Genre – Jazz – Large Group

Jack Sheldon – Jack Sheldon And His All-Star Band

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

If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz — and what red blooded audiophile doesn’t — you can’t do much better than Jack Sheldon And His All-Star Band. The warmth and immediacy of the sound here are guaranteed to blow practically any Big Band record you own right out of the water.

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If you large group swinging West Coast Jazz is your thing — think Art Pepper Plus Eleven — you should get a big kick out of this one.

Both sides of this very special 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. There was practically nothing that could beat it, in any area of reproduction. (more…)

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

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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…)

Herbie Mann – Latin Mann

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

This White Hot Stamper 2-pack has Demo Disc Live Latin Jazz sound and crazy fun music. Both sides are so clear, rich, natural and present you’ll have a very hard time finding fault with the sound. And the music is great too – this is a Big Band with a swarm of Latin percussionists added to kick up the heat.

This Columbia recording from 1965 has the sound we love here at Better Records, or at least two of the sides of two of these copies do. When you play the other sides you may be in for quite a shock, especially the bad side two included in this two pack. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Jazz – Transparency Is Key

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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 Jazz. 

The best copies realistically convey the live-in-the-studio quality of the sound. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.

But the better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can’t help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings You really get the sense of actual fingers plucking those guitar strings. You hear mouths blowing air through horns and woodwinds. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Masterpieces By Ellington

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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 left 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.” (more…)

Joe Pass – Portraits Of Duke Ellington

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

Maybe it’s the fact that there are only three instruments playing, live in the studio, that accounts for the amazing recording quality. Nobody knows, certainly not us, but the one thing we can say for sure is that you will have a very hard time finding a guitar trio album that sounds remotely as good as this one does.

And the music is by The Duke himself. How great is that? Can’t fault the song choices in any way; they’re all classics: Satin Doll; Sophisticated Lady; I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good); In A Mellowtone; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear From Me and more.

Watch for more Joe Pass albums coming to the site. After hearing this album, and enjoying the hell out of it, we’re hunting down everything we can get our hands on to audition. I’d be surprised if we find another album with sound this good, but in the land of records you just never know.

Grover Washington Jr. – Inner City Blues – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

TWO A+++ SIDES ON QUIET VINYL, making this the best copy of Inner City Blues we’ve found! This copy trounced the other ones we played, giving us the kind of open, transparent sound that brings out the best in this music. The overall sound is very clean and clear with lots of weight down low and extension up top. I don’t think you could find a better sounding copy no matter what you did. 

The lineup here is absolutely stellar, with players including Ron Carter, Idris Muhammed, Richard Tee, Airto and Eric Gale, among many others.

Yer Average Copy

The typical sound we find on most pressings is full of heavy compression as well as the kind of high frequency restriction that prevents the top end from extending naturally. The result: Grover’s horn takes on a slightly sour quality — not a fun way to hear this kind of music. (more…)

Grover Washington Jr. – All The King’s Horses – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Side one of this original Kudu pressing is OUT OF THIS WORLD. The sweetness and transparency of Grover Washington Jr.’s breathy sax went beyond any copy we’ve ever played. Who knew it could sound like this? We sure didn’t!

I’ve been a big fan of this record since I first heard it all the way back in High School. I only found out later that this is not what most people would consider “real” jazz — it’s CTI jazz, more in the pop jazz or soul jazz vein. But I love the music more with each passing year and would not hesitate for a moment to recommend it to any jazz lover or audiophile. If the first track doesn’t knock you out, this album may not be for you. Without a doubt, in my book it’s the best thing Grover Washington ever did.

The really good RVG jazz pressings sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located and surrounded by the natural space of the studio. As our stereo has gotten better, and we’ve found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has begun to impress us more and more.

Obviously the credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for recording and mastering the album so well.

The early ’70s were a good time for Van Gelder. All the King’s Men from 1973 is an amazing Demo Disc for large group. But it only sounds good on the copies that it sounds good on, on the pressings that were mastered, pressed and cleaned right, a fact that has eluded most jazz vinyl aficionados interested in good sound.

But not us. We’ve played the very special pressings that prove the album can sound amazing. (more…)

Grover Washington – Mister Magic – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

The typical pressing is murky, overly smooth and lacks energy. Many copies also suffer from serious congestion and veiling. No such problems here! You get tons of space and energy, along with balanced tonality and great presence.

A 4 1/2 star album in the All Music Guide. Washington is backed here by excellent players including Bob James, Phil Upchurch, Harvey Mason, Ralph MacDonald, Eric Gale and many more. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Newport Jazz Festival 1958 – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

If you are a fan, this record will be a thrill. If you’re unfamiliar with the Duke’s music, I can’t imagine a better introduction than this.

This LP also includes Gerry Mulligan’s only performance with the Ellington band. Paul Gonsalves’s saxophone performance is superb and worth the price of the album alone. The clarinet parts on Princess Blue are out of this world — Ellington at his best!