Masterpieces of Jazz

The Poll Winners – Straight Ahead

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More Ray Brown

More Barney Kessel

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  • This superb collaboration has KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Musically, this is by far our favorite Poll Winners record – these guys got back together after 15 years and were eager to prove that they still had their youthful exuberance, and even better chops, which they did have and did prove!
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Kessel in particular is heard in excellent form… Overall this is the best all-around recording by The Poll Winners and is easily recommended to bop fans.”

These guys play with more spunk here than on any other album of theirs I’ve heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around, mentioning that Roy DuNann had lost none of his engineering skills in the intervening years either.

This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best. You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up. (more…)

The Best Jazz Record Ever Made, or the Best Jazz Record We’ve Ever Played?

Reviews and Commentaries for Somethin’ Else

I ran across this listing for Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else today, a record we raved about after doing a shootout for it years ago. Notice the careful hedging in the phrases with newly added italics:

The music here is amazing — as I’m sure most of you know, this is as much a showcase for Miles Davis as it is for Cannonball himself — but the good news for audiophiles is that it’s also one of the BEST SOUNDING BLUE NOTE ALBUMS we know of. When you hear it on a copy like this, it’s just about As Good As It Gets.

After doing this shootout in 2015 I would like to amend the above remarks for being much too conservative. The current consensus here at Better Records is that this album deserves to hold three — count ’em, three — somewhat related titles:

One, The Best Sounding Blue Note record we have ever played.

Two, The Best Sounding Jazz Record we have ever played.

Three, Rudy Van Gelder’s Best Engineering (based on the copies we played).

Our shootout winners had more energy, presence, dynamics and three-dimensional studio space than any jazz recording we have ever heard. The sound was as BIG and BOLD as anything in our audio experience.

Add to that a perfectly balanced mix, with tonality that’s correct from top to bottom for every instrument in the soundfield and you may begin to see why we feel that the best copies of this album set a standard that no other jazz record we’re aware of can meet.

Have we played every Blue Note, every RVG recording, every jazz record?

Of course not. We would never make such a claim.

All Well and Good, But Bear This in Mind

In our defense, who could possibly claim to have critically evaluated the sound of more jazz records than we have?

There are multitudes of music experts in the world of jazz. For jazz sound quality the numbers must surely be orders of magnitude smaller, and here is where we’re [pretty sure we have more than a few critically valuable advantages, to wit:

  • better playback equipment,
  • better record cleaning technologies,
  • stacks of pressings of the same title,
  • a scientifically blinded approach and, most importantly of all,
  • a single-minded purpose. 

All our efforts are in service to only one end, to find the pressing with the ultimate in analog sound.

(Naturally we leave the sound of CDs and other digital formats to others. Although CDs often outperform their modern Heavy Vinyl pressing equivalent — here is a case in point — we know our lane and and are happy to stay within it.) (more…)

Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery – The Dynamic Duo

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More Wes Montgomery

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  • KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it on both sides, this is a wonderful vintage stereo pressing of a classic jazz collaboration from 1966
  • Big, rich and lively, thanks to Oliver Nelson’s arrangements (and RVG’s engineering), this big group of top players is having a blast and we think you will too
  • 5 stars: “The romping, aggressive big band charts [represent] Oliver Nelson at his best… The results are incendiary — a near-ideal meeting of yin and yang… They are an amazing pair, complementing each other, driving each other, using their bop and blues taproots to fuse together a sound.”

The sound of this Verve stereo pressing is tonally correct and natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. So high-resolution too. If you love ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. (more…)

Al Dimeola / Elegant Gypsy – Di Meola’s Masterpiece

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More Jazz Rock Fusion

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  • One of the best copies of this phenomenal Fusion Guitar Jazz Classic to ever hit the site — Triple Plus (A+++) throughout
  • Both sides are incredibly lively, full-bodied, open and present — the sound is HUGE and WEIGHTY and it rocks
  • 5 stars: “Generally an explosive affair, although it does have a fair amount of variety. A near classic in the fusion vein.”

