Labels We Love – Contemporary

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…)

Helen Humes – Swingin’ With Humes – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

SUPERB SOUND AND MUSIC! We’ve been finding great copies of Helen’s Songs I Like To Sing! for some time, but this is the first knockout copy we’ve ever found of this great title from 1961. Both sides have A+++ sound, As Good As It Gets (AGAIG).   

Whoever takes this one home is in for a treat. Make sure your electricity is really cookin’, turn down the lights, and turn up the volume — Helen and her top-notch backing band will be RIGHT THERE IN THE ROOM WITH YOU! The other copies we played sounded pretty good, but this one is MAGICAL.

Both sides have mindblowing clarity and transparency — something that you wouldn’t likely find on an earlier pressing — matched with the kind of tubey magic that’s almost always missing from OJC pressings. (more…)

Art Pepper – Smack Up – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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Smack Up

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

WOW — the first Smack Up Hot Stamper to hit the site in over two years! We love this album and wish we could find more great copies, but it sure ain’t easy. Here’s a Contemporary Yellow Label pressing that’s very good on side one and INCREDIBLE on side two. The first track on side one doesn’t sound quite as good as the rest of the material, but by the second track this thing is SMOKIN’.

You’re going to flip out over this side two, mark my words. The sound is lively and dynamic with a powerful bottom end. The saxophone sounds just right — breathy, full-bodied and realistic. This side has all the tubey magic of the best black label originals, without their bad vinyl and bloated bass. I get black label original Contemporary pressings in all the time, but few of them are mastered right and most never make it to the site. Some are pure muck. Some have bloated bass that is hard to believe.  (more…)

Art Pepper – …The Way It Was – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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…The Way It Was (2010)

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

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC ON BOTH SIDES! It’s airy, open, and spacious with superb clarity and an extended top end. The beautiful reading of Autumn Leaves on side two is DEMO DISC QUALITY!

Side one of this album is made up of unreleased material Art recorded with Warne Marsh, the tenor It’s great to hear Art play against another sax man. Fans of straight ahead mainstream jazz will find much to enjoy here. Of course the Contemporary studio sound is wonderful — it’s yet another triumph for one of our favorite engineers, Roy DuNann. (more…)

Hampton Hawes – All Night Session, Vol. 2

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More All Night Session, Vol. 2

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  • A superb sounding copy with Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides here are rich, full and Tubey Magical with good bottom end weight and plenty of jazz quartet energy 
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Although Hampton Hawes spontaneously created five original tunes at this extraordinarily inspired date, everything on Vol. 2 comes directly out of the standard bop musician’s working repertoire.”
  • “It’s hard to put into words how good it feels to play jazz when it’s really swinging…I’ve reached a point where the music fills you up so much emotionally that you feel like shouting hallelujah — like people do in church when they’re converted to God. That’s the way I was feeling the night we recorded All Night Session!”

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