Labels We Love – Original Jazz Classics (OJC)

Modern Jazz Quartet – Django

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from top to bottom
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • 4 stars: “The MJQ maneuver with unquestionable grace, alternately supporting and soloing, each taking the reigns as the others construct their contributions around the respective soloist… it is hard to exceed the variety of styles and performances gathered on Django.”

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Chet Baker – Chet

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Trumpet

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • This wonderful album of ballads has Mile Davis’ rhythm section supporting Chet and other greats such as Kenny Burrell and Bill Evans
  • These guys are playing live in the studio and, on a copy that sounds this clear, you can really feel their presence on every track
  • This Chet Baker record belongs in any serious jazz collection, and for you audiophiles out there, prepare to be shocked when you play this copy against your Heavy Vinyl pressing
  • “…this Riverside issue captures the gifted but troubled trumpeter at his best. It might even qualify as Baker’s most satisfying and representative recording.”

Chet is one of the best sounding Chet Baker records we’ve ever played, although that’s not saying much because finding good Chet Baker records is like finding hen’s teeth these days.

The albums he did for Pacific Jazz in the ’50s can be wonderful but few have survived in audiophile playing condition.

The Mariachi Brass albums are as awful as everyone says — we know, we too have played them. The album he recorded for CTI in 1974, She Was Too Good To Me, is excellent and will be coming to the site again soon I hope.

We’d never heard the record sound better than in our most recent shootout, and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing the album since it was first reissued in the ’80s.

The less said about the awful Doug Sax remastering for Analogue Productions in the mid-’90s the better. What a murky piece of crap that was. Audiophile reviewers may have been impressed, but even way back then we knew a bad sounding record when we played one, and that pressing was very bad indeed.

One further note: the Heavy Vinyl pressings being made today, twenty-five years later, have a similar suite of shortcomings, sounding every bit as bad if not worse, and fooling the same audiophile reviewers and their followers to this very day. Nothing has changed, other than we have come along to offer the discriminating audiophile an alternative to the muddy messes these labels have been churning out. (more…)

Benny Golson – Groovin’ with Golson

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More Recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

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  • Benny Golson makes his debut on the site with this STUNNING pressing of his 1959 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides show off Rudy Van Gelder’s engineering chops to full effect – they’re big, full-bodied and lively, with good studio space around all the players
  • “In this ’59 session, he stretches out on some simple blues patterns and one standard ballad. It’s all done at a swinging tempo that allows Fuller to shine on trombone with near perfect solos; the underrated Ray Bryant adds his impeccable piano touch (he’s as great as Kelly or Clark); Paul Chambers was never better on bass than here, both as accompanist and soloist; and the irrepressible drummer, Art Blakey, makes the whole session sparkle. Backed by this band, Golson is as smooth as butter in tone, and as dazzling in his virtuosity as any tenor player of the times.”

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Coleman Hawkins – Hawk Eyes

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This Saxophone Ballad session from 1960 has to be seen as yet another recording triumph for Rudy Van Gelder  

The best pressings of these OJC and Prestige reissues from the ’70s and ’80s 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 Hawk Eyes we simply have never seen an original copy clean enough to buy, so we have no reference for what an original would sound like.

That said, 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. (more…)

Bill Evans Moon Beams – Superb on the Right OJC Pressing

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this is one of the better copies of Bill Evans’ 1962 classic to ever hit the site
  • Full-bodied and warm, exactly the way vintage analog should sound, yet as clear and as open as any pressing you’ve heard (or your money back)
  • The first album Evans recorded after Scott LaFaro’s death and it is deeply immersive experience
  • Allmusic raves it’s “…so well paced and sequenced the record feels like a dream … Moonbeams was a startling return to the recording sphere and a major advancement in his development as a leader.”
  • Great sound for this rockin’ soul album with two live tracks. Just listen to the drums on Black-Eyed Blues — the way the percussion and bass mingle sonically with Alan White’s skins takes this listener right into the room where the magic happened.

Moon Beams is one of the best sounding Bill Evans records we’ve ever played. You can see why we chose it to be the first OJC Hot Stamper of his to hit the site back in 2015. Play It Might As Well Be Spring for the kind of sublime musical experience you only find on 20th century analog. (more…)

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

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  • 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…)

Jackie McLean – McLean’s Scene

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  • McLean’s 1959 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – exceptionally quiet vinyl for the most part as well
  • 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.”

*NOTE: A mark makes 2 moderately light stitches during the intro and one moderate stitch near the end of track 1, Gone With The Wind. There is nothing to fault in the sound of side one of this pressing , and side two was nearly as good – what a record!

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…)

Jackie McLean – 4, 5 and 6

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  • Outstanding sound throughout for this Prestige/OJC pressing with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Shockingly good All Tube Mono sound from 1956 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 these superbs groups of four, five and six players
  • 4 stars: “4, 5 and 6 presents McLean’s quartet on half the date, and tunes with an expanded quintet, and one sextet track — thus the title… [it] does foreshadow the future of McLean as an innovative musician in an all-too-purist mainstream jazz world.”

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Jackie McLean Quintet/Bill Hardman – Jackie’s Pal

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  • A superb copy of Jackie’s Pal with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too, with a true Mint Minus side one
  • 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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Art Pepper / Today – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

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[This commentary was written many years ago.]

 

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it had been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn’s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies. When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second. Of all the people who should know better…