Genre – Jazz – Latin / Bossa Nova

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Equinox

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this wonderful copy of Equinox, along with vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • The breathy intimacy of the two wonderful female leads – Lani Hall and Janis Hansen – were brilliantly captured by the engineering team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine at A&M
  • It’s humble records like this one that blew my mind when I first discovered them back in the ’80s, with their dynamic, energetic, spacious sound, as well as shockingly good music that at the time I had no idea existed
  • “Watch What Happens,” “Night and Day,” “Wave” – Mendes brings his innovative Bossa Nova arranging skills to these timeless classics
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equinox continues the scrumptiously winning sound that Sergio Mendes cooked up in the mid-’60s… Again, the mix of American pop tunes old and new and Brazilian standards and sleepers is impeccable, and the treatments are smooth, swinging, and very much to the point.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.
  • Equinox is a good example of a record most audiophiles don’t know well but should.

These Sergio Mendes records can be surprisingly dynamic, but only the better copies (such as this one) will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that only analog is capable of reproducing correctly in our experience.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re the world’s biggest fans of Sergio Mendes here at Better Records. Brasil ’66, Stillness, and this album are ALL Desert Island Discs for us, and we even enjoy the hell out of some of the later albums. You can search all you want, but outside of The Beatles you are going to have a very tough time finding the diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy, multi-part female vocals, their unusually voiced multi-tracked harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us not forget, Mendes’ superb keyboard work anchoring as well as jazzing up the whole production.

His stuff never sounds dated to us, and we’ve never heard another artist do anything in the ’60s samba idiom nearly as well. We love Astrud Gilberto’s albums from the period, which no doubt served as a template for the style Sergio wanted to create with his new ensemble, but Brazil 66 is clearly a step up in every way: songwriting, arranging, production, and quality of musicianship.

Just play the group’s amazing versions of “Watch What Happens,” “Night and Day,” or “Jobim’s Wave” to hear the kind of Mendes Magic that makes us swoon. For we audiophiles, it just doesn’t get any better. (Well, almost. Stillness is still the Ultimate, on the level of a Dark Side of the Moon or Tea for the Tillerman, but Equinox is right up there with it.)

What The Best Sides Of Equinox Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1967
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Botnick and Levine Knock One Out of the Park

The music is of course wonderful, but what separates Sergio from practically all of his ’60s contemporaries is the AMAZING SOUND of his recordings. Like their debut, this one was engineered by the team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine. Botnick is, of course, the man behind the superb recordings of The Doors, Love, and others too numerous to mention.

Levine is no slouch either, having engineered one of the best sounding albums on the planet, Mendes’ Stillness.

Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to let the listener hear all the elements laid out clearly, with each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. When you hear one of those copies, you have to give Botnick and Levine their due. These guys knew what they were doing like few that have come after them.

Complex Arrangements

One reason you have to hand the tallest trophy to Bruce for this album is that the arrangements are dramatically more complex here than on any comparable rock record of the era. There are so many elements to juggle in the densest parts of the mix, with multiple lead vocal parts, often double-tracked; background vocals by Sergio and the girls coming from every location; keyboards, bass and drums; tons of percussion popping out all over the place — there is a rich tapestry of instruments and voices, stretching across the soundstage from wall to wall, with wonderfully layered front-to-back depth.

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of “Day Tripper” off the first album. That was close to forty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the decades since.

What We’re Listening For On Equinox

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine in this case — would have put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

Sergio’s Sophomore Effort Is A Demo Disc Quality Pop Record

It’s a recording that should be part of any serious Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Constant Rain
Cinnamon and Clove
Watch What Happens
For Me
Bim-Bom

Side Two

Night and Day
Triste
Gente
Wave
Só Danço Samba

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Equinox continues the scrumptiously winning sound that Sergio Mendes cooked up in the mid-’60s, this time a bit more fleshed out with John Pisano’s guitar, a slightly thicker texture, and even an imitation sitar (this was, after all, 1967). Again, the mix of American pop tunes old and new and Brazilian standards and sleepers is impeccable (although it didn’t yield any substantial hits), and the treatments are smooth, swinging, and very much to the point.

