Top Arrangers – Dave Grusin

Sergio Mendes – Look Around

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More Bossa Nova

  • An excellent pressing of Look Around with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and the layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, as well as the piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself
  • “The Look of Love” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” are the epitome of Bossa Nova Magic on this exceptional pressing
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sergio Mendes took a deep breath, expanded his sound to include strings lavishly arranged by the young Dave Grusin and Dick Hazard, went further into Brazil, and out came a gorgeous record of Brasil ’66 at the peak of its form.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and crew, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the girls’ breathy multi-tracked vocals and the layers and layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the crucially important, always tasteful keyboards and arrangements of Sergio himself.

Most copies of Look Around are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled, smeary and full of compressor distortion in the loudest parts. Clearly, this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

Our Hot Stamper pressings are the ones that are as far from that kind of sound as we can find them. We’re looking for the records that have none of those bad qualities. I’m happy to report that we have managed to find some awfully good sounding copies for our Hot Stamper customers. (more…)

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Fool on the Hill you’ve heard
  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and title trackl
  • Top engineers for A&M, Henry Lewy and Larry Levine, capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of these wonderful female leads – Lani Hall, Karen Philipp and Gracinha Leporace
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and the band, this early pressing from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

This vintage A&M 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…)

Dave Grusin – Relax, Stare into the Middle Distance and Listen to the Players as a Group

Hot Stamper Direct-to-Discs Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for More Direct to Disc Recordings

Many years ago we had discussed the polarity issues associated with this record:

According to the liner notes, this album has its polarity reversed. They tell you straight out to reverse the positive and negative at the speaker terminals for the best “transient response and spatial clarity.”

That out of phase quality is as plain as the nose on your face when you know what to listen for. There’s an unpleasant hardness and hollowness to the midrange, a lack of depth, and an off-putting opaque quality to the sound. The top gets dull and the bass gets weird and wonky.

With our EAR 324p phono stage, the click of a button reverses the polarity. I can’t tell you how handy it is to have such a tool at your disposal. Checking the polarity for Discovered Again couldn’t have been easier.

But get this: most side ones are NOT out of polarity. How about them apples! We could not have been more shocked. Here is the most famous reversed polarity audiophile recording in the history of the world, and it turns out most copies are not reversed on side one at all.

Latest Findings

I did not do the shootout for the album, but I wanted to check on the polarity just to hear it for myself. I must admit I had to go back and forth a number of times, using my favorite song on the album and an old Demo track from back in my earliest days in audio, the mid- to late-’70s: Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow.

Harvey Mason’s super punchy drum playing catches your attention right off the back. A tambourine comes along in the left channel at some point. Lots of bass. Rit’s guitar in the right channel and Grusin’s keyboards in the center fill out the soundstage. The ensemble is on fire.

Evaluating the sonic differences of the individual instruments in and out of polarity had me confused. A typical conundrum: Should the tambourine be smoother with more body, or brighter with more harmonic overtones? Which is right? Who can say definitively?

It was only after about fifteen minutes of playing the album, switching the polarity back and forth, that the penny dropped.

Focussed on an individual instrument, I could hear it just fine both ways. But then I noticed that with the polarity reversed the group got vague. The images seemed blurrier, less defined. If I relaxed and just stared into the middle distance and let the music flow, the band seemed to be more jumbled up and messy.

That was the key. The obvious change when the polarity was wrong was a loss of image specificity. Flipping the record over to side two and using my new “lens” to hear the difference with the polarity changed, it was obvious when the polarity was right or wrong.

I have experimented with polarity on scores of records. Certain effects on certain records are unmistakable. But these effects seem to vary a great deal from title to title. Grusin’s brilliant direct to disc recording initially had me at a loss. With a little experimentation, the improvement in the sound with the correct polarity became evident over time, as it always seems to do. Thank god I didn’t have to change speaker leads the way I used to in the old days. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this fun Brasil ’66 album on the early label – some remarkably quiet vinyl too for A&M in the sixties
  • “Norwegian Wood,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Easy to Be Hard” are among the great songs that have the potential to sound amazing
  • We’re huge Sergio Mendes fans here and it’s a thrill to hear copies like this bring his music to life

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (“Wichita Lineman” and “Norwegian Wood”), which are as good as anything the group ever did. As I’m a big fan, that’s high praise!

