Labels We Love – Pablo

Passion Flower Is Clearly Better Than For Duke

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pablo Recordings

More Reviews and Commentaries for Our Favorite Pablo Recordings

This is one of the all time great Pablo sleepers.

Why is no one else writing about records like these? The music is wonderful and the sound is top drawer on the best copies. If you’ve tried and failed with other Pablo Zoot Sims records, fear not: this title is one of the best we have ever played, musically and sonically.

The ensemble is huge, probably at least a dozen pieces at any given time, and all that energy is captured on the best copies with tremendous engineering skill. The lively arrangements are by none other than Benny Carter, a man who knows his jazz. His career started in the ’20s(!) and lasted into this century if you can believe it. I consider myself fortunate to have seen him play locally when he was more than 90 years old. He stlll had it, kind of.

What to Listen For

Clarity and transients.

Thickness and fatness were common problems with Passion Flower — many copies were overly rich and somewhat opaque. It’s not necessarily a bad sound, but it becomes more and more irritating as you find yourself struggling to hear into the musical space of the studio. Smear is a problem too; many copies were lacking the transient information of the best.

In a nutshell, our Hot Stamper pressings are the most transparent copies that are tonally correct, with the least amount of smear.

forduke

Better Sound than a Direct Disc?

Musically Passion Flower is everything that For Duke isn’t, and although it may not be a Direct to Disc recording, it sure sounds better to these ears than that pricey TAS List Super Disc. The insufferably dead room For Duke was recorded in has forever ruined the album for me. I can’t stand that sound (which helps explain our aversion to Heavy Vinyl around these parts — the sound of the new remasters is consistently lacking in space, ambience and three-dimensionality).

Passion Flower was engineered by Bob Simpson at the RCA recording studios in NY, and Dennis Sands in Hollywood. These guys know a lot more about recording a large jazz ensemble than a couple of audiophiles who owned a stereo store and could record in their showroom at night and on the weekends.

Experience is surely a great teacher in this regard.

Incidentally, Dennis Sands is the engineer for one of the All Time Great Basie recordings on Pablo, Farmers Market Barbecue.


FURTHER READING

Bob Simpson Engineered Albums with Hot Stampers

Bob Simpson Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed

Dennis Sands Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed

Oscar Peterson – A Tribute To My Friends

More Oscar Peterson

  • A superb copy with Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Mastered by Joe Gastwirt at the JVC cutting center, this has the punchy, lively sound that some of the better Pablos are known for
  • The piano reproduction is especially clean, clear and lively, with solid weight down low, just the way we like it
  • 4 stars: “With the assistance of guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Martin Drew, Peterson sounds inspired on such themes as “Blueberry Hill,” “Stuffy,” “Cottontail” and even “A Tisket, a Tasket.”

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Count Basie / Kansas City 3 – For The Second Time

More Count Basie

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A KILLER piano trio recording with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this original Pablo LP
  • It’s bigger, richer, more Tubey Magical, and has more extension on both ends of the spectrum than the other copies we played
  • A different, more compact sound for Basie, joined here as he is by two of the most sympathetic sidemen in jazz: Ray Brown on bass and Louis Bellson on drums
  • “[T]he main joy of this set is hearing Basie stretch out on such numbers as ‘If I Could Be with You,’ ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ and ‘The One I Love,’ tunes he did not play much with his orchestra in this later period.”
  • Steer clear of the OJC of this title – it’s thin and opaque, the opposite of the sound you want

It’s a joy to hear Basie perform as a frontman, stretching out on tunes that were no doubt dear to him. Veterans of hundreds of sessions, Ray Brown and Louis Bellson are just as interesting as Basie, high praise. Recorded by the legendary engineer Ed Greene (Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd – Jazz Samba) — that accounts for the exceptional sound.

