Top Artists – Hampton Hawes

Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders

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

SUPERB SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! This Contemporary Green Label LP has THE BIG SOUND — rich and so full-bodied with amazing presence and immediacy. The bass is PERFECTION — deep, rock solid, and note-like. There’s lots of extension on the top end, letting Shelley Manne’s fantastic work on the cymbals really come to life. The clarity on this copy is superb — just listen to those leading edge transients on Sonny’s sax. The guitar has the tubey qualities that we love here at Better Records — it’s warm, rich, and sweet with lots of ambience. 

This copy has big time presence and immediacy that makes it seem as if this all-star quintet was swingin’ in your living room! Both sides have A++ sound — it’s transparent and dynamic with just the right amount of bite to the sax. I don’t think there’s anything you could do to this music to make it sound any better than this.

Sonny is backed here by a heavy-hitting lineup of Barney Kessel, Shelley Manne, LeRoy Vinnegar and Hampton Hawes — all favorites here at Better Records.

Hampton Hawes At The Piano

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  • This huge, rich and natural Contemporary pressing took top honors recently, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • This is the last record Hawes made, and it’s one of the most deeply emotional and satisfying albums of his entire career – it may even be his best, and for a man of his talents, that’s really saying something
  • “Hampton Hawes’ final recording found him returning not only to the acoustic piano after having dabbled in electric keyboards from 1972-74, but to producer Lester Koenig and his Contemporary label, where Hawes recorded most of his classic gems of the 1950s… Teamed up with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, Hawes shows that he was still in prime form.”

This is my favorite Hampton Hawes record of all time. He died less than a year after these sessions. Looking at the cover, you can almost see in his face his acceptance of the end he knew was coming. He plays with deep emotion here.

Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, the same rhythm section who back Joe Sample on my all-time favorite piano trio album, accompany Hawes beautifully here. (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…)

Sonny Rollins – Alternate Takes – It’s a Long Story

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

An absolutely killer pressing of one of our favorite jazz albums! The album is comprised of alternate takes from the Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders sessions, and as such there is a bit of sonic variation between these tracks and the ones on the actual albums. The best-sounding songs here, particularly the material from Way Out West, sound amazing!  (more…)

Art Pepper – Living Legend – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

SUPERB SOUND AND MUSIC! Art Pepper’s saxophone sound is Right On The Money, breathy and airy with clearly audible leading edge transients. The lineup on this LP is stellar, with Hampton Hawes on piano and keys, Shelly Manne on drums, and the great Charlie Haden on bass guitar.   

We’ve mentioned plenty of times what big fans we are of Contemporary Label Jazz LP’s and this record is another sonic triumph for engineer Roy DuNann. The sound is warm and lively, with superb clarity and virtually no distortion. The top end is wonderfully extended, allowing you to really appreciate some fantastic cymbal work by Shelly Manne.

Hampton Hawes is wonderful on this album. On the track “What Laurie Likes,” he switches over to an electric piano, giving the sound a very cool ’70s jazz-rock feel. It’s too bad these guys didn’t record more material in this vein — they really nail it. 

TRACK LISTING

Ophelia 
Here’s That Rainy Day
What Laurie Likes 
Mr. Yohe 
Lost Life 

AMG Review

Art Pepper, one of the major bop altoists to emerge during the ’50s, started his comeback with this excellent set, Living Legend. After 15 years filled with prison time and fighting drug addiction, Pepper was finally ready to return to jazz. Accompanied by three of his old friends (pianist Hampton Hawes, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Shelly Manne), Pepper displays a more explorative and darker style than he had previously. He also shows a greater emotional depth in his improvisations and was open to some of the innovations of the avant-garde in his search for greater self-expression.

Hampton Hawes in 1964 – The Green Leaves of Summer

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  • This ’70s pressing was our Shootout Winner on side two for its clean, clear and lively sound, with lovely space around all of the instruments 
  • Not an easy title to find, and this one is quieter than most of what we played – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Hawes had lost nothing of his swinging style while in prison, as can be heard on such numbers as “Vierd Blues,” “St. Thomas” and “Secret Love,” and he was just starting to hint at moving beyond bop. Recommended.” – All Music

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has wonderful Contemporary All Tube sound, courtesy of the amazing engineering of Howard Holzer. The piano is right — weighty and percussive with a full-bodied tone. The bass definition is superb. The clarity and transparency here are nothing short of breathtaking.

Steve Ellington’s brush work on the snare is very clear on this copy, helping to push the music to the next level. On the great Sonny Rollins track, St. Thomas, Steve Ellington is doing some fancy playing on the rims of his drums — the ambience bouncing off the studio walls is amazing.

A major highlight here is the completely original interpretation of Blue Skies. Hawes gets going with some really complicated two-handed playing. With the superb clarity of this copy you won’t miss a note. (more…)

Hampton Hawes – Vol 2: The Trio

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Hampton Hawes – Vol 2: The Trio

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

This Triple Plus (+++) pressing from ’55/’56 mono tapes is EVERYTHING that’s good about mono. The size, the weight, the solidity, the clarity, the energy, the rhythmic drive – it’s all here and more. This killer pressing has the best sound and the best music we have ever heard on any Hampton Hawes album.

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There is nothing to fault in the sound of side one of this pressing , and side two was nearly as good – what a record!

Both sides are Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. We’ve never heard the record sound better, and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing the album since the ’80s.

These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to transfer that vintage sound correctly onto vinyl disc was simply to thread up the tape on a high quality machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record these days — certainly not as good sounding as this one — tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years, if not decades.

George Horn

George Horn was doing brilliant work on Contemporary recordings all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music.