Genre – Jazz/Rock Fusion

Airto / Fingers – Top End Extension Is Key to the Best Pressings

airtofinge_

More of the Music of Airto

Hot Stamper Pressings of Jazz Fusion Albums Available Now

The best copies have the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play them against most copies, there is an extension to the top end that you won’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical.

The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing, it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these. Some of the energy of the music is lost. 

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull system. Those “Old School Stereos” are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound,” look out.

This is without a doubt The Best Album Airto ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

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Weather Report – Heavy Weather

More Weather Report

More Fusion Jazz

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish, you will not believe how BIG and BOLD this copy is
  • Birdland on this pressing has some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl
  • Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius are both here and at the absolute peak of their creative powers – this is a work of GENIUS
  • 5 stars: ”Birdland’ is a remarkable bit of record-making, a unified, ever-developing piece of music that evokes, without in any way imitating, a joyous evening on 52nd St. with a big band.”
  • 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. Weather Report’s seventh (!) album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

The hottest of the hot stamper pressings demonstrate that this is a truly amazing recording, with some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl. The grit, grain and grunge of most pressings is nowhere to be found on these killer sides, and that alone puts them in a very special league indeed. (more…)

War – Bass, Choruses and Energy Are Key to the Best Pressings

More of the Music of War

More Jazz / Rock Fusion Records with Hot Stampers

[This review was originally published about 2012 or so. Note that we rarely have any War records in stock. If you see one, grab it, the recordings on the best pressings are positively amazing on big speakers at loud levels.]

We just finished our first big shootout for this fun album — the All Music Guide calls it “a magical ride with plenty of surprises to keep the listener on his or her toes” and we couldn’t agree more.

This copy gives you punchy bass, airy flutes, hard-hitting percussion and loads of Tubey Magic. Many copies we played had too much hardness, edge, and midrange honk, but this one is smooth, sweet and rich.

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts.

His mixes feature:

lots of bass;

huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or congestion; and

rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1972.

The links above will take you to other albums that are good for testing all of these qualities.

As for the choruses, allow me to paraphrase our listing from Commoner’s Crown.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs. The first track on side two, Four Cornered Room, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is.

The Top Is Important Too

Richness and weight are key to the sound, but oddly enough an extended top end was almost as crucial to the success of the best copies. When the top end extends, the sound is open and relaxed. When the various songs build to their climaxes, the copies with lots of clean top end had a sense of “ease” that simply was not to be found on the smoother (read: duller) brethren.

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Pat Metheny – Offramp

More Pat Metheny

  • Offramp returns with a STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • This is the sound of the Master Tape – worlds better than what most record lovers have ever had the privilege of hearing
  • Offramp held the Number One spot on the Jazz Album charts for 16 weeks back in 1982
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… the thoughtful Metheny makes excellent use of space, choosing his notes wisely and reminding listeners that, while he has heavy-duty chops, he’s not one to beat everybody over the head with them.”

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Listening in Depth to Romantic Warrior

Romantic Warrior is my favorite JAZZ/ROCK FUSION album of all time. As good as the music is, the sound is even better. This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do this kind of sound justice.

Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest musical statements of all time, it’s one of the great recording statements. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY.

But the Super Sound has a purpose, a raison d’etre. This is the kind of music that requires it; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively ENHANCES it.

Those monster Lenny White drum rolls that run across the soundstage from wall to wall may be a recording studio trick, but they’re there to draw your attention to his amazing powers, and it works! The drums are EVERYWHERE on this album, constantly jumping out of the soundfield and taking the music into the stratosphere where it belongs.

TRACK LISTING and COMMENTARY

Side One

Medieval Overture

The grandiose opening of this record serves as an important sonic checkpoint, as well as a tipoff for the pyrotechnics to come. On the better copies Corea’s multi-layered, swirling synths occupy their own space, clearly separated from each other, not blurred and inarticulate as they are on the poorer pressings.

Also notice how much attack Lenny White’s drums have, especially in the more exposed sections. The transients are breathtakingly immediate. Run-of-the-mill copies tend to flatten Mr White, making his acrobatic playing seem two-dimensional and less-than-inspired. The best copies prove that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sorceress

This groove-oriented track is a testament to RTF’s diversity, as well as the mastery of Messrs. Clarke and White as a rhythm section. This is a real test for bottom end. Even though the bass goes unbelievably deep, the best copies manage to exhibit plenty of control while still allowing you to FEEL the bass rising up through the floorboards and into your chair. There is so much deep bass at the opening of this track that at any sort of serious levels I would immediately run out of the wattage needed to sustain them. It was either back off the volume or distort like crazy. You need some serious juice to play this track, or a very efficient speaker, or both.

All the members of this All-Star cast are showcased in the improv section, highlighted by Corea’s brilliant piano solo in the middle, one of my personal favorite solos of all time. Corea is a musician’s musician. There is nothing he or his bandmates are not capable of on this recording. This is more than mere fusion. On this album the whole world of jazz can be heard.

