Top Arrangers

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

More Linda Ronstadt

More Nelson Riddle

  • So spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”
  • Watch for my MoFi review coming later this year – talk about a disaster, that reissue is beyond awful
  • If you’re a Ronstadt fan, this title from 1983 is surely a Must Own. The complete list of titles from 1983 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

With two outstanding sides, this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording right:

The strings in the orchestra, and, for obvious reasons, even more importantly, Linda’s voice.

We guarantee that these sides give you a more natural sounding Linda than you’ve ever heard, or your money back.

If all you own is an mediocre sounding pressing or the truly awful Mobile Fidelity from 1983, you are in for a world of better sound with this very record.

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Ray Brown / Milt Jackson

More Milt Jackson

More Ray Brown

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides of this early Verve stereo pressing
  • Both sides here are big and lively, both of which are key elements for any album arranged by the-bigger-the-better Oliver Nelson
  • A lot of Verve records from this era are poorly mastered, but this one sounds just right to us
  • Big sounding ’60s jazz with lively arrangements from Oliver Nelson and Jimmy Heath
  • Clark Terry’s trumpet and flugelhorn contributions play a major role in the festivities
  • This is cool, swinging ’60’s jazz at its best – the Allmusic Guide awards this album 4 1/2 stars, and that sounds about right to us
  • If you’re a fan of the jazz stylings of either Milt Jackson or Ray Brown, this is a Classic from 1965 that belongs in your collection. The complete list of titles from 1965 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess on the 360 Label

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

More Miles Davis

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage Columbia 360 Stereo pressing
  • The 360 label pressings don’t win shootouts, but they can sound very good, and are guaranteed to beat anything you have ever heard — from any era — at any price
  • Both sides are full of that old-school 30th Street Studio Tubey Magic – the brass is full-bodied and airy, the bass is surprisingly well-defined, the top end is extended and sweet, and the soundfield is HUGE and three-dimensional
  • The music is a classic example of the brilliant partnership between Davis and arranger Gil Evans, and a Must Own for serious jazz fans
  • 5 stars: “It was Evans’ intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively
  • If you’re a fan of the collaborations of Davis and Evans circa 1959, this album belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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The Hi-Lo’s – A Demo Disc for Tubey Magic

More Pop and Jazz Vocals

  • Superb sound throughout this early 6-Eye Stereo pressing, with both sides earning excellent Double Plus (A++) grades – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • On the right system, the better copies of this All Tube Chain Demo Disc from 1958 will demonstrate the superiority of both the analog medium and the vintage pressing (not to mention the concept of Hot Stampers)
  • With a copy this good, The Hi-Lo’s will appear as living, breathing (albeit disembodied) persons right in your very own listening room – we call that “the breath of life,” and there is plenty to be found on this record
  • “The Hi-Los weren’t really a jazz unit, but more of a pop band that knew how to incorporate jazz’s harmonic sensibilities. This was among their better albums, complete with catchy title.”
  • More records with exceptionally Tubey Magical Sound
  • More reviews of our most Tubey Magical Demo Discs

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Kenny Burrell – Great Arrangements by Don Sebesky

More of the Music of Kenny Burrell

Don Sebesky, A Top Arranger

More Records that Are Good for Testing String Tone and Texture 

This is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others off the top of my head would be 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).

On a killer copy like this the sound is out of this world. Rich and full, open and transparent, this one defeated all comers in our shootout, taking the Top Prize for sound and earning all Three Pluses.

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.

Both sides blew us away with a deep, wide soundstage and full extension on both the top and the bottom.

The bass is deep and defined; the tonality of the guitar and its overall harmonic richness are Right On The Money. The piano has the weight and heft of the real thing.

This kind of warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever. You have to go back to 1971 to find it!

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Nat King Cole / This Is Nat “King” Cole – Our Shootout Winner from Way Back

More of the Music of Nat “King” Cole

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Nat “King” Cole

The presence and immediacy here of Nat King Cole’s vocals are ’50s Capitol Recording Magic at its best. Set the volume right and Nat is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. The selection of material and the contributions of all involved (Nelson Riddle among them) are hard to fault.

Here it is – only the second Hot Stamper copy of Nat’s classic 1957 release to ever hit the site, and what a pressing it is! It’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make the shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble.

Our Overview

We’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb, with sound that simply can’t be taken seriously — fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.

At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most copies, which put a quick end to any hope of finishing the shootout we had started.

If anything the sound on his albums gets even worse in the ’60s. Many of Nat’s albums from that decade are over-produced, bright, thin and shrill.

