Top Artists – Oscar Peterson

Ella Fitzgerald – The Duke Ellington Songbook, Volume Two

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Ella Fitzgerald Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • An excellent Verve Mono reissue with wonderful sound on all FOUR sides
  • Forget the originals – like so many of the early songbook pressings, they suffer from painfully hard and honky mastering EQ (and gritty sounding vinyl)
  • We know whereof we speak when it comes to early Ella records – we’ve played plenty of them and found that most just don’t sound very good
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout* — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Duke’s spectacular catalog dazzles, and his sprightly, lush textures are transfigured under Fitzgerald’s warm-timbred voice and elegant, precise delivery… each tune as familiar as it is delightful to hear in this new context.”
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, this Top Title from 1957 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This mono reissue is the only way to find the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records. As good as the best of those pressings may be, this record is going to be dramatically more REAL sounding.

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Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster – on Classic Records

More of the Music of Coleman Hawkins

More of the Music of Ben Webster

Sonic Grade: B

Probably a good Classic Records Jazz album. Years ago we wrote:

A top top jazz title! This is one of our favorite Classic Records LPs from the old days when we were selling Heavy Vinyl. We haven’t played this record in a long time but we liked it very much when it was in print in the ’90s.

We can’t be sure that we would still feel the same way. My guess is that this is still a fairly good record if you can get one for the 30 bucks we used to charge.

Oscar Peterson Trio – West Side Story

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A vintage Verve stereo pressing with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them throughout
  • Rich, solid bass; you-are-there immediacy; energy and drive; instruments that are positively jumping out of the speakers – add it all up and you can see that this copy had the sound we were looking for
  • Which wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t swingin,’ but it is – every track shows just how good this trio was in 1962
  • Credit engineer Bob Simpson, the man behind the legendary Belafonte at Carnegie Hall live recording from a couple of years before
  • An absolute Must Own – for sound and music, this is our pick for The Best Oscar Peterson Album of All Time

This album checks off a number of important boxes for us here at Better Records:

  1. It’s a Jazz Demo Disc (on the right stereo pressings)
  2. It’s the Best Sounding Oscar Peterson album we know of
  3. It’s a Jazz Masterpiece, and, lastly,
  4. It’s a Personal Favorite of yours truly

I’ve known this was a well-recorded album since I first heard the DCC gold CD back in the ’90s. It sounded great to me at the time — I had nothing to compare it to — but it sure didn’t sound like this. (more…)

Oscar Peterson Trio / West Side Story – His Best Recording? Sure Sounds Like It to Us

More of the Music of Oscar Peterson

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Oscar Peterson

I’ve known this was a well-recorded album since I first heard the DCC Gold CD back in the ’90s.

It sounded great to me at the time although I had nothing to compare it to; I was not a fan in those day. But it sure didn’t sound like this Shootout Winner!

I now realize that this album is clearly one of the best jazz piano recordings we’ve ever played. In its own way it’s every bit as good as the other landmark recording we talk so much about, The Three, from 1975.

Both belong in any right thinking audiophile’s jazz collection. Here are some others we’ve put in our Core Jazz Collection.

Both are phenomenal Demo Discs on the best pressings. Other Jazz Demo Discs can be found here.

The description for the amazing copy we found in our shootout more than a decade ago has been reproduced below.

The Right Sound from the Get Go

Side one starts out with a solid, full-bodied piano and snare drum, a sure sign of great sound to come. This side was richer and fuller than all the other copies we played. That rich tonality is key to getting the music to work. It keeps all the instrumental elements in balance. The natural top on this side is just more evidence that the mastering and pressing are top drawer. Great space and immediacy, powerful driving energy — this side could not be beat.

And side two was every bit as good! The sound was jumpin’ out of the speakers. There was not a trace of smear on the piano, which is unusual in our experience, although no one ever seems to talk about smeary pianos in the audiophile world (except for us of course).

Ray Brown’s bass is huge, probably bigger than it would be in real life, but I can live with that. Once again, with this kind of extended top end, the space of the studio and harmonics of the instruments are reproduced brilliantly.

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Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

  • You’ll find very good Hot Stamper sound or BETTER on both sides of this early mono pressing – if only a record of this quality could be found on quieter vinyl!
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • Problems in the vinyl is sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around it if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Santana’s first album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals, this 1956 release is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good. (more…)

Oscar Peterson – A Tribute To My Friends

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  • A superb copy with Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Mastered by Joe Gastwirt at the JVC cutting center, this has the punchy, lively sound that some of the better Pablos are known for
  • The piano reproduction is especially clean, clear and lively, with solid weight down low, just the way we like it
  • 4 stars: “With the assistance of guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Martin Drew, Peterson sounds inspired on such themes as “Blueberry Hill,” “Stuffy,” “Cottontail” and even “A Tisket, a Tasket.”

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Ben Webster / Meets Oscar Peterson on Speakers Corner

Hot Stamper Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Ben Webster

This is a Speakers Corner 180g LP. Years ago we wrote:

“Superb music and sound! This one gets a Top recommendation. This recording captures an intimate Webster session. Ben is at his best in this sort of setting. (He’s at his worst when called upon to “battle” with a gang of loud, frantic exhibitionists.)”

I doubt we would like it as much now as we did then, but if you can get one for cheap, and can stand the typical faults of most Heavy Vinyl pressings being made these days, we say go for it.

Liner Notes

The sensitive, alert and propulsive Peterson Trio frames his stories and statements handsomely, and contributes many notable statements of its own. Pianist Peterson, inspired perhaps by Ben, is in a fine, funky frame of mind (his Kansas City heritage.)

