Top Engineers – Rudy Van Gelder

Airto Fingers – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

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.

In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

Kenny Burrell with Gil Evans – Digging Creed Taylor

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  • A superb sounding original stereo pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Gil Evans wrote the superb orchestral arrangements and Rudy Van Gelder captured them on lovely analog tape – what’s not to like? 
  • We’ve really been digging these Creed Taylor productions for years now – it may not be serious jazz, but it’s no less interesting and captivating for it
  • “His landmark 1965 collaboration with Gil Evans, Guitar Forms rivals anything the arranger did with Miles Davis. Indeed, the track “Lotus Land” has a bolero form very reminiscent of Sketches of Spain. Throughout, Burrell takes thoughtful, concise, and utterly musical solos, and even switches to acoustic classical guitar on “Prelude #2” and “Loie.””

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are wonderful. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1965 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

John Coltrane – The Stardust Session

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  • An excellent copy of this Coltrane double album – recorded in one day! – with all four sides rating Double Plus (A++) or close to it
  • Spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet, it’s a remarkable disc from the Golden Age with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s.
  • Superb sound quality courtesy of Rudy van Gelder’s engineering (1958/1963) and the superior mastering of David Turner (1972)
  • 4 Stars: “…Coltrane is heard near the end of his ‘sheets of sound’ period, perfecting his distinctive style and taking colorful and aggressive solos.”

The record takes its material from three John Coltrane albums: ‘Bahia’, ‘Stardust’ and ‘Standard Coltrane.’ We would be surprised if the originals of any of them can beat the sound of this reissue. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Fingers – Airto’s Masterpiece

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

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.) (more…)

Astrud Gilberto – Look To The Rainbow

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  • An outstanding copy with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on side two and a side one that’s close to it 
  • This kind of spacious, warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever – you have to go back to 1966 to find it
  • Creed Taylor (the CTI man) produced, Gil Evans did most of the arrangements, Rudy Van Gelder and Val Valentin engineered – what’s not to like?
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This was a beautiful bossa nova record of Astrud Gilberto’s vocal stylings… “

(more…)

Kenny Burrell Midnight Blue on Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: D

Pretty flat and lifeless. You would never understand why audiophiles rave about this recording by listening to the Classic Records pressing.

We played it up against our best, and as expected it was nothing to write home about. Since Rudy has remastered and ruined practically all the Blue Note CDs by now, you will have your work cut out for you if you want to find a good sounding version of Midnight Blue. This sure ain’t one.

Of course we would be more than happy to get you an amazing sounding copy — it’s what we do — but the price will be five to ten times (or more) what the Classic costs. In our opinion it’s money well spent, as you will see in our review below.

Since the Classic conveys very little of what the musicians were up to whilst recording the album, our advice is to cross it off your list of records of interest. It’s thirty bucks down the drain. (more…)

Sonny Rollins – Alfie

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  • This Sonny Rollins classic boasts killer Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Though I’ve been playing this album for more than 25 years, for some reason this is only the third copy to ever hit the site 
  • A triumph for Rudy Van Gelder, a Top Impulse title, and as much a showcase for Oliver Nelson (+11) as it is for Sonny Rollins
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Rollins attempts to capture the textures of life through his incisive and energetic playing, his coherent improvisations, and variations on musical themes.”

This album is on the TAS Superdisc list, which is probably what first alerted me to it. I know I was listening to this album 25 years ago, just from the memory of hearing it in the condo I used to live in. It sounded great back then and it sounds even better now! It may just be my personal favorite of all his work.

What makes this album so great? For starters, great players. Kenny Burrell is wonderful as always. Interestingly, I never realized that Roger Kellaway is the pianist on these sessions. I saw him live years ago with Benny Carter (who was 90 at the time) and he put on one of the most amazing performances at the piano I have ever seen. For some reason, he was never able to make it as a recording artist, but the guy is a genius at the keyboard.

Of course, any orchestration by Oliver Nelson is going to be top flight and this is no exception. Two of his records are Must Owns, in my book: Jimmy Smith’s Bashin’ and his own The Blues and the Abstract Truth. No jazz collection without them can be taken seriously. (more…)

Sky Diving with Freddie Hubbard

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Freddie Hubbard CTI album – both sides won our shootout, earning our top grade of Triple Plus
  • This is the kind of spacious, low-distortion, dynamic and energetic sound Rudy Van Gelder was getting in the early ’70s
  • Hubbard got together a great group of Funky Jazz players to support him here, with Don Sebesky doing his usual inventive arrangements
  • 4 Stars: “Freddie Hubbard’s fourth CTI recording certainly has a diverse repertoire. The charts for the brass and woodwinds are colorful; there is a fine supporting cast that includes guitarist George Benson, Keith Jarrett on keyboards, and flutist Hubert Laws; and Hubbard takes several outstanding trumpet solos.”

Rudy was getting one hell of a lively trumpet sound on tape during this period in his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music.

Sonic Issues

Smear. It’s by far the most common problem with the copies we played. When the transient bite of the trumpet is correctly reproduced, maintaining its full-bodied tone and harmonic structures, you know you have a very special copy of Sky Dive (or Straight Life or First Light or Red Clay, etc.). When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy. (more…)

Getz Au Go Go – A Bossa Nova Classic

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  • Truly superb sound for this incredible recording, Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • Amazingly present, immediate and REAL — musically and sonically, this is one of our favorite jazz albums
  • This is an incredibly tough album to find with the right sound and decent surfaces, which is the main reason it’s been years since we did the shootout
  • 4 stars on Allmusic: “Highly recommended for all dimensions of jazz enthusiasts.” [We would of course give it the full 5 Stars]

This Stan Getz record has the kind of LIVE JAZZ CLUB SOUND that audiophiles like us (you and me) dream of. More importantly, this ain’t no Jazz at Some Stupid Pawnshop — this is THE REAL THING. Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Kenny Burrell and the lovely Astrud Gilberto, the living embodiment of Cool Jazz, are coming to a listening room near you.

This is about as good a copy as has ever hit the site. Fans of cool jazz — in point of fact, some of the coolest jazz ever recorded — take note. 

Cool Jazz Is Right (more…)

Getz Au Go Go and Its Live Jazz Club Sound

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  • Truly superb sound for this incredible recording, Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first 
  • Amazingly present, immediate and REAL — musically and sonically, this is one of our favorite jazz albums
  • This is an incredibly tough album to find with the right sound and decent surfaces, which is the main reason it’s been years since we did the shootout
  • 4 stars on Allmusic: “Highly recommended for all dimensions of jazz enthusiasts.” [We would of course give it the full 5 Stars]

This Stan Getz record has the kind of LIVE JAZZ CLUB SOUND that audiophiles like us (you and me) dream of. More importantly, this ain’t no Jazz at Some Stupid Pawnshop — this is THE REAL THING. Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Kenny Burrell and the lovely Astrud Gilberto, the living embodiment of Cool Jazz, are coming to a listening room near you.

This is about as good a copy as has ever hit the site. Fans of cool jazz — in point of fact, some of the coolest jazz ever recorded — take note. (more…)