Labels We Love – Contemporary

Hampton Hawes – Four!

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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

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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…)

Sonny Rollins – Way Out West

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Reviews and Commentaries for Way Out West

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  • A stunning copy of Way Out West with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • This stereo pressing has superb 1957 Contemporary sound – big, open and natural throughout
  • The sax is so smooth and tubey it will have you drooling
  • One of our favorite Rollins records – one listen to this copy and you will know exactly why we love the recordings of Roy DuNann
  • 5 stars: “The timeless Way out West established Sonny Rollins as jazz’s top tenor saxophonist”

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Barney Kessel / Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

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More Jazz Featuring the Guitar

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  • Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By finally returns to the site with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Contemporary Stereo sound on both sides
  • Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best
  • For those of you who appreciate what Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own
  • Unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition
  • Barney Kessel and his five reed players take these standards and make magic with them — for fun, relaxing jazz it’s hard not to love this one

This vintage Black Label Contemporary Stereo LP from has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL.

How can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? The timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off.

The Demo Disc sound on this copy is really something to hear – all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. It’s pretty much everything you want in a recording from this era. I’d love to keep it but when would I have time to play it? I can assure you I will sleep very well knowing that it’s going to a good home. (more…)

Art Pepper – Meets The Rhythm Section

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  • You’ll find very good Hot Stamper sound on both sides of this wonderful pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear this wonderful album sound the way it is supposed to, a Hot Stamper pressing like this one is the way to go
  • Widely considered Art Pepper’s masterpiece and we couldn’t agree more
  • 5 stars: “… this recording convinced [Pepper] that emotion was the paramount impulse of jazz performance… a diamond of recorded jazz history.”

Many consider this to be the best record Art Pepper ever made, along with Art Pepper + Eleven, and I agree completely. Recorded in 1957 (the same year Way Out West was recorded) by the legendary Roy DuNann, the sound is absolutely wonderful.

The best pressings have all the Tubey Magic of the best black label originals, without their even worse vinyl and bloated bass. We get black label original Contemporary pressings in from time to time, but few of them are mastered right and most never make it to the site.

Some are pure muck. Some have bloated bass that is hard to believe. Don’t buy into that record collecting slash audiophile canard that Original Equals Better. That’s pure BS. It just doesn’t work that way, and anyone with two good ears, two good speakers and a decent-sized record collection should know better. (more…)

Art Pepper / Meets The Rhythm Section

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • The Contemporary stereo sound here is completely natural in all respects – rich, warm and smooth, the sound we love
  • Recorded in 1957 (the same year as Way Out West) by the legendary Roy DuNann, the sound is absolutely wonderful
  • 5 stars: “… this recording convinced [Pepper] that emotion was the paramount impulse of jazz performance… a diamond of recorded jazz history.”

Many consider this to be the best record Art Pepper ever made, along with Art Pepper + Eleven, and I agree completely.

This one has all the Tubey Magic of the best black label originals, without their bad vinyl and bloated bass. We get black label original Contemporary pressings in from time to time, but few of them are mastered right and most never make it to the site.

Some are pure muck. Some have bloated bass that is hard to believe. Don’t buy into that record collecting slash audiophile canard that Original Equals Better. That’s pure BS. It just doesn’t work that way, and anyone with two good ears, two good speakers and a decent-sized record collection should know better. (more…)

Art Pepper / Intensity – Thoughts on One of the Most Dynamic Contemporary Recordings

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A Classic Case of Audio Progress

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[This commentary was written in 2008.]

Intensity is right — this is some SERIOUSLY GOOD SOUNDING alto saxophone led quartet jazz. AMG was right to give this one 4 1/2 stars — the musicianship is top notch and Pepper’s playing is INSPIRED throughout. 

The real surprise was how well recorded this album from 1963 is. I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his playing.

(Pepper was famous for saying that his playing is best when he just plays whatever he feels in the moment, and this record is the best kind of evidence for the truth of that claim.)

Of course, since this is a Roy Dunann recording, all the tubey magical richness and sweetness are here as well, but what is surprising is how transparent, spacious and clear the sound is. Some of Roy’s recordings can sound a bit dead (recording in your stockroom is not always the best for spaciousness) and sometimes are a bit thick as well. Not so here. But it should be pointed out that we liked what we heard from a previous shootout too.

Last time around we wrote:

This record has superb sound: you can actually hear the keys clacking on the man’s alto. And that sort of detail does not come at the expense of phony brightness as it would with your typical audiophile recording. The tonality of the sax, drums, and bass are right on the money, exactly the way we expect Roy DuNann’s recording to be.

This time around we got more extension out of the cymbals. Either these copies are better, were cleaned better, or were helped quite a bit by our new Townshend SuperTweeters. (Probably the last two more than the first one.) (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Black Hawk, Vol. 3

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  • A stunning sounding copy with a shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one backed with a solid Double Plus (A++) side two
  • This is West Coast Jazz at its best, and if anyone can capture the feeling of hearing jazz in a small club, it’s the engineers and producers at Contemporary
  • The sound is SUPERB – airy, open, and spacious with a solid bottom end – the depth and definition are out of this world
  • “Considering how much music was documented, it is fortunate that trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenorman Richie Kamuca, pianist Victor Feldman, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Shelly Manne were in top form for this enjoyable gig. The music is high-quality straightforward and uncomplicated bebop.”

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Art Pepper – Intensity

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  • Outstanding sound throughout for this Contemporary pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
  • Intensity is right — this is some seriously good sounding alto saxophone led quartet jazz, thanks to Roy DuNann and Lester Koenig
  • The musicianship here is top notch and Pepper’s playing is inspired throughout.
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Pepper was just starting to show the influence of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman in his style, freeing up his playing and displaying a greater intensity during his improvisations.”

An outstanding copy that reminded us just how great this album can be when you have a copy like this one!

I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his expression. (Pepper was famous for saying that his playing is best when he just plays whatever he feels in the moment, and this record is the best kind of evidence for the truth of that statement.) (more…)

Benny Carter and Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

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More Thoughts on Tubes in Audio

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Here’s how we weighed the tradeoffs in the sound of the originals versus that of the reissues, with VTA advice to follow. 

This superb sounding ORIGINAL Black Label Contemporary pressing of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz stereo recording from the late ’50s mastered through an all tube chain.

There’s good extension on the top end for an early pressing, with TONS of what you would most expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it!

We prefer the later pressings in most ways, but this record does something that no later pressing we have ever played can do — get Benny’s trumpet to sound uncannily REAL. If you want to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends what no CD (or modern remastered record) can begin to do, play side two of this copy for them. They may be in for quite a shock. (more…)