While Mendes reaps a predictable harvest from Antonio Carlos Jobim — he was one of the first to discover and record “Triste” and “Wave” — he also likes to explore the work of other outstanding Brazilian writers like Jorge Ben, Joao Gilberto, and especially Edu Lobo (whose “For Me,” with its bright flashes of combo organ, is one of the album’s highlights).

Lani Hall’s star was just rising at this time, and it is her cool, clear voice that haunts the memory most often. Like its predecessor, Equinox is exceedingly brief in duration, yet not a motion is wasted.


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Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 / Stillness – (Reversed Phase Copy)

More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Stillness Is a Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

This was a SEALED copy of Stillness, one of my favorite records of all time. Side two of this album is possibly THE MOST MAGICAL side of an album I’ve ever played. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s my current favorite test disc as well [or was at the time anyway]. 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 I enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, encoded in this vintage vinyl record all those years ago.

The sound is AMAZING. But only on one condition. You must REVERSE YOUR ABSOLUTE PHASE! I discovered today (1/25/05) this fact and I owe Robert Pincus a debt of gratitude for suggesting it. These stampers have always sounded bright, upper midrangy and aggressive, with congested loud passages and thin bass. I just assumed that it was because of bad mastering. Bad mastering is the rule, not the exception, around here. I play badly mastered records all day long, searching for the exceptional pressings that for reasons unexplained succeeded in capturing the magic of the music in their grooves.

Reversing the absolute phase on this record today was a REVELATION. There before me was all the ambience, openness, sweetness, silkiness and warmth I had come to expect from the Hot Stampers. For the first time, these stampers showed their true colors.

But you need a special key to unlock the magic. You must either switch the positive and negative at the speaker, the amp, or at the head shell leads (which is what I do), or you must have a switch that inverts phase on your preamp. If you can’t do any of those, or are unwilling to do any of those, this is not the record for you.


FURTHER READING

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Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Making Audio Progress 

Cannonball Adderley – A Forgotten Jazz Classic

More Cannonball Adderley

Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

  • An exceptionally rare and amazing sounding early stereo pressing (that’s the mono you see pictured btw) – it boasts Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last 
  • These originals are by far the best way to go, in stereo of course, putting Cannonball’s breathy, melodic sax right between your speakers, with the rest of the band – including Sergio Mendes on keys – spread out around him
  • Truly an undiscovered gem in the Adderley catalog – the audiophiles here at Better Records were digging both the music and especially the superb sound
  • Another top quality recording from the superbly talented Ray Fowler, the house engineer for Riverside and the man behind many of the best Thelonious Monk and Cannonball Adderley recordings done for that great jazz label
  • A Jazz Classic from 1963 that should appeal to any fan of Bossa Nova music
  • The complete list of titles from 1963 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

I think I first heard this album on the original pressing about ten years ago. Of course I liked it immediately; samba jazz and pop are two of my favorite styles of music, from Getz Au Go Go to Astrud Gilbert, on to Antonio Carlos Jobim and ending with the bottled-sunshine Pure Pop of Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66.

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1962 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

Astrud Gilberto – Windy

More Astrud Gilberto

More Bossa Nova

  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout, making this one of the best copies to ever hit the site
  • Forget whatever Heavy Vinyl imposter is in print – this vintage Verve stereo pressing has the kind of High-Rez Tubey-Magical Midrange that will bring Astrud’s soft samba music to life in your very own listening room
  • “… Windy nevertheless proves one of Astrud Gilberto’s most consistent and sublime efforts, artfully straddling the division between Brazilian bossa nova and American sunshine pop.” 

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Jobim and Ramone – These Strings Are a Tough Test

jobimthecomposerMore of the Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim

Reviews and Commentaries for Antonio Carlos Jobim

Credit engineer Phil Ramone for correctly capturing the sound of every instrument here: the guitars, piano, flutes, strings, drums, percussion instruments — everything has the natural timbre of the real thing. I used to think this recording erred on the bright side, but not the Hot Stamper copies. They are tonally Right On The Money.

When the balance lacks lower midrange the sound gets lean, which causes the strings to seem brighter than they really are, a not uncommon problem with some of the pressings we heard.

We had quite a batch of these to play, including imports, originals, reissues (all stereo), and one lone mono, which was so ridiculously bad sounding we tossed it right out of the competition and into the trade pile.

