Genre – Jazz – Trumpet / Trombone

Thoughts on Smear (and the Smear-Prone Components that Makes Audio Progress Difficult)

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

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Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not clearly convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear.

No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.

Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.

More recordings that are good for testing smear.

If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems particularly bothered by smear as far as we can tell, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them.

I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.

And of course I was just as clueless as everybody else.

We’ve worked very hard over the last twenty years or so to make sure our system has a practically undetectable amount of smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record. It is not the product of shortcomings in our playback system.

And almost any system that uses vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons, however much you may like the sound they produce — will have some smear.

We got rid of our tube equipment a long time ago, and having done so, the smear it added to the sound of the records we were playing at that time was dramatically reduced.

About a hundred other tweaks and improvements got rid of the rest. As I say, it took about twenty years.

(more…)

We Knew This Was a Good Record in the ’80s, We Just Didn’t Know How Good

More Chet Baker

This is a wonderful Chet Baker record that doesn’t seem to be getting the respect it deserves in the wider jazz world. You may just like it every bit as much as the Chet Baker “Chet” album, and that is one helluva record to compare any album to. In our estimation it is about as good as it gets in most respects.  

Both sides of the best copy in our last shootout were Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. We’d never heard the record sound better, and we’d been playing the album since it was first reissued in the ’80s.

I used to sell these very records in the ’90s — we retailed them for ten bucks, if you can believe it — but we had no clue just how good they could sound back then.

We couldn’t clean them right, or even play them right, and it would never have occurred to us to listen to a big pile of them one after another in order to pick out the best sounding copies.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record — certainly not as good sounding as this one — these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years.

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music. (more…)

Chet Baker / Chet – Acoustic Sounds Hires Doug Sax to Ruin a Classic Jazz Album

More Chet Baker

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Trumpet

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • This wonderful album of ballads has Mile Davis’ rhythm section supporting Chet and other greats such as Kenny Burrell and Bill Evans
  • These guys are playing live in the studio and, on a copy that sounds this clear, you can really feel their presence on every track
  • This Chet Baker record belongs in any serious jazz collection, and for you audiophiles out there, prepare to be shocked when you play this copy against your Heavy Vinyl pressing
  • “…this Riverside issue captures the gifted but troubled trumpeter at his best. It might even qualify as Baker’s most satisfying and representative recording.”

Chet is one of the best sounding Chet Baker records we’ve ever played, although that’s not saying much because finding good Chet Baker records is like finding hen’s teeth these days.

The albums he did for Pacific Jazz in the ’50s can be wonderful but few have survived in audiophile playing condition.

The Mariachi Brass albums are as awful as everyone says — we know, we too have played them. The album he recorded for CTI in 1974, She Was Too Good To Me, is excellent and will be coming to the site again soon I hope.

We’d never heard the record sound better than in our most recent shootout, and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing the album since it was first reissued in the ’80s.

The less said about the awful Doug Sax remastering for Analogue Productions in the mid-’90s the better. What a murky piece of crap that was. Audiophile reviewers may have been impressed, but even way back then we knew a bad sounding record when we played one, and that pressing was very bad indeed.

One further note: the Heavy Vinyl pressings being made today, twenty-five years later, have a similar suite of shortcomings, sounding every bit as bad if not worse, and fooling the same audiophile reviewers and their followers to this very day. Nothing has changed, other than we have come along to offer the discriminating audiophile an alternative to the muddy messes these labels have been churning out. (more…)

Miles Davis / Basic Miles – Here Is the Hot Stamper Sound of Kind of Blue

More Miles Davis

Reviews and Commentaries for Kind of Blue

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

  • Demo Disc Jazz sound for this wonderful collection, with both sides earning outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades
  • Opening side two, the 9 plus minutes of On Green Dolphin Street has some of the coolest jazz you will ever hear, on any record, at any price
  • If you want to know what the better copies of Kind of Blue sound like, this pressing will tell you, because it has that sound
  • And that means it is absolutely NOTHING like the MoFi 45 RPM 2 LP pressing that some audiophiles (and the reviewers who cater to them) seem to like so much
  • We’re talking Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley in their prime, 1958, with top 1958 sound to match

Want to know how good our Hot Stamper Kind of Blue pressings sound? Listen to this very record. If you play the tracks that were recorded in 1958, the year before Kind of Blue, you will hear practically the same lineup of musicians.

That means Stella By Starlight and Little Melonae on side one, and Green Dolphin Street and Fran-Dance (Put Your Little Foot Right Out) on side two. We’re talking Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley in their prime, 1958, with top 1958 sound to match.

The nine-minute plus Green Dolphin Street that opens side two is nothing short of amazing, some of the coolest jazz you will ever hear. With Fran Dance on the same side, that gives you about 17 minutes of great-sounding jazz by Miles’ classic Kind of Blue lineup.

Side one has the same cats playing for more than 12 minutes. By my calculation, that’s close to another album’s worth of material from the group. The rest of the material on this compilation is best seen as gravy; maybe not essential, but never less than interesting. (more…)

Joe Newman Quintet / Jive At Five – Killer Trumpet Jazz from 1960

More Joe Newman Quintet

More of Our Best Jazz Trumpet Recordings

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

  • Jive At Five arrives on the site with killer Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This hard to find Prestige Swingville LP is big, spacious, swinging with energy and absolutely jumping out of the speakers
  • 4 stars: “…[this music] is very much in the Count Basie vein. That fact is not too surprising when one considers that the quintet includes three members of Basie’s men: trumpeter Joe Newman, tenor saxophonist Frank Wess and bassist Eddie Jones. Joined by the complementary pianist Tommy Flanagan and drummer Oliver Jackson, Newman and his friends swing their way through four vintage standards and a couple of the leader’s original blues…”

Jive at Five is one of my all-time favorite jazz trumpet albums. This Shootout Winning Prestige reissue might very well turn you into a big fan as well.

