Top Artists – Barney Kessel

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot

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

This is absolutely the right sound for this music. There was simply nothing that could beat the Triple Plus side, in any area of reproduction. If you like the sound of relaxed, All Tube jazz recordings, you can’t do much better than Some Like It Hot. Many of the copies we played suffered from blubbery bass and transient smearing, but the clarity and bass definition here are surprisingly good. 

This copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. The liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

One of our original pressings had an amazing side two but side one was just a dull, thick, blubbery mess. We may try to sell it someday because even half of an amazing sounding record is worth owning, in my opinion anyway. (Considering that most audiophiles don’t seem to pay much attention to the sonic variations in the sound of their records from side to side, you can be sure that most collectors have plenty of records with only one good side. They just never noticed.) (more…)

Barney Kessel – Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By – Our Mono Shootout Winner

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

This Triple Triple (A+++) mono pressing blew everything else out of the water – nothing could touch it! How can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? The timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off. 

The Demo Disc sound on this copy is really something to hear – all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio.

This Minty Original Yellow Label Contemporary Mono LP from 1956 has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL. For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own (unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition).

It’s got all the top qualities of the recording we discuss below, and the least amount of shortcomings. Really, nothing could touch it. It’s pretty much everything you want in a record like this. I’d love to keep it but when would I have time to play it? Instead I’ll sleep well knowing that it’s going to a good home.

Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best.

From an audiophile point of view, how can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? It’s audiophile heaven. The sound is gorgeous, all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Easy Like – Reviewed in 2005

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

This is an original Mono Contemporary Yellow Label DEMO LP (although the cover shows the OJC). The record plays EX++ to Mint Minus Minus — if you can stand some surface noise this is a very good sounding LP. The sound is good; however, it’s almost impossible to find quiet pressings of these old Contemporary albums. This is about as quiet as they get! 

“…the set features Kessel in boppish form with quintets in 1953 and 1956 featuring, either Bud Shank or Buddy Collette doubling on flute and alto. Kessel shows off the influence of Charlie Christian throughout the performances, with the highlights including “Easy Like,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” “North of the Border,” and the accurately titled “Salute to Charlie Christian.”  (more…)

Benny Carter – Jazz Giant

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  • With two Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning sides, this copy blew the doors off of everything else we played
  • If you still think that Analogue Productions is remastering records properly, you have definitely never heard a real Contemporary that sounds like this(!)
  • The sound of Contemporary Records is alive on this copy, with space, size, clarity and richness that no other pressing can match
  • “Benny Carter had already been a major jazz musician for nearly 30 years when he recorded this particularly strong septet session for Contemporary … This timeless music is beyond the simple categories of “swing” or “bop” and should just be called “classic.”

If you like the sound of Contemporary Records, you won’t find a better example than this! Midrange magic doesn’t get anymore magical. (more…)

Julie London – Julie Is Her Name – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album. 

On side one listen to how rich the bottom end is on Barney Kessel’s guitar. The Tubey Magic on this side is off the charts. Some copies can be dry, but that is clearly not a problem on this one. The naturalness of the presentation puts this album right at the top of best sounding female vocal albums of all time.

To take nothing away from her performance, which got better with every copy we played. Julie’s rendition of Cry Me a River may be definitive.

If only Ella Fitzgerald on Clap Hands got this kind of sound! As good as the best copies of that album are, this record takes the concept of intimate female vocals to an entirely new level.

Mono Versus Stereo

This is the kind of record that the mono cartridge owners of the world worship, with good reason: the sound is amazing. But you don’t need a mono cartridge to hear how good, in fact how much better, this copy sounds than the stereo pressing.

The recording is mono, which means that the stereo pressings are actually reprocessed into stereo. Not too surprisingly the sound is terrible. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Let’s Cook

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

We were simply blown away by this Yellow Label pressing, which earned an A+++ for side one and an A++ for side two in a recent shootout. The transparency and clarity are SUPERB, and the amount of tubey magic is unbelievable! Folks, if you like guitar jazz, do not miss out on this album. I guarantee you will be absolutely knocked out by the sound of this pressing, not to mention the fantastic music!  (more…)

Julie London – About The Blues

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  • About The Blues with KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last; we rarely have this title on the site 
  • Julie’s lilting vocals are clear, breathy, Tubey Magical, and sweet, like practically nothing you’ve ever heard
  • This copy is about as quiet as we can find these 1957 Turquoise original mono pressings, Mint Minus Minus* throughout
  • 4 stars: “About the Blues … may just be her best orchestral session. Since downbeat torch songs were London’s specialty, the album features an excellent selection of nocturnal but classy blues songs that play to her subtle strengths…”

Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.   (more…)

The Poll Winners Straight Ahead – Their Best Album? We Think So

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

This is a Minty looking Contemporary Records LP with SUPERB MUSIC AND SOUND! We pulled together enough copies to do a small shootout, and this copy was the champion for BOTH SIDES! The sound is very clean and clear, yet tubey magical. 

You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up.

Musically, this is my favorite Poll Winners record! These guys got back together for this album and wanted to prove to the world that they still had their youthful excuberance!

They play with more spunk here than on any other album I’ve ever heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around mentioned that Roy DuNann, the famous recording engineer, had lost none of this skill in the intervening years either. This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best.

Ray Brown / Barney Kessel

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot

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  • This superb pressing of Kessel’s brilliant 1959 larger group outing has a shootout-winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • With Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, and dead on tonality from top to bottom, this is a textbook example of Contemporary’s sound at its best
  • An All Star West Coast lineup came together for this one: Art Pepper (on sax and claritnet!), Shelly Manne, Joe Gordon and others
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Such tunes as “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” “Runnin’ Wild,” “Down Among the Sheltering Palms,” and “By the Beautiful Sea” are given fairly modern arrangements…”

This copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. The liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)

What We Listen For – Timbre, Richness, Tubey Magic and Freedom from Artificiality

More of Our Favorite Contemporary Jazz Recordings

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This Home Audio Exercise entry was inspired by the wonderful qualities of the Contemporary recording you see pictured, qualities brought to our attention while doing a shootout of various pressings of the album in early 2009. 

We addressed a number of issues in our commentary: first and foremost what we were listening for on the album (and what we were hearing). A bit of mono versus stereo (in this case both can be good). This is followed by some Audiophile Equipment bashing.

We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your own equipment. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc. (more…)