Labels We Love – Original Jazz Classics (OJC)

Thelonious Monk / Brilliant Corners

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  • An outstanding copy of Brilliant Corners, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – mostly quiet vinyl too
  • Rich, full-bodied and present yet still clear and spacious – we guarantee this copy sounds better than any pressing you’ve heard, and should beat the pricey originals hands down
  • With masterful horn playing from Sonny Rollins and Clark Terry, and a rhythm section that can actually keep up with Monk – made up of Max Roach, Oscar Pettiford and Paul Chambers – this is a Must Own for any music loving audiophile
  • 5 stars: “Brilliant Corners may well be considered the alpha and omega of post-World War II American jazz. No serious jazz collection should be without it.”
  • If you’re a fan of Mister Monk, this All Tube Recording from 1957 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • 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.
  • Brilliant Corners is a good example of a record most audiophiles probably don’t know well but should.

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good a 1957 All Tube Analog recording can be, this superb copy should be just the record for you. Talk about Tubey Magic! The liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of the album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

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Standard Coltrane – If You’re Looking for the Best Sound…

More of the Music of John Coltrane

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of John Coltrane

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Better on the Right Reissue

As you may have guessed by now, remastered is a bit of a dirty word around these parts. Most remastered records we play, from The Beatles to John Coltrane to ZZ Top, sound to us like pale imitations of the real thing, whether the real thing is an original or a reissue from back in the day.

But only a fool could fail to appreciate how correct and lively the best copies of this remastered record sound, and we’re no fools here at Better Records. We judge records by one and only one criterion: how they sound. We pay no mind to labels, record thicknesses, playback speeds, mastering speeds or anything else you can read about on audiophile websites.

We’re looking for the best sound. We don’t care where it comes from.

On that basis we awarding side two of this copy the award for The Best Sound on Standard Coltrane. No other pressing of the album could do what this side two was doing. And the good news is that side one was nearly as good, making this the first and best copy to ever hit the site.

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Wes Montgomery Trio – ‘Round Midnight

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

  • This incredible 2-pack offers INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • We’ve known for many years that this is a very well recorded session – the original OJC pressing from the ’80s sounds great, but these reissues from the late ’60s seem to our ears to be even better
  • Surfaces are the problem, which explains the two pack — we can find you top quality sound, but that sound is going to be on vinyl we have no control over
  • 4 Stars: “Montgomery’s style, block chords and octaves, is already firmly in place, and he delivers lovely solos on ‘Round Midnight,’ ‘Whisper Not,’ and ‘Satin Doll. The choice of material, in fact, from classics like ‘Yesterdays’ to originals like Montgomery’s Jingles,’ never falters.

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Jackie McLean Quintet/Bill Hardman – Jackie’s Pal

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  • Dynamic, transparent, spacious and musical throughout – you won’t believe how good this Jazz Classic from 1956 sounds
  • Another top jazz recording from Rudy Van Gelder – big, bold and lively, just the right sound for this music
  • “… no one could execute complex melodic lines with the speed and precision of Bill. He was a human “bebop machine,” a player who could improvise for hours on a single chord and not run out of ideas…”

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Shelly Manne & His Men – The West Coast Sound, Vol. 1

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More Contemporary Label Jazz

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  • Killer Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Contemporary in 1956 was making some awfully good jazz records, with room-filling, natural and realistic mono sound, the kind of sound that still holds up today and doesn’t need a lot of “mastering” to do it
  • 5 stars: “The music has plenty of variety yet defines the era… Highly recommended and proof (if any is really needed) that West Coast jazz was far from bloodless.”
  • If you’re a fan of West Coast Jazz, this is a Top Title from 1956, and one that certainly belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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At Ease With Coleman Hawkins from 1960 – What to Listen For

This 1960 Saxophone Ballad session has to be seen as yet another recording triumph for Rudy Van Gelder. The best pressings of these OJC reissues from 1989 sound like the vintage jazz albums they emulate, and sometimes they even beat the originals at their own Tubey Magical game. They can be every bit as rich, sweet and spacious as their earlier-pressed brethren in our experience.

In the case of At Ease with Coleman Hawkins, we simply have never seen an original copy clean enough to buy, so we have no reference for what an original would sound like.

But, having critically auditioned literally hundreds and hundreds of vintage jazz records over the course of the last few years, we’re pretty confidant we know what they are supposed to sound like.

And they sound just like the best copies of this very pressing.

What to Listen For

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 RVG recorded in 1960, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless have to offer.

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.

More Coleman Hawkins

More recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

Potentially Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Not Very Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Dave Brubeck – Brubeck a La Mode

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • You’ll find superb sound on this very well-recorded Fantasy session from 1960
  • Wonderfully Tubey Magical and natural – this may not be an original, but it sure sounds like a good All Tube recording from 1960 should
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout with both sides playing Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they didn’t press them any quieter
  • “One of Brubeck’s three recordings of the 1959-61 period that featured clarinetist Bill Smith in the place of altoist Paul Desmond with the Quartet, this one finds Smith contributing ten originals that use various modes and unusual scales. The music generally swings and there are some fine solos…”
  • Fans of Brubeck and company should find this well recorded Fantasy title from 1960 of interest

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Jackie McLean – A Long Drink of the Blues

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  • Shockingly good All Tube Mono Recording Chain sound from 1957 courtesy of Rudy Van Gelder, and the high-rez, tonally correct and wide-bandwidth mastering brings out even the most subtle nuances of the sound of this superb sextet
  • McLean’s sax is joined on the first side by Curtis Fuller on trombone and Webster Young on Trumpet
  • 4 stars: “Although not quite as intense as McLean’s later Blue Note dates, the ballad renditions show just how mature and original a soloist he was even at this early stage.” 
  • If you’re a fan of Jackie’s, this is a Top Title from 1957 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Jackie McLean – McLean’s Scene

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One of Our Favorite Titles from 1959

  • Surprisingly rich, lively and clear, with plenty of space for this exceptional group to occupy
  • Credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder once again for capturing the swinging energy of this superbly sympathetic ensemble
  • 4 stars: “McLean never really copied Charlie Parker and was one of the first in his generation to develop his own sound.”

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.

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 transfer that vintage sound correctly onto vinyl disc was simply to thread up the tape on a high quality machine and hit play.

The fact that practically nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record these days — certainly not as good sounding as this one — 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, if not decades. (more…)

Paul Quinichette – On The Sunny Side, a Wonderful OJC Pressing from the ’80s

Here Are Some Not Very Good Sounding OJC Pressings

  • Both sides of this long out of print OJC title boast lively, big and clear Double Plus (A++) sound quality
  • With three saxophones and a trombone, this is a fresh combination that really brings out the best in all the players during this Prestige jam session, a format for which they are justly famous
  • I raved about this album when it was in print many years ago – it’s solidly swinging jazz that belongs in your collection
  • Allmusic 4 Stars: “Waldron’s three originals (highlighted by “Cool-Lypso”) allow plenty of room for swinging, and Quinichette (who also performs “On the Sunny Side of the Street”) sounds comfortable interacting with the younger musicians. An enjoyable and underrated release.”

As I wrote years ago, back in the days when we regularly sent out catalog mailings:

When we discover a record like this, a record with no reputation either in the jazz world or the audiophile world, we try to bring it to people’s attention, usually with some success. Some of my customers called me up to tell me what a great record this is.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the lively, natural, full-bodied, 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.

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music. (more…)