Top Artists – Duke Ellington

Masterpieces By Ellington Circa 1951

More of the Music of Duke Ellington

More Large Group Jazz Recordings

  • You’ll find superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage 6-Eye mono pressing – remarkably quiet vinyl for such an early Columbia too
  • The 1951 mono sound is shockingly real, not for the era, but for any era – it’s remarkably big, rich and Tubey Magical
  • A mid-’50s pressing that is almost impossible to find in clean condition – this is one of the nicer copies we’ve seen lately
  • For his first LP, Ellington is freed from prior 3-minute constraints and the results are nothing short of breathtaking on a record this good
  • If you could have only one Ellington LP, Indigos or Masterpieces would have to be one of them
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he and the band rose to the occasion with extended (11-minute-plus) “uncut concert arrangements” of “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Solitude,””

We haven’t done this title in close to two years, mostly because there are so few clean copies around to buy. This was, in fact, one of the only copies in our shootout without audible scratches or groove wear. Let us hope we have more to offer in the months ahead.

We’ve known about this wonderful album for decades, since first got hold of a red label copy from the ’70s. Although not in the league with the best 6-Eye pressings, even that late reissue had enough Columbia magic in its grooves to impress the hell out of me.

And the fact that a jazz album recorded in 1950 was still in print more than twenty years later is testament to the lasting power of Ellington’s music. As Kenny Burrell would say, “Ellington Is Forever.”

(more…)

Duke Ellington – Midnight In Paris / Ellington Fantasies

More Duke Ellington

More Big Band Recordings

xxxxx

xxxxx

  • You’ll find INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout this Harmony reissue LP
  • Both of these sides have plenty of Tubey Magic – they’re fuller, more musical and more natural than all the other copies we played in our shootout
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality Columbia sound from 1962 and reasonably quiet surfaces combine for an immersive listening experience
  • Originally released as Midnight In Paris under the Columbia label in 1962, it was reissued as Ellington Fantasies under Harmony beginning in 1967
  • The original is very rare, but the good news there is that it doesn’t sound as good as our good reissues on the Black Label, which works out great for everybody

(more…)

Letter of the Week – “It sounds like you’re listening to some kind of cultural artifact in a black box…”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently. I’ve edited it a bit.

Hey Tom, 

Curious your thoughts on Analog Productions reissues? From the few I’ve heard, they seem to be among the better ‘new records’ out there, at least when they’re not involving digital in the process. 

Conrad,

How is it that you missed all my posts about their records? This link will take you to them: Analogue Productions.

I feel like I attack them too much, but apparently not!

Simply put, they may be the worst record label of all time.

Certainly no label is worse, some may be as bad, the electric recording guy in England is probably tied for most awful, Mobile Fidelity is up there too, but there are so many contenders for Worst Audiophile Record Label of All Time, how could you possibly know where to begin?

Not one record of AP I have ever heard was not awful, and if there are others that are not awful that I have yet to audition, those are very likely to be worse than a plain old copy easily found in a record store or on the web.

Curious to know what record of theirs you like. I find the very idea almost unimaginable

TP

Haha, enjoyed reading some of that.

I’m in the odd position that I can both entirely see what your criticisms are, and to a good extent share them, and yet, at least with the jazz records I’ve heard from them, I’m also hearing things I like.

They have absolutely no ambience… I have no idea why they’d do this, as it seems deliberate, like they thought this would improve things to a more ‘modern’ sound..?

And yes, this can have the effect of robbing the music of energy, life, interest etc. It sounds like you’re listening to some kind of cultural artifact in a black box, rather than a living piece of music.

On the other hand, the 45s esp. and even the 33s have a lot of presence and dynamic range, don’t sound too veiled (other than due to this bizarre remastering to remove ambience), and have a certain energy of their own – a kind of intensity. Maybe it’s the almost (or sometimes literal, since not all are all-analogue) digital effect; they’re going for that cleanness.

Or perhaps it’s the intensity of being slightly uptight and unnatural… but it’s interesting to hear. I know that sounds nuts, but it’s hard to describe; you have to accept you’re listening to a ‘re-presentation’, not the actual recorded sound.

On the other hand, several MoFi I’ve heard have this very fake ‘audiophile’ sound, with exaggerated mixing, overly thick, etc., and these AP I’ve heard at least sound more natural than this (at least on my system), for all their shortcomings.

I guess we can’t really compare experiences without knowing exactly the records we’ve each heard, and the AP pressings never hold a candle to any of the hot stampers I have received from you. It’s not close; my system and ears clearly know the difference. However, I don’t expect them to, and part of my relatively positive feeling about them is biased by knowing they’re dirt cheap at around $30 a pop.

It could be that your system is revealing their shortcomings more than mine, although I can readily hear the absolute difference between APs and hot stampers; or perhaps my system is tuned somehow to present them in a more favorable light… or perhaps this is just a matter of personal judgement about what we can listen to; I take them for what they are: cheap attempts to modernize the sound of master tapes. They’re nothing on hot stampers, but I’ve heard FAR worse.

Hope I don’t lose all credibility with you for writing this; different systems, different records, different pressings, different ears/moods/etc… just know that the above doesn’t mean I can’t hear and profoundly appreciate the quality of hot stampers! Wouldn’t have dropped what must be approaching $15k by now if I couldn’t, and I cherish every record I’ve bought from you. Keep up the good fight!

C

I can’t agree with much of what you’ve written, other than our Hot Stampers being amazing in every way. I believe you are trying to find reasons to justify the purchases of these modern remastered records, despite the shortcomings of their sound. My stereo is not forgiving enough of their faults to play them for enjoyment, and my ears are not forgiving enough of their sonic irregularities to find them much more than tolerable.

