comedy and music are enjoyable.”

Bob and Ray Throw A Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only: The Bob and Ray Test.

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. 

Six words hold the key to better sound: “The Song of the Volga Boatman.”

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is “The Song of the Volga Boatman” on Bob and Ray Throw A Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult track we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change, some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio, the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience extremely well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last several years.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right, the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection, you need to find one. It will be invaluable to you in the long run.

The copy we have is so good, and is so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

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