Top Artists – Art Pepper

Art Pepper – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

More of the Music of Art Pepper

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it has been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn‘s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies.

When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound, on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second.

Of all the people who should know better…

Art Pepper – Smack Up

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More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • This is a classic from Pepper – all the songs were written by saxophonists and he tears into them with gusto and naked emotion, hallmarks of his style of play
  • This is some seriously good-sounding saxophone-led jazz, thanks to Roy DuNann and Lester Koenig
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Pepper is very much on top of his game throughout, ably demonstrating a capacity for precision and intimidating passion. Nowhere is proof more readily available than on these sides, which project Pepper at the peak of his craft.”
  • If you’re a fan of classic jazz from the ’50s and ’60s, this Contemporary from 1960 undoubtedly belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The horns are really jumpin’ out of the speakers here, but they never get hard or squawky like they do on some pressings. This combination of clarity and fullness is not easy to come by, but it lets the music flow in glorious waves of All Tube 1960 analog. With the always wonderful Jack Sheldon on trumpet, this is a great date from the Golden Age of Jazz Recordings. (more…)

Art Pepper – Winter Moon

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

  • Winter Moon debuts on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides of this original Galaxy pressing
  • The sound here is rich and Tubey Magical, which is the only way this music makes any sense on record
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, big and lively, with wonderful clarity in the mids and highs and Pepper’s sax front and center
  • Rosiny string texture is key to the best pressings — the ones that have the highest-resolution strings with the most sheen tend to do the best in our shootouts
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Pepper sounds quite inspired performing seven strong compositions highlighted by Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Winter Moon,’ ‘When the Sun Comes Out’ and a clarinet feature on ‘Blues in the Night.'”
  • If you’re a fan of Art’s, this is an excellent title from 1981 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1981 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Art Pepper+Eleven – Modern Jazz Classics

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

  • A superb vintage Contemporary stereo pressing of this exceptional Art Pepper release from 1960 with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If you buy only one Large Group Hot Stamper jazz record from us, make it this one – the music is swingin’ fun and the sound is going to blow your mind
  • And that’s doubly true if you own any modern reissue (really, almost any reissue at all to be honest) – this is the kind of sound no later pressing from ANY era can compete with
  • Here is the Tubey Magic of the originals without the problems that too often cause the originals to be opaque and uninvolving
  • A personal favorite – 5 stars: “This is a true classic. Essential music for all serious jazz collections.”

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Shelly Manne & His Men – The West Coast Sound, Vol. 1

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More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • Killer Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Contemporary in 1956 was making some awfully good jazz records, with room-filling, natural and realistic mono sound, the kind of sound that still holds up today and doesn’t need a lot of “mastering” to do it
  • 5 stars: “The music has plenty of variety yet defines the era… Highly recommended and proof (if any is really needed) that West Coast jazz was far from bloodless.”
  • If you’re a fan of West Coast Jazz, this is a Top Title from 1956, and one that certainly belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Art Pepper – Roadgame

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More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

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  • These sides are exceptionally low-distortion, lively, solid and dynamic – just what this live music needs
  • “Altoist Art Pepper’s 1981 appearances at Los Angeles’ now-obsolete Maiden Voyage club were fully documented, resulting in three LPs… Although only a year away from his death, the great Art Pepper was still very much in his prime for this memorable outing.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

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Art Pepper / Meets The Rhythm Section

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  • The Contemporary stereo sound here is completely natural in all respects – rich, warm and smooth, the sound we love
  • Recorded in 1957 (the same year as Way Out West) by the legendary Roy DuNann, the sound is absolutely wonderful
  • 5 stars: “… this recording convinced [Pepper] that emotion was the paramount impulse of jazz performance… a diamond of recorded jazz history.”

Many consider this to be the best record Art Pepper ever made, along with Art Pepper + Eleven, and I agree completely.

This one has all the Tubey Magic of the best black label originals, without their bad vinyl and bloated bass. We get black label original Contemporary pressings in from time to time, but few of them are mastered right and most never make it to the site.

Some are pure muck. Some have bloated bass that is hard to believe. Don’t buy into that record collecting slash audiophile canard that Original Equals Better. That’s pure BS. It just doesn’t work that way, and anyone with two good ears, two good speakers and a decent-sized record collection should know better. (more…)

Art Pepper / Intensity – Thoughts on One of the Most Dynamic Contemporary Recordings

More of the Music of Art Pepper

A Classic Case of Audio Progress

[This commentary was written in 2008.]

Intensity is right — this is some SERIOUSLY GOOD SOUNDING alto saxophone led quartet jazz. AMG was right to give this one 4 1/2 stars — the musicianship is top notch and Pepper’s playing is INSPIRED throughout. 

The real surprise was how well recorded this album from 1963 is. I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his playing.

(Pepper was famous for saying that his playing is best when he just plays whatever he feels in the moment, and this record is the best kind of evidence for the truth of that claim.)

Of course, since this is a Roy Dunann recording, all the tubey magical richness and sweetness are here as well, but what is surprising is how transparent, spacious and clear the sound is. Some of Roy’s recordings can sound a bit dead (recording in your stockroom is not always the best for spaciousness) and sometimes are a bit thick as well. Not so here. But it should be pointed out that we liked what we heard from a previous shootout too.

Last time around we wrote:

This record has superb sound: you can actually hear the keys clacking on the man’s alto. And that sort of detail does not come at the expense of phony brightness as it would with your typical audiophile recording. The tonality of the sax, drums, and bass are right on the money, exactly the way we expect Roy DuNann’s recording to be.

This time around we got more extension out of the cymbals. Either these copies are better, were cleaned better, or were helped quite a bit by our new Townshend SuperTweeters. (Probably the last two more than the first one.) (more…)

Art Pepper – …The Way It Was

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It’s airy, open, and spacious with superb clarity and an extended top end – the beautiful reading of Autumn Leaves on side two has demo disc quality sound
  • Included are three tracks left off some of Pepper’s best albums on Contemporary – Meets the Rhythm Section, Intensity and Gettin’ Together
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Despite his very erratic lifestyle, altoist Art Pepper never made a bad record. The first four titles team together Pepper with tenor-saxophonist Warne Marsh for generally intriguing explorations of four standards… this album finds Art Pepper in top form.”

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Art Pepper – So In Love

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More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Big, rich and full-bodied sound was not that easy to find on the album, but this copy managed to pull it off
  • Full of classic material by the likes of Monk and Cole Porter, finally finishing with a very emotional rendition of Stardust
  • “…Pepper is in excellent form throughout the album, giving these songs heart-wrenching interpretations.”

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