Top Arrangers – Don Sebesky

Paul Desmond – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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  • Stunning sound throughout with both sides of this very well recorded Desmond album from 1970 earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • This pressing was noticeably richer, smoother and more natural than the competition – it’s also a big step up over many of the other CTI pressings of the man’s albums we’ve played
  • Desmond’s sax is wonderfully present and breathy, and a copy with top grades like these is surely the best way to hear Don Sebesky’s wonderful strings with all their satiny sheen intact
  • “Desmond finds something beautiful, wistful, and/or sly to say in each of these ten tunes, backed by Herbie Hancock’s Rhodes electric piano and a set of ravishing, occasionally overstated (as in “America”) orchestrations by Don Sebesky.” (more…)

Milt Jackson – Sunflower

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

The first track, at more than ten minutes, is yet another one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz recordings here at Better Records. Other albums of this sort that we love are Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself). 

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the orchestra’s string sections are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of. (more…)

Milt Jackson – Plenty, Plenty Soul

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  • An outstanding vintage stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful session from 1957, this is the way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The first side of Plenty, Plenty Soul, which features a nine-piece group, is highlighted by the contributions of the exuberant altoist Cannonball Adderley, while the flip side has a sextet that is not hurt by the solos of tenor-saxophonist Lucky Thompson. With pianist Horace Silver helping out on both sessions, these all-star dates still sound fresh and enthusiastic decades later.”

This vintage Atlantic stereo 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. (more…)

Don Sebesky Is One of Our Favorite Arrangers

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DON SEBESKY is one of our favorite arrangers. 

Don Sebesky is best known as house arranger for many of producer Creed Taylor’s Verve, A&M, and CTI productions; the man whose orchestral backgrounds helped make artists like Wes Montgomery, Paul Desmond, Freddie Hubbard, and George Benson acceptable to audiences outside of jazz.

He has taken critical heat for this, but Sebesky’s arrangements have usually been among the classiest in his field, reflecting a solid knowledge of the orchestra, drawing variously from big band jazz, rock, ethnic music, classical music of all eras, and even the avant-garde for ideas. He once cited Bartok as his favorite composer, but one also hears lots of Stravinsky in his work.

In 1960, he gave up the trombone to concentrate upon arranging and conducting, eventually receiving the breakthrough assignment of Montgomery’s Bumpin’ album (1965). Some of the most attractive examples of his work for jazz headliners include Bumpin’, Benson’s The Shape of Things to Come, Desmond’s From the Hot Afternoon, and Hubbard’s First Light.

AMG

Sky Diving with Freddie Hubbard

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Freddie Hubbard CTI album – both sides won our shootout, earning our top grade of Triple Plus
  • This is the kind of spacious, low-distortion, dynamic and energetic sound Rudy Van Gelder was getting in the early ’70s
  • Hubbard got together a great group of Funky Jazz players to support him here, with Don Sebesky doing his usual inventive arrangements
  • 4 Stars: “Freddie Hubbard’s fourth CTI recording certainly has a diverse repertoire. The charts for the brass and woodwinds are colorful; there is a fine supporting cast that includes guitarist George Benson, Keith Jarrett on keyboards, and flutist Hubert Laws; and Hubbard takes several outstanding trumpet solos.”

Rudy was getting one hell of a lively trumpet sound on tape during this period in his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music.

Sonic Issues

Smear. It’s by far the most common problem with the copies we played. When the transient bite of the trumpet is correctly reproduced, maintaining its full-bodied tone and harmonic structures, you know you have a very special copy of Sky Dive (or Straight Life or First Light or Red Clay, etc.). When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy. (more…)