Top Engineers – Lee Herschberg

Ry Cooder Plays Jazz (of a Sort)

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See all of our Ry Cooder albums in stock

 

We’re big fans of Ry here at Better Records, and it’s always a lot of fun to hear the eccentric instruments and arrangements he and his cohorts cook up. Of course, it’s even more fun when you get a great sounding pressing like this one!

Far Beyond Your Average Rock or Jazz Record

The instrumentation here goes far beyond your average rock or jazz record. Rounding up a panoply of relatively exotic instruments for an album doesn’t make it especially noteworthy. Thankfully Cooder’s up to more than that. Using an ensemble of seriously talented musicians, as well as studio engineers who really understand how to capture these instruments, with Jazz Cooder succeeds in giving the audiophile public a full course spread of new and unusual sounds, all the while staying true to these popular songs from days long gone. (more…)

James Taylor – Gorilla

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  • Two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, with excellent sound for one of James Taylor’s best softer rock albums
  • Soulful JT at his best, an underappreciated album by our man and one that belongs in your collection
  • Mexico, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and I Was A Fool To Care are standouts – there are no weak tracks here
  • Rolling Stone notes, “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.

Rolling Stone notes that “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

To be honest, the recording of Gorilla itself cannot compete with the likes of Sweet Baby James or JT, both of which are Top 100 Titles. It can be a good sounding record, not a great one, certainly not in the same league as those two. (more…)

The Three – Liner Notes and a Rave Review

 

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The Three – The Three

Excerpts from the Liner Notes

On a windy and unusually cold night in Los Angeles, each of the three musicians arrived before the session start time of 10 PM on November 28, 1975. At exactly 10 PM, The Doobie Brothers session that was going on since morning ended. Two assistants immediately started setting up for the session. The Steinway concert grand piano, delivered the previous day, was wheeled in to the center of the room and got tuned. Shelly Manne’s drum kit was assembled in a makeshift “booth.” Microphones were set up, checked and positions adjusted.

Initially, Telefunken microphones were positioned on the piano, but later were replaced by two Neumann U87s. The piano lid was opened to the concert position and microphones were centered relative to the keys and placed a foot (30 centimeters) inward from the hammer and a foot (30 centimeters) away from the stings. One mic was pointed toward the bottom notes and the other pointed toward the top.

To record Ray Brown’s bass, a Shure SM56 and a Sony 38A were pointed at the bridge of the bass, two inches above it. The Shure was used to capture the attack and the Sony mic was used to capture the rich low tones.

Seven microphones were used to capture the sounds of the drum set. Two U87’s were placed overhead, roughly 16-inches above the cymbals facing down. The bottom quarter of the kick drum was dampened with a blanket on the outside and was mic’ed with a Shure SM56. SM56’s were also used for toms and bass toms. Sony 38A was used on the snare and Sennheiser’s Syncrhon on the high-hat.

Each mic was placed 2 inches away from the instruments in a close mic set up. Mr. Itoh got involved with fine tuning mic positioning for tone, stereo placement and balance. Meanwhile, final adjustments were being made on the cutting machine set up.

Within the hour, the set up was done and all preparations were completed. The musicians finished warming up and were ready for Take One. The usual banter subsided and everyone put on their “game face.” Even Ray Brown, who usually cracked jokes in a loud voice, looked serious as he turned his attention to Mr. Itoh, waiting for his cue. As soon as he was notified through the intercom that the cutting needle was put down, Mr. Itoh gave the signal with his hand, and the recording started. In 16 minutes, three tracks were recorded in rapid succession.

Relieved that the initial take was over, the musicians joined the producer and engineer in the control room to listen back from the 2-track tape that was used as back up. With the initial tension gone, all three excitedly made comments and evaluated their own performance and the sounds they got. The thumbs-up was given by the cutting engineer for take one and the musicians went back to the live room for the next take. This process was repeated until 4 AM the following morning, resulting in a total of three takes per track.

Interview with Producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh

I have to say that The Three by Joe Sample, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne was by far the most challenging experience of all the East Wind titles.

We wanted to use direct-to-disc or direct cutting recording technique for the project, which we heard was being used in Los Angeles. Since we were always interested in the latest technology, we wanted to try this new method. So we booked the session at a Los Angeles studio to work with a certain cutting engineer. We later realized that the booking was made on the week of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the studio cancelled the session on us at the last minute. I was already on a plane headed to Los Angeles. The session was cancelled on the day I arrived. I found out about it from our coordinator after I landed. The coordinator had already notified everybody of the cancellation.

Refusing to give up so easily, I started to look for an alternate location to record. I was able to find Amigo Studio, owned by Warner Brothers, who happened to have an excellent cutting engineer, Bobby Hatta, on staff. The Doobie Brothers was recording there until midnight and we were able book a session afterwards. We had to call and round up all the musicians and had to set up everything again and make sure everyone was rehearsed.

We finally got out of the studio around 6 AM. I felt sorry for Ray Brown, who had to go to Japan that day for a one-day session. Overall, I was very pleased with the session and thought the recording came out very good.

I was gratified when the record sold extremely well. We sold the first LP with all first takes until the stamper mold for the vinyl gave out. We put out another LP with second takes and that sold well. The CD version has both the first and second takes of each song.

The success was particularly sweet because we had to go through so much to get the project finished. It was both a trying and memorable experience.

