Top Arrangers – Don Sebesky

Freddie Hubbard / Sky Dive – Blurry, Thick, Veiled, Dull or Slow?

That’s too often the sound we hear on the Heavy Vinyl records being pressed these days. From time to time we get hold of some to audition just to see what they’ve done with (to?) the titles we know well.

We sure don’t have any intention of selling them. That would be against our principles. And the very name of our operation: Better Records. It’s rare for anything pressed on Heavy Vinyl to qualify as a Better Record, which is why so many of them can be found in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way.

But that sound can be found on plenty of vintage pressings too. We should know, we’ve played them by the tens of thousands!

Smear is 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 First Light or Red Clay, etc., etc.).

When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy.

Rudy gets one hell of a lively trumpet sound in this period of 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.

If you don’t have a hot copy of Red Clay, get one. It’s some of the best funky jazz ever recorded. No collection should be without it.

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Carly Simon / Torch – Surprisingly Rich, Natural Analog Sound for the Eighties

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Surprisingly rich, natural and analog considering the recording date – very little sound of the sound of the day — the kind that ruined most of what was made in the ’80s — is on display here, and thank god for that
  • “Carly Simon’s Torch is a gorgeous throwback to the Fifties and early Sixties… By blending old and new material, and by incorporating a hint of jazz-fusion music into a studio-orchestra sound, Simon and her producer, Mike Mainieri, begin to suggest a continuity between Fifties torch and Eighties pop.”
  • If you’re a fan of Carly’s, this is a Top Title from 1981 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1981 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

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More recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

  • Amazing sound from start to finish on this Shootout Winning TRIPLE TRIPLE (A+++) copy
  • One of our favorite CTI albums, and surely one of the best sounding, especially on this pressing
  • Credit goes to Rudy Van Gelder once again for the huge space that the superbly well-recorded orchestra occupies
  • AMG raves “This is Burrell at his level best as a player to be sure, but also as a composer and as a bandleader. Magnificent.”

God Bless The Child is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others at the top of my list 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).

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the strings 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.

The bass is deep and defined; the tonality of the guitar and its overall harmonic richness are beautifully rendered. 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. (more…)

Kenny Burrell / God Bless The Child – Great Arrangements by Don Sebesky

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Don Sebesky, A Top Arranger

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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. (more…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

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  • This excellent Wes Montgomery title returns to the site for the first time in two years with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side two
  • Both sides here are OUT OF THIS WORLD, incredibly big, bold, clear, rich and dynamic – this is DEMO DISC Quality Big Production Guitar-led Jazz
  • Credit goes to Rudy Van Gelder once again for the huge space that the superbly well-recorded group occupies
  • Forget the critics, this is one of Wes’s Best Albums of All Time I tell you!

This White Hot Stamper has the REAL Wes Montgomery/ Creed Taylor/ Rudy Van Gelder MAGIC in its grooves. You will not believe how big, rich and full-bodied this pressing is. Since this is one of Wes’s best albums, hearing this incredible White Hot copy was a THRILL for us and we’re sure it will be as big a thrill for you too.

As Good As It Gets Sound

So natural, transparent and clear. Listen to all the space around the guitar. (On the Cisco you might hear 20% of that space. That’s Heavy Vinyl for you. What a load of crap.)

Beware any and all imitations (even the one I used to like somewhat, the Cisco version). They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way this pressing does. This White Hot Stamper exhibits huge amounts of ambience and spaciousness, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have. (more…)

Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery – The Dynamic Duo

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  • KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it on both sides, this is a wonderful vintage stereo pressing of a classic jazz collaboration from 1966
  • Big, rich and lively, thanks to Oliver Nelson’s arrangements (and RVG’s engineering), this big group of top players is having a blast and we think you will too
  • 5 stars: “The romping, aggressive big band charts [represent] Oliver Nelson at his best… The results are incendiary — a near-ideal meeting of yin and yang… They are an amazing pair, complementing each other, driving each other, using their bop and blues taproots to fuse together a sound.”

The sound of this Verve stereo pressing is tonally correct and natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. So high-resolution too. If you love ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. (more…)

George Benson – White Rabbit

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  • Open and transparent throughout, with wonderfully full-bodied guitars, solid bass and huge amounts of swingin’ jazz energy
  • Superb engineering by Rudy Van Gelder – White Rabbit features jazz legends Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Airto, and more
  • 4 stars: “For George Benson’s second CTI project, producer Creed Taylor and arranger Don Sebesky successfully place the guitarist in a Spanish-flavored setting full of flamenco flourishes, brass fanfares, moody woodwinds and such… In this prime sample of the CTI idiom, everyone wins.”

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Chet Baker / Jim Hall / Hubert Laws – Studio Trieste

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  • This surprisingly good sounding collaboration finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • Three-dimensional space and ambience, with Tubey Magic by the boatload – guaranteed to be one of the better sounding Chet Baker albums you’ve heard, and probably the best of his later period
  • Another triumph for Rudy Van Gelder and his “live-in-the-studio” jazz sound – like most of his recordings (at least those from the ’60s on), this album still sounds fresh today, even after 38 years
  • 4 stars: “For what would be his final CTI date, he was matched with guitarist Jim Hall, flutist Hubert Laws and a fine rhythm section for two jazz standards… Throughout, Sebesky’s charts favorably showcase Baker’s lyrical trumpet, making this a recommended LP…”

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Wes Montgomery – A Day In The Life

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  • You’ll find KILLER sound on both sides of this jazz favorite — Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • Another triumph for Rudy Van Gelder and his unerring skill at getting all the musical elements to work together
  • The first album Creed Taylor produced for A&M was A Day in the Life with Wes Montgomery, just days after the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper (and which Wes never heard before recording this album!)
  • “There is a notable quality that each Wes recording seems to retain – they just seem to be getting better as the years go by.” – Pat Metheny

This superb album includes Montgomery’s great cover of A Day In The Life on side one and killer tracks like Eleanor Rigby, Willow Weep for Me, Windy and The Joker on side two!

It’s damn near impossible to find decent sounding early pressings, but the sound here is very good. There are plenty of dull, lifeless, overly compressed copies out there. That sound becomes especially offensive when the strings come in, most notably in the climactic middle section of “A Day In The Life.”

Fortunately for everyone who loves this kind of guitar-led jazz, our Hot Stampers have the warm, rich sound that let you enjoy this wonderful music without causing your ears to bleed. (more…)

Chet Baker – She Was Too Good To Me

We guarantee you have never heard this album — or any later Chet Baker album — sound as good as this one does.

There’s so much life in these grooves. The sound jumps out of the speakers right into your lap. This kind of warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever. You have to go back to 1974 to find it!

The early ’70s were a good time for Van Gelder, the engineer for these sessions. Grover Washington Jr.’s All the King’s Horses from 1973 is an amazing Demo Disc for large group. We could easily name-check a dozen others on CTI recorded by RVG that we’ve done shootouts for. 

But any album only sounds good on the copies that it sounds good on, on the pressings that were mastered, pressed and cleaned right, a fact that seems to have eluded most jazz vinyl aficionados interested in good sound but axiomatic (if not tautological) here at Better Records.

The extended song structures, ranging from four to seven minutes in length, leave plenty of room for the band to stretch out.

And of course Chet sings the title track beautifully. (more…)