I highly recommended this album back in the day. Hearing it now as a much older man, having played thousands of jazz records in the ensuing decades, and thankfully being able to hear it on much better equipment than I had back then, I realize both the music and sound (can’t forget that!) have stood the test of time very well indeed.

This is what a good jazz trumpet album should sound like, miles from the squawky, muted microphone-distorted horn sound so many audiophiles seem to revere. I’m guessing you know who I’m referring to. Miles Davis was surely a genius and a brilliant innovator, but his horn sound from the sixties on was never as relaxed, smooth and natural as it is on this wonderful Joe Newman Quintet album from 1960.

Joe was one of Basie’s long-time band members, a fiery soloist with an unerring sense of swing. This album ably demonstrates those qualities. The guy is passionate but he never gets lost in his own solos; he keeps the melodies and the swing front and center. (more…)

Miles Davis – Green Haze (‘The Musings of Miles’ and ‘Miles’)

More Miles Davis

More Recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

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  • An outstanding pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience – talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny
  • This Prestige Two-Fer simply combines two complete Miles Davis titles recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in 1955 – ‘The Musings of Miles’ and ‘Miles’
  • 4 stars: “… it is for the excellent rhythm sections and the playing of Miles Davis that this two-fer is highly recommended.”

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. (more…)

Miles Davis / In Person – Friday Night and the Sound of Tubes in 1961

More Miles Davis

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Allow me to transcribe my notes:

Both Sides

The right sound — big, rich, tubey and real. Transparent. Rich, smooth, balanced. Horn gets huge and loud the right way. Piano is full. Solid bass.

No need to pick nits.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night

Normally our notes for the sound of the records we are shooting out against each other fall into two categories: what the record is doing right and what the record is doing wrong. You’ll note that in this case there was nothing wrong about the sound to write about.

I could have found fault somewhere, but when a specific pressing is so clearly superior to its competition, what’s the point?

(more…)

Miles Davis – Quiet Nights

More Miles Davis

More Gil Evans

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  • A Shootout Winning copy of this Miles Davis-Gil Evans classic and one of only a handful to hit the site in years
  • Side one earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++), side two was close behind at A++ to A+++
  • Not the quietest copy we’ve ever played – Mint Minus Minus to EX++ on both sides – but obviously one of the best sounding
  • Fred Plaut engineered the sessions, and on this amazing early pressing they sound rich, warm, smooth and clear
  • In the Saturday Review, Quiet Nights received praise for Davis’ “wonderfully songful trumpet in a Latin-American vein”, set against “piercingly lustrous curtains of tone and discreet Caribbean rhythms.”

We recently shot out a short stack of these — not an easy record to find in clean condition, in stereo, on the earlier labels, at affordable prices these days, so we didn’t have the eight to ten copies we like to have for a full shootout — and found that the music on Quiet Nights was every bit as enchanting as we remember it.

The music is very much in the style of Sketches Of Spain and the sound is comparable to that album as well. This is Davis’ final official collaboration with arranger and conductor Gil Evans. The quintet on this album includes Miles Davis on the trumpet, George Coleman on tenor sax, Victor Feldman on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Frank Butler on drums. (more…)

Joe Gordon / Lookin’ Good! on Contemporary but Not So Hot on OJC

More Contemporary Label Jazz

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Roy DuNann

Avoid the OJC Pressing of This Album

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This Super Hot Stamper pressing has the Contemporary Jazz Sound we LOVE here at Better Records. If you want to know what’s wrong with the sound of your Rudy Van Gelder Squakfest Records, play this LP and bathe in the kind of relaxed, NATURAL tonality that Roy DuNann is justly famous for.

We love the sound of Contemporary Records — it’s our favorite jazz label by a long shot. Roy DuNann always seemed to get The Real Sound out of the sessions he recorded — amazingly realistic drum sound; full-bodied, breathy horns; lots of top end extension; deep, note-like bass; weighty piano, studio ambience, three-dimensionality, and on and on.

The Key to the Sound of the Best Copies

During this shootout we discovered what really sets apart the best copies from the also-rans: listen for the piano in the background, behind the horns. On the best copies it is so clear you can practically “see” it back there.

The copies with a clear piano have TRANSPARENCY that makes all the difference in the world on EVERY instrument. Now everything is clear. As long as the tonal balance is correct, that transparent quality is precisely what will make the best copies much more musically involving.

Let’s face it: many reissues, recorded in 1961 and pressed later on in the ’70s, have a veiled, dull quality. When they don’t, man, they can really beat the pants off even the best originals. (more…)

Miles Davis / Kind of Blue – Quick Listening Test

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

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Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not fully convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear. No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.

Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.

More recordings that are good for testing smear.

If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems bothered by smear, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them. I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.

Our system has virtually no smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record, not in our system.

Any system with vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons — will have plenty of smear. We got rid of ours a long time ago.

Back to our listening tests:

On track one, side two, the drums in the right channel are key to evaluating the sound of the better copies. The snare should sound solid and fat — like a real snare — and if there is space in the recording on your copy you will have no trouble hearing the room around the kit.

We will be discussing the faults of the 45 RPM MoFi down the road, but the drums on that record are so wrong it all but beggars belief. (more…)