Labels We Love – Contemporary

Barney Kessel – Let’s Cook

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

We were simply blown away by this Yellow Label pressing, which earned an A+++ for side one and an A++ for side two in a recent shootout. The transparency and clarity are SUPERB, and the amount of tubey magic is unbelievable! Folks, if you like guitar jazz, do not miss out on this album. I guarantee you will be absolutely knocked out by the sound of this pressing, not to mention the fantastic music!  (more…)

Roy DuNann Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

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ROY DUNANN is one of our favorite recording and mixing engineers. Click on the link to find our in-stock Roy DuNann engineered albums, along with plenty of our famous commentaries. 

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Andre Previn & His Pals’ West Side Story – Our Shootout Winner

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

This superb sounding Black Label Stereo Contemporary pressing has close to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on side two. Side one earned a Double Plus, which makes this by far the best copy to ever hit the site and a great way to hear this classic piano trio swingin’ in 1959. This is yet another Demo Disc for Contemporary, more brilliant work from house engineer Roy Dunann. 

One of Previn’s best piano trio records, this album was recorded in 1959 by Roy Dunaan when he was at the height of his engineering powers. You will not find many piano trio records with sound better than this.

Note on the vinyl condition: it’s rare to find any Black Label original in audiophile playing condition, and almost none will play better than the Mint Minus Minus this one plays.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Something’s Coming 
Jet Song 
Tonight 
I Feel Pretty

Side Two

Gee, Officer Krupke! 
Cool 
Maria 
America

AMG Review

The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio of pianist Andre Previn, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Shelly Manne finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story. As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.

Benny Carter – Jazz Giant on Contemporary

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

HUGE DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! This Contemporary LP sounds AMAZING — it has a wide and open soundfield that really allows you to hear into the music. Drop the needle on track three (Carter’s Own ’A Walkin’ Thing’) to hear these guys really swinging! The sound is so natural, and it really jumps out of the speakers. This knocked our original Stereo Records pressing out of the ballpark — it wasn’t even close.

Sometimes the OJC versions of Contemporary Records are excellent. Those tend to be the ones we sell. But most of the time the pressings that were mastered and put out by Contemporary in the mid-’70s (until they were bought by Fantasy) are superior. 

My understanding is that Bernie Grundman was cutting a lot of records for Contemporary in those days. If that’s true he was doing a great job because those are some wonderful sounding records.  

If you like the sound of Contemporary Records, you won’t find a better example than this! You may remember that Acoustic Sounds did a version back in the ’90s, which was a complete disaster. I haven’t heard the recent 45 RPM version, but I seriously doubt that it sounds like this.

TRACK LISTING

Old Fashioned Love 
I’m Coming Virginia 
A Walkin’ Thing 
Blue Lou 
Ain’t She Sweet 
How Can You Lose 
Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me

AMG Review

Benny Carter had already been a major jazz musician for nearly 30 years when he recorded this particularly strong septet session for Contemporary. With notable contributions from tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, trombonist Frank Rosolino and guitarist Barney Kessel, Carter (who plays a bit of trumpet on “How Can You Lose”) is in superb form on a set of five standards and two of his originals. This timeless music is beyond the simple categories of “swing” or “bop” and should just be called “classic.”

Shelly Manne & His Men – More Swinging Sounds

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

This Contemporary Yellow Label MONO LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! 

One quality of this side one that really took us by surprise was how DYNAMIC it is. The second track gets loud in a way that only one or two out of a hundred records does. (This is about the number of records we play in a week and I would have to say that no other record this week was more dynamic, hence the rough estimate above.) 

As you can imagine there’s not much going on at the frequency extremes, high or low; we have yet to hear a Mono recording from 1956 that boasts full bandwidth sound, but the middle sure can be awfully nice!

Side One

A+ to A++, with rich, smooth, lovely West Coast jazz sound. The horns can get a bit hard when loud.

Check out the dynamics on track two — Wow!

