Top Artists – Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk – Misterioso (Recorded On Tour)

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  • A vintage pressing of Monk’s 1965 live album with seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades throughout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are rich, spacious, big and Tubey Magical, with noticeably less smear on the piano, a problem that keeps many pressings from earning better grades
  • So many copies just sound like an old jazz record, but this one lets you feel like you are right there in the audience as the music is being created
  • Credit Teo Macero, the man responsible for some of Columbia’s most consistently open, natural sounding records from the early ’60s

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Thelonious Monk – Monk.

  • A wonderful early 360 Stereo pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER first note to last
  • Columbia records produced by Teo Macero in the early ’60s have consistently open, natural sound – this one from 1964 is no exception
  • The piano has real weight, the bass definition is wonderful, Rouse’s sax is full-bodied, and the overall sound is Columbia to a “T”: warm, sweet, and rich
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • “The Thelonious Monk Quartet of 1964 is well featured on this excellent set… Easily recommended to Monk fans, this set is just further proof that he never made an unworthy recording.”

We’re big Monk fans here at Better Records and we wish we could get more records like this up on the site. Unfortunately, clean, vintage pressings of Monk’s music have become increasingly difficult to find, and even when you can track them down, they rarely play as quietly as this one, and of course, this being a Hot Stamper, they rarely sound as good as this one. (more…)

What Are Some Good General Rules for Acquiring Records with the Highest Quality Sound?

More of the Music of Thelonious Monk

Jazz Albums with Hot Stampers Available Now

The Riverside pressings we’ve auditioned of both The Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall and Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two – At The Blackhawk were just awful sounding.

The OJC reissues of both albums from the ’80s, although better, were not overflowing with the rich, natural, relaxed sound we were looking for either.

Ah, but a few years back (2015, maybe?) we happened to drop the needle on one of these good Milestone Two-Fers. Here was the sound we were looking for and had had so little luck finding before.

Which prompts the question that should be on the mind of every audiophile: What are the rules for collecting records with the best sound quality?

The answer, of course, is that there are no such rules and never will be.

There is only trial and error. Our full-time staff has been running trials — we call them shootouts and needle drops — for more than twenty years now, with far more errors than successes. Such is the nature of records.

It may be a tautology to note that the average record has mediocre sound, but it nevertheless pays to keep that rather inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your hopes on a current Heavy Vinyl reissue — and you happen to be a member of that blessed minority of audiophiles with top quality equipment; a dedicated, heavily-treated room; decades of experience; reasonably high standards and two well-trained ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed.


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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Thelonious Monk

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Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Dream

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A great sounding copy with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – this one was nearly as good as our Shootout Winner, hence the Nearly Triple Plus grades
  • These sides are rich, spacious, big and Tubey Magical, with virtually none of the smear on the piano that holds so many other copies back
  • Here’s proof that the sound found on these early Columbia 360 Label Stereo pressings is absolutely the right one for Monk’s music
  • 5 stars: “Although he would perform and record supported by various other musicians, the tight — almost telepathic — dimensions that these four shared has rarely been equalled in any genre… Monk’s Dream is recommended, with something for every degree of Monk enthusiast.”

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Letter of the Week – “It was a happy revelation to get Monk flying again on your stamper.”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently.

Note that he owns the kind of audiophile pressing that seems to be all the rage, but, at least in this case, turns out to be just another example of the emperor’s new clothes.

         Hey Tom, 

The Thelonious Monk is AMAZING. If you ever get another 3/3/3/3 of that, I’ll pay almost anything : )

(I also have a MoFi Ultradisc One Step of Monk’s Dream, which I can barely stand to listen to — just boring, so it was a happy revelation to get Monk flying again on your stamper.)

Hello,

Thanks for writing. A boring MoFi? Say it isn’t so!

By definition, boring records do not have Hot Stampers. We made that point about a Shootout Winning copy of Revolver way back in 2007.

At the risk of being definitive about things that are better left ill-defined, I would say that the Number One quality we look for in a pressing is the element of Life or Energy. We can put up with many shortcomings, including even some tonality problems, but when a record fails to convey the spirit and enthusiasm of the musicians, it’s pretty much over.

The Monk record we sent you seems to have gotten Monk flying again, and what could be better than that?

