Top Artists – Joe Gordon

What Are the Rules for Acquiring Records with the Highest Quality Sound?

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The Riverside pressings we’ve auditioned of both The Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall and Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two – At The Blackhawk were just awful sounding. The OJC reissues from the ’80s, although better, were not overflowing with the rich, natural, relaxed sound we were looking for either.

Ah, but a few years back we happened to drop the needle on one of these good Milestone Two-Fers. Here was the sound we were looking for and had had so little luck in finding.

Which prompts the question that should be on the mind of every audiophile: What are the rules for collecting records with the best sound quality?

The answer, of course, is that there are no such rules and never will be.

There is only trial and error. Our full-time staff has been running trials — we call them shootouts and needle drops — for more than twenty years now, with far more errors than successes. Such is the nature of records. It may be a tautology to note that the average record has mediocre sound, but it nevertheless pays to keep that rather inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your hopes on a current reissue — and you unfortunately find yourself a member of that small minority of audiophiles with reasonably high standards and two working ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Black Hawk, Vol. 3

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  • A stunning sounding copy with a shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one backed with a solid Double Plus (A++) side two
  • This is West Coast Jazz at its best, and if anyone can capture the feeling of hearing jazz in a small club, it’s the engineers and producers at Contemporary
  • The sound is SUPERB – airy, open, and spacious with a solid bottom end – the depth and definition are out of this world
  • “Considering how much music was documented, it is fortunate that trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenorman Richie Kamuca, pianist Victor Feldman, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Shelly Manne were in top form for this enjoyable gig. The music is high-quality straightforward and uncomplicated bebop.”

(more…)

Joe Gordon – Lookin’ Good!

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This Super Hot Stamper pressing has the Contemporary Jazz Sound we LOVE here at Better Records. If you want to know what’s wrong with the sound of your Rudy Van Gelder Squakfest Records, play this LP and bathe in the kind of relaxed, NATURAL tonality that Roy DuNann is justly famous for.

We love the sound of Contemporary Records — it’s our favorite jazz label by a long shot. Roy DuNann always seemed to get The Real Sound out of the sessions he recorded — amazingly realistic drum sound; full-bodied, breathy horns; lots of top end extension; deep, note-like bass; weighty piano, studio ambience, three-dimensionality, and on and on.

The Key to the Sound of the Best Copies

During this shootout we discovered what really sets apart the best copies from the also-rans: listen for the piano in the background, behind the horns. On the best copies it is so clear you can practically “see” it back there.

The copies with a clear piano have TRANSPARENCY that makes all the difference in the world on EVERY instrument. Now everything is clear. As long as the tonal balance is correct, that transparent quality is precisely what will make the best copies much more musically involving.

Let’s face it: many reissues, such as this pressing, recorded in 1961 and pressed in the ’70s, have a veiled, dull quality. When they don’t, man, they can really beat the pants off even the best originals. (more…)

Harold Land – West Coast Blues!

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  • Truly superb sound can be found on both sides of this Jazzland recording, with each earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Wally Heider, recording in San Francisco in 1960, captured the jazz excitement on tape, and George Horn took those tapes and mastered them faultlessly
  • “Tenor saxophonist Harold Land leads an all-star sextet that includes guitarist Wes Montgomery, trumpeter Joe Gordon, pianist Barry Harris, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes… The music is as well-played and swinging as one would expect from this superior bop group.”

This vintage Jazzland/OJC pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Blackhawk Vol. 1 – Reviewed in 2011

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

WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! This Contemporary Yellow Label LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! The sound is SUPERB — airy, open, and spacious with an STUNNINGLY GOOD bottom end. You won’t believe how ALIVE the bass sounds — the depth and definition are OUT OF THIS WORLD! Each instrument here sounds just right — weighty, percussive piano; punchy drums; and lovely leading edge transients on the brass. Contemporary got live nightclub jazz sound down to a “T” here. (more…)

Helen Humes – Swingin’ With Humes – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

SUPERB SOUND AND MUSIC! We’ve been finding great copies of Helen’s Songs I Like To Sing! for some time, but this is the first knockout copy we’ve ever found of this great title from 1961. Both sides have A+++ sound, As Good As It Gets (AGAIG).   

Whoever takes this one home is in for a treat. Make sure your electricity is really cookin’, turn down the lights, and turn up the volume — Helen and her top-notch backing band will be RIGHT THERE IN THE ROOM WITH YOU! The other copies we played sounded pretty good, but this one is MAGICAL.

Both sides have mindblowing clarity and transparency — something that you wouldn’t likely find on an earlier pressing — matched with the kind of tubey magic that’s almost always missing from OJC pressings. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Blackhawk Vol. 2 – Reviewed in 2008

More Shelly Manne

More At The Blackhawk Vol. 2

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

WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! This Contemporary Yellow Label LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! The sound is SUPERB — airy, open, and spacious with an STUNNINGLY GOOD bottom end. You won’t believe how ALIVE the bass sounds — the depth and definition are OUT OF THIS WORLD! Each instrument here sounds just right — weighty, percussive piano; punchy drums; and lovely leading edge transients on the brass. Contemporary got live nightclub jazz sound down to a T here.   

“These lengthy performances (“Vamp’s Blues” is over 19 minutes long) give trumpeter Joe Gordon, the cool-toned tenor-saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Victor Feldman, bassist Monty Budwig and the leader/drummer a chance to really stretch out. Fine 1950s bebop.” — AMG (more…)

Thelonious Monk – In Person

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  • In Person makes its Hot Stamper debut with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on all four sides
  • Unusually rich, full-bodied, lively and present sound which brings out the best in this music
  • Features incomparable jazz greats Donald Byrd and Joe Gordon
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The first half of In Person contains the pianist/composer’s famous Town Hall concert of 1959… The second half of this two-fer finds Monk leading a strong sextet with trumpeter Joe Gordon and tenors Rouse and Harold Land live…”

The Riverside pressings we’ve auditioned of both The Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall and Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two – At The Blackhawk were just awful sounding. The OJC reissues from the ’80s, although better, were not overflowing with the rich, natural, relaxed sound we were looking for either.

Ah, but a few years back we happened to drop the needle on one of these good Milestone Two-Fers. Here was the sound we were looking for and had had so little luck in finding.

Which prompts the question that should be on the mind of every audiophile: What are the rules for collecting records with the best sound quality?

The answer, of course, is that there are no such rules and never will be. There is only trial and error. Our full-time staff has been running trials — we call them shootouts and needle drops — for more than twenty years now, with far more errors than successes. Such is the nature of records. It may be a tautology to note that the average record has mediocre sound, but it nevertheless pays to keep the inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your audiophile hopes on a current reissue — and you have reasonably high standards and two working ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot

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More Art Pepper

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  • This superb pressing of Kessel’s brilliant 1959 larger group outing has a shootout-winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • With Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, and dead on tonality from top to bottom, this is a textbook example of Contemporary’s sound at its best
  • An All Star West Coast lineup came together for this one: Art Pepper (on sax and claritnet!), Shelly Manne, Joe Gordon and others
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Such tunes as “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” “Runnin’ Wild,” “Down Among the Sheltering Palms,” and “By the Beautiful Sea” are given fairly modern arrangements…”

This copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. The liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)