Labels We Love – Contemporary

Barney Kessel – Vol. 3: To Swing Or Not To Swing

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

This Early Contemporary Yellow Label Mono LP sure has AMAZING SOUND!

Man, this music is a blast when it sounds this good. I don’t think there’s a whole lot you could do to make this music sound any better! It’s one of the best early mono Contemporary LP I’ve ever played. It’s so tubey magical and Kessel’s guitar sound is out of this world. 

The music here matches the sound for excellence. The whole band just swings. There’s a real old rag-timey feel to the songs. Look at this list of all-star players: Harry Edison, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne — this is some serious jazz talent. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Workin’ Out – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This is a 2-pack set of original pressings that gives you wonderful sound for both sides of this great Contemporary album, A++ for the first and A+++ for the second. There is a catch, however, one that won’t bother some of you at all but will drive a few of you crazy: the side one pressing is in mono and the side two is in stereo. All that mattered to us was that they both sounded great, and a quick flip to the not-so-hot side of either pressing will quickly show you why we paired these up.    

I imagine there are both mono and stereo copies that sound great on both sides, but we sure haven’t been able to find one! Obviously this is not an easy record to come by these days. (more…)

Art Pepper – The Trip – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

This Autographed copy of The Trip has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! The title ain’t lying — this album is a TRIP! We dropped the needle on this Contemporary Yellow Label pressing and immediately stopped listening critically and began just enjoying the music and the sonics. That’s the sign of a truly exceptional album. The sound on this album is so alive and so real, you’ll feel like there’s a West Coast Jazz quartet in your living room. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot – Our Shootout Winner from 2005

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

Original Contemporary Black Label Stereo LP from 1959 with DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! (The picture is not correct as you may have noticed.)

For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann and, in this case, Howard Holzer, were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP will be a Must-Own unless you already have it. Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey magic, richness, sweetness, dead on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of their sound at its best. (more…)

Art Pepper – At The Village Vanguard Vol. 4 – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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At The Village Vanguard Vol. 4

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

This Minty Contemporary Demo LP has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! The highlight of this pressing is the well-defined DEEP bass — all the intricacies really come to life. The sound is rich and sweet! And holy crap, that piano sounds really nice. On More for Les, Pepper switches from sax to clarinet and the result is a wonderful, bluesy track that is completely original. The clarinet sounds like it is in the room with you. 

If I had to find a fault with this album, the sax can be a bit honky. The top end has its problems, but there are elements, like that piano, that REALLY COOK!

Overall, I’d say this is one of the better sounding live jazz albums you could hope to find from the late ’70s.

This album features the great Elvin Jones on drums, plus Geoge Cables on piano and George Mraz on bass.

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Blackhawk Vol. 1 – Reviewed in 2011

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

WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! This Contemporary Yellow Label LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! The sound is SUPERB — airy, open, and spacious with an STUNNINGLY GOOD bottom end. You won’t believe how ALIVE the bass sounds — the depth and definition are OUT OF THIS WORLD! Each instrument here sounds just right — weighty, percussive piano; punchy drums; and lovely leading edge transients on the brass. Contemporary got live nightclub jazz sound down to a “T” here. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Barney Kessel Plays Carmen (Stereo) – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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More Barney Kessel Plays Carmen (Stereo)

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

This original Black Label Contemporary stereo LP has a STUNNING side two! Barney Kessel Plays Carmen is one of our favorite jazz guitar recordings of all time, and on a copy like this the sound is absolutely KILLER. 

As you can see from looking at the condition notes, this copy is quieter than any other we have listed to from our recent shootout. Fifties jazz doesn’t play much better than this copy right here. (more…)

Art Pepper – Friday Night At The Village Vanguard – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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Friday Night At The Village Vanguard

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

This Original Contemporary LP has EXCELLENT MUSIC AND SOUND! The real highligh of this volume is the version of Caravan — just listen to Art playing both alto AND tenor! There’s also a great version of Pepper’s bossa-influenced track Labyrinth. The sound is rich and full-bodied. Listen to the cymbal crashes to hear how extended the top end is. The piano has real weight to it, but the sax sounds a little bit compressed and the bass could be a bit tighter.

Ornette Coleman – Tomorrow Is The Question

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  • An outstanding copy of Coleman’s sophomore release, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Our Contemporary Yellow Label Stereo LP here has have breathy, full-bodied brass and lots of tight, well-defined bass 
  • The top end is nicely extended, which results in excellent space, transparency and clarity
  • 4 stars: “…this is one of the things that came to define Ornette — his willingness to let simplicity and its bright colors and textures confound not only other players and listeners, but also him too.”

The drum sound is OUT OF THIS WORLD — Roy Du Nann always seems to get amazing sound out of Shelley Manne’s kit. Listen to the interplay between Ornette and Don Cherry — they really drive each other to insane levels over the course of the album. (more…)

Helen Humes – Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

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More Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

Mean to Me is a favorite test track for side one, with real Demo Disc quality sound. Roy DuNann at Contemporary was able to get all his brass players together in one room, sounding right as a group as well as individual voices. The piano, bass, and drums that accompany them are perfectly woven into the fabric of the arrangement. What makes this song so good is that when the brass really starts to let loose later in the song, with the right equipment and the right room you can get the kind of sound that is so powerful you would almost swear it’s live.

Helen was recorded in a booth for this album, and her voice is slightly veiled relative to the other musicians playing in the much larger room required for so many players. When you get the brass correct, the trick is to get her voice to become as transparent and palpable as possible without screwing up the tonality of the brass instruments. (more…)