Top Artists – Barney Kessel

What We Listen For – Timbre, Richness, Tubey Magic and Freedom from Artificiality

 

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This Home Audio Exercise entry was inspired by the wonderful qualities of the Contemporary recording you see pictured, qualities brought to our attention while doing a shootout of various pressings of the album in early 2009. 

We addressed a number of issues in our commentary: first and foremost what we were listening for on the album (and what we were hearing). A bit of mono versus stereo (in this case both can be good), followed by some Audiophile Equipment bashing.

We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your own equipment. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc.

Two of the best sounding jazz guitar records in the history of the world were made by Barney Kessel for Contemporary: this one, and Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By. (We have a fabulous mono copy on the site as I write this.) I used to have them both in my personal collection. [This was written many years ago when I actually had a personal collection. With 40,000 records in stock I don’t need a collection of my own anymore. Any record I might want to play is in stock, waiting to be shot out.]

Such a wonderful idea for an album. The melodies from Bizet’s Carmen are unforgettable and perfect fodder for jazz improvisation. Don’t think that this is just guitar and rhythm. This is a full band with lots of horns, clarinets of all kinds, bassoons, oboes, flutes, piano, vibes — the variety of sounds to be found on this album is practically unlimited. And with Roy DuNann’s engineering, you will never hear richer, fuller sound with more accurate timbers for all the instruments mentioned above. The guy was a genius. His recordings define High Fidelity for me. I know of none better. (more…)

Julie London – About The Blues

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Julie’s lilting vocals are clear, breathy, Tubey Magical, and sweet, like practically nothing you’ve ever heard. This copy is about as quiet as we can find these 1957 Turquoise original mono pressings, Mint Minus Minus* throughout. 

Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

Take it from a huge Julie London fan, you can’t go wrong here, not for sonics, for music, or for anything else, including playing surfaces. In our experience, this lovely vintage pressing is as quiet as can be found. About The Blues is five times more rare than Julie Is Her Name, which makes finding clean copies much harder than it should be.

The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a Classic Fifties Female Vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo.

And you would surely be making someone a fan of Julie London’s early recordings. They are simply amazing on every level, or at least the best ones sure are. This title slotted in between 1956’s Calendar Girl (which is every bit as hard to find) and Make Love to Me, from later on in 1957. All three are wonderful.

Midrange Magic

Get the volume right and Julie will appear right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. This early pressing also has the midrange magic that’s no doubt missing from whatever 180g reissue might be available. This one is guaranteed to be dramatically more REAL sounding. It will give you the sense that Julie London is right in front of you. (more…)

Billie Holiday – The First Verve Sessions

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  • Excellent sound throughout with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • All four sides here are clear and full-bodied with wonderfully breathy vocals and the kind of vintage analog sound you won’t hear from any modern reissue or CD, that’s for sure
  • This double LP set captures some of Billie’s best music from the years 1952 to 1954 and features Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, Flip Phillips, Freddie Green, Charlie Shavers and more

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Sonny Rollins – Sonny Rollins & the Contemporary Leaders

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  • Incredible sound throughout for this later Contemporary pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades; exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Both of these sides are textbook examples of the kind of rich, smooth, natural, effortless Contemporary Jazz sound that Roy DuNann’s All Tube Recording Chain was famous for in 1958
  • “The last of the classic Sonny Rollins albums prior to his unexpected three-year retirement features the great tenor with pianist Hampton Hawes, guitarist Barney Kessell, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Shelly Manne… Great music.”

This Contemporary Yellow 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.

Sonny is backed here by a heavy-hitting lineup of Barney Kessel, Shelley Manne, Leroy Vinnegar and Hampton Hawes — all favorite players of ours here at Better Records. (more…)

The Poll Winners – Straight Ahead

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  • This superb collaboration has KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Musically, this is by far our favorite Poll Winners record – these guys got back together after 15 years and were eager to prove that they still had their youthful exuberance, and even better chops, which they did have and did prove!
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Kessel in particular is heard in excellent form… Overall this is the best all-around recording by The Poll Winners and is easily recommended to bop fans.”

These guys play with more spunk here than on any other album of theirs I’ve ever heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around, mentioning that Roy DuNann had lost none of his engineering skills in the intervening years either.

This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best. You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up. (more…)

Julie Is Her Name – A Boxstar Bomb

 

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A Hall of Shame pressing from Cisco / Impex / Boxstar.

One question: Where’s the Tubey Magic?

We would never have pointed you in the direction of this awful Boxstar 45 of Julie Is Her Name, cut by Bernie Grundman, supposedly on tube equipment. I regret to say that we actually sold some copies, but in my defense I can honestly and truthfully claim that we never wrote a single nice thing about the sound of the record. That has to count for something, right? (more…)

Barney Kessel – Vol. 3: To Swing Or Not To Swing

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

This Early Contemporary Yellow Label Mono LP sure has AMAZING SOUND!

Man, this music is a blast when it sounds this good. I don’t think there’s a whole lot you could do to make this music sound any better! It’s one of the best early mono Contemporary LP I’ve ever played. It’s so tubey magical and Kessel’s guitar sound is out of this world. 

The music here matches the sound for excellence. The whole band just swings. There’s a real old rag-timey feel to the songs. Look at this list of all-star players: Harry Edison, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne — this is some serious jazz talent. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Workin’ Out – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This is a 2-pack set of original pressings that gives you wonderful sound for both sides of this great Contemporary album, A++ for the first and A+++ for the second. There is a catch, however, one that won’t bother some of you at all but will drive a few of you crazy: the side one pressing is in mono and the side two is in stereo. All that mattered to us was that they both sounded great, and a quick flip to the not-so-hot side of either pressing will quickly show you why we paired these up.    

I imagine there are both mono and stereo copies that sound great on both sides, but we sure haven’t been able to find one! Obviously this is not an easy record to come by these days. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Barney Kessel Plays Carmen (Stereo) – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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More Barney Kessel Plays Carmen (Stereo)

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

This original Black Label Contemporary stereo LP has a STUNNING side two! Barney Kessel Plays Carmen is one of our favorite jazz guitar recordings of all time, and on a copy like this the sound is absolutely KILLER. 

As you can see from looking at the condition notes, this copy is quieter than any other we have listed to from our recent shootout. Fifties jazz doesn’t play much better than this copy right here. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Carmen – Transparency Is Key

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More Carmen

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The best Hot Stamper Original Yellow Label Mono pressings have the Tubey Magic we’ve come to expect from Contemporary circa 1958, with that warm, rich, full-bodied sound that most engineers can’t begin to understand. However, some pressings in our shootout managed to give us an extra level of transparency and ambience that the original pressings rarely do. 

There’s a room around this drum kit. So many copies don’t show you that room, not if they have the full sound that a copy like this does. (It’s amazing all the detail you can hear in a leaned-out record, but what good is that? The sound is leaned out! If you like that sound buy the OJC or the CD. Leave these wonderful originals to those of us who know the sound we’re after.)

I had the OJC pressing of this record years ago and couldn’t get in to the music. The OJC’s tend to be a bit on the thin side and it killed my enjoyment of this album. (more…)