Labels We Love – CTI

Grover Washington Jr. – Inner City Blues – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

TWO A+++ SIDES ON QUIET VINYL, making this the best copy of Inner City Blues we’ve found! This copy trounced the other ones we played, giving us the kind of open, transparent sound that brings out the best in this music. The overall sound is very clean and clear with lots of weight down low and extension up top. I don’t think you could find a better sounding copy no matter what you did. 

The lineup here is absolutely stellar, with players including Ron Carter, Idris Muhammed, Richard Tee, Airto and Eric Gale, among many others.

Yer Average Copy

The typical sound we find on most pressings is full of heavy compression as well as the kind of high frequency restriction that prevents the top end from extending naturally. The result: Grover’s horn takes on a slightly sour quality — not a fun way to hear this kind of music. (more…)

Grover Washington Jr. – All The King’s Horses – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Side one of this original Kudu pressing is 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!

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.

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. (more…)

Grover Washington – Mister Magic – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

The typical pressing is murky, overly smooth and lacks energy. Many copies also suffer from serious congestion and veiling. No such problems here! You get tons of space and energy, along with balanced tonality and great presence.

A 4 1/2 star album in the All Music Guide. Washington is backed here by excellent players including Bob James, Phil Upchurch, Harvey Mason, Ralph MacDonald, Eric Gale and many more. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

With a sonic grade of A+++ this White Hot Stamper original CTI pressing has a side two that won Top Honors in our recent shootout. It’s CLEARLY the best sounding side we have ever offered of this funky jazz classic, but it has serious condition issues, including a mark that plays at the end of track one all the way into track two. If you can live with that mark you will hear some amazing sound and music on side two. And if you buy this copy and realize you can’t, feel free to send it back for a full refund.

We ran into lots of condition problems with this album; perhaps your experience has been the same. Not many played anything close to Mint Minus, including this one. (more…)

Paul Desmond – Skylark – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

An A+++ side one backed with an A+ to A++ side two, both on quiet vinyl! We just finished our first big shootout for this fun album that features Gabor Szabo on guitar and this was one of the best copies we heard, especially on the first side where nothing else could compare.

Side one has got that CTI magic that you only get on their very best pressings. The sound is lively, full-bodied and tonally correct from top to bottom. It’s also very open and transparent, giving you lots of space between the various instruments. The top end is Right On The Money — listen to how natural and correct the ride cymbal sounds on the opening number. Most copies we played had a tendency to sound recessed and reserved, but this one has the kind of presence and energy that this music needs to sound ALIVE. A+++ all the way! (more…)

Wes Montgomery – A Day In The Life – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

THE BEST SIDE ONE WE’VE EVER HEARD on quiet vinyl nonetheless, giving you White Hot A+++ sound for Montgomery’s great cover of A Day In The Life! This was the only copy that absolutely nailed it for that tough track — top end extension, tons of tubey magic, loads of energy, huge three-dimensional sound and more. The big orchestral ending, where most copies fall apart, sounds EXCELLENT here. The brass and winds sound KILLER. 

We listened to a bunch of different copies in our recent shootout and this one had a side two that could not be beat. It’s damn near impossible to find decent sounding early A&M pressings, but the sound here is gorgeous. Almost every copy we listened to was dull, lifeless, and overly compressed. This becomes especially offensive when the strings come in, most notably in the climatic middle section of “A Day In The Life”. It’s abrasive, nondescript junk! Fortunately, this Hot Stamper lets you enjoy this great music with warm, rich sound that won’t make your ears bleed.

Side two is MAGICAL on this copy. There’s tons of tubey magic to go along with excellent clarity, strong presence and a wonderfully punchy bottom end. The percussion sounds incredible and the guitar is Right On The Money. You get the top end extension that’s sorely lacking from most pressings, and the transparency is to die for! A+++ all the way.

Side one is very good but lacks a slight degree of extension up top. Other than that, the sound is hard to fault. The big orchestral ending to the title track actually works well on this copy. Most copies aren’t nearly this warm, rich or full-bodied. (more…)

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…)