Records We’ve “Discovered” with Exceptional Sound

Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue Is a Masterpiece

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Kenny Burrell

Reviews and Commentaries for Midnight Blue

One of our All Time Favorite Blue Note albums for music and sound – is there a better bluesy Jazz Guitar album? Midnight Blue is our favorite Kenny Burrell album of all time, at least in part because it’s one of the All Time Best Sounding Blue Notes. 

Midnight Blue checks off a number of important boxes for us here at Better Records.

If you already own a copy of Midnight Blue and you don’t consider it one of the best sounding jazz guitar records in your collection, then you surely don’t have a copy that sounds the way our Hot Stamper pressings do. In other words, there is a very good chance you simply don’t know what you’re missing.

Don’t think this is just another ’60s jazz guitar album. With Stanley Turrentine on sax and Ray Baretto on congas, this music will move you like practically no other. When Turrentine (a shockingly underrated player) rips into his first big solo, you’ll swear he’s right there in the room with you.

And if you do have one of our better Hot Stampers and it still isn’t the best sounding jazz guitar album in your collection, then you have one helluva jazz collection. Drop us a line and tell us what record you like the sound of better than Midnight Blue. We’re at a loss to think of what it might be.

Originals Vs Reissues

The reason this copy has such amazing transparency and such an extended top end compared to other copies is clearly due, at least to some degree, to the better cutting equipment used to master it. It’s the rare original Blue Note pressing that has this kind of resolution, leading edge transients, articulate bass definition, and big, bold but shockingly REAL sound.

This early mono pressing from 1956 was fairly mind-blowing, so we have no doubt amazingly good early pressings exist. They are simply too much of an outlier for this have any real value to the audiophile record lover of today. How can anyone find, let alone afford, five or more original Blue Note pressings with which to do a shootout?

Collectors routinely pay hundreds of dollars for original copies that don’t sound remotely as good as this one.

Which is fine by us. We’re not in that business. We’re not selling the right labels; we’re selling the right sound. The two could not be more different.

Collecting single pressings of original albums is doable, albeit expensive. Collecting good sounding pressings is hard; in fact, nothing in the record collecting world is harder.

But if you actually like playing your records as opposed to just collecting them, then the best possible sound should be right at the top of your list and the rarity of the label right at the very bottom.

Marty Paich Big Band – What’s New

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More Jazz Recordings of Interest

  • Discovery may not have produced or released a lot of top sounding titles, but this record by itself puts them well ahead of Classic Records, Mobile Fidelity and the dozens of other remastering houses who have turned out close to zero records of this sonic quality
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1957 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy should be just the record for you – the music and sound are enchanting.
  • This copy is super-spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience – the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny
  • With engineering from the legendary Bones Howe at Radio Recorders, this record’s audiophile credentials are fully in order
  • If you’re a fan of brilliant West Coast Jazz charts, this All Tube Recording from 1957 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If you large group swinging West Coast Jazz is your thing – think Art Pepper Plus Eleven – you will really get a kick out of this one.

Albert Marx was the producer of the original sessions back in 1957. Fast-forward to the ’80s and Marx is now the owner of his very own jazz label, Discovery Records. Who would know the sound of the original tapes better than he? Working with Dave Ellsworth at KM, Marx has here produced one of the best jazz reissues we’ve heard in years.

The Original

We finally got hold of an original, and sure enough, it had some of the qualities we might have guessed it would have.

It was big and rich, as expected, but it was also crude and gritty, like a lot of old jazz and pop vocal records from the ’50s are.

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Laurindo Almeida – It’s A Bossa Nova World

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More Bossa Nova Recordings

  • An original Capitol stereo pressing of this superb Bossa Nova classic with Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Here is the Tubey Magical richness, size and space that only the best vintage pressings are capable of conveying to the critical listener
  • The brilliance of this All Tube Chain recording from Capitol makes all the hard work you’ve put into your system pay off
  • You will certainly hear this music far better than anyone who had the kind of vintage equipment it would have been reproduced with back in the ’60s
  • A Jazz Classic from 1963 that should appeal to any fan of Bossa Nova music
  • The complete list of titles from 1963 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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John Lewis – The Wonderful World Of Jazz

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • This Atlantic reissue was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Bigger, richer, more Tubey Magical, with more extension on both ends of the spectrum and more depth, width and height than most other copies we played
  • An outstanding (and very hard-to-find) Jazz LP – a Better Records Top Recommendation from decades ago, and we are pleased to report that the music and the sound still hold up
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This is one of pianist John Lewis’ most rewarding albums outside of his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet. Three numbers (including a remake of ‘Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West’) showcase his piano in a quartet with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist George Duvivier, and drummer Connie Kay.”

