Top Artists – Airto

Deodato / Prelude – Our Shootout Winner from 2017

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Yet Another Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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Listen to the trumpet on the second track on side one — it’s so immediate, it’s practically JUMPING out of the soundfield, just bursting with energy. Rudy can really pull off these big productions on occasion, and this session was clearly one of them. If you have the kind of stereo that’s right for this music (the bigger the better) you could easily find yourself using this record as a demonstration disc. It’s very unlikely your audiophile friends have ever heard anything like it.

Both sides are especially full and rich. The congas are present in the mix and very full-bodied — this allow them to really drive the rhythmic energy of the music. We know this because the copies with congas that were veiled or thin never seemed to get up go. The bass on these two sides was some of the best we heard as well.

The top is most often the problem with these CTI pressings. Both sides here seem to give you all the top end that was on the tape.

There is wonderful transparency and openness to the soundstage, as well as less congestion in the loudest parts. Also Sprach (2001) is on side one of the album and it is KILLER here.

Both sides are also surprisingly sweet and Tubey Magical, nice qualities for a CTI record to have since so many of them are aggressive and edgy to the point of distraction. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – First Light

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More Jazz featuring the Trumpet

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  • This vintage pressing of First Light has outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Features an outstanding lineup including Herbie Hancock on keys, Ron Carter on bass, George Benson on guitar, Airto on percussion, and Jack DeJohnette on the drums.
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The result is a masterpiece of textured sound, gorgeously far-flung charts, sweet, tight grooves, a subtle mystic feel, and some of Hubbard’s most exciting playing ever. While Red Clay [a Better Records favorite] and Straight Life are both fine albums, First Light is the one that connects on all levels — and it did with the jazz-buying public as well. A masterpiece.”

This is more of a mainstream jazz record than Red Clay or Straight Life. Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and this pressing was one of the few in our shootout with the kind of high quality mastering that can do justice to his uniquely energetic, lightning fast jazz style. (more…)

George Benson – White Rabbit

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  • You’ll find SUPERB nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides of this CTI pressing of Benson’s Must Own Masterpiece – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • 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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Donald Byrd – Electric Byrd

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  • Incredible sound throughout for this later Blue Note pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Both of these sides are clean, clear and natural sounding with a lovely bottom end and lots of space around all of the players
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • Donald Byrd’s transitional sessions from 1969-1971 are actually some of the trumpeter’s most intriguing work, balancing accessible, funky, Davis-style fusion with legitimate jazz improvisation. Electric Byrd, from 1970, is the best of the bunch, as Byrd absorbs the innovations of Bitches Brew and comes up with one of his most consistent fusion sets of any flavor… indisputably challenging, high-quality fusion.” – 4 1/2 Stars

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Freddie Hubbard – First Light (2011)

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More First Light

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

This Super Hot Stamper original CTI pressing has a truly SUPERB side two that just put to shame most of what we played. Smeary blurred trumpet blasts? Not here. Nope, the transient bite and energy of the trumpet is as REAL as it gets. 

Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and this pressing was one of the few in our shootout with the kind of high quality mastering that can do justice to his uniquely energetic, lightning fast jazz style.

This is more of a mainstream jazz record than Red Clay or Straight Life. It features an outstanding lineup including Ron Carter on bass, George Benson on guitar, Airto on percussion, and Jack DeJohnette on the drums. (more…)

Airto – Fingers – Top End Extension Is Key to the Best Pressings

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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 Fingers.

The best copies have the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play them against most copies there is an extension to the top end that you won’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical. The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these. 

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull stereo. Those “Old School” stereos are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.) (more…)

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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Bitches Brew

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

STUNNING MASTER TAPE A+++ SOUND ON SIDES ONE AND FOUR. We had no idea this music could sound anywhere near this good; every Hot Stamper shootout we had tried before this week was a complete bust. It’s not an easy album to find in clean condition, let alone a copy that sounds like this and plays quietly throughout! If jazz-fusion is your bag, sides one and four of this copy will take you on a trip like few other records could. You can hear right in to the soundfield, and you can be sure that there’s a whole lot going on in there.

Our favorite track on this album, Miles Runs The Voodoo Down, is found on the A+++ side four, which means the sound for it is OFF THE CHARTS.

The incredible musicianship and Teo Macero’s innovative production each help take these jazz-fusion soundscapes to places most folks had never imagined before. And a copy like this one takes the entire production to a whole new level. I can’t begin to tell you how many crappy copies have hit our table over the years, but after finding this one I’m really glad we never gave up on this album. It’s the copy that finally made the music work for us. (more…)

Airto – Free – Reviewed in 2006

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

This is a Minty looking CTI LP with VERY GOOD SOUND. 

We’re on a winning streak with RVG these days (September 2006), three in a row, in fact: Chet Baker (She Was Too Good To Me), Freddie Hubbard (Red Clay), and now this wonderful Airto record. The best music is found on side two, especially the last two tracks.

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review!

Other than a couple of obscure efforts for Buddah in 1970, this was percussionist Airto’s debut as a leader, and this is still his most famous record. A brass section arranged by Don Sebesky is heard on two tracks, and such all-stars as keyboardist Chick Corea, flutist Hubert Laws, the reeds of Joe Farrell, and even pianist Keith Jarrett and guitarist George Benson make worthwhile appearances. Flora Purim joins Airto in the one vocal piece (“Free”), and “Return to Forever” receives an early recording. The music combines together jazz, Brazilian music, and aspects of fusion and funk quite successfully.

Deodato – Prelude

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  • This killer pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The brass and percussion are amazing on 2001 (and every other track) – thanks RVG
  • We had no idea there was space this huge in the recording until we heard the best copies
  • “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001),” won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance

Both sides are surprisingly sweet and Tubey Magical, nice qualities for a CTI record to have since so many of them are aggressive and edgy to the point of distraction.

Listen to the trumpet on the second track on side one — it’s so immediate, it’s practically JUMPING out of the soundfield, just bursting with energy. Rudy can really pull off these big productions on occasion, and this session was clearly one of them. If you have the kind of stereo that’s right for this music (the bigger the better) you could easily find yourself using this record as a demonstration disc. It’s very unlikely your audiophile friends have ever heard anything like it. (more…)

Airto – Fingers – Truly a Desert Island Disc

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Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto. 

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.) (more…)