Naturally we pick up all the Pablo Basie titles we can get our hands on these days, having had very good luck with a great many of them. When we dropped the needle on a copy of this one a few years back we were amazed at the sound. My post-it, still on the record, reads “SUPERB DEMO DISC.” It certainly is.

This album was part of a series of smaller ensemble recordings under the heading of Kansas City that Pablo undertook with Basie later in his career. Basie had recorded a piano trio record with the same gents the year before For the First Time and must have enjoyed himself enough to give it another go.

The best copies are big and rich, and present you with a solid, weight, clear piano like few piano trio recordings you have ever heard.

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Zoot Sims / “Quietly There” – Zoot Sims Plays Johnny Mandel

More Zoot Sims

A Top Pablo Recording

  • This KILLER Pablo LP, engineered by the brilliant Allen Sides, has killer sound from start to finish – which is to be expected from this amazing engineer, responsible for recordings like 88 Basie Street
  • The overall impression one gets of this recording is BIG – big stage and full size instruments
  • This is Cinerama sound, wall to wall and floor to ceiling
  • The recording is so transparent you can clearly hear the contribution his reed makes to his sound
  • 4 stars: “… Norman Granz’s idea to match Zoot Sims’ lyrical, swinging tenor sax with Johnny Mandel’s equally arresting compositions was a masterful one. Sims’ tart, alternately lush and furious solos were wonderfully spotlighted on such tunes as “Cinnamon and Cloves,” “Emily” and “Zoot.”

This is one of the best Zoot Sims records. He plays beautifully. This melodic, smooth material is what he excels at. His breathy saxophone style will remind you of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. This recording captures that sound perfectly.

The other Must-Own Zoot Sims record is Passion Flower, also on Pablo. If you see one, grab it. Amazing audiophile quality sound.

Note the length of the tunes on this album. The first side has two 7+ minute long explorations and on side two 2 songs clock in at 6 minutes and the ballad Emily at more than 9 minutes. Cinnamon & Cloves is probably my favorite track on the album. Zoot plays samba as well as Stan Getz — he’s just not as famous for it.

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Duke Ellington – Duke’s Big 4

More Duke Ellington

More Pablo LPs

  • An outstanding Pablo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from the first note to the last
  • Both sides here are clean, clear, full-bodied and present with plenty of bottom end weight
  • “One of Duke Ellington’s finest small group sessions from his final decade… [his] percussive style always sounded modern and he comes up with consistently strong solos on such numbers as “Love You Madly,” “The Hawk Talks” and especially “Cotton Tail,” easily keeping up with his younger sidemen. Highly recommended.”

It’s incredibly hard to find a Pablo recording of the Duke from this era that has such big, open, clear, solid sound. Val Valentin did the engineering, and as he has so often did the course of his storied career, he knocked it out of the park.

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Benny Carter / Meets Oscar Peterson – A Pablo We Liked Back in the Day

We used to like this record back in the day. Have not played it in 15 years so it’s hard to say what we would think of it now. Probably still pretty good, somewhere in the B range.

“Benny Carter had recorded with pianist Oscar Peterson back in the early ’50s for Norman Granz’s Verve label. More than 30 years, later he teamed up with Peterson again, this time for Granz’s Pablo company. There was no sign of decline or disillusionment in either of the co-leaders’ playing; in fact, if anything, they had improved with age. Joined by guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Dave Young and drummer Martin Drew, Carter and Peterson are both in a joyous mood and in typically swinging form on six standards and a blues.” — AMG (more…)

Count Basie – 88 Basie Street

  • With KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last, this copy was getting the sound of this big band right
  • This is a Top Basie Big Band title in every way — musically, sonically, you name it, 88 Basie Street has got it going on!
  • With 18 pieces in the studio this is a real powerhouse – the sound is is rich, full and HUGE
  • 4 stars: “One of Basie’s final albums, the very appealing title cut seems to sum up his career, a lightly swinging groove with a strong melody. Two small-group performances with guest Joe Pass on guitar add variety to a particularly strong set.”
  • If you’re a Count Basie fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1983 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1980 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This album can be a real powerhouse — if you have the right copy — and this killer pressing can show you just how lively and dynamic this music can be. It’s a true Demo Disc, no doubt about it.