I took off my rose colored glasses a long time ago, and I certainly have no intention of putting them back on.

Our stereo is designed to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of every record we play. Bad records sound awful on it, and mediocre records are a waste of time. There are some heavy vinyl pressings that are neither awful nor mediocre, and you can find our reviews for them here

Years ago, we started to notice that most of the new Heavy Vinyl pressings were sounding worse and worse, and by 2007, when Blue came out, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We decided to take a stand and we have never questioned for a moment the decision we made.

This is what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.
In those days, it was obvious to us that vintage pressings were getting better sounding, or at least some of them did. (We call the good ones Hot Stampers.)

The Heavy Vinyl pressings kept getting worse. They became less and less competitive, and eventually none of them sounded as good as the records we could offer our audiophile customers.

The kind of mediocrity that is rampant in the record business is simply not going to cut it here at Better Records. You may find these modern records to be interesting as artifacts, but we want to listen to music that sounds so real you can forget you’re listening to a record at all. You sure can’t do that with the records these companies are making today.

The EQ anomalies and compression and inability to breathe like vintage records call attention to these remastered discs’ manifold shortcomings the instant the needle hits the groove.

They are a disgusting ripoff, plain and simple. We find their sound insufferable. You should too.

Thanks for your letter,

TP


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

(more…)

Duke Ellington – Duke’s Big 4

More Duke Ellington

More Pablo LPs

  • An outstanding Pablo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from the first note to the last
  • Both sides here are clean, clear, full-bodied and present with plenty of bottom end weight
  • “One of Duke Ellington’s finest small group sessions from his final decade… [his] percussive style always sounded modern and he comes up with consistently strong solos on such numbers as “Love You Madly,” “The Hawk Talks” and especially “Cotton Tail,” easily keeping up with his younger sidemen. Highly recommended.”

It’s incredibly hard to find a Pablo recording of the Duke from this era that has such big, open, clear, solid sound. Val Valentin did the engineering, and as he has so often did the course of his storied career, he knocked it out of the park.

(more…)

Duke Ellington – Blues In Orbit

More Duke Ellington

More Jazz Recordings

  • A STUNNING original Columbia Six Eye stereo pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, and Tubey Magic by the boatload – this amazing 30th Street recording from 1960 shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • “…an album worth tracking down, if only to hear the band run through a lighter side of its sound — indeed, it captures the essence of a late-night recording date that was as much a loose jam as a formal studio date, balancing the spontaneity of the former and the technical polish of the latter.”

(more…)

Duke Ellington – Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins

More Duke Ellington

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this Impulse stereo pressing
  • Once again Rudy Van Gelder delivers the sound that audiophiles and jazz fans alike thrill to
  • Impulse took it upon themselves to reissue this title on Heavy Vinyl many years ago — (I admit I used to sell them, mea culpa) — and it was as mediocre as you might expect, with little of the magic of The Real Thing found on the vintage pressings we offer in Hot Stamper form
  • 5 stars: “This set documents a historic occasion. Although Coleman Hawkins had been an admirer of Duke Ellington’s music for at least 35 years at this point and Ellington had suggested they record together at least 20 years prior to their actual meeting in 1962, this was their first (and only) meeting on record. High points include an exuberant “The Jeep Is Jumpin’,” an interesting remake of “Mood Indigo,” and a few new Ellington pieces. This delightful music is recommended…”
  • A Jazz Classic from 1963 that should appeal to any fan of the work of Ellington or Hawkins
  • The complete list of titles from 1963 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Armstrong & Ellington / An Historic Recording Event

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • Lively, dynamic, transparent, spacious and musical throughout – you won’t believe how good this Jazz Classic from 1961 sounds
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness and presence on this copy than anything you have ever heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market (or the Classic Records pressing, which sounded fine at the time, but up against the real thing, forget it
  • “The music resulting from Thiele’s inspired experiment is outstanding and utterly essential. That means everybody ought to hear this album at least once, and many will want to hear it again and again all the way through, for this is one of the most intriguing confluences in all of recorded jazz. Armstrong blew his horn with authority and sang beautifully and robustly.”

(more…)

Ellington-Basie / First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

More Duke Ellington

More Count Basie

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides, this early Columbia 6-Eye pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Reasonably quiet vinyl too, considering its age – how many early ’60s Columbia Stereo pressings survived with audiophile playing surfaces the way this one did?
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1961 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ellington’s elegance and unique voicings meet Basie’s rollicking, blues-based Kansas City swing, and it works gloriously. The Duke and his band accentuate their swinging dance band side, while Basie and company have never sounded as suave and exotic as when playing Billy Strayhorn arrangements. Everyone has a good time, and that joy infuses this album from start to finish.”
  • If you’re a fan of either or both of these jazz giants, this Classic from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

(more…)

Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington – Francis A. & Edward K.

More Frank Sinatra

More Duke Ellington

  • Sinatra is both natural and present – he actually sounds like he is standing on the same stage as Ellington’s band
  • “Recorded on Sinatra’s birthday in 1967, this collaboration between America’s most popular singing icon and pre-eminent jazz composer still endures as one of Sinatra’s most enjoyable Reprise-era albums.” – Amazon

Recorded one year after the remarkable Sinatra-Jobim record that we treasure here at Better Records, Sinatra takes the opportunity to work with one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of jazz, the Duke himself. We had good luck with the stereo originals on the lovely Blue and Green Reprise labels — they can be as big, rich and warm as Sinatra’s legendary Capitol recordings when you find the right pressing, and that’s really saying something.

You Are There

The presence and immediacy here are really something. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime.

The sound is big, open, rich and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most by a long shot. Very few Sinatra records offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing.

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you. (more…)