Top Engineers – Rudy Van Gelder

Freddie Hubbard – The Baddest Hubbard

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

This is the baddest copy of Baddest Hubbard we heard in our shootout. And by baddest, I mean THE BEST! It’s got tons of energy, a meaty bottom end, and amazing songs to boot. Red Clay, an AMAZING cut, sounds OUT OF THIS WORLD! The overall sound is HUGE and SPACIOUS. Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and this pressing has the mastering that does his unique style justice. 

Side one starts off with the perennial favorite Red Clay. The immediacy and texture are noticeable right away. For those of you who don’t know, this is one of the best (or is it “baddest”?) Hubbard tracks. The intro starts off with a stylized free-form jam, sounding like a bop-jazz band of old, then takes form and solidifies into a groove of mammoth proportions. Ron Carter’s bass playing is stellar and that fingers-on-frets sound is great on this copy. All of the horns are textured with plenty of bite and breath. There is fluffy tape-hiss which is a dead give-away for top end extension. Like many of our funky favorites, this one was eventually sampled for a popular hip-hop song. That may not mean much to you, but it definitely means that nice copies of this album get swiped up quickly by young DJs and producers.

The top end on side two is more natural, and clear, than any other copy we heard in our shootout. Nearly every pressing had some spit and grit but this copy was cut cleaner than all the rest. There is an excellent, warm midrange that’s RIGHT ON THE MONEY, with little to no smear, unlike the average copy. This side two is super spacious with less congestion than we usually here for these songs.

Most Freddie Hubbard albums are full of filler, so this great sounding greatest hits compilation is a good way to go for all but the most die-hard fans.

Also, check out Freddie’s blistering solo on Zanzibar from Billie Joel’s 52nd Street LP!

Milt Jackson – Sunflower

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

The first track, at more than ten minutes, is yet another one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz recordings here at Better Records. Other albums of this sort that we love are Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself). 

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the orchestra’s string sections are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of. (more…)

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Free For All

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Free For All

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  • Insanely good sound throughout for this Blue Note New York label pressing with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound 
  • This LP was simply bigger, richer and clearer, with more Tubey Magic, less smear and distortion, and on and on down the list 
  • A Van Gelder recording from 1964 is hard to beat for you-are-there immediacy, and this pressing delivers that qualitiy like no other copy you’ve heard – we guarantee it
  • “Free for All is a high point in drummer Art Blakey’s enormous catalog. This edition of the Jazz Messengers had been together since 1961 with a lineup that would be hard to beat: Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton on piano, and Reggie Workman on bass.”

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Joe Henderson – Page One

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

EXCELLENT SOUND ON SIDE ONE of this Highly Recommended Blue Note classic! This ’70s pressing has sound that’s sure to beat the pants off most other copies out there. Just listen to the sound of the percussion; on the earlier pressings it tends to be smeary, but that’s certainly not the case here! The overall sound is open and transparent with incredible presence. Turn up the volume and you’ll have a smokin’ jazz quintet tearing it up right there in your living room! I don’t think Henderson made a better album than this one, and I doubt it’ll be easy tol find another copy that sounds this good!   (more…)

Milt Jackson – Plenty, Plenty Soul

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  • An outstanding vintage stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful session from 1957, this is the way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The first side of Plenty, Plenty Soul, which features a nine-piece group, is highlighted by the contributions of the exuberant altoist Cannonball Adderley, while the flip side has a sextet that is not hurt by the solos of tenor-saxophonist Lucky Thompson. With pianist Horace Silver helping out on both sessions, these all-star dates still sound fresh and enthusiastic decades later.”

This vintage Atlantic stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Deodato – Prelude

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  • This killer pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The brass and percussion are amazing on 2001 (and every other track) – thanks RVG
  • We had no idea there was space this huge in the recording until we heard the best copies
  • “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001),” won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance

Both sides are surprisingly sweet and Tubey Magical, nice qualities for a CTI record to have since so many of them are aggressive and edgy to the point of distraction.

Listen to the trumpet on the second track on side one — it’s so immediate, it’s practically JUMPING out of the soundfield, just bursting with energy. Rudy can really pull off these big productions on occasion, and this session was clearly one of them. If you have the kind of stereo that’s right for this music (the bigger the better) you could easily find yourself using this record as a demonstration disc. It’s very unlikely your audiophile friends have ever heard anything like it. (more…)

Airto – Fingers – Truly a Desert Island Disc

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

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto. 

