Top Artists – Shelly Manne

The Three / Self-Titled (45 RPM) – Our Four Plus Copy from 2013

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

We had six (yes, six!) of these 45 RPM pressings (and five Inner City’s and a couple of Eastwind 33’s — it was a big shootout), and this side one had the most ENERGY of any of them. This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, it took the performances of the players to a level beyond all expectations.

More Four Plus A++++ records.

Folks, you are looking at the BEST SOUNDING RECORD we have ever played here at Better Records, and the good news for you dear reader, whether you’re a true believer, a skeptic, or fall somewhere in between, is that it can be yours. There was a time when a record like this would go directly into my collection. If I wanted to impress someone, audiophile or otherwise, with the You-Are-There illusion that only Big Speakers in a dedicated room playing a LIVE recording can create, this would be the clear choice, possibly the only choice. There is simply nothing like it on vinyl in my experience. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Vol. 3: To Swing Or Not To Swing

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More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • Vol. 3, To Swing Or Not To Swing finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades throughout this early Contemporary MONO pressing – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom – this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best
  • For some reason, the guitar sound from this era of All Tube Chain Recording seems to have died out with the times – it can only be found on the best of these vintage pressings, like this one
  • 5 stars: “The unusual repertoire on this set … would by itself make this bop/cool set noteworthy. Add to that a very interesting lineup of players (trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, Georgie Auld or Bill Perkins on tenor, pianist Jimmy Rowles, the rhythm guitar of Al Hendrickson, bassist Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne or Irv Cottler on drums) … and the overall result is a recording highly recommended to fans of straight-ahead jazz.”

Man, this music is a blast when it sounds this good. I don’t think there’s a whole lot you could do to make this music sound any better! It’s one of the best early mono Contemporary LPs we’ve ever played. It’s so Tubey Magical. Kessel’s guitar sound is out of this world.

The music here matches the sound for excellence. The whole band just swings. There’s a real old rag-timey feel to the songs. Look at this list of all-star players: Harry Edison, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne — this is some serious jazz talent.

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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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L.A. 4 – Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte (33 RPM)

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More Audiophile Records

  • An East Wind 33 RPM Japanese import pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • One of the better sounding versions with all 7 tracks we’ve played, particularly on the first side
  • Lee Herschberg recorded these sessions direct to disc – he’s the guy behind the most amazing piano trio recording I have ever heard, a little album called The Three
  • This side one gives you the richness, clarity, presence and resolution few copies can touch, and side two is not far behind in all those areas
  • This 33 RPM version features all seven of the original tracks – “C’est What” and “Corcovado” were omitted from the shorter 45 RPM pressing
  • And it was a solid step up sonically from a lot of the Direct to Disc pressings we had on hand, which is exactly what happened when they mastered The Three at 45 RPM from the backup tapes – pretty wild, don’t you think?

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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!)

Sonny Rollins – Alternate Takes

  • 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!

All Tube in ’58

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.

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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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The Poll Winners – Poll Winners Three!

More of The Poll Winners

More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • A superb Contemporary stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from the first note to the last
  • Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with plenty of that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (an old record) ever has
  • Roy DuNann always seems to get phenomenally good sound out of the sessions he recorded – amazingly realistic drums in a big room; Tubey Magical guitar tone; deep, note-like string bass, and on and on
  • 4 stars: “From 1956-1959, it seemed as if guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Shelly Manne won just about every jazz poll. For their third joint recording, the musicians contributed an original apiece and also performed seven standards. Highlights of the fairly typical but swinging straightahead set include ‘Soft Winds,’ ‘It’s All Right with Me,’ ‘Mack the Knife,’ and ‘I’m Afraid the Masquerade Is Over.'”

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Junior Mance – Get Ready, Set, Jump!!!

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More Big Band Jazz

  • Wonderfully big, rich and LIVELY, with boatloads of Tubey Magic and three-dimensional space
  • This vintage stereo pressing boasts exceptionally natural piano sound and the live-in-the-studio energy of a swingin’ group of veteran horn players
  • 4 stars: “Mance is joined by some of the cream of the West Coast studio and jazz players for a session that features Mance doing his blues thing on piano while the band swings at various tempi… resembling somewhat the style of the Count Basie Orchestra.”
  • If you’re a fan of Big Band Jazz, this album from 1964 probably belongs in your collection.

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