Older Reviews – Jazz

In 2005, I Fell Into a Common Audiophile Trap – This Is the Album that Helped Me Find My Way Out

Reviews and Commentaries for Michel Legrand

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This 2005 commentary discusses how easy it is to be fooled by tweaks that seem to offer more transparency and detail at the expense of weight and heft.

The brass on this wonderful Six Eye Mono pressing of the album set me straight. [Since that time I have not been able to find mono pressings that sounded as good as I remember this one sounding. That sh*t happens.]

I was playing this record today (5/24/05) after having made some changes in my stereo over the weekend, and I noticed some things didn’t sound quite right. Knowing that this is an exceptionally good sounding record, albeit a very challenging one, I started playing around with the stereo, trying to recapture the sound as I remembered it from the last copy that had come in a few months back.

As I tweaked and untweaked the system around this record I could hear immediately what was better and what was worse, what was more musical and what was more Hi-Fi. The track I was playing was Night In Tunisia, which has practically every brass instrument known to man, in every combination one can imagine. Since this is a Mono pressing I didn’t have to worry about silly issues like soundstaging, which can be very deceptive. I was concerned with tonality and the overall presentation of the various elements in the recording.

To make a long story short, I ended up undoing all the things that I had done to the system over the weekend! In other words, what improvements I thought I had made turned out not to be improvements at all. And this is the album that showed me the error of my ways.

Brass instruments are some of the most difficult to reproduce, especially brass choirs. You have to get the leading edges so that the instruments have “bite”. You can’t have too much harmonic distortion or smearing, because harmonic distortion and smearing are very obvious on brass instruments.

But the one thing above all that is intolerable when trying to reproduce brass is a lack of weight or heft. There is nothing worse than thin sounding brass. It becomes hard, shrill, sour and altogether unpleasant. This is another reason why I don’t like small speakers: they have trouble reproducing the weight of brass instruments, in both jazz and classical music. (more…)

Harry Edison – ’S Wonderful

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This date features a couple of my personal favorite all-stars: Shelly Manne and Zoot Sims. Together with Edison they whip up quite a storm, ably supported by Monty Budwig on bass and Mike Wofford on piano.  

AMG  Review

This out-of-print Pablo LP (which will certainly be reissued on CD in the future) is from the later days of the label. Trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison was just beginning to fade around this period but he still sounds in fine form, teamed up wtih Zoot Sims (who plays tenor on three and soprano on one of the six selections), pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Shelly Manne. They perform the leader’s “Elegante” plus five standards with the highlights including “Centerpiece” (Sweets’ famous blues line) and “Sunday.” Fine swinging mainstream jazz.

The Crusaders / Chain Reaction – MoFi Reviewed

More of The Crusaders

More Jazz Fusion

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This is a Mobile Fidelity LP with relatively good sound. We did a mini-shootout many years ago and this copy apparently killed the competition. 

However…

When you play the MoFi against an actual honest-to-goodness properly mastered and pressed vintage LP – we call them Hot Stampers – the audiophile version of the album reeks of phony top end EQ, compression and sloppy bass.

Of course, what half-speed mastered record doesn’t?


FURTHER READING

The best place to start is here:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

(more…)

Joe Sample / Rainbow Seeker – Live and Learn

A classic case of Live and Learn

Reviews and Commentaries for Mobile Fidelity Records

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[This commentary is about fifteen years old.]

Hot Stampers discovered! It took years, decades even, but it FINALLY happened. This copy has a side one with all the sound I always knew must be on the tape but somehow never seemed to make it to the vinyl. This copy has that sound!

Let me backtrack a bit. I’ve been recommending the MOFI for as long as I can remember, because it has always been the only copy that didn’t sound like a bad cassette. The domestic pressings and imports I had run into over the years had no top end whatsoever, no bass below 50 or 60 cycles, and enough veils over the midrange to cover an entire harem. The sound was Pure Compressed Cardboard.

The best MOFI copies had an actual top end; a real bottom too. (Not a tight or deep one but that’s MOFI for you.) I’ve always loved the music, so even though the sound was somewhat washed out and lifeless, you could listen to the MOFI and enjoy it for what it was: not perfect, but a whole lot better than the alternatives. (The CD was hopeless by the way, no surprise there.)

Ah, but all that changed this week. I had just picked up a sealed original copy at a local store and was considering putting it up on the site, sealed of course. Then a thought went through my mind. I’ve always loved this record. What if this copy is The One? So I did the unthinkable. I cracked it open, and soon enough the needle was in the groove on my favorite track, Fly With Wings of Love. To my surprise it had the BEST SOUND I had EVER heard for that song. When all was said and done, when all the copies in the backroom had been disc doctored, along with my three MOFI copies, and each carefully evaluated, sure enough this is the side two that turned out to be the King. I give it an A with Two Pluses. The typical domestic copy gets an F.

Wait, there’s more. So with all our copies cleaned and ready to play, it was now time to play all the side ones. Even more shocking and surprising, one copy had a side one that was OUT OF THIS WORLD. Master tape sound, As Good As It Gets, perfection.

That’s this copy. Side two is pretty good, maybe a B+ or so. Better than average, but no Hot Stamper.

Since this is one of my favorite pop-jazz albums, if not my actual all time favorite, I can’t recommend this album highly enough. It may not be deep — for real piano trio jazz check out Sample’s The Three — but it’s not trying to be. It is what it is — sophisticated, melodic, well-crafted piano-based easy-going jazz. With the awesome Eric Gale on guitar too!


