Labels We Love – CTI

Milt Jackson – Sunflower

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  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – this copy of Sunflower is exceptionally musical and enjoyable
  • So open, with an extended top end, not gritty or crude, always resolving the musical information in a natural way – we loved it
  • These superstars guarantee this is real jazz: Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Freddie Hubbard et al.
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Recorded over two days in December of 1972 at Rudy Van Gelder’s home studio, vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s Sunflower is the first – and best – of his three albums for Creed Taylor’s CTI imprint. (And one of the finest offerings on the label.)”

The extended song structures, ranging from seven to ten minutes in length, leave plenty of room for the band and the orchestra to stretch out. (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…)

Grover Washington Jr. and All The King’s Horses

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Without a doubt the best album Washington ever made, a desert island disc and a true Must Own

Both sides of this original Kudu pressing are OUT OF THIS WORLD. The sweetness and transparency of Grover Washington Jr.’s breathy sax went beyond any copy we’ve ever played. Who knew it could sound like this? We sure didn’t!

It’s spacious and full of life with virtually no distortion. Of special note, this copy has amazingly articulate bass which brings out the undeniable funkiness of the music in a way that no other copy did. There’s so much life in these grooves. The sound jumps out of the speakers right into your lap.

The early ’70s were a good time for Van Gelder. All the King’s Men from 1973 is an amazing Demo Disc for large group. But it only sounds good on the copies that it sounds good on, on the pressings that were mastered, pressed and cleaned right, a fact that has eluded most jazz vinyl aficionados interested in good sound.

But not us. We’ve played the very special pressings that prove the album can sound amazing.

I’m a Big Fan

I’ve been a big fan of this record since I first heard it all the way back in High School. I only found out later that this is not what most people would consider “real” jazz — it’s CTI jazz, more in the pop jazz or soul jazz vein. But I love the music more with each passing year and would not hesitate for a moment to recommend it to any jazz lover or audiophile. If the first track doesn’t knock you out, this album may not be for you. Without a doubt, in my book it’s the best thing Grover Washington ever did.

The really good RVG jazz pressings sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located and surrounded by the natural space of the studio. As our stereo has gotten better, and we’ve found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has begun to impress us more and more.

Obviously the credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for recording and mastering the album so well.

Yer Average Copy

The sound we most often find on original pressings (the only ones that ever sound any good; the later pressings are awful) is full of heavy compression, and suffers as well from the kind of high frequency restriction that prevents the top end from extending in a harmonically correct way. The result: Grover’s horn often will take on a somewhat sour quality. Our better Hot Stampers are both uncompressed and open up top.

 

 

 

Airto Fingers – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

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.

In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

Listening in Depth to Fingers – Airto’s Masterpiece

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

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…)

Sky Diving with Freddie Hubbard

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Freddie Hubbard CTI album – both sides won our shootout, earning our top grade of Triple Plus
  • This is the kind of spacious, low-distortion, dynamic and energetic sound Rudy Van Gelder was getting in the early ’70s
  • Hubbard got together a great group of Funky Jazz players to support him here, with Don Sebesky doing his usual inventive arrangements
  • 4 Stars: “Freddie Hubbard’s fourth CTI recording certainly has a diverse repertoire. The charts for the brass and woodwinds are colorful; there is a fine supporting cast that includes guitarist George Benson, Keith Jarrett on keyboards, and flutist Hubert Laws; and Hubbard takes several outstanding trumpet solos.”

Rudy was getting one hell of a lively trumpet sound on tape during this period in 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.

Sonic Issues

Smear. It’s 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 Straight Life or First Light or Red Clay, etc.). When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy. (more…)

Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

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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Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

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

This is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others off the top of my head would be 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).

On a killer copy like this the sound is out of this world. Rich and full, open and transparent, this one defeated all comers in our shootout, taking the Top Prize for sound and earning all Three Pluses. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

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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Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

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

This original CTI pressing has two wonderful sides, including an AMAZING A+++ SIDE TWO! This side two has amazingly good Demo Disc sound. RVG knocked this one out of the park, that’s for damn sure.

Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and the song Red Clay is possibly the funkiest jazz track he ever got down on tape. At 12 minutes in length it is a transcendentally powerful experience — and the bigger your speakers and the louder you turn them up the more moving that experience is going to be!

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Side One

Side one gets going with the perennial favorite, Red Clay. 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 monstrous proportions. Ron Carter’s bass playing is stellar and that fingers-on-frets sound is heard on this copy. Super clear and present, this side has zero smear and amazingly explosive transients! A touch more top and this would be right there with side two.

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…)