Labels We Love – Blue Note

Herbie Hancock – Empyrean Isles

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  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades throughout, this vintage Blue Note stereo pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Once again Rudy Van Gelder delivers the sound that audiophiles and jazz fans alike thrill to
  • These sides are lively, dynamic and full-bodied, and there’s real weight to the piano, always critically important to the piano recordings we play
  • 5 stars: “Working with cornetist Freddie Hubbard, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams — a trio just as young and adventurous as he was — Hancock pushes at the borders of hard bop, finding a brilliantly evocative balance between traditional bop, soul-injected grooves, and experimental, post-modal jazz.”
  • If you’re a fan of the music of Herbie Hancock, this title from 1964 is surely one of his best, and one of his best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1964 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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The Three Sounds – Coldwater Flat

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  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides and only the second copy to ever hit the site
  • A shockingly well recorded album, with Oliver Nelson’s arrangements exploding from the speakers with all the brilliant energy and color we’ve come to expect from the man
  • “For this date, the group decided to emphasize its pop side, recording the record with the lush Oliver Nelson Orchestra and choosing to cover such pop hits as “The Look of Love” and “Last Train to Clarksville”… the glossy production has its appealing moments…”

This vintage Blue Note 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…)

Donald Byrd – Stepping Into Tomorrow

  • Donald Byrd’s 1975 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom 
  • Byrd’s trumpet sounds wonderful here, with just the right amount of bite – credit must go to Val Garay and Dave Hassinger (among others), two of our favorite engineers working at The Sound Factory
  • 4 stars: “… maybe some of those who sniffed at the straightforward nature of some of the rhythms and riffing were won over by the supreme layering of the many components (the way in which “Think Twice” lurches forward, peels back, and gathers steam is nothing short of heavenly), not to mention some deeply evocative playing from Byrd himself.”

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Horace Silver – Blowin’ The Blues Away

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More Albums on Blue Note

  • A Must Own from Horace Silver, with the kind of sound that only the best vintage pressings can offer
  • If you don’t know Horace Silver’s music, this is a good place to start
  • Another triumph for engineering maestro Rudy Van Gelder – he refined a “live-in-the-studio” jazz sound that still sounds fresh to this day, even after 60+ years
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Blowin’ The Blues Away is one of Horace Silver’s all-time Blue Note classics, only upping the ante established on Finger Poppin’ for tightly constructed, joyfully infectious hard bop… one of Silver’s finest albums, and it’s virtually impossible to dislike.”
  • If you’re a fan of Silver’s, this 1959 album belongs in your collection, along with quite a few others, if only we could fine them
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The really good RVG pressings (often on the later labels) sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located on a wide and often deep soundstage, surrounded by the natural space and cool air of his New Jersey studio. As our stereo has improved, and we’ve found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has come to impress us more and more. (more…)

Cannonball Adderley / Somethin’ Else – Setting the Record for Straight Ahead Jazz

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More Hot Stamper Pressings on Blue Note

The music here is amazing — as I’m sure most of you know, this is as much a showcase for Miles Davis as it is for Cannonball himself — but the good news for audiophiles is that it’s also one of the BEST SOUNDING BLUE NOTE ALBUMS we know of!

When you hear it on a copy like this, it’s just about As Good As It Gets.

Setting the Record for Straight Ahead Jazz

After doing this shootout in 2015 I would like to amend the above remarks for being much too conservative. The current consensus here at Better Records is that this album deserves to hold three — count ’em, three — somewhat related titles:

One, The Best Sounding Blue Note record we have ever played.

Two, The Best Sounding Jazz Record we have ever played.

Three, Rudy Van Gelder’s Best Engineering (based on the copies we played).

Our shootout winners had more energy, presence, dynamics and three-dimensional studio space than any jazz recording we have ever heard. The sound was as BIG and BOLD as anything in our audio experience.

Add to that a perfectly balanced mix, with tonality that’s correct from top to bottom for every instrument in the soundfield and you may begin to see why we feel that the best copies of this album set a standard that no other jazz record we’re aware of can meet.

Have we played every Blue Note, every RVG recording, every jazz record? We would never say such a thing (nor should anyone else).

However, in our defense, who could possibly claim to have critically evaluated the sound of more jazz records than we have?