Best, TP

PS

If you are still buying these modern pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Masters.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. And if for some reason you do not find that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

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Thelonious Monk ‎/ Plays Duke Ellington on OJC

Some OJC Pressings Sound Good, Some Don’t – This One Doesn’t

This title badly needed to be mastered with tubes, but that didn’t happen.

It’s another case of an OJC with Zero Tubey Magic. You might as well be playing the CD. I would bet money it sounds just like this record.

I suppose if you have a super-tubey phono stage, preamp or amp you might be able to supply some of the Tubey Magic missing from this pressing, but then all your properly mastered records wouldn’t sound right, now would they?

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Potentially Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Not Very Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Thelonious Monk / Brilliant Corners

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  • An outstanding copy of Brilliant Corners, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – mostly quiet vinyl too
  • Rich, full-bodied and present yet still clear and spacious – we guarantee this copy sounds better than any pressing you’ve heard, and should beat the pricey originals hands down
  • With masterful horn playing from Sonny Rollins and Clark Terry, and a rhythm section that can actually keep up with Monk – made up of Max Roach, Oscar Pettiford and Paul Chambers – this is a Must Own for any music loving audiophile
  • 5 stars: “Brilliant Corners may well be considered the alpha and omega of post-World War II American jazz. No serious jazz collection should be without it.”
  • If you’re a fan of Mr. Monk, this All Tube Recording from 1957 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • 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. Brilliant Corners is a good example of a record most audiophiles probably don’t know well but should.

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good a 1957 All Tube Analog recording can be, this superb copy should be just the record for you. Talk about Tubey Magic! The liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of the album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

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Thelonious Monk – The Riverside Trios

  • This Milestone 2 LP set has outstanding sound on all four sides
  • We know of no better way to hear these legendary mono recordings – these are by far the best sounding pressings of both these albums we’ve yet to play
  • The 1979 transfers of tape to disc by David Turner are superb in all respects – this is remastering done right
  • 4 1/2 stars: “When Thelonious Monk first signed with Riverside Records in 1955, producer Orrin Keepnews thought that it would be a good idea for the unrecognized giant to record an album of Duke Ellington compositions and follow it up with a set of standards so as to discount his eccentric and forbidding image. The results were quite satisfying, trio performances that made Monk’s playing seem more accessible to the regular jazz audience without watering down his style.”

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Sonny Rollins – Vol. 2 – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

  • Side two of this stereo pressing is at least Super Hot – it’s huge, rich and tubey
  • Side one is Super Hot, musical, lively, clear and real sounding
  • Another classic late ’50s RVG recording of some of the greatest Jazz Giants who ever lived
  • “…a timeless session and a milestone in jazz history that gathered together some of the founding fathers of the post-bop era.”

Even though this session was supposedly recorded in one day on April 14, 1957 we heard an anomaly that took us somewhat by surprise. The first and third track on side two sound amazing, better than anything on side one. However, the second track, You Stepped Out Of A Dream, has sound that is clearly a step down from anything else on the album. It’s smaller and more congested. Why that is we have no idea, but we felt it was worth pointing out.

Sonny’s horn on side two is especially big and rich, with huge amounts of Tubey Magic as befits an all-tube 1957 Blue Note recording. This is clearly the right sound for this music.

Note that side one is not quite as tubey but makes up for it with energy and clarity that we found conveys the music beautifully. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Underground

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  • An incredible copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Charlie Rouse – featured on many of the tracks here – is particularly wonderful on sax. His saxophone is full-bodied and natural with breathy texture and just the right amount of honk
  • So many copies just sound like an old jazz record, but this one lets you feel like you are right there as the music happens
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The instantly recognizable stride piano lines are delivered with the same urgency and precision that they possessed over two decades earlier…”

This is an outstanding Monk album from 1968. Thanks to Columbia’s state of the art engineering — still using tubes I’d wager, based on the sound – the recording really comes to life, or at least it does on a copy that sounds as good as this one does.

Monk’s piano comes through with powerful dynamics and real weight to the keys.

So many copies just sound like an old jazz record, but this one lets you feel like you are right there as the music happens. What more could you ask for?

Unlike a lot of Columbia jazz records, both the 360 originals and the early Red Label reissues can sound good on this title (more…)