SHOCKINGLY GOOD SOUND for one of the all-time great guitar albums! We were positively BLOWN AWAY by how lively, dynamic and full-bodied this copy sounds. There’s real texture to all the instruments and the bottom end is tight and punchy beyond belief. They just don’t make records with this kind of Tubey Analog Magic anymore.

If you’ve enjoyed the sonics on one of our Hot Stamper pressings of Return To Forever, Weather Report or Santana, I think you’ll find a lot to like about this record.

This album still holds up today. The All Music Guide gives it five big stars, and on a copy like this one I bet you’ll rate the music just as highly. When you have a pressing with this kind of weight, power, clarity and transparency, you can easily appreciate just how amazing the musicianship is. (more…)

Mose Allison – Mose Alive!

More Piano Jazz

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  • An outstanding copy of this wonderful live album, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • This copy is full-bodied and natural, with a nicely extended top end, plenty of space around the instruments, and relatively few of the problems that plague many of the pressings we played
  • “Allison was one of the finest songwriters in blues of the 20th and early 21st centuries.” – All Music Bio

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Laurindo Almeida – Virtuoso Guitar

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

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  • Virtuoso Guitar finally returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last
  • Some of the most tubey, warm acoustic guitar sound you could ever ask for – this is the sound of real analog
  • It has the kind of sound I prefer, with none of the razor sharpness that you get on some direct to disc recordings
  • This is one of the best Almeida albums I know of and probably the best Crystal Clear title (which I know isn’t saying much)

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Sonny Rollins – Way Out West

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Reviews and Commentaries for Way Out West

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  • A stunning copy of Way Out West with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • This stereo pressing has superb 1957 Contemporary sound – big, open and natural throughout
  • The sax is so smooth and tubey it will have you drooling
  • One of our favorite Rollins records – one listen to this copy and you will know exactly why we love the recordings of Roy DuNann
  • 5 stars: “The timeless Way out West established Sonny Rollins as jazz’s top tenor saxophonist”

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Art Pepper – Meets The Rhythm Section

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  • You’ll find very good Hot Stamper sound on both sides of this wonderful pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear this wonderful album sound the way it is supposed to, a Hot Stamper pressing like this one is the way to go
  • Widely considered Art Pepper’s masterpiece and we couldn’t agree more
  • 5 stars: “… this recording convinced [Pepper] that emotion was the paramount impulse of jazz performance… a diamond of recorded jazz history.”

Many consider this to be the best record Art Pepper ever made, along with Art Pepper + Eleven, and I agree completely. Recorded in 1957 (the same year Way Out West was recorded) by the legendary Roy DuNann, the sound is absolutely wonderful.

The best pressings have all the Tubey Magic of the best black label originals, without their even worse vinyl and bloated bass. We get black label original Contemporary pressings in from time to time, but few of them are mastered right and most never make it to the site.

Some are pure muck. Some have bloated bass that is hard to believe. Don’t buy into that record collecting slash audiophile canard that Original Equals Better. That’s pure BS. It just doesn’t work that way, and anyone with two good ears, two good speakers and a decent-sized record collection should know better. (more…)

Deodato / Prelude – Our Shootout Winner from 2017

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Yet 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…)

The Monty Alexander 7 / Jamento – Listening for Speed and Smear

What to Listen For – Smear

What to Listen For – Speed

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Clear piano notes, first and foremost. Any smear or loss of speed (a problem with hi-fi equipment since the beginning of time) detracts from the fun. 

Next, the tonality of the best copies is rich and solid; accept nothing less.

And, finally, the proper reproduction of the percussion instruments is critically important to the energy and drive of the music. The better you hear them — without losing the weight and richness of the piano — the more you will enjoy your copy of the record.

No two copies will reproduce all these elements equally well. On high quality equipment with the volume turned up good and loud the winners are easily separated from the losers. (more…)