For those of you playing along at home, we are not going to be much help to you here in finding your own Hot Stampers. Every version had strengths and weaknesses and all are represented in the three listings we are putting up today.

The sound of this side one blew our minds — no other copy could touch it. So open and airy, yet with real weight to the piano and a clear and strong bass line, this copy did EVERYTHING right. The strings are very much part of the ensemble on this album, and getting good string tone, with just the right rosiny texture, the least amount of smear, freedom from shrillness or hardness — this is not easy to do. On the strings, this copy KILLED.

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Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le

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More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this fun Brasil ’66 album on the early label – some remarkably quiet vinyl too for A&M in the sixties
  • “Norwegian Wood,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Easy to Be Hard” are among the great songs that have the potential to sound amazing
  • We’re huge Sergio Mendes fans here and it’s a thrill to hear copies like this bring his music to life

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (“Wichita Lineman” and “Norwegian Wood”), which are as good as anything the group ever did. As I’m a big fan, that’s high praise!

The average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read: thick and dull) sound are also problems commonly found on Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a noticeable “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it.

(more…)

Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 – Crystal Illusions

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More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums


  • Outstanding sound throughout, with both sides earning Double Plus (A++) grades – some remarkably quiet vinyl too for A&M in 1969
  • The sound on both sides here is jumping out, with Tubey Magic, space, extension top to bottom, and more detail than many of the other copies we played – huge soundstage as well
  • Yes, it’s a recording that has some problems, but the better copies are able to overcome most of them, and that’s precisely what we are offering here – a copy that gets the sound of this music right
  • 4 stars: “Dave Grusin is right there with a lush, haunting orchestral chart when needed; Lani Hall is thrust further into the vocal spotlight, as cool and alluring as ever.. Weird and overblown, but wonderful.”

If you are not familiar with Sergio and his magical band, this might not be the place to start. Try the first two albums or Stillness if you want to hear the best material recorded with the highest quality. This is a second tier album in the Sergio canon, and priced accordingly. There are of course some truly great songs on this one, just as there are on every Brasil ’66 album. I would draw your attention especially to the Otis Redding classic Dock of the Bay. Fans will no doubt find much to like here; others maybe not so much. If you get a thrill out of FINALLY hearing a famous album sound the way you always wished it could, this copy is for you!

What you’re looking for on Crystal Illusions is a copy that’s not thin, dry, harsh and edgy! If you own this album you know exactly what I am talking about. Most copies sound like CDs in that respect. And most Brazil ’66 CDs sound just as bad as you might think they would. Believe me, I know, I’ve bought practically all of them. Thank god for the treble control on my car stereo. (more…)

Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto – Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto With Carlos Jobim

More Joao Gilberto

More Bossa Nova

  • This wonderful compilation makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • It’s big, lively, clear and present, with the kind of Tubey Magical richness we flip out for here at Better Records
  • A difficult record to find with audiophile playing surfaces – we go years without seeing a clean copy in stereo
  • “The two make an effective team, with Gilberto’s sometimes sentimental, sometimes impressionistic works effectively supported by Mann’s lithe flute solos.”

This record has the potential to sound its best on the right early pressing. Here are hundreds of others:

Records that Sound Best on the Right Early Pressing

This record sounds best in stereo, not mono. Here are hundreds of others we prefer in stereo:

Mono or Stereo? Stereo!

(more…)

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Fool on the Hill you’ve heard
  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and title trackl
  • Top engineers for A&M, Henry Lewy and Larry Levine, capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of these wonderful female leads – Lani Hall, Karen Philipp and Gracinha Leporace
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and the band, this early pressing from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

This vintage A&M pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs 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 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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Perez Prado – Prez

More Titles on Living Stereo

More Exotica

  • With Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation like you will not believe – this copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience
  • The driving, syncopated, heavily percussive arrangements add immensely to the fun, with the timbre of every scratcher and drum rendered in glorious Technicolor sound 
  • This is Vintage All Tube Analog at its best – the magic hidden in the grooves of the record really comes through on this pressing.

This SUPERB sounding copy of Prez has a lot in common with the other Living Stereo / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Ted Heath, Martin Denny and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records will do it! (more…)