Top Artists – Duke Ellington

Frank Sinatra – Duke Ellington – Francis A. & Edward K. – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album. 

Notice that, at least for most of the material, and perhaps all of it, Sinatra does not seem to be stuck in a vocal booth. He sounds like he is actually standing on the same stage as Ellington’s band.

Whether this is a recording trick — he’s in a booth but the engineer did a great job creating a sound for the booth that matched the ambience and space of the studio — or whether he is standing front and center with the band, the illusion is convincing and adds greatly to the “reality” of the performance..

Recorded one year after the remarkable Sinatra-Jobim record that we treasure here at Better Records, Sinatra takes the opportunity to work with one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of jazz, the Duke himself. We had good luck with the stereo originals on the lovely Blue and Green Reprise labels — they can be as big, rich and warm as Sinatra’s legendary Capitol recordings when you find the right pressing, and that’s really saying something. (more…)

Duke Ellington and Ray Brown – This One’s For Blanton

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This One’s For Blanton

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

BIG BOLD SOUND. It has that up front live in your living room sound. It’s very dynamic and tubey magical.

For this set of duets, pianist Duke Ellington is teamed up with bassist Ray Brown in performances a bit reminiscent of Duke’s work with Jimmy Blanton three decades before. In addition to the four-part Fragmented Suite for Piano and Bass, the duo plays five standards (including Pitter Panther Patter from the Blanton days and three other Ellington-associated tunes). Delightful and often-playful music. – AMG

 

Duke Ellington – The Nutcracker Suite – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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The Nutcracker Suite

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

This Columbia Six-Eye Stereo pressing has an A+++ side one backed by a very good side two! This is a WONDERFUL album featuring Duke and his orchestra doing a jazzy interpretation of the famous Nutcracker Suite, and on a copy like this the sound is SUPERB! We pulled together enough copies to have a big shootout for this album and this copy took home top honors for side one. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Masterpieces By Ellington

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Masterpieces By Ellington

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

We’ve known about this wonderful album for decades, since first got hold of a red label copy from the ’70s. Although not in the league with the best 6 eye pressings, even that late reissue had enough Columbia magic left in its grooves to impress the hell out of me.

And the fact that a jazz album recorded in 1950 was still in print more than twenty years later is testament to the lasting power of Ellington’s music. As Kenny Burrell would say, “Ellington Is Forever.” (more…)

Duke Ellington – At the Bal Masque

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

This Super Hot 2-pack has the Tubey Magical richness we love about vintage Columbia recordings. The “bad” sides here are proof that no two sides sound the same – they suck. More superb sound from the legendary CBS 30th street studios in New York. The size and power of a jazz orchestra in glorious all ANALOG sound.

If you want to know what it was like to attend an Ellington supper club concert, this record will do the trick (even though the album was recorded in the studio and the applause added later). Ellington’s magic is on display for everyone to hear.

Old and New Work Well Together

Duke Ellington At the Bal Masque is yet another remarkable Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering on the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. (We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 30+ years ago, not the bad modern mastering of today.) (more…)

Duke Ellington Indigos – Amazingly Spacious Sound

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  • With two outstanding sides rating a Double Plus (A++) for sound, this was one of the better copies in our most recent shootout
  • This original 6-Eye Stereo pressing blew us away with its superbly well recorded romantic big band jazz, of which Ellington was a true master
  • A near-perfect demonstration of just how good 1958 All Tube Analog sound can be – no modern record can hold a candle to a pressing as good as this one
  • If you like your jazz ballads performed with deep feeling, by a road-tested group of virtuoso players, this record is for you

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all 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 ’50s and ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. Ellington was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of that undeniable fact.

If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz, you can’t do much better than Ellington Indigos. Many of the other Six Eye copies we played suffered from blubbery bass and transient smearing, but the clarity and bass definition here are surprisingly good. The warmth and immediacy of the sound on this copy may just blow your mind.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

We played a handful of later pressings that didn’t really do it for us. They offer improved clarity, but can’t deliver the tubey goodness that you’ll hear on the best early pressings. We won’t be bothering with them anymore. It’s tubes or nothing on this album. (more…)

Ellington and Basie – The Count Meets the Duke

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First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

 

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  • Shootout Winning sound quality – both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, and rich Tubey Magic by the boatload – this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then 
  • Quiet throughout – good luck finding a Six Eye Stereo pressing this nice on your own, they sure don’t grow on trees
  • “… a very successful and surprisingly uncrowded encounter… Ellington and Basie both play piano (their interaction with each other is wonderful) and the arrangements allowed the stars from both bands to take turns soloing.” – 4 1/2 Stars

What the best sides of this wonderful collaboration between two jazz giants have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes back in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of this large group of players having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above

Production and Engineering

Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut or Ray Moore were probably the engineers for these sessions — we cannot find the credits to know one way or the other — in Columbia’s glorious sounding 30th Street Studio. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording. (more…)

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington – The Great Reunion

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side two and a solid Double Plus (A++) side one, this vintage stereo pressing was one of the best in our most recent shootout
  • So big, so rich, so Tubey Magical, we doubt you have ever heard Louis Armstrong sound remotely as good as he does here  
  • We remember the Classic pressing as being a very good sounding record but make no mistake, this is a GREAT sounding one
  • “One of the best things about this configuration is the sound of the Duke’s piano – an underrated pianist, he seldom recorded in such an intimate context.”

Note that the second track on both sides is slightly smoother and more natural than the first. Listen for it! (more…)