Labels We Love – Contemporary

Shelly Manne and his Friends / My Fair Lady – This Black Label Original Stereo Pressing Was Just Awful

In our experience, the Black Label stereo originals with D4/D5 stampers are terrible sounding.

With those stampers, My Fair Lady is a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early pressing we’ve reviewed and found wanting. Both sides graded “No,” our not-especially-technical term for a record that sounds bad.

Notes for Side One:

Track one is bright and unnatural up top. Track two is not very musical.

Notes for Side Two:

Track one is very weird sounding, thin and small.

(Obviously there was no need to play a second track.)

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, some Contemporary originals are very poorly mastered, which should put paid to the idea that Hot Stampers are only, or even usually, original pressings.

In our most recent shootout, the second-best sounding pressing was on the early Black Label. We would love to give out the stampers for that one, but we don’t do that.

Click here to read about the various labels that Contemporary used over the years. Some people like to search for relationships between the sound of the pressing and the label it has, but in our experience that is more often than not a fool’s game once you account for the confirmation biases that go along with that approach.


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Barney Kessel / Carmen – A Great Disc for Testing Transparency

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Barney Kessel

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We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your system. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc.

Transparency Is Key

The best Hot Stamper Original pressings have the Tubey Magic we’ve come to expect from Contemporary circa 1958, with that warm, rich, full-bodied sound that RVG often struggles to get on tape. However, some pressings in our shootout managed to give us an extra level of transparency and ambience that most original pressings rarely did.

There’s a room around this drum kit. So many copies don’t show you that room, not if they have the full sound that a copy like this does.

It’s amazing all the detail you can hear in a leaned-out record, but what good is that? The sound is all leaned out.

If you like that sound, buy the OJC or the CD. Leave these originals to those of us who are after this sound. (more…)

Black, Green, Yellow, Orange – Which Contemporary Label Has the Best Sound?

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

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Our Hot Stamper commentary from a long-ago shootout we had done for the wonderful Helen Humes album Songs I Like to Sing discusses the sonic characteristics we find most commonly associated with the various Contemporary labels.

This Contemporary Black Label Original LP has that classic tube-mastered sound — warmer, smoother, and sweeter than the later pressings, with more breath of life. Overall the sound is well-balanced and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is rare for a black label Contemporary, as they are usually dull and bass-heavy.

We won’t buy them locally anymore unless they can be returned. I’ve got a box full of Contemporarys with bloated bass and no top end that I don’t know what to do with.

Like most mediocre-to-bad sounding records around here, they just sit in a box taking up space. All of our time and effort goes into putting good pressings on the site and in the mailings. It’s hard to get motivated to do anything with the leftovers. We paid plenty for them, so we don’t want to give them away, but they don’t sound good, so most of our customers won’t buy them.

What to do, what to do? Ebay I guess, but that’s a long way down the road. It’s too much fun doing listings for good records these days to want to stop now. The average record is just average, and nothing is ever going to change that!

We shot this out against a variety of later pressings. The Black Label copies have a bit of echo added to the vocals and have the attributes listed above — warmth, sweetness, presence, and immediacy. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other; it’s really more a matter of taste.

More on the subject of Record Labels.

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Shelly Manne and His Friends / Part One – You Simply Cannot Record a Piano Better than Roy DuNann

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I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak my stereo and many of those that were owned by friends. 

Playing the original stereo record on the Black Label, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention, all of which I simply attributed to the limitations of the vintage mastering.

Well, things have certainly changed.

I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on the pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on this blog.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Roy DuNann Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

More of Our Favorite Engineers

ROY DUNANN is one of our favorite recording and mixing engineers. Click on the link to find all the records we currently have in stock that were engineered by Roy DuNann.

Roy DuNann recordings we’ve reviewed on the blog can be found here. (more…)

Coop! The Music Of Bob Cooper – Killer on the Right OJC Pressing

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout  
  • These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one
  • An amazing 1958 All Tube Live-in-the-Studio Jazz recording by the legendary Roy DuNann
  • “Tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper’s only Contemporary album is a near-classic and one of his finest recordings … This set is an underrated gem.”

Another undiscovered gem, brought to you by the folks at Better Records who know a good sounding record when they hear one.