We assume most audiophiles got turned on to his music from the records that Steve Hoffman remixed and remastered for DCC back in the mid-’90s, For those of you who were customers of ours back then, you know that I count myself among that group. I even went so far as to nominate the DCC of Nat’s Greatest Hits as the best album DCC ever made. I know now, as I expect you do, that that’s really not saying much, but at the time I thought it was a pretty bold statement.

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George Benson – Bad Benson and Bad Audio

More of the Music of George Benson

More Recordings Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder

Some notes about this shootout from years back may be instructive.

White Hot Stamper sound on side two, which means this copy has the power to show you just how well-recorded the album really is, and how much energy and drive there is to both the sound and the music.

No other side of any copy earned the full Three Plus White Hot grade, so this is a very special side indeed. [Now that we are much better at our jobs — see the advice at the end of this review — this happens only a few times a year.]

We didn’t run into any awful CTI originals the way we do with the typical rock record from the ’70s, but it’s the rare copy that has a real top end, or much in the way of transparency, or freedom from smear. This copy has all three, without any sacrifice in richness or Tubey Magic.

Rich, full-bodied sound is not hard to find on Bad Benson; most copies had the goods in the bass and lower midrange.

Your Old Stereo (If You Had One in the Seventies)

On the other hand, clarity, top end, transparency and freedom from smear were hard to come by on all but a few copies. Most copies sound pretty much like your old ’70s stereo system — you know, the one you had with the three-way box speakers sitting on concrete blocks.

Fat, blurry down low, thick, opaque and smeary, that sound was everywhere. Pleasant, but not much more than that.

[This seems like an apt description for the records currently being pressed on Heavy Vinyl, wouldn’t you say?]

We’ve come a long way since then. Some pressings still have that sound to a degree, but with so many audio revolutions taking place over the last twenty years, now we can get dramatically more out of even those sub-optimal copies.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

Helen Humes – Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

Mean to Me is a favorite test track for side one, with real Demo Disc quality sound. Roy DuNann at Contemporary was able to get all his brass players together in one room, sounding right as a group as well as individual voices. The piano, bass, and drums that accompany them are perfectly woven into the fabric of the arrangement. What makes this song so good is that when the brass really starts to let loose later in the song, with the right equipment and the right room you can get the kind of sound that is so powerful you would almost swear it’s live.

Helen was recorded in a booth for this album, and her voice is slightly veiled relative to the other musicians playing in the much larger room required for so many players. When you get the brass correct, the trick is to get her voice to become as transparent and palpable as possible without screwing up the tonality of the brass instruments.

The natural inclination is to brighten the sound up to make her voice more clear. But you will be made painfully aware that brighter is not better when the brass gets too “hot” and practically tears your head off. The balance between voice and brass is key to the proper reproduction of this album.

Once you have achieved that balance, tweak for transparency while guarding against too much upper midrange or top end. (Which means watch out for audiophile wires that can fool you!)

Art Pepper + Eleven – Modern Jazz Classics

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

  • A superb vintage Contemporary stereo pressing of this exceptional Art Pepper release from 1960 with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If you buy only one Large Group Hot Stamper jazz record from us, make it this one – the music is swingin’ fun and the sound is going to blow your mind
  • And that’s doubly true if you own any modern reissue (really, almost any reissue at all to be honest) – this is the kind of sound no later pressing from ANY era can compete with
  • Here is the Tubey Magic of the originals without the problems that too often cause the originals to be opaque and uninvolving
  • A personal favorite – 5 stars: “This is a true classic. Essential music for all serious jazz collections.”

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Dean Martin – This Time I’m Swingin’

  • STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them on both sides of this vintage Capitol Stereo pressing
  • Classic Capitol big, full-bodied, Tubey Magical sound — Deano’s vocals are present and natural in the best tradition of rat-mate Frank Sinatra in the early ’60s
  • With Nelson Riddle arranging, you can be sure the album has plenty of swing all right — and the brass sounds amazing here
  • If you want to find your own copies and do your own shootout, be prepared for a lot of ebay heartache – the beat-up, thrift-store, trashy LPs that we regularly get sent are truly shocking
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…an easy swinging collection…”

If you’re a fan of the Capitol Sinatra sound you’ll love this record. It’s an exceptionally difficult title to find in anything but trashed condition. I’ve been a fan of this record for many years but this is the first copy we’ve been able to find that’s clean enough to go up on the site with White Hot Stamper grades.  (more…)