Top Artists – Andre Previn

Shelly Manne and his Friends / My Fair Lady – This Black Label Original Stereo Pressing Was Just Awful

In our experience, the Black Label stereo originals with D4/D5 stampers are terrible sounding.

With those stampers, My Fair Lady is a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early pressing we’ve reviewed and found wanting. Both sides graded “No,” our not-especially-technical term for a record that sounds bad.

Notes for Side One:

Track one is bright and unnatural up top. Track two is not very musical.

Notes for Side Two:

Track one is very weird sounding, thin and small.

(Obviously there was no need to play a second track.)

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, some Contemporary originals are very poorly mastered, which should put paid to the idea that Hot Stampers are only, or even usually, original pressings.

In our most recent shootout, the second-best sounding pressing was on the early Black Label. We would love to give out the stampers for that one, but we don’t do that.

Click here to read about the various labels that Contemporary used over the years. Some people like to search for relationships between the sound of the pressing and the label it has, but in our experience that is more often than not a fool’s game once you account for the confirmation biases that go along with that approach.


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Gershwin / Rhapsody In Blue – We Changed Our Minds Again

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of George Gershwin

More Spectacular Orchestral Recordings

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I’ve always loved these performances, but the crude, smeary and painfully-shrill-at-louder-levels Columbia sound quality had always been a powerful barrier to my enjoyment of them.

So many copies suffer from upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound and blary brass. I had come to accept that this is nothing more nor less than “The Sound of Columbia Classical.” As a consequence we rarely put much effort into cleaning and testing their vintage pressings; the good ones were just too hard to find.

I won’t say all that’s changed; it really hasn’t. The vast majority of Columbia classical pressings are still going to sound more or less as awful as they have in the past.

However, there are properly mastered pressings of this album that display little of the “Columbia sound” we describe above. They would obviously be the ones that would do well in our shootouts, as long as they are not too thin, bright and modern sounding.

There was a time when we thought the Red Label Seventies pressings were the best way to hear these performances. This time around that was not the case, as none of them had the heft and Tubey Magical strings and brass of our best early pressings.

Nothing could touch this amazing sounding Six Eye pressing.

Nothing could touch the Six Eye pressing of the Bernstein recording we played either, for what that’s worth.

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Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

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What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness.

We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI the way they did back in the ’70s. Harry Pearson loved many of their recordings, but I sure didn’t.  To this day, some of the records on the TAS List seem to me better suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the ’70s than the modern systems of today.

I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the four basics:

  • the limitations of the equipment,
  • bad setups,
  • bad rooms, and
  • poor record cleaning

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s such as McIntosh, Marantz, etc. — I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that exist today.

Today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

The more revealing, more accurate systems of today are in fact what make it possible for us to do our job.

We used to not do it as well, and we talk about it in our Live and Learn section.

You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like. They should sound amazing on your system and in your room, and we stand behind that claim with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record is correct. All you need to do is play it back properly.

With each improvement you make in your system, the kinds of high quality pressings we sell — we call them Hot Stampers — will continue to reveal better and better sound in their grooves.

This is not true for the Modern Heavy Vinyl reissue. The better a system gets, the more the faults of those pressings come to light.  This typically sad story is one that is all too common with our customers. (more…)

Shelly Manne and His Friends / Part One – You Simply Cannot Record a Piano Better than Roy DuNann

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I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak my stereo and many of those that were owned by friends. 

Playing the original stereo record on the Black Label, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention, all of which I simply attributed to the limitations of the vintage mastering.

Well, things have certainly changed.

I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on the pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on this blog.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Holst / The Planets – Remastered on 2 Japanese 45 RPM LPs, It’s Just Awful

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

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This EMI 45 RPM Japanese Import 2 LP set with the OBI strip and Little Sign Of Play (LSOP) is widely considered one of the great Planets, but it’s not, based on our playing of a copy we had years ago, which means it belongs in our Hall of Shame. 

The best copies on British or Dutch EMI vinyl are clearly better than this “audiophile” pressing. What else is new? 


