Labels We Love – Contemporary

Sonny Rollins – Sonny Rollins & the Contemporary Leaders

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  • Incredible sound throughout for this later Contemporary pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades; exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Both of these sides are textbook examples of the kind of rich, smooth, natural, effortless Contemporary Jazz sound that Roy DuNann’s All Tube Recording Chain was famous for in 1958
  • “The last of the classic Sonny Rollins albums prior to his unexpected three-year retirement features the great tenor with pianist Hampton Hawes, guitarist Barney Kessell, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Shelly Manne… Great music.”

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has THE BIG SOUND — rich and so full-bodied with amazing presence and immediacy. The bass is PERFECTION — deep, rock solid, and note-like. There’s lots of extension on the top end, letting Shelley Manne’s fantastic work on the cymbals really come to life.

The clarity on this copy is superb — just listen to those leading edge transients on Sonny’s sax. The guitar has the tubey qualities that we love here at Better Records — it’s warm, rich, and sweet with lots of ambience.

Sonny is backed here by a heavy-hitting lineup of Barney Kessel, Shelley Manne, Leroy Vinnegar and Hampton Hawes — all favorite players of ours here at Better Records. (more…)

Sonny Rollins – Alternate Takes

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  • This STUNNING copy boasts a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side one – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of our favorite Sonny Rollins records for sound – both sides here are incredibly big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This LP contains alternate versions of selections from two famous Sonny Rollins albums: Way out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders. These “new” renditions… hold their own against the classic versions. …the music is hard-swinging and frequently superb.”

The album is made up of alternate takes from the Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders sessions, and as such there is a bit of sonic variation between these tracks and the ones on the actual albums. The best-sounding songs here, particularly the material from Way Out West, can sound amazing!

The best copies are rich and tubey; many pressings were thin and modern sounding, and for that they would lose a lot of points. We want this record to sound like something Roy DuNann recorded with an All Tube chain in 1958, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless suffer from.

Some copies have much more space; some are more present, putting the musicians right in the room with you; some are more transparent, resolving the musical information much better than others, letting you “see” everyone in the studio clearly. Some have more rhythmic drive than others. On some the musicians seem more involved and energetic than they do on the average pressing.

The copies that do all these things better than other copies are the ones that win our shootouts.

This is clearly one of the best copies we have ever played. We think you will enjoy it immensely. (more…)

Joe Gordon – Lookin’ Good!

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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, such as this pressing, recorded in 1961 and pressed 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…)

The Curtis Counce Group – Vol. 2: Counceltation

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  • Insanely good sound throughout for this Contemporary Yellow Label pressing with both sides earning nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades, just shy of our Shootout Winner 
  • These sides are superb — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with tons of energy
  • Counce is a wonderful bassist and here he’s joined by Jack Sheldon, Harold Land, Carl Perkins and Frank Butler; I think you’ll be very impressed with how good this music from the late ’50s still sounds today
  • “Bassist Curtis Counce led one of the finer West Coast-based groups of the 1950s, a quintet that was greatly underrated… This excellent music falls somewhere between hard bop and cool jazz.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

This vintage Contemporary Yellow Label 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.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

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.

What We Listen For on Vol 2: Counceltation

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The instruments aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • 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, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Complete
How Deep Is The Ocean
Too Close For Comfort
Mean To Me

Side Two

Stranger In Paradise
Counceltation
Big Foot

 

Phineas Newborn, Jr. Trio – The Newborn Touch

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  • Newborn’s wonderful 1966 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The timbre of the instruments in this brilliant jazz trio is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off
  • This vintage Contemporary pressing boasts exceptionally natural piano sound (courtesy of Howard Holzer) and live-in-the-studio jazz energy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “As is usual on his Contemporary recordings, the pianist explores superior jazz compositions… Newborn’s remarkable control of the piano was still unimpaired, and he is heard giving Oscar Peterson a run for his money.”

