Top Artists – Barney Kessel

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

More Barney Kessel

More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • Vol. 3, To Swing Or Not To Swing finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades throughout this early Contemporary MONO pressing – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom – this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best
  • For some reason, the guitar sound from this era of All Tube Chain Recording seems to have died out with the times – it can only be found on the best of these vintage pressings, like this one
  • 5 stars: “The unusual repertoire on this set … would by itself make this bop/cool set noteworthy. Add to that a very interesting lineup of players (trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, Georgie Auld or Bill Perkins on tenor, pianist Jimmy Rowles, the rhythm guitar of Al Hendrickson, bassist Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne or Irv Cottler on drums) … and the overall result is a recording highly recommended to fans of straight-ahead jazz.”

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 LPs we’ve ever played. It’s so Tubey Magical. 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.

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Billie Holiday / Songs for Distingue Lovers – Classic Records Reviewed

Sonic Grade: B?

Probably a fairly good jazz vocal album from Classic Records.

Back in the day we noted that: “This is one of the best Billie Holiday records around” and we stand by that statement, at least until another copy of the Classic comes our way and we have a chance to play it.

By the way, we have never had a Hot Stamper pressing of the album on the site. We simply cannot find enough clean copies with which to do a shootout! Not sure we’ve even found one that played quietly and sounded good.

For thirty bucks the price of this Heavy Vinyl pressing has to be seen as a bargain.

But…

Who the hell thought that the label below was better looking than the ones Verve used?

Classic Records was run by some of the most clueless audiophiles there ever were, and this label is a good example of a pitifully poor choice they made in the design of the labelling. (The Shaded Dog “shading” was all wrong but hey, it didn’t seem to bother too many people.)

A self-inflicted wound, and for no reason. Nobody could figure out how to make an authentic looking vintage Verve stereo label? I’m pretty sure it’s been done.

What was the point of this one? It’s ugly and modern. Who wants to collect classic albums with ugly modern labels?

The shiny jackets are bad enough. Now they have to ruin the labels too?


Down Beat’s West Coast editor John Tynan gave this a four star review, remarking that it is “loose, utterly relaxed, a top flight solo work.”

The great Lady Day is backed by Harry Edison’s trumpet, Ben Webster on tenor sax, Jimmy Rowles on Piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Red Mitchell on bass and Alvin Stoller on drums.

Benny Carter / Jazz Giant – Is the OJC Really 100x Worse?

More of the Music of Benny Carter

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

The OJC versions of Contemporary Records are typically thin and somewhat opaque, as well as tizzy up top, the kind of sound one often hears on CDs (and that CD lovers for some reason never seem to notice).

Some OJC pressings, however, can be excellent when you chance upon the right copy. The pressings that were mastered and put out by Contemporary in the mid-’70s (until they were bought by Fantasy) are almost always superior to the OJCs, but these rules of thumb break down so badly and so often that the only workable approach is just to play as many different copies of the album as you can get your hands on and simply let them sort themselves out sonically.

This of course is exactly how we conduct our shootouts. We make a lot of mistakes, but when all is said and done, we rarely fail to come up with the goods, the goods being phenomenal sounding pressings of important music, pressings that are dramatically superior to any others.

Although we’ve liked the OJC of Jazz Giant in the past, last time around the OJC versions were quite a bit smaller and less energetic than our “real” Contemporary stereo pressings. They were a big step down from our killer shootout winner.

The notes read “100x better” if that tells you anything (!)

A clear case of Live and Learn.

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The Poll Winners – Poll Winners Three!

More of The Poll Winners

More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • A superb Contemporary stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from the first note to the last
  • Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with plenty of that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (an old record) ever has
  • Roy DuNann always seems to get phenomenally good sound out of the sessions he recorded – amazingly realistic drums in a big room; Tubey Magical guitar tone; deep, note-like string bass, and on and on
  • 4 stars: “From 1956-1959, it seemed as if guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Shelly Manne won just about every jazz poll. For their third joint recording, the musicians contributed an original apiece and also performed seven standards. Highlights of the fairly typical but swinging straightahead set include ‘Soft Winds,’ ‘It’s All Right with Me,’ ‘Mack the Knife,’ and ‘I’m Afraid the Masquerade Is Over.'”

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Barney Kessel – Hard Left, Hard Right Staging “Problems”

We hear complaints from time to time about hard-left/ hard-right staging, but the right pressing, properly cleaned, then played on the right equipment and all the rest, will allow you to hear the ROOM in the middle, the real space the musicians are in.

It’s the same with The Beatles twin track stereo stuff — there is a room there. The sounds may be stuck in the speakers at your house, but over here that music is floating in the real space of the studio, left to right and including the middle.

This Kessel record really doesn’t have a problem with hard right hard left sound, but some Contemporary titles do and I just thought I would get that off my chest. Modest equipment (as well as not so modest equipment, especially if it’s modern, if my experience is any guide) has one helluva time finding the ambient information on most recordings, just one more reason why we don’t recommend cheap tables and inexpensive phono stages.

A Top Kessel Title

Barney Kessel comes out SWINGIN’ on this 1962 album — he is up for this gig! The energy you hear in his playing is partly the Hot Stamper pressing of course. When you get a record that has all of its dynamics and transients intact, the musicians just come alive in a way that the typically compressed, dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl reissue cannot begin to communicate. We HATE that reissue sound; it’s the main reason we stopped carrying them.

