Top Engineers – Roy DuNann

Barney Kessel / Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

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More Jazz Featuring the Guitar

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  • Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By finally returns to the site with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Contemporary Stereo sound on both sides
  • 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
  • For those of you who appreciate what 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
  • Barney Kessel and his five reed players take these standards and make magic with them — for fun, relaxing jazz it’s hard not to love this one

This vintage Black Label Contemporary Stereo LP from has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL.

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. It’s pretty much everything you want in a recording from this era. I’d love to keep it but when would I have time to play it? I can assure you I will sleep very well knowing that it’s going to a good home. (more…)

Art Pepper / Intensity – Thoughts on One of the Most Dynamic Contemporary Recordings

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A Classic Case of Audio Progress

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[This commentary was written in 2008.]

Intensity is right — this is some SERIOUSLY GOOD SOUNDING alto saxophone led quartet jazz. AMG was right to give this one 4 1/2 stars — the musicianship is top notch and Pepper’s playing is INSPIRED throughout. 

The real surprise was how well recorded this album from 1963 is. I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his playing.

(Pepper was famous for saying that his playing is best when he just plays whatever he feels in the moment, and this record is the best kind of evidence for the truth of that claim.)

Of course, since this is a Roy Dunann recording, all the tubey magical richness and sweetness are here as well, but what is surprising is how transparent, spacious and clear the sound is. Some of Roy’s recordings can sound a bit dead (recording in your stockroom is not always the best for spaciousness) and sometimes are a bit thick as well. Not so here. But it should be pointed out that we liked what we heard from a previous shootout too.

Last time around we wrote:

This record has superb sound: you can actually hear the keys clacking on the man’s alto. And that sort of detail does not come at the expense of phony brightness as it would with your typical audiophile recording. The tonality of the sax, drums, and bass are right on the money, exactly the way we expect Roy DuNann’s recording to be.

This time around we got more extension out of the cymbals. Either these copies are better, were cleaned better, or were helped quite a bit by our new Townshend SuperTweeters. (Probably the last two more than the first one.) (more…)

Art Pepper – Intensity

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  • Outstanding sound throughout for this Contemporary pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
  • Intensity is right — this is some seriously good sounding alto saxophone led quartet jazz, thanks to Roy DuNann and Lester Koenig
  • The musicianship here is top notch and Pepper’s playing is inspired throughout.
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Pepper was just starting to show the influence of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman in his style, freeing up his playing and displaying a greater intensity during his improvisations.”

An outstanding copy that reminded us just how great this album can be when you have a copy like this one!

I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his expression. (Pepper was famous for saying that his playing is best when he just plays whatever he feels in the moment, and this record is the best kind of evidence for the truth of that statement.) (more…)

Benny Carter and Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

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More Thoughts on Tubes in Audio

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Here’s how we weighed the tradeoffs in the sound of the originals versus that of the reissues, with VTA advice to follow. 

This superb sounding ORIGINAL Black Label Contemporary pressing of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz stereo recording from the late ’50s mastered through an all tube chain.

There’s good extension on the top end for an early pressing, with TONS of what you would most expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it!

We prefer the later pressings in most ways, but this record does something that no later pressing we have ever played can do — get Benny’s trumpet to sound uncannily REAL. If you want to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends what no CD (or modern remastered record) can begin to do, play side two of this copy for them. They may be in for quite a shock. (more…)

Art Pepper – …The Way It Was

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It’s airy, open, and spacious with superb clarity and an extended top end – the beautiful reading of Autumn Leaves on side two has demo disc quality sound
  • Included are three tracks left off some of Pepper’s best albums on Contemporary – Meets the Rhythm Section, Intensity and Gettin’ Together
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Despite his very erratic lifestyle, altoist Art Pepper never made a bad record. The first four titles team together Pepper with tenor-saxophonist Warne Marsh for generally intriguing explorations of four standards… this album finds Art Pepper in top form.”

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Benny Carter – Swingin’ the ’20s – Skip the OJC from the ’80s

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This album is fairly common on the OJC pressing from 1988, but we found the sound of the OJC pressings we played seriously wanting. They have the kind of bad reissue sound that that plays right into the prejudices of most record collectors and audiophiles for whom nothing but an original will do. They were dramatically smaller, flatter, more recessed and more lifeless than even the worst of the ’70s LPs we played.

The lesson? Not all reissues are created equal. Some OJC pressings are great — including even some of the new ones — some are awful, and the only way to judge them fairly is to judge them individually, which requires actually playing a large sample.

Since virtually no record collectors or audiophiles like doing that, they make faulty judgments – OJC’s are cheap reissues sourced from digital tapes, run for the hills! – based on their biases and inadequate sample sizes.

