Top Artists – LeRoy Vinnegar

Shelly Manne and his Friends – The D4/D5 Stereo Pressings Are Just Awful

More of the Music of Shelly Manne

More Stamper and Pressing Information

In our experience, the Black Label stereo originals with D4/D5 stampers are terrible sounding.

With those stampers, My Fair Lady is undoubtedly a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early pressing we’ve reviewed and found wanting.

Both sides graded “No,” our not-especially-technical term for a record that sounds really bad.

Notes for Side One:

Track one is bright and unnatural up top. Track two is not very musical.

Notes for Side Two:

Track one is very weird sounding, thin and small.

(Obviously there was no need to play a second track.)

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, some Contemporary Label originals are very poorly mastered, which should put paid to the idea that Hot Stampers are only, or even usually, original pressings.

In our most recent shootout, the second-best sounding pressing was on the early Black Label. We would love to give out the stampers for that one, but we don’t do that.

Here is the description of our current Shootout Winning Pressing. We didn’t even give out the label of that one because it seems that copies with that label do very well and we want to be able to find more of them.

Click here to read about the various labels that Contemporary used over the years.

Some people like to search for relationships between the sound of the pressing and the label it has, but in our experience that is more often than not a fool’s game once you take into account the confirmation biases and other kinds of bad audiophile thinking that go along with that approach.


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Helen Humes – Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

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.

The natural inclination is to brighten the sound up to make her voice more clear. But you will be made painfully aware that brighter is not better when the brass gets too “hot” and practically tears your head off. The balance between voice and brass is key to the proper reproduction of this album.

Once you have achieved that balance, tweak for transparency while guarding against too much upper midrange or top end. (Which means watch out for audiophile wires that can fool you!)

Shelly Manne and his Friends – My Fair Lady on the Black Label

  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start – a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • Here is the proof that this is an Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, which is saying a lot, considering how many great recordings this label can claim
  • Recorded entirely in one session, this album was the first jazz recording using only songs from a Broadway musical
  • 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.”

This vintage Contemporary Stereo LP from has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND.

It’s all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. It’s pretty much everything you want in a recording from this era.

How can you beat a Roy DuNann piano trio recording? The timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off.

This Shelly Manne album marries Jazz with Broadway in an unexpected, yet sublime union.

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

More of the Music of Benny Carter

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

This album is fairly common on the OJC pressing from 1988, but more recently we’ve found the sound of the OJC pressings we’ve played seriously wanting. They have the kind of bad reissue sound that that plays right into the prejudices of record collectors and audiophiles alike, the kind 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. (We tend to like those by the way.)

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 reliance on 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.

In the ’90s there were a great many more OJC titles I liked the sound of then than I do now, a classic case of Live and Learn.

To quote a very wise man named Ronny Lane, formerly with The Faces:

I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was younger

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 top title like this one if it bit them in the ass.

And if they did remaster it, their version wouldn’t sound good anyway. How could I possibly know that?

Easy. 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

More Benny Carter

More Shelly Manne

  • 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…)

Leroy Vinnegar Sextet – Leroy Walks!

More Leroy Vinnegar

More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • Leroy Vinnegar’s debut album finally arrives on the site with a KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two and a truly oustanding Double Plus (A++) side one 
  • The Contemporary LP stereo sound here is completely natural in every respect, yet still rich, warm and smooth
  • Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer engineered some of the best sounding records we have ever heard – here’s a textbook example of what the audiophiles at Contemporary were able to achieve in the studio
  • 4 stars: “…Vinnegar generously features his talented sidemen… A fine, straight-ahead session.”
  • Fans of exceptionally well-recorded West Coast jazz will find much to like on this recording from 1958.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Jimmy Smith – Bluesmith

More Jimmy Smith

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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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