Labels We Love – CTI

Freddie Hubbard – Polar AC (2013)

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

We’re big fans of Hubbard’s CTI material around here and this album has a lot of the qualities we love about this stuff. All the usual faces are here — Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, George Benson, Airto — and Rudy Van Gelder does a great job capturing their performances. (We used to criticize RVG pretty harshly, but in recent years we’ve found more and more pressings of his stuff that really work.)  (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – First Light (2011)

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

This Super Hot Stamper original CTI pressing has a truly SUPERB side two that just put to shame most of what we played. Smeary blurred trumpet blasts? Not here. Nope, the transient bite and energy of the trumpet is as REAL as it gets. 

Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and this pressing was one of the few in our shootout with the kind of high quality mastering that can do justice to his uniquely energetic, lightning fast jazz style.

This is more of a mainstream jazz record than Red Clay or Straight Life. It features an outstanding lineup including Ron Carter on bass, George Benson on guitar, Airto on percussion, and Jack DeJohnette on the drums. (more…)

George Benson – Bad Benson

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

White Hot Stamper sound on side two, which means this copy has the power to show you just how well-recorded the album really is, and how much energy and drive there is to both the sound and the music. No other side of any copy earned the full Three Plus White Hot grade, so this is a very special side indeed.

We didn’t run into any awful CTI originals the way we do with the typical rock record from the ’70s, but it’s the rare copy that has a real top end, or much in the way of transparency, or freedom from smear. This copy has all three, without any sacrifice in richness or Tubey Magic.

There’s some “Breezin”-like material on the second side, two years before that monster album was released, and man does it ever sound good on this copy!

Rich, full-bodied sound is not hard to find on Bad Benson; most copies had the goods in the bass and lower midrange. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Straight Life

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

Straight Life is a great album for anyone who wants to hear some well recorded, seriously adventurous jazz. We freely admit that side one is fairly “out there,” but side two balances it out with much more accessible, melodic material. A wonderfully sensitive and emotional version of Here’s That Rainy Day closes out the side with George Benson proving to be an especially sympathetic accompanist on guitar.  

By the way, if you don’t have a hot copy of Red Clay, get one. It’s some of the best funky jazz ever recorded. No collection should be without it. (more…)

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…)