Where is the life of the music you ask? It’s on the kind of Hot Stamper pressings you are reading about right now. The band is cookin’, and because the pressing is so transparent, so open and spacious, you can hear each and every player’s contribution clearly and effortlessly. The cool air of the studio surrounds every instrument. They’re in a nice-sized room and you can really hear the sound bouncing around, just as you would if you were sitting in with the band.

And what would a good Contemporary be without Tubey Magic, especially on the guitar. Man, we love that sound. And check out the deep bass while you’re at it. No half-speed mastered audiophile pressing EVER had bass like this.

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Roy DuNann

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To Swing Or Not To Swing in 1955 with Barney Kessel

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  • 1955 turned out to be a great year for recorded music
  • Not only is the first copy to hit the site in many years but also the BEST, with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++)
  • As Good As It Gets — bigger, richer, fuller, more spacious and with more Tubey Magic than every other copy we played
  • Definitely one of the best early Contemporary LPs we’ve ever played – this is why audiophiles love mono!
  • “Guitarist Barney Kessel’s string of recordings for Contemporary in the 1950s included some of the finest work of his career … highly recommended to fans of straight-ahead jazz.” 
  • If you’re a fan of West Coast Jazz, this All Tube MONO Recording from 1955 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1955 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This Early Contemporary Yellow Label Mono LP sure has AMAZING SOUND! (more…)

The Poll Winners – Self-Titled

More of The Poll Winners

More Contemporary Label Recordings

  • A Contemporary stereo pressing with INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Roy DuNann always seems to get The Real Sound out of the sessions he recorded — amazingly realistic drums in a big room; Tubey Magical guitar tone; deep, note-like bass, and on and on
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The choice of material, the interplay between the three players, and the lead work all meld together beautifully on The Poll Winners, making it a classic guitar album in a small-group setting.”

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Barney Kessel / Let’s Cook – What a Guitar Sound!

  • Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary Stereo sound at its best
  • For some reason, the guitar sound from this era of All Tube Chain Recording is seems to have died out with the times – it can only be found on the best of these vintage pressings, and the better the guitar sounds, the more likely it is that the record will win our shootout
  • For those of you who appreciate what Roy DuNann were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own
  • “[A]n excellent session from guitarist Barney Kessel…matched with vibraphonist Victor Feldman, pianist Hampton Hawes, bassist Leroy Vinnegar, and drummer Shelly Manne.”

We were simply blown away by this pressing. 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!

Barney Kessel comes out SWINGIN’ on this album — he is up for this gig! The energy you hear in his playing is partly the Hot Stamper pressing, of course. When you get a record that has all of its dynamics and transients intact, the musicians just come alive in a way that the typically compressed, dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl reissue cannot begin to communicate. We HATE that reissue sound; it’s the main reason we stopped carrying them.

Where is the life of the music you ask? It’s on the kind of Hot Stamper pressings you are reading about right now. The band is cookin’, and because the pressing is so transparent, so open and spacious, you can hear each and every player’s contribution clearly and effortlessly. The cool air of the studio surrounds every instrument. They’re in a nice-sized room and you can really hear the sound bouncing around, just as you would if you were sitting in with the band.

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Billie Holiday – Music For Torching

More Billie Holiday

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A superb recording of jazz standards with a great lineup and Billie in top form – plenty of Tubey Magical richness and naturally breathy vocals as well
  • Great performances for classics such as It Had to Be You, Come Rain or Come Shine, A Fine Romance and too many more to list
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The overall feeling on this 1955 recording is strictly after-hours: the party is long over but a few close friends remain for nightcaps and, is that the sun peeking through the windows?”

You’d be hard pressed to find a female vocal album from the 1950s with sound comparable to this one. We just finished up a big shootout for the sublimely titled Music For Torching, and this lovely copy was clearly one of the better pressings we played. If you love smoky jazz standards the way only Lady Day can sing them, we think you’ll be blown away to hear her sound this warm, rich and present.

The formula is simple: Take one of the best female vocalists in the game, back her with a stellar crew of jazzmen and set them loose to knock out incredible versions of classic torch songs — It Had To Be You, A Fine Romance, Come Rain Or Come Shine and so forth.

The good news is that the performances turned out to be some of the best ever recorded by this extraordinary singer, and fortunately for us audiophiles, the mono sound turned out to be dramatically better than we would have expected from Norman Granz’s Verve label in 1955.

Both sides are blessed with the kind of mid-’50’s Tubey Magical Analog Sound that’s been lost to the world of recorded music for decades — decades I tell you!

Nobody can manage to get a recording to sound like this anymore and it seems as if no one can even remaster a recording like this anymore, if our direct experience with scores of such albums counts as any sort of evidence.

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Ella Fitzgerald – The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 2

More Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on ALL FOUR SIDES!
  • Forget the originals – like so many of the early songbook pressings, they suffer from painfully hard and honky mastering EQ (and gritty sounding vinyl)
  • We know whereof we speak when it comes to early Ella records – we’ve played plenty of them and found that most just don’t sound very good
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout* — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Duke’s spectacular catalog dazzles, and his sprightly, lush textures are transfigured under Fitzgerald’s warm-timbred voice and elegant, precise delivery… each tune as familiar as it is delightful to hear in this new context.”

This mono reissue is the only way to find the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records. As good as the best of those pressings may be, this record is going to be dramatically more REAL sounding.

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