Labels We Love – Verve

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella and Basie!

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A distinguished member of the  Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one. On the best pressings, the sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album with big band backup. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a good copy, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably isn’t familiar with, and that’s the best reason to put on an old record. 

On the best copies, the space is HUGE and the sound so rich, with prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record. We know, we heard them all. There is a marked tendency on this recording to have a bit of honk or squawk, but our best copies are free from this problem.

We’re glad to report this copy was doing more of what we wanted it to do than any other we played. And we know a fair bit about Ella’s recordings at this point. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums, and that’s not counting the sixteen (yes, 16!) titles we put in our Hall of Shame.

We’ve searched high and low for her records and played them by the score over the years. We plan to keep a good supply on to the site in the coming years so watch for new arrivals in the Vocal section (linked to the left).

Hardness and Brashness

Want to know what we are on about with all this talk of hardness and brashness? Easy, just play the average copy. Unless you are exceptionally fortunate and chanced upon a properly mastered and pressed and cared for copy, you will hear plenty of both.

It’s one of the main reasons we have such a hard time doing shootouts for Ella’s ’50s and ’60s albums. The other of course is the poor condition most copies are in. Few pressings do not have marks that play or damaged grooves. The record players of the ’50s and ’60s, not to mention their owners, were ruinous on the albums of the day.

Which is simply another reason not to expect another top copy of this album to come to the site any time soon. Give us two or three years or so and we might be able to find another batch with which to do a shootout. In that time we will surely look at fifty copies, buy ten, and end up with five that are worth playing.

Obviously, we wouldn’t bother if the music and sound weren’t so good. When you are lucky enough to find a copy that sounds as good as this one, full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

Stereo Vs. Mono

It is our opinion that the mono takes all the fun out of the Quincy Jones’ deliberately wide, spacious orchestral presentation surrounding Ella. Which is too bad: the mono pressings are five times as common as the stereo ones.

Val Valentin Behind the Board

VAL VALENTIN‘s engineering credits run for days. Some high points are of course Ella and Louis and Getz/Gilberto.

Recently we played a copy of We Get Requests by the Oscar Peterson Trio that blew our mind. And we have been big fans of Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley for more than a decade.

Pull up his credits on Allmusic. No one I am familiar with other than Rudy Van Gelder recorded more great jazz and vocals, and in our opinion, Valentin’s recordings are quite a bit more natural sounding than Rudy’s.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Honeysuckle Rose 
‘Deed I Do
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
Them There Eyes 
Dream a Little Dream of Me
Tea for Two

Side Two

Satin Doll 
I’m Beginning to See the Light 
Shiny Stockings 
My Last Affair 
Ain’t Misbehavin’ 
On the Sunny Side of the Street

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Surprisingly enough this 1963 LP was the first time (other than a couple songs) that Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie recorded together. The match-up was so logical that it would be repeated many times over the next 20 years.

Cal Tjader – In a Latin Bag

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  • This outstanding copy of Tjader’s 1961 album for Verve boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last 
  • Unusually rich, full-bodied, lively and present, the All Tube Analog sound here brings out the best in Cal’s music
  • A classic in the Latin jazz genre, with the unbeatable combination of Tjader’s vibes, Paul Horn’s flute and Lonnie Hewitt’s piano on most of the tracks, backed by Al McKibbon on bass and Wilfredo Vicente (Conga) and Johnny Rae (Timbales) on percussion
  • “Cal Tjader recorded prolifically for Verve during the first half of the 1960s, though this is one of his lesser-known dates … it is well worth snapping up if found”

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Billie Holiday – Music For Torching

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

You’d be hard pressed to find a female vocal album from the 1950s with sound comparable to this one. We just finished up a big shootout for the sublimely titled Music For Torching, and this was clearly one of the better pressings we played. If you love smoky jazz vocals the way only Lady Day can sing them, we think you’ll be absolutely blown away to hear her sound this warm, rich and present. 

The formula is simple: Take one of the best female vocalists in the game, back her with a stellar crew of jazzmen and set them loose to knock out incredible versions of classic torch songs — It Had To Be You, A Fine Romance, Come Rain Or Come Shine and so forth. The good news is that the performances turned out to be some of the best ever recorded by this extraordinary singer, and fortunately for us audiophiles, the mono sound turned out to be dramatically better than we would have expected from Norman Granz’s Verve label in 1955. (more…)

Mel Torme – Songs of New York

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  • This surprisingly good sounding pressing of Mel Torme’s 1963 album earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • Like many of the best Mel Torme recordings from back in the day, the sound here is rich, warm and smooth, with Vintage Analog Tubey Magic to die for
  • Turn it up and The Velvet Fog will be standing right between your speakers, putting his heart and soul into these American standards
  • “This thematic recording, with songs all relating to New York City, has vocalist Mel Tormé singing in fine fashion… done with the heartfelt passion of a man who has lived in the Big Apple and has many tales to tell.”