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.)

Stampers and Promos

There are a couple of stampers we like for both sides, but knowing the numbers is not particularly helpful since there are not all that many stampers to choose from, and the good stampers can sound just plain awful on some copies. Side one is either A1, A2, or A3 and side two is B1, B2, or B3. I have never seen any other stamper numbers for a domestic pressing and I have seen scores of copies of this album over the last twenty plus years. (Quad doesn’t count; those pressings rarely if ever sound good in stereo.)

Some that we’ve put on the site are White Label Promos. I have a number of them and practically every stamper is represented for both sides, so the promo designation has almost no bearing on the quality of the sound. Which is not saying much because it almost never does.


This is Airto’s Masterpiece as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly.

What qualifies a record to be a Masterpiece needs no explanation. We will make every effort to limit each of the artists to a maximum of one masterpiece per artist or group, although some exceptions have already occurred to me, so that rule will be broken from time to time.

For a record to belong on my Desert Island Disc, said record: 1) must have at some time during my fifty years as a music lover and audio enthusiast been played very heavily, fanatically perhaps, even if only for a short time; 2) my current sixty year old self must still strongly respect the album, and; 3) I must want to listen to the album well into the future.

How many records meet the Desert Island Disc criteria? Certainly many more than you can see when you click on the link, but new titles will be added as time permits.

AMG Review

One of the five-star gems [although they actually give it 4 1/2!] that the Brazilian percussionist recorded for CTI was Fingers, which employs Purim on percussion and vocals, David Amaro on guitar, Hugo Fattoruso on keyboards and harmonica, Jorge Fattoruso on drums and Ringo Thielmann on electric bass. Produced by Taylor and recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s famous New Jersey studio, this LP demonstrates just how exciting and creative 1970s fusion could be. When Moreira and his colleagues blend jazz with Brazilian music, rock and funk on such cuts as “Wind Chant,” “Tombo in 7/4” and “Romance of Death,” the results are consistently enriching. Fingers is an album to savor.

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme – Better Sounding than the Original Pressings?

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

The original Impulse pressings on the brown and orange label are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that plays into one of the biggest canards in all of record collecting, that the first pressings are always the best sounding.

For this album, having sampled a large group of pressings from every era, we found the originals to be inferior to the best reissues we played. Naturally the ones we offer here as Hot Stampers will be the best of those reissue pressings. We are not the least bit worried that this vintage Impulse LP won’t beat the pants off of any original as well as any reissue you may have heard. And of course it is guaranteed to be dramatically better sounding than any Heavy Vinyl pressing produced by anyone, anywhere, at any time. (more…)

Jimmy Smith – Bashin’

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

Bashin’ is back after a two and a half year hiatus, and it’s back with a vengence — both sides here are Super Hot, with some of the best sound we have ever heard for the album. In the past we’ve complained about “Rudy Van Gelder’s somewhat over the top echo-drenched brass”, but on a copy such as this there is nothing to complain about!

All that reverb on the brass sounds RIGHT. If you have a top quality front end (and the system that goes with it), this recording will be amazingly spacious, three-dimensional, transparent, dynamic, and open.

With a bit more weight and whomp down low this copy would have been competitive with the best we played. Everything above two hundred cycles is here!

Copies of this album are sometimes so SOUR or dull (or both) that they go right in the trade pile. Add to that the difficulty of finding copies that are scratch-free and not too noisy and you have one tough shootout. Inner Groove Distortion caused by the non-anti-skate-equipped turntables of the day is a chronic problem with vintage jazz records, and this title is typically no exception — except in this case! The record has no IGD and plays mostly Mint Minus, as quiet an original as we have ever heard. (more…)

Jimmy Smith – Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides and one of the better copies from our most recent shootout
  • If you dig Oliver’s Nelson’s swingin’ BIG BRASS as much as we do you are in for a treat with this stereo pressing
  • The best sides have the kind of analog richness, warmth, and smoothness that make listening to records so involving 
  • Slaughter On Tenth Avenue is the monster track leading off here, and it swings the way Walk on the Wild Side does – like crazy, man!

This is some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for any RVG recording of Jimmy Smith with arrangements by Oliver Nelson (Claus Ogerman also took on some of the arranging duties; his work with Antonio Carlos Jobim is superb in all respects). (more…)