There are multitudes of music experts in the world of jazz. For jazz sound quality the numbers must surely be orders of magnitude smaller, and here is where we’re sure we have more than a few critically valuable advantages: better playback equipment, better record cleaning, stacks of copies of the same title, a scientifically blinded approach and, most importantly of all, a single minded purpose. All our efforts are in service to only one end, to find the ultimate in analog sound. (Naturally we leave the sound of CDs and other digital formats to others.)

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Horace Silver Quintet – The Tokyo Blues

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More Blue Note Albums

  • Spacious and three-dimensional, as well as relaxed and full-bodied – this pressing was a big step up over every other copy we played
  • 4 stars: “Silver’s Tokyo-influenced compositions fit right in with the subtle cross-cultural but very American hard bop he’d been doing all along… [his] compositions have a light, airy feel, with plenty of space, and no one used that space better at these sessions than Cook, whose tenor sax lines are simply wonderful, adding a sturdy, reliable brightness.”
  • Another Must Own Title from 1962. Other recommended titles from 1962 can be found here.

If you know anything about Blue Note, you know that finding a copy that plays this quietly is rare. Add to that the excellent sound and music and you have yourself a real winner with this LP! (more…)

Cannonball Adderley / Somethin’ Else

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More Miles Davis

  • A triumph for Rudy Van Gelder, a Top Blue Note title, and as much a showcase for Miles Davis as it is for Cannonball
  • The best sides of this album had as much energy, presence, dynamics and three-dimensional studio space as any jazz recording we have ever played
  • 5 stars: “Both horn players are at their peak of lyrical invention, crafting gorgeous, flowing blues lines.”
  • “…signs of Milesian influence are the calm, conversational delivery of the title track and the newfound lyricism in Adderley’s playing that followed from his nightly experience at the trumpeter’s side.”
  • Reviews and Commentaries for Somethin’ Else

The music here is simply amazing, but the good news for us audiophiles is that it’s also one of the BEST SOUNDING BLUE NOTE ALBUMS we know of, if not The Best. (more…)

Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

We just finished a big Maiden Voyage shootout, and while we didn’t come up with too many winners, we did manage to find this one KILLER copy. Side two has A+++ MASTER TAPE SOUND — it can’t be beat!

You won’t believe how clean, clear, open, and transparent it is. Most importantly, the energy factor is OFF THE CHARTS, and the dynamics are INCREDIBLE.

Too many copies we played left us cold and bored; this one kept us engaged throughout. It’s got the silkiest highs and the breathiest brass we’ve ever heard for this album. Most copies we played this against couldn’t even come close to the richness, sweetness, and warmth we heard here.

Side one is wonderful as well, the best we played this time around at A++. The piano has real weight, the sax has a nice bite, and the trumpet sounds great. The top end is smooth and sweet but lacks just a bit of extension compared to side two.

One Of The Great Blue Notes

This is one of the greatest Blue Note jazz records of all time — 5 big stars in the All Music Guide, which should surprise no one. Freddie Hubbard on this album is nothing short of astonishing. I remember one time playing around with the stereo, listening for different effects as I made minor changes in the tracking weight, the VTA, adjustments to the Hallographs, and the like, and at one point, I noticed that the ensemble seemed to be really coherently connected. Each of the players was balanced with the others. It was a striking effect and it made me realize that musical values can often be overlooked while chasing after audiophile effects of one kind or another. When I heard the ensemble come together, it made me appreciate this album even more. Tony Williams on drums deserves a special nod. His cymbal work on the first track is completely original and spontaneous in the best jazz tradition.

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Stanley Turrentine – Another Story

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More Albums on Blue Note

  • Rudy Van Gelder really knocked this one out of the park – the recording is as dynamic as they come, with horns that blast with real power and some serious snap to the drums
  • You will have a very hard time finding a better sounding funky Soul Jazz album than this copy of Another Story
  • 4 Stars on All Music; Turrentine on this date is joined by Thad Jones, Cedar Walton, Buster Williams, and Mickey Roker, serious jazz players one and all

This vintage Blue note 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…)

Donald Byrd – A New Perspective

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More Hot Stamper Pressings on Blue Note

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue Note Records

  • An STUNNING stereo pressing of one of our all-time favorite Blue Note albums with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • The gospel vocals are amazingly well recorded (thanks RVG!) – with the transparency of this copy, you can easily pick out and follow each voice
  • To hear the real RVG magic, play Beast of Burden on side one – that’s some real audiophile DEMO DISC sound
  • 5 stars: “One of the most successful uses of a gospel choir in a jazz context. This is a memorable effort that is innovative in its own way, a milestone in Donald Byrd’s career.”

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