Labels We Love – CTI

Bill Evans – Montreux II

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

Both sides here have the kind of solid, full-bodied tonality that’s really crucial to making sense of this music. There’s plenty of space and ambience here as well! (more…)

Paul Desmond – Pure Desmond – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

CTI is better known for the funky grooves of artists like Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter and Deodato, but this album features mature adult jazz from Dave Brubeck’s former sideman. It’s a lovely album, but if your pressing doesn’t have all the magic we could forgive you for not giving the music the credit it deserves. Unless your copy has a lot of energy and good amounts of richness and fullness, you probably wouldn’t give the music a second thought. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album. 

Smear is by far the most common problem with the copies we played. When the transient bite of the trumpet is correctly reproduced, maintaining its full-bodied tone and harmonic structures, you know you have a very special copy of Sky Dive (or First Light or Red Clay, etc., etc.). When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy.

Rudy gets one hell of a lively trumpet sound in this period of his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music. (more…)

Airto – Free – Reviewed in 2006

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

This is a Minty looking CTI LP with VERY GOOD SOUND. 

We’re on a winning streak with RVG these days (September 2006), three in a row, in fact: Chet Baker (She Was Too Good To Me), Freddie Hubbard (Red Clay), and now this wonderful Airto record. The best music is found on side two, especially the last two tracks.

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review!

Other than a couple of obscure efforts for Buddah in 1970, this was percussionist Airto’s debut as a leader, and this is still his most famous record. A brass section arranged by Don Sebesky is heard on two tracks, and such all-stars as keyboardist Chick Corea, flutist Hubert Laws, the reeds of Joe Farrell, and even pianist Keith Jarrett and guitarist George Benson make worthwhile appearances. Flora Purim joins Airto in the one vocal piece (“Free”), and “Return to Forever” receives an early recording. The music combines together jazz, Brazilian music, and aspects of fusion and funk quite successfully.

Freddie Hubbard – The Baddest Hubbard

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The Baddest Hubbard

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

This is the baddest copy of Baddest Hubbard we heard in our shootout. And by baddest, I mean THE BEST! It’s got tons of energy, a meaty bottom end, and amazing songs to boot. Red Clay, an AMAZING cut, sounds OUT OF THIS WORLD! The overall sound is HUGE and SPACIOUS. Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and this pressing has the mastering that does his unique style justice. 

Side one starts off with the perennial favorite Red Clay. The immediacy and texture are noticeable right away. For those of you who don’t know, this is one of the best (or is it “baddest”?) Hubbard tracks. The intro starts off with a stylized free-form jam, sounding like a bop-jazz band of old, then takes form and solidifies into a groove of mammoth proportions. Ron Carter’s bass playing is stellar and that fingers-on-frets sound is great on this copy. All of the horns are textured with plenty of bite and breath. There is fluffy tape-hiss which is a dead give-away for top end extension. Like many of our funky favorites, this one was eventually sampled for a popular hip-hop song. That may not mean much to you, but it definitely means that nice copies of this album get swiped up quickly by young DJs and producers. (more…)

Milt Jackson – Sunflower

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

The first track, at more than ten minutes, is yet another one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz recordings here at Better Records. Other albums of this sort that we love are Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself). 

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the orchestra’s string sections are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of. (more…)

Milt Jackson – Plenty, Plenty Soul

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  • An outstanding vintage stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful session from 1957, this is the way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The first side of Plenty, Plenty Soul, which features a nine-piece group, is highlighted by the contributions of the exuberant altoist Cannonball Adderley, while the flip side has a sextet that is not hurt by the solos of tenor-saxophonist Lucky Thompson. With pianist Horace Silver helping out on both sessions, these all-star dates still sound fresh and enthusiastic decades later.”

This vintage Atlantic stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Deodato – Prelude

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  • This killer pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The brass and percussion are amazing on 2001 (and every other track) – thanks RVG
  • We had no idea there was space this huge in the recording until we heard the best copies
  • “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001),” won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance

Both sides are surprisingly sweet and Tubey Magical, nice qualities for a CTI record to have since so many of them are aggressive and edgy to the point of distraction.

Listen to the trumpet on the second track on side one — it’s so immediate, it’s practically JUMPING out of the soundfield, just bursting with energy. Rudy can really pull off these big productions on occasion, and this session was clearly one of them. If you have the kind of stereo that’s right for this music (the bigger the better) you could easily find yourself using this record as a demonstration disc. It’s very unlikely your audiophile friends have ever heard anything like it. (more…)

Airto – Fingers – Truly a Desert Island Disc

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

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto. 

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.) (more…)

Grover Washington – Feels So Good

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  • Killer Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and Double Plus (A++) on side two – who knew this was such a well recorded album?
  • So much like live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located and surrounded by the natural space of the studio
  • An RVG recording (and mastering) from 1975 that is a KNOCKOUT on a copy like this
  • “Its shimmering, soulful grooves refute the argument that smooth jazz is little more than mere ambience, combining expert playing and intricate songwriting to create music that is both compelling and comforting.” Allmusic 4 Stars

Can you believe that Feels So Good topped both the soul and jazz albums charts and peaked at number ten on the pop album charts in the 1975?! Quite an achievement for our man Grover here. He had earlier made an album with Bob James handling the arrangements for the very large group of musicians on hand, as well as playing playing keyboards, and that album has been a personal favorite of mine for more than forty years, All the King’s Men. (more…)