Top Artists – LeRoy Vinnegar

Jimmy Smith – Bluesmith

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  • Bluesmith makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Rich, lively and clear, with plenty of space for this exceptional ensemble to occupy, exactly the classic jazz sound you would expect from a vintage Verve recording that has been properly mastered and pressed
  • 4 stars: “… one of Jimmy Smith’s best Verve releases… [a] surprisingly freewheeling but relaxed jam session… Fine straight-ahead music.”

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Benny Carter and Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

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More Thoughts on Tubes in Audio

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Here’s how we weighed the tradeoffs in the sound of the originals versus that of the reissues, with VTA advice to follow. 

This superb sounding ORIGINAL Black Label Contemporary pressing of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz stereo recording from the late ’50s mastered through an all tube chain.

There’s good extension on the top end for an early pressing, with TONS of what you would most expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it!

We prefer the later pressings in most ways, but this record does something that no later pressing we have ever played can do — get Benny’s trumpet to sound uncannily REAL. If you want to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends what no CD (or modern remastered record) can begin to do, play side two of this copy for them. They may be in for quite a shock. (more…)

Benny Carter / Swingin’ the ’20s – Skip the OJC from the ’80s

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This album is fairly common on the OJC pressing from 1988, but we found the sound of the OJC pressings we played seriously wanting. They have the kind of bad reissue sound that that plays right into the prejudices of most record collectors and audiophiles for whom nothing but an original will do. They were dramatically smaller, flatter, more recessed and more lifeless than even the worst of the ’70s LPs we played.

The lesson? Not all reissues are created equal. Some OJC pressings are great — including even some of the new ones — some are awful, and the only way to judge them fairly is to judge them individually, which requires actually playing a large sample.

Since virtually no record collectors or audiophiles like doing that, they make faulty judgments – OJC’s are cheap reissues sourced from digital tapes, run for the hills! – based on their biases and inadequate sample sizes.

You can find those who subscribe to this approach on every audiophile forum there is. The methods they have adopted do not produce good results, but as long as they stick to them they will never have to worry about discovering that inconvenient truth.

DCC

This is one of the all time great Contemporary recordings. DCC was going to do this on CD at one time; I loaned Steve Hoffman an OJC LP back in the ’90s which he promptly fell in love with. Unfortunately DCC went out of business, and ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS, the people doing the new jazz reissue series on 45 RPM heavy vinyl, wouldn’t recognize a great title like this if it bit them in the ass.

And if they did it their version wouldn’t sound good anyway — none of their stuff ever does, which is why you can find all of their reissues in our Hall of Shame.

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Benny Carter – Swingin’ the ’20s

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  • With superb sides rating Double Plus (A++) or BETTER, this Contemporary pressing was one of the best we played in our shootout
  • These excellent sides are so much bigger and more open, with more bass and energy – the saxes and trumpets are immediate and lively
  • Mr. Earl Hines himself showed up, a man who knows this music like nobody’s business – Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne round out the quartet
  • “Great musicians produce great results, and most of the LP’s tracks were done in one or two takes. The result is ‘a spontaneous, swinging record of what happened’ when Carter met Hines ‘for the first time. . . .'”

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good a 1959 All Tube Analog recording can sound, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

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…)

Phineas Newborn, Jr. Trio – The Newborn Touch

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  • Newborn’s wonderful 1966 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The timbre of the instruments in this brilliant jazz trio is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off
  • This vintage Contemporary pressing boasts exceptionally natural piano sound (courtesy of Howard Holzer) and live-in-the-studio jazz energy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “As is usual on his Contemporary recordings, the pianist explores superior jazz compositions… Newborn’s remarkable control of the piano was still unimpaired, and he is heard giving Oscar Peterson a run for his money.”

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Helen Humes – Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

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More Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

Mean to Me is a favorite test track for side one, with real Demo Disc quality sound. Roy DuNann at Contemporary was able to get all his brass players together in one room, sounding right as a group as well as individual voices. The piano, bass, and drums that accompany them are perfectly woven into the fabric of the arrangement. What makes this song so good is that when the brass really starts to let loose later in the song, with the right equipment and the right room you can get the kind of sound that is so powerful you would almost swear it’s live.

Helen was recorded in a booth for this album, and her voice is slightly veiled relative to the other musicians playing in the much larger room required for so many players. When you get the brass correct, the trick is to get her voice to become as transparent and palpable as possible without screwing up the tonality of the brass instruments. (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…)

Howard McGhee – Maggie’s Back In Town – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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More from 1961 – It Was a Very Good Year

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

This Contemporary LP has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! It’s rich and full a very extended, very natural top end. The cymbals on this record sound AMAZING! Roy DuNann sure knew how to record this kind of jazz. Just listen to the leading edge transients of the trumpet or the punchiness of the drums. There’s no trace of phony EQ or bad mastering whatsoever. (more…)

Shelly Manne and Friends – My Fair Lady

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  • This early Black Label Stereo pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades from start to finish – practically unheard of quiet vinyl for an original!
  • This Contemporary pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce 
  • Recorded entirely in one session, this album was the first jazz recording comprised entirely of songs from a Broadway musical – the results are decidedly provocative
  • 5 stars: “This trio set by Shelly Manne & His Friends… was a surprise best-seller and is now considered a classic…The result is a very appealing set that is easily recommended.”

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