Top Arrangers – Don Sebesky

Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this classic CTI album – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is the kind of spacious, low-distortion, dynamic and energetic sound Rudy Van Gelder was getting in the early ’70s – if you think he was better in the sixties, you need to play some of these recordings from the ’70s that show off just how good his work could be
  • Hubbard got together a great group of Funky Jazz players to support him here, with Don Sebesky doing his usual inventive arrangements
  • 4 Stars: “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. (more…)

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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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 the sub-optimal copies.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

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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Astrud Gilberto – Windy

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More Bossa Nova

  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout, making this one of the best copies to ever hit the site
  • Forget whatever Heavy Vinyl imposter is in print – this vintage Verve stereo pressing has the kind of High-Rez Tubey-Magical Midrange that will bring Astrud’s soft samba music to life in your very own listening room
  • “… Windy nevertheless proves one of Astrud Gilberto’s most consistent and sublime efforts, artfully straddling the division between Brazilian bossa nova and American sunshine pop.” 

(more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Blurry, Thick, Veiled, Dull or Slow?

More of the Music of Freddie Hubbard

More recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

More Jazz on CTI

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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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…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

  • 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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More Wes Montgomery

  • 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 / Bad Benson

More of the Music of George Benson

More Recordings Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder

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.]

Side Two

A+++, the best side of any side we played. So clear, transparent and high-rez, yet rich and tonally correct from top to bottom, this is the kind of sound we call Hard To Fault (HTF).

Side One

A+ to A++, a bit fat and smeary, but since that’s pretty much the sound of most tube equipment, it’s still very musical and enjoyable (as is most tube equipment). The details aren’t there, but the thrust of the music comes through just fine.

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.

(more…)