Older Reviews – Jazz

Joe Sample / Rainbow Seeker – Live and Learn

A classic case of Live and Learn

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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?

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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 – Meets The Rhythm Section

More Art Pepper


  • 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…)

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…)

The Crusaders – Chain Reaction – MoFi Hot Stamper

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This is a Minty looking Mobile Fidelity LP with VERY GOOD SOUND. We just did a mini shootout and this copy killed the competition. Obviously it won’t sound as good as one of our regular Hot Stampers but they go for quite a bit more money. Depending on what you listen for, this MoFi should be quite a bit better than yer average domestic pressing. 

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.”

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Doc Evans – Traditional Jazz – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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If you’re a fan of Traditional Jazz, what normally would be referred to nowadays as Dixieland Jazz, you will have a very hard time finding a record that sounds as good as this one. The energy, the size, the dynamic power of every instrument is captured with such fidelity it will put the lie to most of what passes for Modern Good Sounding Jazz.

This is the real Audiophile Label, not just some label that’s making records to appeal to audiophiles, and there is a world of difference between the two.

At first we thought side one of this copy was As Good As It Gets, a real White Hot stamper pressing. It was doing everything we expected it to, and more to be honest.

Then we started to do side two, and surprisingly enough this very copy had a side two with more extension up top, more space and even more clarity and transparency. True, only slightly more, but if you compare the two sides carefully you should have no trouble hearing it. (more…)