The Romantic Warrior

Side Two

Majestic Dance

The blistering opening track for side two is the quintessence of guitar-driven prog rock, a heads up for what’s to come. Most copies lack the top end extension that allows the hottest copies to open up and come alive. With the right top to bottom mastering and pressing this track is Gold! Demo Disc Quality all the way and then some.

The Magician

Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant

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Al Di Meola et al. / Friday Night in San Francisco – on Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl

Sonic Grade: D?

The Speakers Corner remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing of this famous jazz album has two big strikes against it right from the get go. It’s both congested and hard.

With these guys hell-bent on one-upping each other right off of the stage, even our best Hot Stamper pressings struggle with clarity, transparency and harmonic sweetness

Do you really want to add all the problems of the modern remastered heavy vinyl pressing to a tape that already has plenty of its own?

Congested and hard is the kind of sound Speakers Corner should be quite familiar with by now. You can hear it on plenty of their mostly mediocre pressings.

Sourced from a digital tape of the master? Maybe, but who cares what tape was used to make this dog?

It’s a loser and should be avoided at any price.

Our Hot Stamper pressings of this album will be dramatically more transparent, open, harmonically-correct, resolving of musical information, clear and just plain REAL sounding, because these are the most obvious areas in which heavy vinyl pressings tend to fall short, if our experience with hundreds of them over the last few decades has any bearing.

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Weather Report / Sweetnighter – A Must Hear Album of Modern Jazz Fusion

More of the Music of Weather Report

Weather Report Albums We’ve Reviewed

We recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but we’ve gone out of our way to choose excellent titles from famous artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, here are a hundred or two that are less well known, yet have stood the test of time for us and we think are more than deserving of a serious listen.

Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to ours.

Reviews and Commentaries for Sweetnighter

Sweetnighter checks off a number of boxes for us here at Better Records

It’s a Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

It’s part of our Core Jazz Collection

And It’s a Personal Favorite

If you’re a fan of the adventurous funky Jazz Fusion, this is a Must Own Title from 1973.

The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Al Di Meola – Land Of The Midnight Sun

More Al Di Meola

More Jazz Rock Fusion

  • A stunning copy of this Fusion Guitar classic
  • Both sides are incredibly lively, full-bodied, open and present — the sound, in a word, is HUGE
  • 4 1/2 stars: ” A very impressive beginning to di Meola’s solo career”
  • A great lineup including Chick Corea, Jaco Pastorious, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Steve Gadd and more
  • If you’re a Jazz Fusion fan, this title from 1976 is surely a Must Own

If you’ve enjoyed the sonics on one of our Hot Stamper Return To Forever, Weather Report or Santana LPs, I think you’d find a lot to like about this record. (more…)

Weather Report – Sweetnighter

More Weather Report

Weather Report Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • Boogie Woogie Waltz was one of the most mindblowing tracks found on any album from 1973
  • The sound is huge, spacious, lively, transparent and punchy – this is jazz fusion that really rocks
  • 4 stars: ” It is the groove that rules this mesmerizing album, leading off with the irresistible 3/4 marathon deceptively tagged as the ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’ and proceeding through a variety of Latin-grounded hip-shakers.”
  • If you’re a fan of the adventurous funky Jazz Fusion, this is a Must Own Title from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is our favorite Weather Report album here at Better Records. Heavy Weather is arguably a more ambitious and more accomplished piece of work, but Sweetnighter is so original and rhythmically compelling that we find ourselves enjoying it more. I don’t know of any other album on the planet like it. We only know of two Must-Own Weather Report albums, this one and Heavy Weather. They both belong in your collection if you’re a fan of jazz fusion.

The top end is fully extended here in a way that most copies barely hint at, and the overall sound is amazingly transparent and three-dimensional. The brass is full and rich, the percussion lively and present, and the bass is weighty and defined. All the stuff we look for on a Classic Weather Report album is here.

Note especially that the energy is excellent, and both sides are also very high-rez; the echo trails from all the studio reverb go on for days. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Hot Rats

More of the Music of Frank Zappa

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Frank Zappa

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

Hot Rats was mastered by Jack Hunt, a man we know to be responsible for some of the thickest, dullest, most dead sounding MoFi recuts found in their shameful catalog.

He did a good job cutting this album though.

Of course, not cutting at Half Speed was a big help, because Half Speed Mastering is a bad idea.

Side One

Peaches En Regalia

This track tends to be a bit dull and could use a little sweetening on the top end on almost any copy you find. 1 or 2 dB at 10k might be just what the doctor ordered.

Willie the Pimp

This is one of the two extended tracks on the album; the second track on each side is “the long one,” and they both suffer from the same slight upper midrange boost. This song and The Gumbo Variations on side two are both difficult to turn up due to their tendency to be slightly aggressive.

Son Of Mr. Green Genes

One of the best sounding tracks on the album, and probably the best sound to be found on side one.

Side Two

Little Umbrellas

Possibly the best sounding song Zappa ever recorded. With the right pressing, the sound is PERFECTION.

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