Masterworks of Jazz

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

  • Outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this Black Label original on vinyl that’s about as quiet as they ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is a Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • It’s also our favorite jazz piano performance by Andre Previn on record
  • Only a handful of copies of this title have made it on the site in the last few years – finding them in audiophile condition is getting harder (and more expensive) than ever these days
  • “Previn’s piano is the lead voice and his virtuosity, good taste, melodic improvising, and solid sense of swing are chiefly responsible for the music’s success.”

I have a very long history with this album, going back decades. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP (I sold off the old one years ago) but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was.

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Oscar Peterson Trio – West Side Story

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A vintage Verve stereo pressing with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them throughout
  • Rich, solid bass; you-are-there immediacy; energy and drive; instruments that are positively jumping out of the speakers – add it all up and you can see that this copy had the sound we were looking for
  • Which wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t swingin,’ but it is – every track shows just how good this trio was in 1962
  • Credit engineer Bob Simpson, the man behind the legendary Belafonte at Carnegie Hall live recording from a couple of years before
  • An absolute Must Own – for sound and music, this is our pick for The Best Oscar Peterson Album of All Time

This album checks off a number of important boxes for us here at Better Records:

  1. It’s a Jazz Demo Disc (on the right stereo pressings)
  2. It’s the Best Sounding Oscar Peterson album we know of
  3. It’s a Jazz Masterpiece, and, lastly,
  4. It’s a Personal Favorite of yours truly

I’ve known this was a well-recorded album since I first heard the DCC gold CD back in the ’90s. It sounded great to me at the time — I had nothing to compare it to — but it sure didn’t sound like this. (more…)

Phineas Newborn, Jr. – A World of Piano!

More Phineas Newborn, Jr.

More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • This copy of Newborn’s first album for Contemporary boasts seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the most musically impressive jazz piano recordings we’ve played in years – Newborn’s improvisational skills are operating at a very high level
  • The team of Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer insure that everything you want in an Audiophile Quality piano trio recording is here
  • If you don’t have any Phineas Newborn albums in your collection, this is definitely the place to start
  • 5 stars: “Phineas Newborn’s Contemporary debut (he would record six albums over a 15-year period for the label) was made just before physical problems began to interrupt his career…. He performs five jazz standards and three obscurities by jazz composers on this superb recital…”

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Hampton Hawes / At The Piano

  • A huge, rich and natural Contemporary pressing boasting excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • This is the last record Hawes made, and it’s one of the most deeply emotional and satisfying albums of his entire career – it may even be his best, and for a man of his talents, that’s really saying something
  • “Hampton Hawes’ final recording found him returning not only to the acoustic piano after having dabbled in electric keyboards from 1972-74, but to producer Lester Koenig and his Contemporary label, where Hawes recorded most of his classic gems of the 1950s… Teamed up with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, Hawes shows that he was still in prime form.”
  • 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. Hampton Hawes last album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

This is my favorite Hampton Hawes record of all time. He died less than a year after these sessions. Looking at the cover, you can almost see in his face his acceptance of the end he knew was coming. He plays with deep emotion here.

Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, the same rhythm section who back Joe Sample on my all-time favorite piano trio album, The Three, accompany Hawes beautifully here.
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Benny Carter – Jazz Giant

More of the Music of Benny Carter

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

  • Both sides of this superb Contemporary reissue earned excellent Double Plus (A++) sonic grades
  • If you still think that Analogue Productions is remastering records properly, you have definitely never heard a real Contemporary that sounds as good as this one does
  • The music of this Jazz Giant comes alive on this copy, with space, size, clarity and richness that few other pressings can match
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Benny Carter had already been a major jazz musician for nearly 30 years when he recorded this particularly strong septet session for Contemporary … This timeless music is beyond the simple categories of ‘swing’ or ‘bop’ and should just be called ‘classic.'”

If you like the sound of Contemporary Records, you won’t find a better example than this. Midrange magic doesn’t get anymore magical.

It’s been several years since our last shootout, but we hope the lucky buyer of this copy realizes it was more than worth it. To find a copy of Jazz Giant that sounds as good as this one is a very special event indeed.