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The Curtis Counce Group – Carl’s Blues

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  • A superb sounding copy on the real Contemporary label, boasting outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl throughout
  • This vintage pressing has the studio space, presence, driving energy, and midrange magic that’s almost always missing from whatever 180g reissue (at 33 or 45, don’t fall for that BS) has been made from the 59 year old tapes
  • “Although the Curtis Counce Quintet was not a commercial success, their four Contemporary albums were all timeless in their own way, undated examples of high-quality hard bop from the late ’50s. Excellent music that still sounds fresh four decades later.”

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Phineas Newborn, Jr. – A World of Piano!

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  • Newborn’s first album for Contemporary makes its Hot Stamper debut with killer Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish, coming in just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • One of the most musically impressive jazz piano recordings we’ve played in years – Newborn’s improvisational skills are operating at the very highest level
  • The team of Ray DuNann and Howard Holzer insure that everything you want in an Audiophile Quality piano trio recording is here
  • 5 stars: “Phineas Newborn’s Contemporary debut (he would record six albums over a 15-year period for the label) was made just before physical problems began to interrupt his career…. He performs five jazz standards and three obscurities by jazz composers on this superb recital…”

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Andre Previn & His Pals – West Side Story

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  • Previn’s stellar piano trio returns to the site with jazzy interpretations of the best songs from West Side Story, in stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound
  • You win shootouts with this kind of All Tube Analog sound – warm, natural, lively and clear, with solid support down low, a nicely extended top and a huge three-dimensional soundfield 
  • Andre Previn and his friends take eight classic tunes from West Side Story – it would be hard to imagine having better material to work with in a jazz setting
  • 4 stars: “The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story… As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.”

One of Previn’s best piano trio records, this album was recorded in 1959 by Roy DuNann while at the height of his engineering powers.

The two Must Owns from his many sessions at Contemporary are this album and Bells Are Ringing. We are not aware of any of his jazz piano albums on other labels being much better than passable and most are not worth picking up at any price. Believe me, we’ve tried. The one exception I can think of is Four to Go on Columbia. It’s pretty good. Not in the same league as his Contemporary recordings by a long shot, but better than most of his output from the ’60s.

For both the albums mentioned above the Black Label originals in stereo are the best way to go, but finding them in clean audiophile playing condition is no walk in the park, which is the main reason it’s been four years since we did either title, and I think we have not been able to find a single copy of Bells worth buying since then. Some records show up on the site and are never seen again. That may be one of them. Time will tell. (more…)

Art Pepper – Saturday Night At The Village Vanguard

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  • KILLER sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too  
  • This is Art Pepper at its best, and if anyone can capture the realism of a live jazz club, it’s the engineers and producers at Contemporary, in this case Bob Simpson and Lester Koenig
  • One of the man’s most enjoyable albums – the sound here was bigger and livelier than any other – above all it’s balanced, avoiding many of the problems we heard on other pressings
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The great altoist was clearly excited to be playing at the famous New York club, and his rhythm section — pianist George Cables, bassist George Mraz and drummer Elvin Jones — consistently stimulates his imagination.”

This album features the great Elvin Jones on drums, plus Geoge Cables on piano and George Mraz on bass.

We played all four volumes of Art Pepper’s Village Vanguard series recently, and this copy was one of the best of the bunch. It features an intense live version of Pepper’s tune The Trip, from the wonderful album of the same title, as well as extended versions of the tunes You Go To My Head and Cherokee. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Vol. 3: To Swing Or Not To Swing

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

This Early Contemporary Yellow Label Mono LP sure has AMAZING SOUND!

Man, this music is a blast when it sounds this good. I don’t think there’s a whole lot you could do to make this music sound any better! It’s one of the best early mono Contemporary LP I’ve ever played. It’s so tubey magical and Kessel’s guitar sound is out of this world. 

The music here matches the sound for excellence. The whole band just swings. There’s a real old rag-timey feel to the songs. Look at this list of all-star players: Harry Edison, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne — this is some serious jazz talent. (more…)