Labels We Love – Contemporary

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…)

Coop! The Music Of Bob Cooper

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout  
  • These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one
  • An amazing 1958 All Tube Live-in-the-Studio Jazz recording by the legendary Roy DuNann
  • “Tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper’s only Contemporary album is a near-classic and one of his finest recordings … This set is an underrated gem.”

This is a superb sounding Contemporary recording from 1958. Cooper is joined by top West Coast musicians like trombonist Frank Rosolino, vibraphonist Victor Feldman, pianist Lou Levy, bassist Max Bennett, and drummer Mel Lewis. On some parts of the Jazz Theme the group grows to be ten pieces. Normally this might present a problem for a recording engineer, but Roy DuNann is up to the task! If you want to hear the sound of brass recorded properly, Roy is your man.

Both sides are Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one.

What do the better Hot Stampers pressings like this one give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • 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 for the horns and drums, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as 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 players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Roy DuNann — would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

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. (more…)

Contemporary Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

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In some ways yes, in some ways no, and we are happy to lay it all out for you based on the critical listening we undertook recently. Here’s how we weighed the tradeoffs in the sound of the originals versus that of the reissues, with VTA advice to follow. 

This superb sounding ORIGINAL Black Label Contemporary pressing of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz stereo recording from the late ’50s mastered through an all tube chain.

There’s good extension on the top end for an early pressing, with TONS of what you would most expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it!

We prefer the later pressings in most ways, but this record does something that no later pressing we have ever played can do — get Benny’s trumpet to sound uncannily REAL. If you want to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends what no CD (or modern remastered record) can begin to do, play side two of this copy for them. They may be in for quite a shock. (more…)

Previn Plays Up a Storm for Contemporary

 

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Bells Are Ringing

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I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Hampton Hawes in 1964 – The Green Leaves of Summer

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  • This ’70s pressing was our Shootout Winner on side two for its clean, clear and lively sound, with lovely space around all of the instruments 
  • Not an easy title to find, and this one is quieter than most of what we played – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Hawes had lost nothing of his swinging style while in prison, as can be heard on such numbers as “Vierd Blues,” “St. Thomas” and “Secret Love,” and he was just starting to hint at moving beyond bop. Recommended.” – All Music

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has wonderful Contemporary All Tube sound, courtesy of the amazing engineering of Howard Holzer. The piano is right — weighty and percussive with a full-bodied tone. The bass definition is superb. The clarity and transparency here are nothing short of breathtaking.

Steve Ellington’s brush work on the snare is very clear on this copy, helping to push the music to the next level. On the great Sonny Rollins track, St. Thomas, Steve Ellington is doing some fancy playing on the rims of his drums — the ambience bouncing off the studio walls is amazing.

A major highlight here is the completely original interpretation of Blue Skies. Hawes gets going with some really complicated two-handed playing. With the superb clarity of this copy you won’t miss a note. (more…)

Hampton Hawes – At The Piano

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Hampton Hawes – At The Piano

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

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has THE BEST SOUND and THE BEST MUSIC I have EVER heard on a Hampton Hawes album! When we dropped the needle on this one we could not believe our ears — it’s got The Big Sound, that’s for sure.

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Both sides rate A++ and may very well be As Good As It Gets. I certainly can’t imagine this music sounding any better.The piano has real weight, the bass is deep and tight, and the drums sound correct. The overall sound is rich, sweet, and tonally correct from top to bottom. It’s incredibly open and transparent — you can hear tons of ambience.

Drop the needle on Blue In Green on side two — the sound of the bowed bass is WONDERFUL.

This is my favorite Hampton Hawes record of all time. He died less than a year after these sessions. Looking at the cover, you can almost see in his face his acceptance of the end he knew was coming. He plays with deep emotion here. Ray Brown and Shelly Manne (the same rhythm section who back Joe Sample on my all-time favorite piano trio album)accompany him beautifully. The version of Killing Me Softly With His Song that opens the album is lovely.

One high point of this album is the interview that Lester Koenig conducts with Hampton Hawes on the back cover. Lester died soon thereafter himself.

Helen Humes – Songs I Like to Sing – A Forgotten Jazz Vocal Classic

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Helen Humes – Songs I Like to Sing

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

Side one has OFF THE CHARTS, A+++ Master Tape Sound. It’s amazingly tubey magical, yet incredibly clean and clear — something you can’t get from the tube-mastered originals. Helen’s voice is PERFECTION — breathy, full, and sweet. The orchestra sounds JUST RIGHT — just listen to the nice bite of the brass. The overall sound is super full-bodied and rich and very transparent. (more…)

Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Barney Kessel – Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

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

This Minty Original Black Label Contemporary Stereo LP from 1957 has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL. For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own (unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition). (more…)

To Swing Or Not To Swing in 1955

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This Early Contemporary Yellow Label Mono LP sure has AMAZING SOUND! (more…)