Older Reviews – Jazz

Weather Report – Heavy Weather

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  • With outstanding Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound 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
  • Allmusic 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.”

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.

What To Listen For (WTLF)

We’ve discovered that the key to the hottest sounding pressings is a fairly simple one: the copies with high frequency extension and the tremendous rhythmic energy that results from it are consistently the best sounding.

You may have read elsewhere on the site that what separates many of the best Columbia LPs from their competition is an open, extended top end. For some reason, Columbia, seemingly more than any other label, had a bad habit of making slightly dull records. Slightly dull does not work for this album.

My notes on Palladium in the Track Listing sum it up: when the highs on the record are right, it almost always comes together. Unfortunately, most copies don’t have those highs. There’s more to it of course: some copies lack bass, some sound a bit grainy and gritty — the normal problems associated with vinyl records are all here.

But when you have good highs, you are way more than halfway hom; you are about 80 to 85% of the way toward a Hot Stamper. Just fill in the last few details (bass, dynamics, etc.) and the sound will more than likely blow your mind. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Criss-Cross

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  • This wonderful pressing of Thelonious Monk’s second studio album has outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Columbia records produced by Teo Macero in the early ’60s have consistently open, natural sound – this one from ’63 is no exception
  • The piano sounds amazing here — natural and dynamic, letting Monk’s passionate playing shine
  • 4 stars: “Thelonious Monk’s second album for Columbia Records features some of the finest work that Monk ever did in the studio with his ’60s trio and quartet … This is prime Monk for any degree of listener.”

I wish more Blue Note records had this kind of sound — natural, full-bodied, and sweet up top. The bass here is well-defined with real weight and lots of punch. Monk’s piano sounds correct from the highest notes all the way down to the lower register, and the sax sounds tonally right on the money. The clarity and transparency are superb throughout. (more…)

Frank Zappa – Waka/Jawaka

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout and exceptionally quiet vinyl, this copy delivers plenty of Zappa’s Waka/Jawaka Big Band Magic
  • A Top 100 Title, and deservedly so – the sound is big, rich, punchy, lively, clear and above all, ANALOG
  • This copy will show you the size and power of a big band, Frank Zappa style – there is (almost*) nothing like it
  • Rolling Stone raved that this Jazz Rock Fusion album contains “…some of the best material he’s done in years.” and we could not agree more

(*Other than The Grand Wazoo, which can have sound every bit as good but is not the equal of Waka/Jawaka musically.)

What an incredible album. I know of no other like it. It’s not big band, it’s not rock, it’s not jazz, it’s a unique amalgamation of all three with an overlay of some of Zappa’s idiosyncratic compositional predilections (say that three times fast) thrown in for good measure.

In our opinion it’s nothing less than Zappa’s MASTERPIECE, the summation of his talents, and a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection. (We say that about a lot of records audiophiles don’t know well, but we’ve been doing it for most of our 31 years in this business and don’t see much reason to stop now.)

Most copies, especially the WB brown label reissues, are dull and smeary with little in the way of top end extension, failing pretty miserably at getting this music to come to life.

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one. On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll — it’s all there to be heard and appreciated. If that track on this copy doesn’t make you a huge fan of Aynsley Dunbar, I can’t imagine what would. The guy had a gift. (more…)

Al Di Meola et al. – Friday Night in San Francisco

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A KILLER copy of this Columbia red label pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades.

“… a meeting of three of the greatest guitarists in the world for an acoustic summit the likes of which the guitar-playing community rarely sees… All in all, Friday Night in San Francisco is a fantastic album and one of the best entries in all of these guitarists’ fine discographies.” (more…)

Al Di Meola – Casino

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

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Di Meola’s 1978 release finally makes it to the site, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too. A fusion classic featuring the stunning technique and superb improvisations that keep us on the hunt for great Di Meola pressings like this one.   (more…)

The Ray Brown Trio – Soular Energy

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This Concord Jazz LP has excellent sound. There is a half-speed mastered audiophile version of this record cut by Stan Ricker himself.

Now hold on: half-speed mastering by its very nature causes a dramatic loss of bass definition, not to mention the fact that much of the deep bass usually goes completely missing. This is a record built around the sound of Ray Brown’s double bass. Do you really want the lowest octave of bass to disappear and the bass above it to turn to mud on a record that features a bass player as its leader? It’s crazy, right?

I’ve never heard the half-speed and don’t plan to track one down in order to audition, but I guarantee you that this “full-speed” mastered version will blow the doors off any version mastered by Stan Ricker.

There is plenty of commentary on the website about his incompetent mastering and I recommend you take a moment to read some of it before you buy any half-speed mastered record. (We of course do not offer such records, with the exception of John Klemmer’s Touch, which is a half-speed mastered record that actually does sound good, superb in fact.)