The average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read: thick and dull) sound are also problems commonly found on Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a noticeable “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it.

(more…)

Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 – Crystal Illusions

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums


  • Outstanding sound throughout, with both sides earning Double Plus (A++) grades – some remarkably quiet vinyl too for A&M in 1969
  • The sound on both sides here is jumping out, with Tubey Magic, space, extension top to bottom, and more detail than many of the other copies we played – huge soundstage as well
  • Yes, it’s a recording that has some problems, but the better copies are able to overcome most of them, and that’s precisely what we are offering here – a copy that gets the sound of this music right
  • 4 stars: “Dave Grusin is right there with a lush, haunting orchestral chart when needed; Lani Hall is thrust further into the vocal spotlight, as cool and alluring as ever.. Weird and overblown, but wonderful.”

If you are not familiar with Sergio and his magical band, this might not be the place to start. Try the first two albums or Stillness if you want to hear the best material recorded with the highest quality. This is a second tier album in the Sergio canon, and priced accordingly. There are of course some truly great songs on this one, just as there are on every Brasil ’66 album. I would draw your attention especially to the Otis Redding classic Dock of the Bay. Fans will no doubt find much to like here; others maybe not so much. If you get a thrill out of FINALLY hearing a famous album sound the way you always wished it could, this copy is for you!

What you’re looking for on Crystal Illusions is a copy that’s not thin, dry, harsh and edgy! If you own this album you know exactly what I am talking about. Most copies sound like CDs in that respect. And most Brazil ’66 CDs sound just as bad as you might think they would. Believe me, I know, I’ve bought practically all of them. Thank god for the treble control on my car stereo. (more…)

Sergio Mendes’ Discography – Courtesy of brasil66.com

More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Discography by brasil66.com

1966 Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66

The Brasil ’66 debut album on A&M opens with a bang–“Mas Que Nada” was, and still is, one of Mendes’ finest recordings. Using a sparse combination of female vocalists, drums, piano, bass and percussion, this album was Brasil ’66 at its leanest. “One Note Samba/Spanish Flea” cleverly combines two popular songs, one of Bossa Nova fame, the other straight out of the Tijuana Brass catalog. Henry Mancini’s “Lujon” (from the excellent Mr. Lucky Goes Latin album) is given vocals and retitled “Slow Hot Wind”. “O Pato” and “Agua De Beber” cover a couple more tracks from the popular Brazilian repertoire, and the American popular scene is represented by “Going Out Of My Head” and “Day Tripper”. One of the more interesting tunes here is “Berimbau”, based on a Brazilian chant. (Interesting tidbit: “Mas Que Nada” has been misspelled, in perpetuity, as “Mais Que Nada” on Brasil 66 albums!)

1967 Equinox

This sophomore effort of Brasil ’66 covers a lot of the same ground as the first album. Most notable is the addition of guitarist John Pisano, from the Tijuana Brass. There are more excellent arrangements; the standouts are “Triste”, “Chove Chuva” and “Night and Day.”

1967 Look Around

Comprised of the same musicians as the first two Brasil ’66 album, there are a few new twists. The most prominent are the two Lani Hall showcases, “Like A Lover” and “So Many Stars”, both lightly sprinkled with strings. Other favorites include “Roda”, “Batucada”, the title track and the distinctly Mendes arrangement of “With A Little Help From My Friends”.

1968 Fool on the Hill

This album presents a second version of Brasil ’66, including the excellent Brazilian musicians Rubens Bassini, Sebastiao Neto and Dom Um Romao. The string arrangements were written by Dave Grusin. What’s different is the direction in which the music on this album took. Turning from pop music influences, these songs reflect more of the Brazilian heritage of the musicians, and are more adventurous as a result. The most-recognized arrangements from this album would be the two cover versions: “Fool On The Hill” and “Scarborough Fair”. In case you’re wondering what kind of “hill” the “fools” on the cover are sitting on, on the original LP gatefold jacket, take a closer look!

