Top Engineers – Roy DuNann

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot

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

This is absolutely the right sound for this music. There was simply nothing that could beat the Triple Plus side, in any area of reproduction. If you like the sound of relaxed, All Tube jazz recordings, you can’t do much better than Some Like It Hot. Many of the copies we played suffered from blubbery bass and transient smearing, but the clarity and bass definition here are surprisingly good. 

This copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. 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.

One of our original pressings had an amazing side two but side one was just a dull, thick, blubbery mess. We may try to sell it someday because even half of an amazing sounding record is worth owning, in my opinion anyway. (Considering that most audiophiles don’t seem to pay much attention to the sonic variations in the sound of their records from side to side, you can be sure that most collectors have plenty of records with only one good side. They just never noticed.) (more…)

Barney Kessel – Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By – Our Mono Shootout Winner

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

This Triple Triple (A+++) mono pressing blew everything else out of the water – nothing could touch it! How can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? 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. 

The Demo Disc sound on this copy is really something to hear – all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio.

This Minty Original Yellow Label Contemporary Mono LP from 1956 has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL. For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own (unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition).

It’s got all the top qualities of the recording we discuss below, and the least amount of shortcomings. Really, nothing could touch it. It’s pretty much everything you want in a record like this. I’d love to keep it but when would I have time to play it? Instead I’ll sleep well knowing that it’s going to a good home.

Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best.

From an audiophile point of view, how can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? It’s audiophile heaven. The sound is gorgeous, all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Blackhawk Vol. 2 – Reviewed in 2008

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

WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! This Contemporary Yellow Label LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! The sound is SUPERB — airy, open, and spacious with an STUNNINGLY GOOD bottom end. You won’t believe how ALIVE the bass sounds — the depth and definition are OUT OF THIS WORLD! Each instrument here sounds just right — weighty, percussive piano; punchy drums; and lovely leading edge transients on the brass. Contemporary got live nightclub jazz sound down to a T here.   

“These lengthy performances (“Vamp’s Blues” is over 19 minutes long) give trumpeter Joe Gordon, the cool-toned tenor-saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Victor Feldman, bassist Monty Budwig and the leader/drummer a chance to really stretch out. Fine 1950s bebop.” — AMG (more…)

Howard McGhee – Maggie’s Back In Town – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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More from 1961 – It Was a Very Good Year

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

This Contemporary LP has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! It’s rich and full a very extended, very natural top end. The cymbals on this record sound AMAZING! Roy DuNann sure knew how to record this kind of jazz. Just listen to the leading edge transients of the trumpet or the punchiness of the drums. There’s no trace of phony EQ or bad mastering whatsoever. (more…)

Helen Humes – Songs I Like to Sing – Our Black Label Shootout Winner

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

This Contemporary Black Label Original LP has AMAZING SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! It has that classic tube-mastered sound — warmer, smoother, and sweeter than the later pressings with more breath of life.   

Overall the sound is well-balanced and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is rare for a black label Contemporary, as they are usually dull and bass-heavy.

I won’t buy them locally anymore unless they can be returned. I’ve got a box full of Contemporarys with bloated bass and no top end that I don’t know what to do with! Like most mediocre-to-bad sounding records around here, they just sit in a box taking up space. All our time and effort goes into putting good pressings on the site and in the emailings. It’s hard to get motivated to do anything with the leftovers. We paid plenty for them, so we don’t want to give them away. But they don’t sound good, so our customers won’t buy them. What to do, what to do? Ebay I guess, but that’s a long way down the road. It’s too more fun doing listings for good records these days to want to stop now. The average record is just average, and nothing is ever going to change that. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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

Better Than a Dream, the second track on this side, has one of the best sounding jazz pianos I have ever heard. My notes say “you cannot record a piano any better” and I stand behind that statement one hundred percent.

There is not a modern reissue on the face of the earth that can hold a candle to the sound of this record. For any of you out there who doubt my words please take this record home and play it against the best piano jazz recordings you own. If it doesn’t beat them all we are happy to pay the domestic shipping back. Even our much vaunted 45 RPM pressing of The Three (some do not present the listener with a piano that sounds as real as the one on this side two. (more…)

Shelly Manne and Friends – My Fair Lady

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  • This early Black Label Stereo pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades from start to finish – practically unheard of quiet vinyl for an original!
  • This Contemporary pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce 
  • Recorded entirely in one session, this album was the first jazz recording comprised entirely of songs from a Broadway musical – the results are decidedly provocative
  • 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.”

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Art Pepper – …The Way It Was – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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…The Way It Was (2013)

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

This Contemporary Yellow Label 2-pack has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC and QUIET VINYL ON BOTH SIDES! It’s airy, open, and spacious with superb clarity and an extended top end. The beautiful reading of Autumn Leaves on side two is DEMO DISC QUALITY! Both of the copies in this White Hot 2-pack have one side rated A+++ and one side that just didn’t meet our standards, so we combined them to give you excellent sound for the entire album.

The piano sounds Right On The Money — it’s weighty and full-bodied, just like a real piano sounds. That’s something we’ve come to expect from these Contemporary recordings that we almost never hear on anything but the best Blue Notes. The horns are airy and breathy with the proper amount of bite. All The Things You Are sounds lovely here — relaxed and musical. (more…)

Art Pepper + Eleven – Modern Jazz Classics – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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Modern Jazz Classics (2008)

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

Oh Yeah! This Contemporary Yellow Label LP DESTROYED the competition in our big shootout this week, rating ABOVE A++ on BOTH SIDES. We didn’t hear better sound for either side on any other copy we played. Drop the needle on any track and prepare yourself to be BLOWN AWAY! The sound is full-bodied and energetic with tight bass, breathy brass, and lots of ambience.  

Side two has MASTER TAPE SOUND with shocking transparency and clarity. The bass is PERFECTION — deep, tight, and punchy — and the piano has the kind of weight that really allows you to appreciate the percussive qualities of the instrument. The brass is Right On The Money — full-bodied and breathy with just the right amount of bite. (more…)

Andre Previn & His Pals – Pal Joey

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  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides – this copy is truly a knockout Piano Trio record 
  • Our best Hot Stamper copies will show you just how good Fifties All Tube Analog can sound
  • Yet another Demo Disc for Contemporary, the brilliant work of the engineering team of Dunann and Holzer
  • One of Andre Previn’s better jazz performances on record – his pals Manne and Mitchell are no slouches either

The piano sounds uncannily lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom. I can’t think of many records off the top of my head that get a better piano sound than this one. Dunann and Holzer in 1957 are hard to beat. (more…)