This is a superb Contemporary recording from 1958. Cooper is joined by top West Coast musicians like trombonist Frank Rosolino, vibraphonist Victor Feldman, pianist Lou Levy, bassist Max Bennett, and drummer Mel Lewis. On some parts of the Jazz Theme the group grows to be ten pieces. Normally this might present a problem for a recording engineer, but Roy DuNann is up to the task! If you want to hear the sound of brass recorded properly, Roy is your man.

Both sides are Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one.

What do the better Hot Stampers pressings like this one give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the horns and drums, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Roy DuNann — would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record — certainly not as good sounding as this one — these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years. (more…)

Joe Gordon / Lookin’ Good! on Contemporary but Not So Hot on OJC

More Contemporary Label Jazz

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Roy DuNann

Avoid the OJC Pressing of This Album

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This Super Hot Stamper pressing has the Contemporary Jazz Sound we LOVE here at Better Records. If you want to know what’s wrong with the sound of your Rudy Van Gelder Squakfest Records, play this LP and bathe in the kind of relaxed, NATURAL tonality that Roy DuNann is justly famous for.

We love the sound of Contemporary Records — it’s our favorite jazz label by a long shot. Roy DuNann always seemed to get The Real Sound out of the sessions he recorded — amazingly realistic drum sound; full-bodied, breathy horns; lots of top end extension; deep, note-like bass; weighty piano, studio ambience, three-dimensionality, and on and on.

The Key to the Sound of the Best Copies

During this shootout we discovered what really sets apart the best copies from the also-rans: listen for the piano in the background, behind the horns. On the best copies it is so clear you can practically “see” it back there.

The copies with a clear piano have TRANSPARENCY that makes all the difference in the world on EVERY instrument. Now everything is clear. As long as the tonal balance is correct, that transparent quality is precisely what will make the best copies much more musically involving.

Let’s face it: many reissues, recorded in 1961 and pressed later on in the ’70s, have a veiled, dull quality. When they don’t, man, they can really beat the pants off even the best originals. (more…)

Ornette Coleman – Tomorrow Is The Question

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  • An outstanding copy of Coleman’s sophomore release, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Our Contemporary Yellow Label Stereo LP here has have breathy, full-bodied brass and lots of tight, well-defined bass 
  • The top end is nicely extended, which results in excellent space, transparency and clarity
  • 4 stars: “…this is one of the things that came to define Ornette — his willingness to let simplicity and its bright colors and textures confound not only other players and listeners, but also him too.”

The drum sound is OUT OF THIS WORLD — Roy Du Nann always seems to get amazing sound out of Shelley Manne’s kit.

Listen too for the interplay between Ornette and Don Cherry — they really drive each other to insane levels over the course of these nine tracks. (more…)

Hampton Hawes – Four!

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More Shelly Manne

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More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • Four! finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with stellar Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • The timbre of the instruments in this brilliant jazz quartet is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off
  • Roy DuNann engineered some of the best sounding records we have ever heard – here’s a textbook example of what the audiophiles at Contemporary were able to achieve in the studio
  • 5 stars: “Pianist Hampton Hawes’ 1950s recordings for the Contemporary label are at such a high level that they could all be given five stars.”

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The Curtis Counce Group – Volume 1 – Landslide

More Contemporary Label Jazz

More Jack Sheldon

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  • A STUNNING copy of the group’s 1956 release with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The clarity and transparency on this vintage pressing are wonderful, but more importantly it’s the unerringly correct tonality that’s most impressive when you play these real Contemporary pressings against the competition
  • Yet another amazing All Tube Contemporary recording from Roy DuNann and Lester Koenig at the beginning of the stereo era
  • 4 1/2 stars: “During 1956-1957, bassist Curtis Counce led an excellent Los Angeles-based hard bop quintet… All of Counce’s recordings are well-worth getting by collectors [and especially audiophiles] interested in 1950s straight-ahead jazz [with top quality sound].”

Jack Sheldon is absolutely amazing and completely original on trumpet here. Check out his stellar work on the first track, Landslide. Not only that, but the sound of his instrument is wonderful — you’ll never hear a trumpet sound so rich and full on a Rudy Van Gelder recording, that’s for sure!

Both sides are over twenty minutes, giving you a lot of well-played West Coast Jazz for your money. (more…)