Labels We Love – CTI

Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive

More Freddie Hubbard

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this classic CTI album – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is the kind of spacious, low-distortion, dynamic and energetic sound Rudy Van Gelder was getting in the early ’70s – if you think he was better in the sixties, you need to play some of these recordings from the ’70s that show off just how good his work could be
  • Hubbard got together a great group of Funky Jazz players to support him here, with Don Sebesky doing his usual inventive arrangements
  • 4 Stars: “The charts for the brass and woodwinds are colorful; there is a fine supporting cast that includes guitarist George Benson, Keith Jarrett on keyboards, and flutist Hubert Laws; and Hubbard takes several outstanding trumpet solos.”

Rudy was getting one hell of a lively trumpet sound on tape during this period in his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Listen for Smear on the Trumpet

More of the Music of Freddie Hubbard

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Trumpet

More Recordings that Are Good for Testing Smear

This Hot Stamper original CTI pressing from our shootout in 2011 has a truly SUPERB side two that put to shame most of what we played.

Smeary blurred trumpet blasts? Not here. Nope, the transient bite and energy of the trumpet is as REAL as it gets. 

Side Two

This Super Hot side earned a grade of A++ with its exceptional high end (although it doesn’t extend quite all the way, just most of the way) and its amazing transparency. It’s so clear! You really hear into this one, in the way that the best of the classic jazz recordings allow you to do, recordings such as Kind of Blue and the better Contemporaries.

And no smear. Trumpet records with no smear, by Freddie Hubbard or anyone else, or hard to come by. A bit more richness and this one would have been in White Hot Stamper territory. It is awfully close to the best we heard.

Side One

Earning a grade of A Plus, this is the side where some of that smear we discussed earlier can clearly be heard. The sound is rich, richer than side two even, with a huge stage and full size instruments. It’s just that the midrange is a bit veiled and smeary, and the midrange is where the trumpet is.

Our Standard RVG Hot Stamper Overview / Backhanded Compliment

Rudy Van Gelder does it again! I hear virtually none of his bad EQ, compressor overload and general unpleasantness. Instead, this recording has smooth, sweet mids; open unexaggerated highs; and rich, tonally correct bass. In other words, you would never know it’s an RVG recording.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Kenny Burrell – Great Arrangements by Don Sebesky

More of the Music of Kenny Burrell

Don Sebesky, A Top Arranger

More Records that Are Good for Testing String Tone and Texture 

This is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others off the top of my head would be Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself).

On a killer copy like this the sound is out of this world. Rich and full, open and transparent, this one defeated all comers in our shootout, taking the Top Prize for sound and earning all Three Pluses.

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the orchestra’s string sections are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of.

Both sides blew us away with a deep, wide soundstage and full extension on both the top and the bottom.

The bass is deep and defined; the tonality of the guitar and its overall harmonic richness are Right On The Money. The piano has the weight and heft of the real thing.

This kind of warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever. You have to go back to 1971 to find it!

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George Benson – Bad Benson and Bad Audio

More of the Music of George Benson

More Recordings Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder

Some notes about this shootout from years back may be instructive.

White Hot Stamper sound on side two, which means this copy has the power to show you just how well-recorded the album really is, and how much energy and drive there is to both the sound and the music.

No other side of any copy earned the full Three Plus White Hot grade, so this is a very special side indeed. [Now that we are much better at our jobs — see the advice at the end of this review — this happens only a few times a year.]

We didn’t run into any awful CTI originals the way we do with the typical rock record from the ’70s, but it’s the rare copy that has a real top end, or much in the way of transparency, or freedom from smear. This copy has all three, without any sacrifice in richness or Tubey Magic.

Rich, full-bodied sound is not hard to find on Bad Benson; most copies had the goods in the bass and lower midrange.

Your Old Stereo (If You Had One in the Seventies)

On the other hand, clarity, top end, transparency and freedom from smear were hard to come by on all but a few copies. Most copies sound pretty much like your old ’70s stereo system — you know, the one you had with the three-way box speakers sitting on concrete blocks.

Fat, blurry down low, thick, opaque and smeary, that sound was everywhere. Pleasant, but not much more than that.

[This seems like an apt description for the records currently being pressed on Heavy Vinyl, wouldn’t you say?]

We’ve come a long way since then. Some pressings still have that sound to a degree, but with so many audio revolutions taking place over the last twenty years, now we can get dramatically more out of even the sub-optimal copies.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Red Clay sound remotely as good as it does here
  • It’s one of our Five Favorite CTI albums – Red Clay is Hubbard’s Soul Jazz Masterpiece, and it’s a record that belongs in every audiophile’s jazz collection
  • The Shootout Winning pressings always have these stampers, but there was an acetate or metalwork problem that is audible on the second track of side one, heard as grittier sound and more ticky vinyl – a small price to pay for the best sound of such great music
  • Lenny White drums up a storm on this album – on this copy he is playing right in the room with you
  • 5 stars: “This may be Freddie Hubbard’s finest moment as a leader, in that it embodies and utilizes all of his strengths as a composer, soloist, and frontman. [It] places the trumpeter in the company of giants such as saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Lenny White… This is a classic, hands down.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Red Clay is a good example of a record most audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a Hubbard fan, or perhaps a fan of early-’70s Soul Jazz, this title from 1970 is surely a Must Own.
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and the song Red Clay is arguably the funkiest jazz track he ever committed to tape. At 12 minutes in length it is a transcendentally powerful experience — and the bigger your speakers and the louder you turn them up the more moving that experience is going to be!

The intro to Red Clay begins with a stylized free-form jam, sounding like a bop-jazz band of old, then takes form and solidifies into a groove of monstrous proportions. Ron Carter’s bass playing is stellar! We rated this side Single to Double Plus. It’s big and lively with tons of presence and energy.