FURTHER READING

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – 45 RPM Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Direct to Disc Recordings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Japanese Pressings

Record Collecting Myths

Barney Kessel / Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

More Barney Kessel

More Jazz Featuring the Guitar

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  • Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By finally returns to the site with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Contemporary Stereo sound on both sides
  • 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
  • For those of you who appreciate what 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
  • Barney Kessel and his five reed players take these standards and make magic with them — for fun, relaxing jazz it’s hard not to love this one

This vintage Black Label Contemporary Stereo LP from has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL.

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. It’s pretty much everything you want in a recording from this era. I’d love to keep it but when would I have time to play it? I can assure you I will sleep very well knowing that it’s going to a good home. (more…)

Shelly Manne and his Friends – My Fair Lady

  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on vinyl that’s about as quiet as these vintage stereo pressings ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is an exceptional Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • Recorded entirely in one session, this album was the first jazz recording using only songs from a Broadway musical
  • 5 stars: “This trio set by Shelly Manne & His Friends… was a surprise best-seller and is now considered a classic…The result is a very appealing set that is easily recommended.”

This vintage Contemporary Stereo LP from has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND.

It’s all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. It’s pretty much everything you want in a recording from this era.

How can you beat a Roy DuNann piano trio recording? 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. This Shelly Manne album marries Jazz with Broadway in an unexpected, yet sublime union.

Which Contemporary Label Won the Shootout?

What color label — black, green, yellow, orange — won the shootout, you ask? (more…)

Holst and Previn – A Planets for the Ages

More on The Planets

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

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  • After a lengthy shootout hiatus we proudly present the best side two of this album to hit the site since 2013
  • Out Of This World sound on side two, where it earned a Four Plus sonic grade for its MINDBLOWING orchestral power
  • Side one earned a seriously good grade of Double Plus (A++) – it’s rich, clear and dynamic, with weighty brass
  • A TAS List Super Disc, with a performance by Previn and the LSO that’s as spectacular as the sound
  • This copy has some condition issues – those of you looking for a quiet copy will have to wait for the next shootout in 2018 or thereabouts

This copy has a side two that is so off the charts we ended up giving it Four Pluses. A Four Plus copy has to meet a standard higher than our regular top grade, and we define that standard as “better than we ever imagined any copy could ever sound.” (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on vinyl that’s about as quiet as these Black Label originals ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is a Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • It’s also our favorite jazz piano performance by Andre Previn on record
  • “Previn’s piano is the lead voice and his virtuosity, good taste, melodic improvising, and solid sense of swing are chiefly responsible for the music’s success.”

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s All Tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention, all of which I simply attributed at the time to Old School vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on the pressing I owned.

To be fair, this is of course a different pressing. I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning approach, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Andre Previn & His Pals – West Side Story

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  • Previn’s stellar piano trio returns to the site with jazzy interpretations of the best songs from West Side Story, in stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound
  • You win shootouts with this kind of All Tube Analog sound – warm, natural, lively and clear, with solid support down low, a nicely extended top and a huge three-dimensional soundfield 
  • Andre Previn and his friends take eight classic tunes from West Side Story – it would be hard to imagine having better material to work with in a jazz setting
  • 4 stars: “The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story… As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.”

One of Previn’s best piano trio records, this album was recorded in 1959 by Roy DuNann while at the height of his engineering powers.

The two Must Owns from his many sessions at Contemporary are this album and Bells Are Ringing. We are not aware of any of his jazz piano albums on other labels being much better than passable and most are not worth picking up at any price. Believe me, we’ve tried. The one exception I can think of is Four to Go on Columbia. It’s pretty good. Not in the same league as his Contemporary recordings by a long shot, but better than most of his output from the ’60s.

For both the albums mentioned above the Black Label originals in stereo are the best way to go, but finding them in clean audiophile playing condition is no walk in the park, which is the main reason it’s been four years since we did either title, and I think we have not been able to find a single copy of Bells worth buying since then. Some records show up on the site and are never seen again. That may be one of them. Time will tell. (more…)