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Gabor Szabo – Blowin’ Some Old Smoke – Our Shootout Winner from 2006

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Buddah Records LP has got the energy and presence that were missing in action from the other copies we played. The sound is richer and sweeter than we’ve heard before for this fun compilation. You may find better sound on the best originals, but here’s a great way to get some of the best tracks in one place, with better than average sound. It’s quite difficult to find Szabo’s albums in clean condition, let alone ones that sound any good. 

This excellent sounding LP features a selection of tracks from Gabor Szabo’s late 1960’s sessions for Skye Records, including his great version of Dear Prudence. Since many of Szabo’s albums can be a bit tedious, this compilation is probably the best way to go for most people who want to get into his cool guitar groove. Check out the cool rendition of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman!

The Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Inner Mounting Flame

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is the first album by the band, recorded only a year after Bitches Brew single-handedly created the genre of Jazz Fusion itself. Or is it better described as an album of Prog Rock without the vocals? Remember, King Crimson had a violinist and not a whole lot of singing too.   

Whatever it is, mostly what this music wants to do is rock.

And on this copy it rocks like you will not believe. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

The best copies had huge amounts of bottom end weight as well as rich, Tubey Magical grungy guitar tone. Once you’ve heard it sound that way, on the copies without both you’ll notice that the sound falls flat pretty quickly.

It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record! We find ourselves playing albums like Zep II and Back in Black for hour after hour, with dozens of copies to get through, and we do it on a regular basis. If anybody knows Big Rock Sound, it’s us. But can we really say that those albums rock any harder than this one?

What to Listen For

The main problem we heard again and again on the copies we were auditioning was an obvious lack of top end extension and clarity. Without all the top there is not enough space for all the instruments to occupy. It then becomes easy for the sound to get congested and the musical lines to become jumbled, with the most subtle elements getting progressively more and more lost in the dense mixes the band is known for.

With everyone blasting away at the same time the mixes on the album get very dense indeed. Big speakers in a carefully treated room are a must if you want to play The Inner Mounting Flame at the loud levels we prefer.

The sides that had the most space and the biggest, tightest low ends tended to do everything else right as well. The energy was rarely less than phenomenal, but that energy only works to increase the listener’s involvement when there is enough space and enough weight to keep the sound opened up above and anchored down below.

5 Stars All Over the Place

Based on the reviews one would have to rank this album as one of the top Jazz/Rock Fusion Albums of All Time. Rolling Stone gives it Five Stars, Allmusic gives it Five Stars, and even Robert Christgau, the toughest grader of them all, gives the album an “A.”

In our experience, few recordings within this genre can begin to compete with the Dynamics and Energy of the best pressings of the album — if you have the system designed to play it. (Even if you don’t the album will still rock like crazy.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

All songs are by John McLaughlin on both sides

Meeting of the Spirits
Dawn
The Noonward Race
A Lotus on Irish Streams

Side Two

Vital Transformation
The Dance of Maya
You Know You Know
Awakening

AMG 5 Star Review

This is the album that made John McLaughlin a semi-household name, a furious, high-energy, yet rigorously conceived meeting of virtuosos that, for all intents and purposes, defined the fusion of jazz and rock a year after Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew breakthrough. It also inadvertently led to the derogatory connotation of the word fusion, for it paved the way for an army of imitators, many of whose excesses and commercial panderings devalued the entire movement. Though much was made of the influence of jazz-influenced improvisation in the Mahavishnu band, it is the rock element that predominates, stemming directly from the electronic innovations of Jimi Hendrix.

The improvisations, particularly McLaughlin’s post-Hendrix machine-gun assaults on double-necked electric guitar and Jerry Goodman’s flights on electric violin, owe more to the freakouts that had been circulating in progressive rock circles than to jazz, based as they often are on ostinatos on one chord. These still sound genuinely thrilling today on CD, as McLaughlin and Goodman battle Jan Hammer’s keyboards, Rick Laird’s bass, and especially Billy Cobham’s hard-charging drums, whose jazz-trained technique pushed the envelope for all rock drummers.

Cecil Taylor Quartet – Looking Ahead!

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Another wonderful Contemporary LP. This Yellow Label Stereo pressing was a nice step up from most of what we heard, earning an A++ on side one and an A+ on side two. Side one was particularly good — the bottom end is superb, the vibra-harp sounds great and the piano has good weight. There’s lots of energy and the overall sound is big and open.

Side two was clean, clear and transparent but not quite as dynamic as side one.

Not an easy record to come by, and they usually don’t sound this good when you manage to track one down. (more…)

Horace Silver Quintet – Serenade To A Soul Sister

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from the first note to the last
  • This copy was clearly cut with super-low distortion mastering equipment, and boy does it help the sound
  • Rudy Van Gelder did an outstanding job as usual engineering these 1968 quintet sessions, some of which include one of our favorite tenor men, Stanley Turrentine
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One of the last great Horace Silver albums for Blue Note, Serenade to a Soul Sister is also one of the pianist’s most infectiously cheerful, good-humored outings… it’s hard to argue with musical results as joyous and tightly performed as Serenade to a Soul Sister.”

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