Top Artists – Harry “Sweets” Edison

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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Jimmy Witherspoon – Handbags and Gladrags

More Jimmy Witherspoon

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • With KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish, this vintage ABC pressing is one of the best we’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are doing practically everything right – they’re super big, rich and lively, with tons of extension at both ends
  • Spacious and transparent, this copy has the three-dimensional soundstaging and natural vocal reproduction that makes these kinds of records such a joy to play (and in the process a record this good makes a mockery of the veiled, lifeless, ambience-free sound of the modern Heavy Vinyl reissue)

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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.

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…)

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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Sarah Vaughan / Dreamy – Forget the Roulette Originals

More of the Music of Sarah Vaughan

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

The original release for Dreamy is on Roulette, a label we have often found to have problems in the sound department (not to mention notoriously bad vinyl). The originals we’ve played over the years have much too much honk and hardness in the midrange to be taken seriously, at least by us anyway, and certainly not at these prices. When we stumbled upon these good Emus reissues, the skies opened up and the sun shone down upon Sarah’s wonderful 1960 album of ballads as it had never done before.

This reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 30+ years ago, not the dubious modern mastering of today.

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on these superb sides.

We were impressed with the fact that these pressings excel in so many areas of reproduction. What was odd about it — odd to most audiophiles but not necessarily to us — was just how rich and Tubey Magical the reissue can be on the right pressing.

This leads me to think that most of the natural, full-bodied, lively, clear, rich sound of the album is on the tape, and that all one has to do to get that vintage sound on to a record is simply to thread up the tape on the right machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make a record that sounds this good these days tells me that in fact, I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. It just seems to me that somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case in the modern world of vinyl reissues, and has not been for many years.

Oscar Peterson + Harry Edison + Eddie Cleanhead Vinson – Not As Good As We Thought, Sorry!

Hot Stamper Pablo Recordings Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pablo Recordings

The last time I played this album in preparation for a new shootout, which was some time in early 2020, I was not thrilled with either the sound or the music.

I found the lack of ambience and overall artificiality of the recording not to my liking. In the old days — the review below was probably from the early 2000s — my system was not remotely as good as it is now. I can play the space in a recording much better than I could then, and the lack of natural space now bothers me no end, when before it usually did not.

Live and Learn we say!

Many of Allen Sides‘ recordings suffer from a lack of ambience. The musicians do not seem to have much air around them to breathe. Many audiophile recordings, especially direct to disc recordings from the ’70s, are insufferable in this respect, with too much multi-miking and not enough studio space.

A good example of how some audiophiles with modern high-tech recording equipment but little in the way of experience or understanding end up producing records that are not remotely the equal of those that were commonly made twenty years before is this Bach recording by Virgil Fox for Crystal Clear.

Other records that are good for testing Ambience, Size and Space can be found all over this blog.

Two of the Worst

Of course, some of the most ambience-challenged records available today are on Heavy Vinyl. I could link to a hundred of them, but here are two that should get the point across well enough.

This album on DCC, like much of their dubious output, has very little of the breathing space of the vintage pressings we sell.

And the disgraceful label that released this title can be relied upon to press records that no audiophile with a decent stereo and two working ears should want anything to do with.

Our Old Review

Take the following review from decades ago with a very large grain of salt and don’t pay too much for this album if you see one around.

This is a long out of print Pablo LP with AMAZING sound and music. It’s one of those superb Allan Sides engineered recordings at Ocean Way, like Basie 88 Street. Demo disc quality sound is the result! With players like these, the music is every bit as good as any jazz record I know of. In other words, I really like this album.

Ella Fitzgerald – Hello Love

  • Ella’s 1959 release finally arrives on the site with STUNNING Mono sound from first note to last
  • The sound is relaxed, full-bodied and lively, with Tubey Magical richness befitting the 1957 and 1959 recording dates of these sessions
  • Skip the stereo pressing on this title – none of the copies we played could hold a candle to this killer mono LP
  • “The album focuses on well-known songs not included in Fitzgerald’s epic Songbooks project, and several of the songs are tunes that she had recently recorded in duet with Louis Armstrong.”
  • 4 stars: “A fine gem among the diamonds of Ella Fitzgerald’s late-’50s period with Verve… Wrapped in the strings of Frank DeVol’s orchestra, Fitzgerald is a bewitching presence singing these dreamy standards…”

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Billie Holiday – All Or Nothing At All

More Billie Holiday

More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all four sides – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • This 2 LP set features most of the tracks from the original release plus another handful of recordings from the same period (1955-1956)
  • It’s one of the better sounding Billie Holiday records we’ve heard, any guaranteed to beat any Heavy Vinyl reissue you’ve wasted your money on
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.”

Naturally, the highest quality vocal reproduction has to be the main focus on a Hot Stamper pressing for any Billie Holiday record we would offer. Her voice should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and present.

In addition to being tonally correct and natural, the pressings we offer must also be highly resolving. With the right room and the right equipment, properly setup and adjusted of course, you will hear everything that these vintage recordings have to offer, including the three-dimensional space of the studios in which the various sessions were recorded, under the auspices of Norman Granz.

The Sound of the Original

The original Trumpet Player Verve mono we had on hand to play suffered from an EQ problem we frequently run into during our shootouts for vintage vocal albums. Actually, to be clear, there were two main problems in the case of All or Nothing At All: a boosted midrange and occasional quite serious sibilance issues.

Ella Fitzgerald’s albums can suffer from these same two problems. It’s a trick to find the copies that are tonally correct in the midrange and do not have the kind of cutter head distortions that result in excessive sibilance. (more…)

Harry Edison – ’S Wonderful

This date features a couple of my personal favorite all-stars: Shelly Manne and Zoot Sims. Together with Edison they whip up quite a storm, ably supported by Monty Budwig on bass and Mike Wofford on piano.  

AMG  Review

This out-of-print Pablo LP (which will certainly be reissued on CD in the future) is from the later days of the label. Trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison was just beginning to fade around this period but he still sounds in fine form, teamed up wtih Zoot Sims (who plays tenor on three and soprano on one of the six selections), pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Shelly Manne. They perform the leader’s “Elegante” plus five standards with the highlights including “Centerpiece” (Sweets’ famous blues line) and “Sunday.” Fine swinging mainstream jazz.