Top Artists – LeRoy Vinnegar

Leroy Vinnegar Sextet – Leroy Walks!

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  • 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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Sonny Rollins – Taking Care Of Business

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on all four sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The complete Tenor Madness album is found here, with big, full-bodied, MONO jazz sound at its BEST, courtesy of the great one, Rudy Van Gelder
  • This is what classic ’50s jazz is supposed to sound like – they knew how to do these kinds of records forty years ago, and those mastering skills are in short supply nowadays, if not downright extinct
  • The transfers from 1978 by David Turner are in tune with the sound of these recordings – there’s not a trace of phony EQ on this entire record
  • “Tenor Madness was the recording that, once and for all, established Newk as one of the premier tenor saxophonists, an accolade that in retrospect, has continued through six full decades and gives an indication why a young Rollins was so well liked, as his fluency, whimsical nature, and solid construct of melodies and solos gave him the title of the next Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young of mainstream jazz.”

This Two-Fer includes all of Tenor Madness and most of Work Time and Tour De Force.

Top jazz players such as Ray Bryant, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Kenny Drew, Max Roach and Paul Chambers can be heard on the album.

If you want all the tubey magic of the earlier pressings, a top quality pressing of the real Tenor Madness album on Prestige is going to give you more of that sound. David Turner’s mastering setup in the ’70s has a healthy dose of tubes, but it can’t compete in that area with the All Tube cutting systems that were making records in the ’50s and ’60s.  Without one of those early pressing around to compare, we don’t think you’re going to feel you are missing out on anything in the sound with this killer copy.

And where can you find an early Prestige pressing with audiophile playing surfaces like these?   (more…)

Shelly Manne and his Friends / My Fair Lady – This Black Label Original Stereo Pressing Was Just Awful

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 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.

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 account for the confirmation biases that go along with that approach.

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More Stamper and Pressing Information


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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 – Swingin’ the ’20s

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  • 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…)

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…)

Shelly Manne and his Friends – My Fair Lady

  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on vinyl that’s about as quiet as these vintage stereo pressings ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is an exceptional Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • 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.

Which Contemporary Label Won the Shootout?

What color label — black, green, yellow, orange — won the shootout, you ask? (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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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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