Top Engineers – Roy DuNann

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

  • Outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this Black Label original on vinyl that’s about as quiet as they ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is a Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • It’s also our favorite jazz piano performance by Andre Previn on record
  • Only a handful of copies of this title have made it on the site in the last few years – finding them in audiophile condition is getting harder (and more expensive) than ever these days
  • “Previn’s piano is the lead voice and his virtuosity, good taste, melodic improvising, and solid sense of swing are chiefly responsible for the music’s success.”

I have a very long history with this album, going back decades. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP (I sold off the old one years ago) but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was.

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Phineas Newborn, Jr. – A World of Piano!

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  • This copy of Newborn’s first album for Contemporary boasts seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the most musically impressive jazz piano recordings we’ve played in years – Newborn’s improvisational skills are operating at a very high level
  • The team of Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer insure that everything you want in an Audiophile Quality piano trio recording is here
  • If you don’t have any Phineas Newborn albums in your collection, this is definitely the place to start
  • 5 stars: “Phineas Newborn’s Contemporary debut (he would record six albums over a 15-year period for the label) was made just before physical problems began to interrupt his career…. He performs five jazz standards and three obscurities by jazz composers on this superb recital…”

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Hampton Hawes / At The Piano

  • A huge, rich and natural Contemporary pressing boasting excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • This is the last record Hawes made, and it’s one of the most deeply emotional and satisfying albums of his entire career – it may even be his best, and for a man of his talents, that’s really saying something
  • “Hampton Hawes’ final recording found him returning not only to the acoustic piano after having dabbled in electric keyboards from 1972-74, but to producer Lester Koenig and his Contemporary label, where Hawes recorded most of his classic gems of the 1950s… Teamed up with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, Hawes shows that he was still in prime form.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Hampton Hawes last album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

This is my favorite Hampton Hawes record of all time. He died less than a year after these sessions. Looking at the cover, you can almost see in his face his acceptance of the end he knew was coming. He plays with deep emotion here.

Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, the same rhythm section who back Joe Sample on my all-time favorite piano trio album, The Three, accompany Hawes beautifully here.
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Benny Carter – Jazz Giant

More of the Music of Benny Carter

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

  • Both sides of this superb Contemporary reissue earned excellent Double Plus (A++) sonic grades
  • If you still think that Analogue Productions is remastering records properly, you have definitely never heard a real Contemporary that sounds as good as this one does
  • The music of this Jazz Giant comes alive on this copy, with space, size, clarity and richness that few other pressings can match
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Benny Carter had already been a major jazz musician for nearly 30 years when he recorded this particularly strong septet session for Contemporary … This timeless music is beyond the simple categories of ‘swing’ or ‘bop’ and should just be called ‘classic.'”

If you like the sound of Contemporary Records, you won’t find a better example than this. Midrange magic doesn’t get anymore magical.

It’s been several years since our last shootout, but we hope the lucky buyer of this copy realizes it was more than worth it. To find a copy of Jazz Giant that sounds as good as this one is a very special event indeed.

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Hampton Hawes in 1964 – The Green Leaves of Summer

  • This ’70s pressing was our Shootout Winner on side two for its clean, clear and lively sound, with lovely space around all of the instruments 
  • Not an easy title to find, and this one is quieter than most of what we played – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Hawes had lost nothing of his swinging style while in prison, as can be heard on such numbers as “Vierd Blues,” “St. Thomas” and “Secret Love,” and he was just starting to hint at moving beyond bop. Recommended.” – All Music

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has wonderful Contemporary All Tube sound, courtesy of the amazing engineering of Howard Holzer. The piano is right — weighty and percussive with a full-bodied tone. The bass definition is superb. The clarity and transparency here are nothing short of breathtaking.

Steve Ellington’s brush work on the snare is very clear on this copy, helping to push the music to the next level. On the great Sonny Rollins track, St. Thomas, Steve Ellington is doing some fancy playing on the rims of his drums — the ambience bouncing off the studio walls is amazing.

