Top Artists – Shelly Manne

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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What We Listen For – Timbre, Richness, Tubey Magic and Freedom from Artificiality

 

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This Home Audio Exercise entry was inspired by the wonderful qualities of the Contemporary recording you see pictured, qualities brought to our attention while doing a shootout of various pressings of the album in early 2009. 

We addressed a number of issues in our commentary: first and foremost what we were listening for on the album (and what we were hearing). A bit of mono versus stereo (in this case both can be good), followed by some Audiophile Equipment bashing.

We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your own equipment. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc.

Two of the best sounding jazz guitar records in the history of the world were made by Barney Kessel for Contemporary: this one, and Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By. (We have a fabulous mono copy on the site as I write this.) I used to have them both in my personal collection. [This was written many years ago when I actually had a personal collection. With 40,000 records in stock I don’t need a collection of my own anymore. Any record I might want to play is in stock, waiting to be shot out.]

Such a wonderful idea for an album. The melodies from Bizet’s Carmen are unforgettable and perfect fodder for jazz improvisation. Don’t think that this is just guitar and rhythm. This is a full band with lots of horns, clarinets of all kinds, bassoons, oboes, flutes, piano, vibes — the variety of sounds to be found on this album is practically unlimited. And with Roy DuNann’s engineering, you will never hear richer, fuller sound with more accurate timbers for all the instruments mentioned above. The guy was a genius. His recordings define High Fidelity for me. I know of none better. (more…)

Tom Waits – Foreign Affairs

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning sound or close to it on both sides, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for the album
  • This early pressing was hard to fault – it will put Tom Waits right between your speakers, with a batch of great session players behind and to the side, all playing live in the studio
  • “The album contains more ballads than most of his records do, but they were the most effective vehicles for the kind of storytelling he was trying to get to. Produced and engineered by Bones Howe, Foreign Affairs was recorded live in studio by a quintet that included West Coast jazzmen Jack Sheldon on trumpet, saxophonist Frank Vicari, bassist Jim Hughart, and drummer Shelly Manne.

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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…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on vinyl that’s about as quiet as these Black Label originals 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 a Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • It’s also our favorite jazz piano performance by Andre Previn on record
  • “Previn’s piano is the lead voice and his virtuosity, good taste, melodic improvising, and solid sense of swing are chiefly responsible for the music’s success.”

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s All Tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention, all of which I simply attributed at the time to Old School vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on the pressing I owned.

To be fair, this is of course a different pressing. I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning approach, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Julie London – About The Blues

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Julie’s lilting vocals are clear, breathy, Tubey Magical, and sweet, like practically nothing you’ve ever heard. This copy is about as quiet as we can find these 1957 Turquoise original mono pressings, Mint Minus Minus* throughout. 

Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

Take it from a huge Julie London fan, you can’t go wrong here, not for sonics, for music, or for anything else, including playing surfaces. In our experience, this lovely vintage pressing is as quiet as can be found. About The Blues is five times more rare than Julie Is Her Name, which makes finding clean copies much harder than it should be.

The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a Classic Fifties Female Vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo.

And you would surely be making someone a fan of Julie London’s early recordings. They are simply amazing on every level, or at least the best ones sure are. This title slotted in between 1956’s Calendar Girl (which is every bit as hard to find) and Make Love to Me, from later on in 1957. All three are wonderful.

Midrange Magic

Get the volume right and Julie will appear right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. This early pressing also has the midrange magic that’s no doubt missing from whatever 180g reissue might be available. This one is guaranteed to be dramatically more REAL sounding. It will give you the sense that Julie London is right in front of you. (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…)

The Poll Winners – Straight Ahead

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  • This superb collaboration has KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Musically, this is by far our favorite Poll Winners record – these guys got back together after 15 years and were eager to prove that they still had their youthful exuberance, and even better chops, which they did have and did prove!
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Kessel in particular is heard in excellent form… Overall this is the best all-around recording by The Poll Winners and is easily recommended to bop fans.”

These guys play with more spunk here than on any other album of theirs I’ve ever heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around, mentioning that Roy DuNann had lost none of his engineering skills in the intervening years either.

This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best. You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up. (more…)

Sonny Rollins – Alternate Takes

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  • This STUNNING copy boasts a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side one – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of our favorite Sonny Rollins records for sound – both sides here are incredibly big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This LP contains alternate versions of selections from two famous Sonny Rollins albums: Way out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders. These “new” renditions… hold their own against the classic versions. …the music is hard-swinging and frequently superb.”

The album is made up of alternate takes from the Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders sessions, and as such there is a bit of sonic variation between these tracks and the ones on the actual albums. The best-sounding songs here, particularly the material from Way Out West, can sound amazing!

The best copies are rich and tubey; many pressings were thin and modern sounding, and for that they would lose a lot of points. We want this record to sound like something Roy DuNann recorded with an All Tube chain in 1958, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless suffer from.

Some copies have much more space; some are more present, putting the musicians right in the room with you; some are more transparent, resolving the musical information much better than others, letting you “see” everyone in the studio clearly. Some have more rhythmic drive than others. On some the musicians seem more involved and energetic than they do on the average pressing.

The copies that do all these things better than other copies are the ones that win our shootouts.

This is clearly one of the best copies we have ever played. We think you will enjoy it immensely. (more…)

Tom Waits – Small Change

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This is a wonderful album, considered by many to be Waits’s masterpiece. He’s backed with a real jazz combo here, including Lew Tabackin on sax and the great Shelley Manne on drums. Bones Howe does a great job gettin the kind of beatnik-jazz sound out of these songs that they need. On a copy like this, the presence and clarity are absolutely stunning!

According to Wikipedia, when asked in interview by Mojo magazine in 1999 if he shared many fans’ view that Small Change was the crowning moment of his “beatnik-glory-meets-Hollywood-noir period” (i.e. from 1973 to 1980), Waits replied:

Well, gee. I’d say there’s probably more songs off that record that I continued to play on the road, and that endured. Some songs you may write and record but you never sing them again. Others you sing em every night and try and figure out what they mean. “Tom Traubert’s Blues” was certainly one of those songs I continued to sing, and in fact, close my show with. (more…)