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Atlantic pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

This vintage stereo pressing has the kind of Midrange Magic that modern records barely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it ain’t 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 Mel, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage Analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Let No Man Write My Epitaph – Reviewed in 2006

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Let No Man Write My Epitaph

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

This very nice looking Verve T Label original Mono LP with the early pink cover has lovely sound. Ella’s voice is present, smooth and sweet. Since this recording only involves voice and piano, the loss of stereo information presents no problem for the listener. Ella and her accompanist are dead center and tonally correct. Many Verve Ella records are a disaster sonically – this is one of the exceptions.

Oscar Peterson & Nelson Riddle

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  • Peterson and Riddle’s 1963 collaboration finally arrives on the site with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last
  • With a lively and present piano, and a smooth, full sounding orchestra, this is just the right sound for this music
  • “From the opening flutes to the last flush of piano and orchestra, this is smooth-swinging jazz par excellence.”
  • 4 stars: “… a quietly strong, rich, fully evocative set of great tracks that emphasize the undercurrent rather than the overflow of emotions.”

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These vintage Verve pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it for all four sides, this glorious 1956 mono recording is superb from first note to last
  • Full-bodied, musical, and smooth, with surprisingly spacious orchestral staging – this is just the right sound for this album and especially this kind of music
  • “The combination of Ella and Porter is irresistible and whether up-tempo or down-tempo, Ella’s three-octave range voice soars effortlessly as she makes each song come to life. It was all helped by the cream of L.A. session men and Buddy Bregman’s arrangement that oozes sophistication way beyond his twenty-four years. It is a perfect record.” – Richard Havers

he space is HUGE and the sound so rich. Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies.

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one. The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Rhythm Is My Business – 1962 Was a Great Year for Ella

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  • Ella’s first album to come out after Clap Hands finally makes its Hot Stamper debut, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • What took us by surprise was how rich and sweet this original Verve was – so many of Ella’s early albums don’t have the smooth, natural vocals of this pressing
  • We absolutely love the swinging R&B organ Bill Doggett brought to these big band sessions, all backing an exceptionally well recorded First Lady of Song
  • “Ella Fitzgerald is in the spotlight throughout, mostly singing swing-era songs along with a couple of newer pieces… [her] voice was in its prime, and the charts are excellent.”

This copy is as quiet as we can find any domestic original Verve stereo pressing. The monos of this title — which naturally are five times more common — have that hard, honky sound that so many mono cuttings made from Ella’s stereo recordings suffer from.

Clap Hands is a notable exception to that rule, and of course any of her albums recorded in mono sound best in mono, when cut right and pressed right.

1962 was a great year for Ella. She released this album early in the year and followed it up with the Grammy winning Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson. Later in the same year Verve released Ella Swings Gently with Nelson, and it’s interesting to note that all three of these classic albums were recorded late in 1961. The woman could do no wrong! We would have to wait for her first release of 1963, Ella Sings Broadway, before she put out a clunker. But who’s fault is that? The music is fine, it’s the recording that’s bad (as far as we can tell; we have yet to hear one sound good). (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 2

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on ALL FOUR SIDES!
  • Forget the originals – like so many of the early songbook pressings, they suffer from painfully hard and honky mastering EQ (and gritty sounding vinyl)
  • We know whereof we speak when it comes to early Ella records – we’ve played plenty of them and found that most just don’t sound very good
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout* — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Duke’s spectacular catalog dazzles, and his sprightly, lush textures are transfigured under Fitzgerald’s warm-timbred voice and elegant, precise delivery… each tune as familiar as it is delightful to hear in this new context.”

This mono reissue is the only way to find the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records. As good as the best of those pressings may be, this record is going to be dramatically more REAL sounding.

Ella is no longer a recording — she’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Her voice is so rich, sweet, and free of artificiality you cannot help but find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here. You could certainly demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, even one that’s not nearly this good, because this one is superb.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1957
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does. (more…)

Ray Brown / Milt Jackson

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

This Minty Verve LP with the old style paste-on back cover sounds great! Big sounding ’60s jazz with lively arrangements from Oliver Nelson and Jimmy Heath. Clark Terry’s trumpet and flugelhorn contributions play a major role in the festivities. This is cool, swinging ’60’s jazz at its best! 

A lot of Verve records from this era are poorly mastered, but this one sounds just right to us.

A 4 1/2 Star Album in the All Music Guide!