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Sonny Rollins – Alternate Takes

  • With two superb Double Plus (A++) sides, you’ll have a hard time finding a copy that sounds remotely as good as this vintage Contemporary pressing
  • One of our favorite Sonny Rollins records for sound – both sides here are incredibly big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This LP contains alternate versions of selections from two famous Sonny Rollins albums: Way out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders. These ‘new’ renditions… hold their own against the classic versions. [T]he music is hard-swinging and frequently superb.”

The album is made up of alternate takes from the Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders sessions, and as such there is a bit of sonic variation between these tracks and the ones on the actual albums. The best-sounding songs here, particularly the material from Way Out West, can sound amazing!

All Tube in ’58

The best copies are rich and tubey; many pressings were thin and modern sounding, and for that they would lose a lot of points. We want this record to sound like something Roy DuNann recorded with an All Tube chain in 1958, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless suffer from.

Some copies have much more space; some are more present, putting the musicians right in the room with you; some are more transparent, resolving the musical information much better than others, letting you “see” everyone in the studio clearly. Some have more rhythmic drive than others. On some the musicians seem more involved and energetic than they do on the average pressing.

The copies that do all these things better than other copies are the ones that win our shootouts.

This is one of the better copies we have ever played. We think you will enjoy it immensely.

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Ted Heath / Shall We Dance

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More Big Band Jazz Recordings

  • This original London pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades from first note to last – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Both of these sides are huge, rich, weighty and dynamic like few records you have ever heard – it sets the Gold Standard for Tubey Magical Big Band sound
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than much of what we played
  • Credit Kingsway HallKenneth Wilkinson, and the Decca “Tree” microphone setup as the three elements used to create the magic in these grooves

Years ago we wrote in another listing, “We had a copy of Heath’s Shall We Dance not long ago that had some of the biggest, richest, most powerful sound I have ever heard. Watch for Hot Stampers coming to the site soon.” Well, now they’re here, and this copy fulfills the promise of the album better than most others we played in our recent Shootout.

DEMO DISC SOUND barely begins to do this one justice. This is Audiophile Quality Big Band sound to beat them all. The American big bands rarely got the kind of sound that the Decca engineers were able to achieve on records like this. For one thing they didn’t have Kingsway HallKenneth Wilkinson or the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

Unlike some of the American big band leaders who were well past their prime by the advent of the two-channel era, Heath is able to play with all the energy and verve required for this style of music. He really does “swing in high stereo” on these big band dance tunes.

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Hampton Hawes – Everybody Likes Hampton Hawes, Vol. 3: The Trio

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More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • We have been big fans of Hampton Hawes for many years – it’s records like this that impressed the hell out of us back in the day and they only get better with age
  • This side one is rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and has jazz trio energy to rival the best recordings you may have heard, and side two is not far behind in all those areas
  • This is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best, thanks to the engineering brilliance of Roy DuNann and producer Lester Koenig
  • “The third of three Hampton Hawes trio dates with bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Chuck Thompson is on the same high level as his first two…. [Hawes] comes up with consistently creative ideas throughout this swinging bop date.”
  • If you’re a fan of jazz piano trios playing live-in-the-studio, this Contemporary from 1956 surely belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

We don’t run into Hawes’ LPs the way we used to, so it was indeed a delight to find enough copies of this album to do a shootout recently.

Note how correct the sound of the instruments is on both sides. This is the unquestionably the hallmark of any Contemporary recording: correct instrumental timbres.

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Helen Humes – A Forgotten Jazz Vocal Classic

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

  • This vintage Contemporary pressing is close to the best we have ever heard, with stunning Nearly Master Tape sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Both of these sides are amazingly Tubey Magical, yet incredibly clean and clear — something you can’t get from the tube-mastered originals
  • Helen’s voice is PERFECTION — breathy, full, and sweet; and the orchestra sounds JUST RIGHT — just listen to the nice bite of the brass
  • 5 stars: “One of the high points of Helen Humes’ career, this Contemporary set features superior songs, superb backup, and very suitable and swinging arrangements by Marty Paich. Humes’ versions of ‘If I Could Be With You,’ ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy,’ and ‘Million Dollar Secret,’ in particular, are definitive… This classic release is essential and shows just how appealing a singer Helen Humes could be.”

This vintage Contemporary pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides Of Songs I Like To Sing! Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Later Pressings Have The Real Sound

We prefer later pressings of this album to the Black Label originals, which sound tube mastered and have a bit of echo added to them. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other, but this seems to be the more accurate reproduction of what happened in the recording session, and I know this is the one I would rather listen to.

Without a doubt it’s one of my all time favorite jazz albums. The amazing Marty Paich (Art Pepper Plus Eleven) did the arrangements for this group of top musicians, which includes Art PepperBen WebsterBarney KesselShelly ManneJack Sheldon and Leroy Vinnegar, just to name the ones whose work I know well. Does it get any better?

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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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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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