Like many of our funky favorites, this one was eventually sampled for a popular hip-hop song. That may not mean much to you, but it definitely means that nice copies of this album get swiped up quickly by young DJs and producers. (more…)

Deodato – Prelude

A Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

CTI – A Label We Love

  • This killer pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The brass and percussion are amazing on 2001 (and every other track), thanks to RVG, a many who knew how to do these kinds of big jazz productions better than practically anyone alive in 1973
  • We had no idea there was space this huge in the recording until we played some of the better copies
  • 4 stars: “Though overshadowed by ‘2001,’ the other tracks also hold up well today, being mostly medium-tempo, sometimes lushly orchestrated, conga-accented affairs that provide velvety showcases for Deodato’s lyrical electric piano solos… it still makes enjoyable listening.”
  • This title from 1973 is clearly Deodato’s best album, and his best recording
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Both sides are surprisingly sweet and Tubey Magical, nice qualities for a CTI record to have since so many of them are aggressive and edgy to the point of distraction.

Listen to the trumpet on the second track on side one — it’s so immediate, it’s practically JUMPING out of the soundfield, just bursting with energy. Rudy can really pull off these big productions on occasion, and this session was clearly one of them. If you have the kind of stereo that’s right for this music (the bigger the better) you could easily find yourself using this record as a demonstration disc. It’s very unlikely your audiophile friends have ever heard anything like it. (more…)

Grover Washington – Feels So Good

More Grover Washington Jr

  • Killer Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and Double Plus (A++) on side two – who knew this was such a well recorded album?
  • So much like live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located and surrounded by the natural space of the studio
  • An RVG recording (and mastering) from 1975 that is a KNOCKOUT on a copy like this
  • “Its shimmering, soulful grooves refute the argument that smooth jazz is little more than mere ambience, combining expert playing and intricate songwriting to create music that is both compelling and comforting.” Allmusic 4 Stars
  • If you’re a Grover Washington fan, or perhaps a fan of mid-’70s Soul Jazz, this title from 1975, is surely a Must Own.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Can you believe that Feels So Good topped both the soul and jazz albums charts and peaked at number ten on the pop album charts in the 1975?! Quite an achievement for our man Grover here. He had earlier made an album with Bob James handling the arrangements for the very large group of musicians on hand, as well as playing playing keyboards, and that album has been a personal favorite of mine for more than forty years, All the King’s Men. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Blurry, Thick, Veiled, Dull or Slow?

More of the Music of Freddie Hubbard

More recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

More Jazz on CTI

That’s too often the sound we hear on the Heavy Vinyl records being pressed these days. From time to time we get hold of some to audition just to see what they’ve done with (to?) the titles we know well.

We sure don’t have any intention of selling them. That would be against our principles. And the very name of our operation: Better Records. It’s rare for anything pressed on Heavy Vinyl to qualify as a Better Record, which is why so many of them can be found in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way.

But that sound can be found on plenty of vintage pressings too. We should know, we’ve played them by the tens of thousands!

Smear is by far the most common problem with the copies we played. When the transient bite of the trumpet is correctly reproduced, maintaining its full-bodied tone and harmonic structures, you know you have a very special copy of Sky Dive (or First Light or Red Clay, etc., etc.).

When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy.

Rudy gets one hell of a lively trumpet sound in this period of his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music.

If you don’t have a hot copy of Red Clay, get one. It’s some of the best funky jazz ever recorded. No collection should be without it.

(more…)

Grover Washington, Jr. – All The King’s Horses

More Grover Washington

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

  • Washington’s sophomore release finally returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • There’s so much life in these grooves – the sound jumps out of the speakers right into your lap
  • Credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for recording and mastering this album so well, and to Bob James for his brilliant big group arrangements
  • We cannot recommend this album highly enough – if you have the big speakers a big group of musicians need to perform live in your listening room, his record is going to be nothing less than a thrill
  • 4 stars: “. . . this set has assumed its proper place in Washington’s catalog: as one of his more ambitious and expertly performed sessions.”
  • If you’re a Grover Washington fan, this is a Must Own Classic from 1972 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Both sides of this original Kudu pressing are OUT OF THIS WORLD. The sweetness and transparency of Grover Washington Jr.’s breathy sax went beyond any copy we’ve ever played. Who knew it could sound like this? We sure didn’t!

It’s spacious and full of life with virtually no distortion. Of special note, this copy has amazingly articulate bass which brings out the undeniable funkiness of the music in a way that no other copy did.

The early ’70s were a good time for Rudy Van Gelder. All the King’s Men from 1973 is an amazing Demo Disc for a large group. But it only sounds good on the copies that it sounds good on, on the pressings that were mastered, pressed and cleaned right, a fact that has eluded most jazz vinyl aficionados interested in good sound.

But not us. We’ve played the very special pressings that prove the album can sound amazing. (more…)

Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

More Kenny Burrell

More recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

  • Amazing sound from start to finish on this Shootout Winning TRIPLE TRIPLE (A+++) copy
  • One of our favorite CTI albums, and surely one of the best sounding, especially on this pressing
  • Credit goes to Rudy Van Gelder once again for the huge space that the superbly well-recorded orchestra occupies
  • AMG raves “This is Burrell at his level best as a player to be sure, but also as a composer and as a bandleader. Magnificent.”

God Bless The Child is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others at the top of my list would be Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself).

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the strings are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of.

The bass is deep and defined; the tonality of the guitar and its overall harmonic richness are beautifully rendered. The piano has the weight and heft of the real thing.

This kind of warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever. You have to go back to 1971 to find it. (more…)