Amazon Rave Review

Ken Dryden Before Joe Sample detoured into smooth jazz, he was a first-rate bop pianist. This 1975 set found bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne (the latter two had worked together often, particularly with Barney Kessel), getting together for a session of standards, familiar jazz compositions, and one original.

The abbreviated liner notes don’t explain the challenge of making this recording. First, the scheduled studio booking was canceled at the last minute, requiring that a new studio be found once original producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh arrived in California, while they also had to wait until the Doobie Brothers finished recording at the new location.

It was also done direct-to-disc, requiring that an entire LP side be recorded in one take. Fortunately, the performances went well and the limited-edition project sold well until the stampers literally wore out, then the two sides of second takes were separately issued.

The [current] CD compiles both editions of the original LP and was evidently remastered from the session’s backup tapes, though this release oddly lacks credits for the composers and lyricists. Comparing the two takes of each tune is illustrative. The first take of “On Green Dolphin Street” has a longer, more inventive introduction and Sample’s energy seems a bit higher, though Brown’s bass work sizzles in each one.

Both versions of Oliver Nelson’s “Yearnin'” (which debuted on his landmark album Blues and the Abstract Truth) include a motif from his “Stolen Moments” and are cut from similar cloth. Brown introduces each version of the dramatic “‘Round Midnight” unaccompanied, with Sample’s bluesy piano sounding elegant yet never in a cocktail mood.

Finally the collaborative “Funky Blues” (likely composed on the date) has infectious gospel roots and swings like mad. Manne, always a superb drummer, complements his partners beautifully throughout the session.

Lee Herschberg – One of Our Favorite Engineers

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More of Our Favorite Engineers

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LEE HERSCHBERG is one of our favorite producers and recording / mixing engineers. Click on the link to find more of the albums he engineered or produced, along with plenty of our famous commentaries. 

One of the top guys at Warners, you’ll find his name in the credits for many of the best releases by the Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot, The Doobie Brothers, Ry Cooder and Frank Sinatra, albums we know to have outstanding sound (potentially anyway; you have to have an outstanding pressing to hear outstanding sound of course).

And of course we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the album most audiophiles know all too well, Rickie Lee Jones’ debut. Herschberg’s pop and rock engineering credits run for pages. He won the Grammy for Strangers in the Night.

The one album that gets my vote for Herschberg’s Pop Engineering Masterpiece would have to be Michael McDonald’s If That’s What It Takes. On the best copies the sound is out of this world.

The most amazing jazz piano trio recording we know of is Herschberg’s as well: The Three (with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown and Joe Sample).

See more entries in our Favorite Engineers series

Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

What to listen for you ask? The superb engineering of LEE HERSCHBERG and EDDIE BRACKETT! The sound is, in a word, luscious.

Man, this record has more TUBEY MAGIC than any Sinatra record I can remember playing.

Find me a Sinatra CD, any Sinatra CD, that sounds like this and I will eat it.

If you want to know what the best sounding Sinatra records sound like, this is your chance. Folks, in my opinion it simply does not get any better than a killer Hot Stamper pressing of Strangers In The Night. (more…)

Michael McDonald – Great Sounding Soulful Pop

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

For soulful pop it doesn’t get much better than a Hot Stamper pressing of Michael McDonald’s first album. The bottom end has real weight, the top is extended and sweet, the vocals are breathy and present, and the energy is off the charts. Just listen to how rich and full-bodied the midrange is!

With the right pressing the highs open up and his vocals JUMP out of the speakers. He’s RIGHT THERE.

The next step is to check to see if you have punchy, well-defined bass, a key element in this rhythmically complex music. With plenty of presence in the vocals and punch down below, you have a copy that can hold its head high, with sound that really brings this music to life.

Drum Boogie (more…)

Listening in Depth to Rickie Lee Jones

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Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with plenty of advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of RLJ.

On the best of the Hot Stamper copies it becomes abundantly clear just how well the string bass was recorded — assuming you like the close-miked, maximum-presence quality they were after. You hear all the fingering, the wood of the body resonating; all the stuff you could never hear live unless you were ten feet from the guy. Natural it’s not, but natural is not what most hit records are all about anyway.

Credit — or blame — belongs squarely with LEE HERSCHBERG

There’s no question that he knew exactly what he was doing, he’s the pro’s pro, so let’s give him credit for making the sound of the record really POP. (more…)

The Three on Innercity – Forget the Direct Disc on Eastwind

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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The Three – The Three

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This White Hot stamper side two was either the equal of, or BEAT, three out of the four 45 RPM Japanese pressings in our shootout, and all the Direct Disc pressings as well. There was a time when this Demonstration Quality sound would have easily have won our shootout. We know now that it’s possible for the sound to get even better, on 45, but at the cost of two out of the six tracks.

Which simply means that if you want to hear all six songs that recorded that day by The Three, this is the best way to go. The album as a whole is so good that I would not want to live with less than the complete album, that’s for sure.

Unless you have the 45 made from these same tapes, we guarantee you have never heard a better sounding jazz record than this side two or you get your money back. And it’s not the Direct Disc. It’s better than the direct to disc. It’s live to TAPE.

The Inner City LPs are exceptionally difficult to find in quiet condition on flat vinyl. I can’t tell you how many I run across that are noisy and warped. I used to buy them off eBay but I got so many bad ones I finally just gave up and threw in the towel.

This is that rare copy that actually has decent surfaces, is not noticeably warped, and, most importantly, sounds amazing. (more…)