Labels We Love – CTI

Freddie Hubbard / Sky Dive – Blurry, Thick, Veiled, Dull or Slow?

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.

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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…)

Kenny Burrell / God Bless The Child – Great Arrangements by Don Sebesky

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Don Sebesky, A Top Arranger

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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. (more…)

Grover Washington, Jr. – Mister Magic

More Grover Washington

More 5 Star Albums

  • Mister Magic makes its Hot Stamper debut on the new site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We guarantee the sound is dramatically bigger, richer, fuller, and livelier than any pressing you have ever heard
  • We’re big fans of Rudy Van Gelder’s work in the early- to mid-70s, and it’s records like this (and All the King’s Horses) that make our case
  • 5 stars: “This is one of Grover Washington, Jr.’s best-loved recordings and considered a classic of R&B-ish jazz. . . Highly recommended.”

Most pressings are murky, overly smooth, and lack energy. Often they also suffer from serious congestion and veiling. Our job is to find you the copy that has none of those problems, and that is precisely what we have done with this Shootout Winner. You get tons of space and energy, along with balanced tonality and great presence.

Washington is backed by excellent players including Bob James, Phil Upchurch, Harvey Mason, Ralph MacDonald, Eric Gale and many more.

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Paul Desmond – Pure Desmond

More Paul Desmond

More Jazz on CTI

  • Paul Desmond’s superb 1975 release makes its Hot Stamper Debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic
  • Credit goes to Rudy Van Gelder once again for the huge space that the superbly well-recorded group occupies
  • 4 stars: ” Paul Desmond reverted back to the relaxed quartet format that suited him well in the past… [this album] sparked a Desmond renaissance where he regained a good deal of the witty spark and erudite cool of his collaborations with Hall…

CTI is better known for the funky grooves of artists like Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter and Deodato, but this album features mature adult jazz from Dave Brubeck’s former sideman, Paul Desmond.

It’s a lovely album, but if your pressing doesn’t have all the magic we could forgive you for not giving the music the credit it deserves. Unless your copy has a lot of energy and good amounts of richness and fullness, you probably wouldn’t give the music a second thought.

When you hear a copy like this, it’s an entirely different story. Fans of Contemporary label jazz are sure to get a lot out of this one. (more…)

Deodato / Prelude – A Brilliant Rudy Van Gelder Recording from 1973

More Recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

And Another Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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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.

Both sides are especially full and rich. The congas are present in the mix and very full-bodied — this allow them to really drive the rhythmic energy of the music. We know this because the copies with congas that were veiled or thin never seemed to get up go. The bass on these two sides was some of the best we heard as well.

The top is most often the problem with these CTI pressings. Both sides here seem to give you all the top end that was on the tape.

There is wonderful transparency and openness to the soundstage, as well as less congestion in the loudest parts. Also Sprach (2001) is on side one of the album and it is KILLER here.

Both sides are also 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. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – First Light

More Freddie Hubbard

More Jazz featuring the Trumpet

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  • This vintage pressing of First Light has outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Features an outstanding lineup including Herbie Hancock on keys, Ron Carter on bass, George Benson on guitar, Airto on percussion, and Jack DeJohnette on the drums.
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The result is a masterpiece of textured sound, gorgeously far-flung charts, sweet, tight grooves, a subtle mystic feel, and some of Hubbard’s most exciting playing ever. While Red Clay [a Better Records favorite] and Straight Life are both fine albums, First Light is the one that connects on all levels — and it did with the jazz-buying public as well. A masterpiece.”

This is more of a mainstream jazz record than Red Clay or Straight Life. Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and this pressing was one of the few in our shootout with the kind of high quality mastering that can do justice to his uniquely energetic, lightning fast jazz style. (more…)

Johnny Hammond / Wild Horses Rock Steady

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You’ll find Super Hot Stamper sound on this side one, with a side two nearly its equal, making it a Top Copy of one of our most recent CTI/Kudu “discoveries”. Who knew that so many of these CTI records were recorded so well? Does anyone in the audiophile community bother to talk about superb original pressings such as this other than us? Does music that’s currently not available on a heavy vinyl reissue simply cease to exist? I remember a time not that long ago when reviewers for the audiophile mags encouraged their readers to seek out wonderful records such as this. That time has long since passed, and more’s the pity.

With Rudy Van Gelder at the board, Bob James doing the arrangements, and supporting players such as Airto, Billy Cobham, Ron Carter (who has played on more than 2500 albums!), George Benson, Eric Gale, Grover Washington, Jr., Snooky Young and Pepper Adams, you’re sure to have another funky jazz winner on your hands.

And if you have a copy that sounds as good as this one, you definitely do!

If you love the sound of the Hammond B-3 and want to hear what somebody other than Jimmy Smith can do with it in a large group setting, this album should be right up your alley. (By the way, Smith’s Bashin’ is one of our all time favorite jazz albums, one that belongs in your collection.) (more…)

Astrud Gilberto – Gilberto With Turrentine

More Astrud Gilberto

More Bossa Nova

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  • This outstanding copy of Gilberto’s 1971 collaboration with Turrentine boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • It’s rich, warm and natural with wonderful transparency, loads of ambience and – this is key – plenty of Tubey Magic
  • Rudy Van Gelder did an outstanding job as usual engineering these 1971 sessions – his live-in-the-studio approach is tough to beat
  • “The real treasures of this album though are the outstanding arrangements by Eumir Deodato, who once again proves he is the master of this type of music. Nearly every track is full of interesting, complex, yet beautiful instrumentation. He blends mellow low strings with lots of Fender Rhodes electric piano, plenty of electric and acoustic guitar, and a wide variety of Brazilian percussion instruments.”

This vintage CTI pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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…)