Top Engineers – Roy DuNann

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot – Our Shootout Winner from 2005

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

Original Contemporary Black Label Stereo LP from 1959 with DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! (The picture is not correct as you may have noticed.)

For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann and, in this case, Howard Holzer, were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP will be a Must-Own unless you already have it. 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 their sound at its best. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – At The Blackhawk Vol. 1 – Reviewed in 2011

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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. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Barney Kessel Plays Carmen (Stereo) – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

This original Black Label Contemporary stereo LP has a STUNNING side two! Barney Kessel Plays Carmen is one of our favorite jazz guitar recordings of all time, and on a copy like this the sound is absolutely KILLER. 

As you can see from looking at the condition notes, this copy is quieter than any other we have listed to from our recent shootout. Fifties jazz doesn’t play much better than this copy right here. (more…)

Ornette Coleman – Tomorrow Is The Question

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  • An outstanding copy of Coleman’s sophomore release, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Our Contemporary Yellow Label Stereo LP here has have breathy, full-bodied brass and lots of tight, well-defined bass 
  • The top end is nicely extended, which results in excellent space, transparency and clarity
  • 4 stars: “…this is one of the things that came to define Ornette — his willingness to let simplicity and its bright colors and textures confound not only other players and listeners, but also him too.”

The drum sound is OUT OF THIS WORLD — Roy Du Nann always seems to get amazing sound out of Shelley Manne’s kit. Listen to the interplay between Ornette and Don Cherry — they really drive each other to insane levels over the course of the album. (more…)

Helen Humes – Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

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. (more…)

Helen Humes – Swingin’ With Humes – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

SUPERB SOUND AND MUSIC! We’ve been finding great copies of Helen’s Songs I Like To Sing! for some time, but this is the first knockout copy we’ve ever found of this great title from 1961. Both sides have A+++ sound, As Good As It Gets (AGAIG).   

Whoever takes this one home is in for a treat. Make sure your electricity is really cookin’, turn down the lights, and turn up the volume — Helen and her top-notch backing band will be RIGHT THERE IN THE ROOM WITH YOU! The other copies we played sounded pretty good, but this one is MAGICAL.

Both sides have mindblowing clarity and transparency — something that you wouldn’t likely find on an earlier pressing — matched with the kind of tubey magic that’s almost always missing from OJC pressings. (more…)

Art Pepper – …The Way It Was – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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…The Way It Was (2010)

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

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC 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!

Side one of this album is made up of unreleased material Art recorded with Warne Marsh, the tenor It’s great to hear Art play against another sax man. Fans of straight ahead mainstream jazz will find much to enjoy here. Of course the Contemporary studio sound is wonderful — it’s yet another triumph for one of our favorite engineers, Roy DuNann. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Carmen – Transparency Is Key

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The best Hot Stamper Original Yellow Label Mono pressings have the Tubey Magic we’ve come to expect from Contemporary circa 1958, with that warm, rich, full-bodied sound that most engineers can’t begin to understand. However, some pressings in our shootout managed to give us an extra level of transparency and ambience that the original pressings rarely do. 

There’s a room around this drum kit. So many copies don’t show you that room, not if they have the full sound that a copy like this does. (It’s amazing all the detail you can hear in a leaned-out record, but what good is that? The sound is leaned out! If you like that sound buy the OJC or the CD. Leave these wonderful originals to those of us who know the sound we’re after.)

I had the OJC pressing of this record years ago and couldn’t get in to the music. The OJC’s tend to be a bit on the thin side and it killed my enjoyment of this album. (more…)

Hampton Hawes – All Night Session, Vol. 2

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  • A superb sounding copy with Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides here are rich, full and Tubey Magical with good bottom end weight and plenty of jazz quartet energy 
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Although Hampton Hawes spontaneously created five original tunes at this extraordinarily inspired date, everything on Vol. 2 comes directly out of the standard bop musician’s working repertoire.”
  • “It’s hard to put into words how good it feels to play jazz when it’s really swinging…I’ve reached a point where the music fills you up so much emotionally that you feel like shouting hallelujah — like people do in church when they’re converted to God. That’s the way I was feeling the night we recorded All Night Session!”

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Hampton Hawes – Everybody Likes Hampton Hawes

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

This hard-to-find ’70s Contemporary reissue pressing of the 1956 mono recording has EXCELLENT sound, with both sides earning grades of A+ to A++. We don’t run into Hawes’ LPs the way we used to, so it was indeed a delight to find enough copies of this album to do a shootout.

Note how correct the sound of the instruments is on both sides. This is the unquestionably the hallmark of any Contemporary recording: correct instrumental timbre.

Side One

A+ to A++, with correct mids and bass but lacking some top end. As the record plays, however, the top comes into play, an effect we notice more and more often these days.

If you have a “tubey” system this record will be a knockout. It needs some of that sound to work its magic.

Side Two

A+ to A++, and not that different from side one. This side could use more top and it lacks the last word in transparency. Notice how at the beginning the piano sounds slightly thin, but when the bass comes in under it everything balances out correctly. (more…)