You can find those who subscribe to this approach on every audiophile forum there is. The methods they have adopted do not produce good results, but as long as they stick to them they will never have to worry about discovering that inconvenient truth.

DCC

This is one of the all time great Contemporary recordings. DCC was going to do this on CD at one time; I loaned Steve Hoffman an OJC LP back in the ’90s which he promptly fell in love with. Unfortunately DCC went out of business, and ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS, the people doing the new jazz reissue series on 45 RPM heavy vinyl, wouldn’t recognize a great title like this if it bit them in the ass.

And if they did it their version wouldn’t sound good anyway — none of their stuff ever does, which is why you can find all of their reissues in our Hall of Shame.

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The Awful Sound of the Heavy Vinyl Reissues Doug Sax Mastered in the ’90s

More Sonny Rollins

More Analogue Productions

More Doug Sax

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Longstanding customers know that we have been relentlessly critical of most audiophile LPs for years, especially in the case of these Analogue Productions releases from back in the early ’90s. A well-known reviewer loved them, I hated them, and he and I haven’t seen eye to eye on much since.

Newflash!

Just dug up part of my old commentary discussing the faults with the orginal series that Doug Sax cut for Acoustic Sounds. Check it out!

In the listing for the OJC pressing of Way Out West we wrote:

Guaranteed better than any 33 rpm 180 gram version ever made, or your money back! (Of course I’m referring to a certain pressing from the early ’90s mastered by Doug Sax, which is a textbook example of murky, tubby, flabby sound. (Too many bad tubes in the chain? Who knows?)

This OJC version also has its problems, but at least the shortcomings of the OJC are tolerable. Who can sit through a pressing that’s so thick and lifeless it communicates none of the player’s love for the music? If you have midrangy bad transistor equipment, go with the 180 gram version (at twice the price). If you have good equipment, go with this one.

[We are no longer fans of the OJC of Way Out West, and would never sell a record that sounds the way even the best copies do as a Hot Stamper. It’s not hopeless the way the Heavy Vinyl pressing is, but it’s not very good either. It’s yet another example of a record we was wrong about. Live and Learn, right?

The following commentary comes from our catalog from the mid- to late-’90s, back when I could still find great jazz records like Alternate Takes. Note also that the AP records were in print at the time. (more…)

What We Listen For – Timbre, Richness, Tubey Magic and Freedom from Artificiality

 

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This Home Audio Exercise entry was inspired by the wonderful qualities of the Contemporary recording you see pictured, qualities brought to our attention while doing a shootout of various pressings of the album in early 2009. 

We addressed a number of issues in our commentary: first and foremost what we were listening for on the album (and what we were hearing). A bit of mono versus stereo (in this case both can be good), followed by some Audiophile Equipment bashing.

We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your own equipment. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc.

Two of the best sounding jazz guitar records in the history of the world were made by Barney Kessel for Contemporary: this one, and Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By. (We have a fabulous mono copy on the site as I write this.) I used to have them both in my personal collection. [This was written many years ago when I actually had a personal collection. With 40,000 records in stock I don’t need a collection of my own anymore. Any record I might want to play is in stock, waiting to be shot out.]

Such a wonderful idea for an album. The melodies from Bizet’s Carmen are unforgettable and perfect fodder for jazz improvisation. Don’t think that this is just guitar and rhythm. This is a full band with lots of horns, clarinets of all kinds, bassoons, oboes, flutes, piano, vibes — the variety of sounds to be found on this album is practically unlimited. And with Roy DuNann’s engineering, you will never hear richer, fuller sound with more accurate timbers for all the instruments mentioned above. The guy was a genius. His recordings define High Fidelity for me. I know of none better. (more…)

Benny Carter – Swingin’ the ’20s

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  • With superb sides rating Double Plus (A++) or BETTER, this Contemporary pressing was one of the best we played in our shootout
  • These excellent sides are so much bigger and more open, with more bass and energy – the saxes and trumpets are immediate and lively
  • Mr. Earl Hines himself showed up, a man who knows this music like nobody’s business – Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne round out the quartet
  • “Great musicians produce great results, and most of the LP’s tracks were done in one or two takes. The result is ‘a spontaneous, swinging record of what happened’ when Carter met Hines ‘for the first time. . . .'”

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good a 1959 All Tube Analog recording can sound, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on vinyl that’s about as quiet as these Black Label originals 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
  • “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, dating back close to twenty years. 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, all of which I simply attributed at the time to Old School 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 the pressing I owned.

To be fair, this is of course a different pressing. I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning approach, 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 are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)