Side Two

A+ to A++, clean and lively. Zero smear and nearly as dynamic as side one. Track two, more than fifteen minutes long, is richer than track one by the way.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Moose the Mooche 
The Wind 
Pint of Blues

Side Two

Tommyhawk 
Quartet

Sonny Rollins – Alternate Takes – It’s a Long Story

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

An absolutely killer pressing of one of our favorite jazz albums! The album is comprised of alternate takes from the Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders sessions, and as such there is a bit of sonic variation between these tracks and the ones on the actual albums. The best-sounding songs here, particularly the material from Way Out West, sound amazing!  (more…)

Art Pepper – Living Legend – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

SUPERB SOUND AND MUSIC! Art Pepper’s saxophone sound is Right On The Money, breathy and airy with clearly audible leading edge transients. The lineup on this LP is stellar, with Hampton Hawes on piano and keys, Shelly Manne on drums, and the great Charlie Haden on bass guitar.   

We’ve mentioned plenty of times what big fans we are of Contemporary Label Jazz LP’s and this record is another sonic triumph for engineer Roy DuNann. The sound is warm and lively, with superb clarity and virtually no distortion. The top end is wonderfully extended, allowing you to really appreciate some fantastic cymbal work by Shelly Manne.

Hampton Hawes is wonderful on this album. On the track “What Laurie Likes,” he switches over to an electric piano, giving the sound a very cool ’70s jazz-rock feel. It’s too bad these guys didn’t record more material in this vein — they really nail it. 

TRACK LISTING

Ophelia 
Here’s That Rainy Day
What Laurie Likes 
Mr. Yohe 
Lost Life 

AMG Review

Art Pepper, one of the major bop altoists to emerge during the ’50s, started his comeback with this excellent set, Living Legend. After 15 years filled with prison time and fighting drug addiction, Pepper was finally ready to return to jazz. Accompanied by three of his old friends (pianist Hampton Hawes, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Shelly Manne), Pepper displays a more explorative and darker style than he had previously. He also shows a greater emotional depth in his improvisations and was open to some of the innovations of the avant-garde in his search for greater self-expression.

Art Pepper – Gettin’ Together

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  • Insanely good sound throughout, just shy of our shootout winner with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound – quiet vinyl too
  • We love the amazingly natural, uncolored, un-hyped sound Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer were able to achieve at Contemporary back in the day
  • You will hear as we did playing this very copy that there’s simply nothing between you and the musicians
  • “Pepper utilizes Davis’ sidemen on this 1960 near-classic… as usual, Pepper brings something very personal and unique to his playing; he sounds like no one else.” – 4 1/2 Stars, All Music 

This album, and this copy in particular, deliver some serious Art Pepper Contemporary Magic. We’re big fans of Pepper and this label, and we love the sound Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer were able to get out of these guys. On the best pressings, such as this one, there’s just nothing between you and the music. You will have a very hard time finding a much better sounding jazz record than either side of this copy, anywhere.

Superb sound from Contemporary — better than just about any other Pepper disc they recorded IMHO. We played a bunch of copies and few can compare to this one! (more…)

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot

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  • This superb pressing of Kessel’s brilliant 1959 larger group outing has a shootout-winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • With Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, and dead on tonality from top to bottom, this is a textbook example of Contemporary’s sound at its best
  • An All Star West Coast lineup came together for this one: Art Pepper (on sax and claritnet!), Shelly Manne, Joe Gordon and others
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Such tunes as “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” “Runnin’ Wild,” “Down Among the Sheltering Palms,” and “By the Beautiful Sea” are given fairly modern arrangements…”

This copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. 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. (more…)

Benny Carter – Swingin’ the ’20s

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy took top honors in our recent shootout
  • These good sides are so much bigger and more open, with more bass and energy – the saxes and trumpets are immediate and lively
  • Mr. Earl Hines himself showed up, a man who knows this music like nobody’s business – Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne round out the quartet
  • “Great musicians produce great results, and most of the LP’s tracks were done in one or two takes. The result is ‘a spontaneous, swinging record of what happened’ when Carter met Hines ‘for the first time. . . .'”

We finally built up enough copies of this great album to do a shootout, our first since 2012, which ought to tell you something about the used record market these days. This copy had most of the Tubey Magic of the originals we played, with all of the amazing clarity and freedom from distortion the later pressings are capable of reproducing — the best of both worlds.

Our Yellow Label Contemporary pressing in stereo of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz recording from the late ’50s mastered through a modern, very high quality cutting chain. There’s good extension on the top end, with TONS of what you might not expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it! (more…)