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Weather Report – Heavy Weather

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More Fusion Jazz

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish, you will not believe how BIG and BOLD this copy is
  • Birdland on this pressing has some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl
  • Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius are both here and at the absolute peak of their creative powers – this is a work of GENIUS
  • 5 stars: ”Birdland’ is a remarkable bit of record-making, a unified, ever-developing piece of music that evokes, without in any way imitating, a joyous evening on 52nd St. with a big band.”
  • 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. Weather Report’s seventh (!) album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

The hottest of the hot stamper pressings demonstrate that this is a truly amazing recording, with some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl. The grit, grain and grunge of most pressings is nowhere to be found on these killer sides, and that alone puts them in a very special league indeed. (more…)

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um

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More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • Don’t let the Columbia Red Label scare you off – this pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Most of the later pressings sound as bad as you would expect, but if you know your stamper numbers, gems like this one will come your way eventually
  • A superb 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer)
  • The rich, sweet, spacious sound of the vintage tubes used to record the session is reproduced faithfully here – without that sound, it would just not be Ah Um
  • 5 stars: “Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners… Mingus’ compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um”

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Vince Guaraldi – Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus

Reviews and Commentaries for Vince Guaraldi

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • An outstanding copy of this classic audiophile favorite with Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – fairly quiet for a vintage vinyl pressing on Fantasy Deep Groove vinyl too
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, yet big and lively, with such wonderful clarity in the mids and highs
  • Sublime, practically magical jazz trio sound (and music!) that belongs in every audiophile’s collection
  • If you made the mistake of buying any pressing made in the last forty years, on any label, here is your chance to finally hear this wonderful music sound the way it was meant to
  • And if this strikes you as too much money to spend on the album, don’t buy an LP, buy Hoffmann’s Gold CD, it’s wonderful
  • 5 stars: “Here is Vince Guaraldi’s breakthrough album — musically, commercially, in every which way… The whole album evokes the ambience of San Francisco’s jazz life in the 1960s as few others do.”

Great energy for this jazz classic. This quality cannot be emphasized enough — it’s critically important to the music.

The best copies really get the bottom right. They bring out the contribution of the bass player better, the bass being essential to the rhythm of the music. On these pressings, the bass is so tight and note-like, you can see right into the soundstage and practically watch Monte Budwig play.

This is precisely where the 45 RPM pressing goes off the rails. The bloated, much-too-heavy and poorly-defined bass of the Heavy Vinyl remaster makes a mess of the Brazillian and African rhythms inherent in the music. If you own that $50 waste of money, believe me, you will not be tapping your foot to “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” or “Manha de Carnival.”

If you happen to have a friend with that title in his collection, ask to take a peek at it. I’ll bet it’s pristine. Bad records don’t get played much. Some audiophiles have complained that we spend too much time bashing Heavy Vinyl, but if ever a record deserved it, it’s that one. It’s a failure as a remastering and an insult to the analog buying audiophile public at large. Searching the web, I am glad to see that no one seems to have anything nice to say about it, as of this writing. No one should, but that has not deterred the reviewers and forum posters in the past.

The piano is solid, mostly clear and not hard. Not many copies present the piano this way — correctly in other words. The amazing snare of Colin Bailey in the right channel is LIVELY and fun like you’ve never heard before.

There is no sacrifice in fullness, richness or Tubey Magic in the presentation, and that is the right sound for this music.

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Gene Ammons – Blue Gene

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

  • This wonderful Prestige jazz classic boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the best sounding Ammons records we know of – it’s huge, rich and Tubey Magical, with a solid bottom end and bluesy jazz energy like no other
  • Clean and clear and open are nice qualities to have, but rich and full are harder to come by on this record – this pressing has it all
  • “Some ballad performances in his oeuvre are a testament to an exceptional sense of intonation and melodic symmetry, powerful lyrical expressiveness, and mastery both of the blues and the bebop vernacular that can now be described as, in its own way, ‘classical.'”

For us audiophiles, both the sound and the music here are wonderful. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good a 1958 All Tube Analog recording by Rudy Van Gelder on Prestige can sound, this killer copy will do the trick.

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Shelly Manne and His Friends – My Fair Lady on the Black Label

  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start – a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • Here is the proof that this is an Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, which is saying a lot, considering how many great recordings this label can claim
  • Recorded entirely in one session, this album was the first jazz recording using only songs from a Broadway musical
  • 5 stars: “This trio set by Shelly Manne & His Friends… was a surprise best-seller and is now considered a classic…The result is a very appealing set that is easily recommended.”

This vintage Contemporary Stereo LP from has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND.

It’s all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. It’s pretty much everything you want in a recording from this era.

How can you beat a Roy DuNann piano trio recording? The timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off.

This Shelly Manne album marries Jazz with Broadway in an unexpected, yet sublime union.

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