Both sides here have real strength down low, nice extension up top, and incredible clarity and transparency. Play this one good and loud and put yourself front and center for a rip-roarin’ performance led by the king Bill (The Count) Basie.

We’ve become huge fans of these Basie Big Band records. Allen Sides knew just how to record this stuff by the time Basie came around to Pablo — on the best pressings you can hear that this is big band music recorded just right. The sound is clean and clear with excellent transparency and the kind of separation between the instruments that lets you appreciate the contributions of each player. (more…)

Oscar Peterson + Harry Edison + Eddie Cleanhead Vinson – Not As Good As We Thought, Sorry!

Hot Stamper Pablo Recordings Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pablo Recordings

The last time I played this album in preparation for a new shootout, which was some time in early 2020, I was not thrilled with either the sound or the music.

I found the lack of ambience and overall artificiality of the recording not to my liking. In the old days — the review below was probably from the early 2000s — my system was not remotely as good as it is now. I can play the space in a recording much better than I could then, and the lack of natural space now bothers me no end, when before it usually did not.

Live and Learn we say!

Many of Allen Sides‘ recordings suffer from a lack of ambience. The musicians do not seem to have much air around them to breathe. Many audiophile recordings, especially direct to disc recordings from the ’70s, are insufferable in this respect, with too much multi-miking and not enough studio space.

A good example of how some audiophiles with modern high-tech recording equipment but little in the way of experience or understanding end up producing records that are not remotely the equal of those that were commonly made twenty years before is this Bach recording by Virgil Fox for Crystal Clear.

Other records that are good for testing Ambience, Size and Space can be found all over this blog.

Two of the Worst

Of course, some of the most ambience-challenged records available today are on Heavy Vinyl. I could link to a hundred of them, but here are two that should get the point across well enough.

This album on DCC, like much of their dubious output, has very little of the breathing space of the vintage pressings we sell.

And the disgraceful label that released this title can be relied upon to press records that no audiophile with a decent stereo and two working ears should want anything to do with.

Our Old Review

Take the following review from decades ago with a very large grain of salt and don’t pay too much for this album if you see one around.

This is a long out of print Pablo LP with AMAZING sound and music. It’s one of those superb Allan Sides engineered recordings at Ocean Way, like Basie 88 Street. Demo disc quality sound is the result! With players like these, the music is every bit as good as any jazz record I know of. In other words, I really like this album.

Oscar Peterson – If You Could See Me Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Oscar Peterson

A Top Pablo Recording

This is a SUPERB set from Oscar Peterson’s sometimes underwhelming Pablo period. This one is from 1986 and includes the estimable Joe Pass on guitar.

Side one has the kind of sound one associates with late-’70s jazz, jazz that often seems to be recorded in dead studios.

Side two sounds much better somehow — more clear, present and lively.

The liner notes tell us it’s the same studio, even the same day, but there is simply no mistaking the better sound quality. Such are the vagaries of the vinyl record.

If you’re in the market for a top quality Oscar Peterson piano trio recording (with bonus guitar), this side two should be just the ticket.

Milt Jackson / Joe Pass / Ray Brown – The Big 3

More Milt Jackson

More Joe Pass

  • A superb sounding Pablo recording from 1976 – this copy gives you outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or better from start to finish  
  • We found the sound superb, but even better is the fact that with only three instruments – vibes, guitar (Joe Pass) and bass (Ray Brown) – each of the players has plenty of room to stretch out and have fun with the tunes
  • 5 Stars: “The colorful repertoire — ranging from “The Pink Panther” and “Blue Bossa” to “Nuages” and “Come Sunday” — acts as a device for the musicians to construct some brilliant bop-based solos.”

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