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

The best place to start is here:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

(more…)

Sonny Rollins – The Sound of Sonny – Reviewed in 2007

Riverside White and Blue original 2 Mic Label Mono LP. Side one sounds like a typical old Riverside jazz record, but side two sounds EXCELLENT! I don’t know when I’ve heard an early Sonny Rollins record sound better. His horn is really full-bodied and dynamic and has amazing IMMEDIACY on some tracks. It makes side one sound sick in comparison.

The surfaces for old jazz records are always the problem. This one plays M– to EX++ and has some groove damage in the inner grooves — nothing too serious, but it’s definitely there. We played all the marks and only a few of them repeat, and not for long. I’ve never seen a clean quiet copy of a record like this in my life. I’m sure they exist, but I don’t come across them, at any price.  (more…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming

More Wes Montgomery

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  • This excellent Wes Montgomery title returns to the site for the first time in two years with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side two
  • Both sides here are OUT OF THIS WORLD, incredibly big, bold, clear, rich and dynamic – this is DEMO DISC Quality Big Production Guitar-led Jazz
  • Credit goes to Rudy Van Gelder once again for the huge space that the superbly well-recorded group occupies
  • Forget the critics, this is one of Wes’s Best Albums of All Time I tell you!

This White Hot Stamper has the REAL Wes Montgomery/ Creed Taylor/ Rudy Van Gelder MAGIC in its grooves. You will not believe how big, rich and full-bodied this pressing is. Since this is one of Wes’s best albums, hearing this incredible White Hot copy was a THRILL for us and we’re sure it will be as big a thrill for you too.

As Good As It Gets Sound

So natural, transparent and clear. Listen to all the space around the guitar. (On the Cisco you might hear 20% of that space. That’s Heavy Vinyl for you. What a load of crap.)

Beware any and all imitations (even the one I used to like somewhat, the Cisco version). They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way this pressing does. This White Hot Stamper exhibits huge amounts of ambience and spaciousness, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have. (more…)

Art Pepper / Intensity – Thoughts on One of the Most Dynamic Contemporary Recordings

More Art Pepper

A Classic Case of Audio Progress

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[This commentary was written in 2008.]

Intensity is right — this is some SERIOUSLY GOOD SOUNDING alto saxophone led quartet jazz. AMG was right to give this one 4 1/2 stars — the musicianship is top notch and Pepper’s playing is INSPIRED throughout. 

The real surprise was how well recorded this album from 1963 is. I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his playing.

(Pepper was famous for saying that his playing is best when he just plays whatever he feels in the moment, and this record is the best kind of evidence for the truth of that claim.)

Of course, since this is a Roy Dunann recording, all the tubey magical richness and sweetness are here as well, but what is surprising is how transparent, spacious and clear the sound is. Some of Roy’s recordings can sound a bit dead (recording in your stockroom is not always the best for spaciousness) and sometimes are a bit thick as well. Not so here. But it should be pointed out that we liked what we heard from a previous shootout too.

Last time around we wrote:

This record has superb sound: you can actually hear the keys clacking on the man’s alto. And that sort of detail does not come at the expense of phony brightness as it would with your typical audiophile recording. The tonality of the sax, drums, and bass are right on the money, exactly the way we expect Roy DuNann’s recording to be.

This time around we got more extension out of the cymbals. Either these copies are better, were cleaned better, or were helped quite a bit by our new Townshend SuperTweeters. (Probably the last two more than the first one.) (more…)

Ben Webster And ’Sweets’ Edison – Reviewed in 2007

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This is a Minty looking Columbia 360 Label LP.

As good as the now out of print Classic Records version was, my guess is that this pressing will be clearly superior in terms of warmth, richness, and sweetness. It’s been years since I’ve seen a copy of this album, but I remember liking it very much back in the days when the Classic version was in print.

I’ve also had a chance to go back and listen to lots of early Columbias like this one and I have been extremely impressed with the naturalness of the sound. I picked up a copy of Time Out recently that was as good as it gets on side one. No heavy vinyl reissue ever sounded like that! (more…)

Eric Dolphy – Copenhagen Concert

More Eric Dolphy

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  • Dolphy’s superb 1961 live release returns to the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, and wonderfully natural, this is the sound we love here at Better Records
  • I’ve known about Dolphy’s legendary Copenhagen Concert for close to thirty years. When an audiophile hears a bass clarinet reproduced the way it is on this record, he is very unlikely to forget it
  • Dolphy stretches out on the flute and the bass clarinet as well as his alto sax here
  • “Eric Dolphy’s tour of Europe is one of the best documented periods of his much-too-short career… a must for Dolphy collectors.”

Rarely have I heard a string bass sound better than it does here. The flute is equally gorgeous. They could record a live jazz concert this well in 1961? Apparently.

The sound of the bass clarinet is so real it will take your breath away. No pop or rock record has this kind of fidelity, ever. The resolution is amazing, you can hear the keys clacking away as he plays. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Selections From Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 and 2

More Duke Ellington

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  • This superb copy of Duke Ellington’s 1961 release boasts Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) from top to bottom – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • The sound is gloriously ANALOG – smooth, relaxed and full-bodied – almost no other copy in our shootout had this kind of exceptionally natural sound
  • Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, room-filling All Tube Radio Recorders Studio sound like nothing you have ever heard
  • One of Ellington’s most enjoyable classic collaborations with Billy Strayhorn
  • “All in all, it’s one of Ellington’s most focussed large-scale efforts… It ends on a swinging Ray Nance solo (on violin, yet!), miles away from the politesse of Grapelli. I’ve heard only one other violinist (and not a jazz violinist, surprisingly) swing this hard.”

(more…)