1969 Crystal Illusions

After the upbeat Fool On The Hill, Crystal Illusions seems quiet in comparison with such easygoing fare as “Viola” and “Song of No Regrets”. Milton Nascimento makes an excellent contribution with “Empty Faces”, and “Pretty World” has to be one of the most cheerful songs Brasil ’66 ever recorded. The album’s centerpiece is the pensive title track.

1969 Ye-Me-Le

“There are special moments, like the hypnotic “Masquerade” (no relation to the Leon Russell/George Benson hit), Sergio Mihanovich’s haunting “Some Time Ago,” and another winning treatment of a Beatles tune, “Norwegian Wood,” where Mendes cuts loose a killer solo on electric piano (believe it or not, the 45 rpm single version features more of that solo than the LP).”

1970 Stillness

A radical departure from anything that had gone before, Stillness remains the one album that Brasil ’66 fans either love or hate. Most complaints about it center on the fact that the familiar bossa sound of the earlier records was now mostly gone. Nonetheless, Stillness is arguably one of the most fluid albums of Mendes’ career. It takes its cue from the work of many of the singer/songwriters of the day (Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, etc.), with thoughtful lyrics and often delicate arrangements. It is a almost a concept album, with the theme expressed in the title song — the words of which are even printed on the front cover — and an outdoorsy, peaceful feeling running through many of the other lyrics. Stillness is also Lani Hall’s final album with Mendes; she left the group during these sessions and was replaced by Gracinha Leporace, who does lead vocals on several songs.

Standout tracks include “Chelsea Morning” and “Viramundo,” both of which contain traces of the earlier Brasil ’66 sound; “Righteous Life” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” both of which reflect the mood of late ’60s America through their lyrics; and the very pretty “Sometimes in Winter,” featuring an elegant orchestral arrangement by Dick Hazard.

brasil66.com

Dave Grusin – Discovered Again!

  • This Sheffield Direct to Disc pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • After critically listening to this record good and loud, I have to award the album The Greatest Direct to Disc Recording of All Time
  • The songs, the players, the arrangements, the sound – this is a record that will reward hundreds of plays for decades to come
  • Side one of this copy is OUT of polarity, one of the few we found that way, and not a copy you should be if you can’t switch
  • “Everything about this project is just right from the gentle contemporary feel of the music to the superb sound of the [album] itself.”

(more…)

Sergio Mendes / Look Around – Speakers Corner Reviewed

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

A textbook case of Live and Learn.

Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly impressed with the Speakers Corner pressing of this album when it came out on Heavy Vinyl in 2001.

Since then we have learned a thing or two. Their version is decent, not bad, but by no stretch of the imagination can it compete with any Hot Stamper pressing found on our site.

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and their layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the critically important piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself. (more…)

Lee Ritenour – Friendship on JVC Direct Disc

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

This is one of my all time favorite audiophile discs. It’s actually real music.

The song Woody Creek is wonderful and reason enough to own this excellent album. The guitar of Lee Ritenour and the saxophone of Ernie Watts double up during a substantial portion of this song and the effect is just amazing. 

Special kudos should go to Ernie Watts on sax, who blows some mean lines. But everybody is good on this album, especially the leader, Lee Ritenour. I saw these guys live and they put on a great show.

By the way, looking in the dead wax I see this record was cut by none other than Stan Ricker of Mobile Fidelity fame himself!

(more…)

Side One Is Actually In Phase (Usually) and You Read It Here First (Probably)

This is a Well Recorded Jazz Album that should be part of any audiophile jazz collection.

It is also one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity

According to the liner notes, this Dave Grusin album has reversed absolute phase. They tell you to switch the positive and negative at the speaker for the best transient response and spatial clarity. But get this: most side ones are NOT in reversed phase.

That out of phase quality is as plain as the nose on your face when you know what to listen for. There’s an unpleasant hardness and hollowness to the midrange, a lack of depth, and an off-putting opaque quality to the sound.

With our EAR 324p Phono Stage, the click of a button reverses phase, also known as polarity. I can’t tell you how handy it is to have such a tool at your disposal. Checking the phase for Discovered Again couldn’t have been easier.

An Amazing Discovery

But get this: most side ones are NOT reversed phase. (All the side twos we played were however.) How about them apples! We could not have been more shocked. Here is the most famous out of phase audiophile recording in the history of the world, and it turns out most copies are not out of phase at all!

(more…)