The artists take a bunch of strong, standard songs and personalize them — to say the least. With wonderful humor, Ben can take a sophisticated show tune like This Can’t Be Love (Rodgers and Hart) or Ray Noble’s romantic The Touch of Your Lips and turn it into an earthy finger-poppin’ affair. Or he can paint a picture of profound sadness in his tender, moody When Your Lover Has Gone, or that one-time Sinatra soliloquy, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.


FURTHER READING

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Speakers Corner – Jazz

Here are some of our reviews and commentaries concerning the many Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years, well over 200 at this stage of the game. Feel free to pick your poison.

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

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Oscar Peterson Trio / Live From Chicago – Why Are There So Many Bad Sounding Pressings?

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Oscar Peterson

Some copies are poorly mastered, so poorly that Ray Brown’s bass all but disappears from the trio!

Other copies made Thigpen’s snare sound hard and too forward in the mix.

This is obviously just a mastering EQ problem, since the good copies, such as this one, get all those elements to balance beautifully.

One of the Strobe label copies we played had such a boosted top end it was positively distorted. (The RIAA curve does not allow that kind of top end boost without causing serious problems.)

The Piano

If you have big, full-range speakers one of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano is WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. This is what good live recordings tend to do well. There isn’t time to mess with the sound. Often the mix is live, so messing around after the fact is just not an option. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to capture these wonderful musical performances on vinyl, showing us the sound we never expected from Verve. This is one.

The trio is made up of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, here recorded live at the height of their respective powers. Peterson really puts on a great show. He’s made an awful lot of records during his career and most of them aren’t very good. This is one of the exceptions. “If You Could See Me Now” is another one.

Basie & Peterson – Probably Bad Sounding on Heavy Vinyl, But Who Can Be Bothered to Find Out?

More of the Music of Count Basie

More of the Music of Oscar Peterson

Analogue Productions remastered this longtime favorite of ours, The Timekeepers, on 45 RPM vinyl. Considering their dismal track record — an unbroken string of failures, scoring not a single winner with which I am familiar — I’m guessing the Hot Stamper we offered here would have blown the doors off their version, as well as any other Basie album they have done or will ever do on vinyl.

A good customer emailed us back in 2012 with the quote below, authenticating our rather negative disposition at the time concerning the AP releases from the ’90s:

Recently I unearthed a pile of “The Tracking Angle” magazines, MF’s short-lived venture in publishing, that I’d kept all these years (this may damn me in your eyes, but at the time he was one of the more animated [animated but consistently wrong, not a good tradeoff] writers on audio). I dutifully reread the very first issue (Jan. 1995) for the first time in many years, even a review of “Tea for the Tillerman,”… I was flabbergasted to come across this:

So what does Mr. “Better Records” think? In a newsletter where he says a digital remastered OJC vinyl title sounds better than Acoustic Sounds’ all analogue version and says the whole lot of them “suck” and “simply cannot sound good on a good stereo,” he calls this Cat Stevens reissue “Fabulous. Very dynamic with plenty of presence in the midrange, unlike the ‘audiophile’ records of today.”

We proudly stand behind every word. If the comparable OJC title sounds better than the remastered one Acoustic Sounds is peddling, then it sounds better, digital remastering or no digital remastering. We don’t pay any attention to who makes the records, how they make them or why they make them. We just play them and let the chips fall will they may. Mr. Fremer thinks that making records the “right” way should result in better sounding records, but we have found precious little evidence to back up that theory, and volumes of evidence refuting it.

Yes, those Analogue Productions records sucked, they continue to suck, and they will always suck. The “audiophile” records of that day did lack presence, and the passage of time is not going to change that fact. Play practically any Reference, Chesky or Classic title from 1995 to the present day and listen for the veiled midrange, the opacity, the smeary transients, and the generally constricted, compressed, lifeless quality of its sound, a sound that has been boring us to tears for close to two decades (and fundamentally undermining the very rationale for the expense and hassle of analog itself in the modern digital age, a much more serious charge).

Ask yourself, where are those records now?

Piled on the ash heap of analog history, that’s where (apologies to Leon Trotsky). Nobody writes about them anymore, and it’s not because they were so good, no matter what any audiophile-type reviewer thought or may think about them.

As long as Analogue Productions is around, at least no one can say that Mobile Fidelity makes the worst sounding audiophile records in the world. They are certainly some of the worst, but not so hopeless that they have never made a single good sounding record, which is the title that Chad Kassem holds.

To the best of our knowledge. Obviously we have only played a small fraction of the records released on his godawful label. In our defense let me say that a small fraction was all we could take.


FURTHER READING

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Oscar Peterson / The Trio – Live From Chicago

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Oscar Peterson

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  • Tonally correct from top to bottom and as transparent as any vintage recording you’ve heard, the combination of clarity and Tubey Magic here is hard to beat
  • The Trio, including Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, are in fine form on these live recordings from the London House in Chicago; if you want to hear one of the great jazz trios at the height of their powers, this is the ticket!
  • “…[Peterson] was generally in peak form during this era. He sticks to standards on this live [album] (a good example of the Trio’s playing), stretching out ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ creatively for over 11 minutes and uplifting such songs as ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,’ ‘Chicago’ and ‘The Night We Called It a Day.'”
  • If you’re a fan of Oscar’s, this Top Title from 1961 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Peterson really puts on a great show. He’s made an awful lot of records during his career and most of them aren’t especially noteworthy. This album is clearly an exception to that rule. (If You Could See Me Now is another one.)

This pressing was a HUGE step up from the other copies we played in our recent shootout. This killer copy has the immediacy that puts you front and center at The London House for a great jazz show. Ray Brown is his usual incredible self on bass.

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