A major highlight here is the completely original interpretation of Blue Skies. Hawes gets going with some really complicated two-handed playing. With the superb clarity of this copy you won’t miss a note. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Vol. 3: To Swing Or Not To Swing

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  • Vol. 3, To Swing Or Not To Swing finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades throughout this early Contemporary MONO pressing – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom – this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best
  • For some reason, the guitar sound from this era of All Tube Chain Recording seems to have died out with the times – it can only be found on the best of these vintage pressings, like this one
  • 5 stars: “The unusual repertoire on this set … would by itself make this bop/cool set noteworthy. Add to that a very interesting lineup of players (trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, Georgie Auld or Bill Perkins on tenor, pianist Jimmy Rowles, the rhythm guitar of Al Hendrickson, bassist Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne or Irv Cottler on drums) … and the overall result is a recording highly recommended to fans of straight-ahead jazz.”

Man, this music is a blast when it sounds this good. I don’t think there’s a whole lot you could do to make this music sound any better! It’s one of the best early mono Contemporary LPs we’ve ever played. It’s so Tubey Magical. Kessel’s guitar sound is out of this world.

The music here matches the sound for excellence. The whole band just swings. There’s a real old rag-timey feel to the songs. Look at this list of all-star players: Harry Edison, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne — this is some serious jazz talent.

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Shelly Manne and his Friends – The D4/D5 Stereo Pressings Are Just Awful

More of the Music of Shelly Manne

More Stamper and Pressing Information

In our experience, the Black Label stereo originals with D4/D5 stampers are terrible sounding.

With those stampers, My Fair Lady is undoubtedly a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early pressing we’ve reviewed and found wanting.

Both sides graded “No,” our not-especially-technical term for a record that sounds really bad.

Notes for Side One:

Track one is bright and unnatural up top. Track two is not very musical.

Notes for Side Two:

Track one is very weird sounding, thin and small.

(Obviously there was no need to play a second track.)

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, some Contemporary Label originals are very poorly mastered, which should put paid to the idea that Hot Stampers are only, or even usually, original pressings.

In our most recent shootout, the second-best sounding pressing was on the early Black Label. We would love to give out the stampers for that one, but we don’t do that.

Here is the description of our current Shootout Winning Pressing. We didn’t even give out the label of that one because it seems that copies with that label do very well and we want to be able to find more of them.

Click here to read about the various labels that Contemporary used over the years.

Some people like to search for relationships between the sound of the pressing and the label it has, but in our experience that is more often than not a fool’s game once you take into account the confirmation biases and other kinds of bad audiophile thinking that go along with that approach.


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Hampton Hawes – Everybody Likes Hampton Hawes, Vol. 3: The Trio

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  • We have been big fans of Hawes for many years – it’s records like this that impressed the hell out of us back in the day and they only get better with age
  • These sides are rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have jazz trio energy to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • This is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best, thanks to the engineering brilliance of Roy DuNann and producer Lester Keonig
  • “The third of three Hampton Hawes trio dates with bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Chuck Thompson is on the same high level as his first two…. [Hawes] comes up with consistently creative ideas throughout this swinging bop date.”

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 recently.

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

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Hampton Hawes – All Night Session, Vol. 1

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  • A KILLER vintage Contemporary Stereo LP boasting top quality sound from the first note to the last
  • Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom – this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best, thanks to the engineering brilliance of Roy DuNann and producer Lester Keonig
  • This copy is simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than all of what we played – it puts you front and center in the studio with the players
  • The first of three albums of material recorded by Hawes, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer Eldridge “Bruz” Freeman on the night of November 12 and into the morning of November 13, 1956
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The interplay between these four men is marvelous, particularly when heard [on] a sound system allowing for a full appreciation of the stereophonic balance achieved by the recording engineers.”
  • “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!” – Hampton Hawes

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Hampton Hawes – All Night Session, Vol. 3

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  • Exceptional Demo Disc Sound on this STUNNING Contemporary Stereo LP boasting top grades on both sides
  • This is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best, with Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom thanks to the engineering brilliance of Roy DuNann and producer Lester Keonig
  • The last of three albums of material recorded by Hawes, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer Eldridge “Bruz” Freeman on the night of November 12 and into the morning of November 13, 1956
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…contains three spontaneously improvised variations on the blues, one very cool extended rendition of Duke Ellington’s ‘Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear from Me’ and a strikingly handsome treatment of Harold Arlen’s ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.’ The briskly paced ‘Blues #4’ is especially progressive and exciting.”
  • “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!” – Hampton Hawes

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