Top Engineers – Rudy Van Gelder

Freddie Hubbard / Sky Dive – Blurry, Thick, Veiled, Dull or Slow?

That’s too often the sound we hear on the Heavy Vinyl records being pressed these days. From time to time we get hold of some to audition just to see what they’ve done with (to?) the titles we know well.

We sure don’t have any intention of selling them. That would be against our principles. And the very name of our operation: Better Records. It’s rare for anything pressed on Heavy Vinyl to qualify as a Better Record, which is why so many of them can be found in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way.

But that sound can be found on plenty of vintage pressings too. We should know, we’ve played them by the tens of thousands!

Smear is 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 First Light or Red Clay, etc., etc.).

When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy.

Rudy gets one hell of a lively trumpet sound in this period of 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.

If you don’t have a hot copy of Red Clay, get one. It’s some of the best funky jazz ever recorded. No collection should be without it.

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At Ease With Coleman Hawkins from 1960 – What to Listen For

This 1960 Saxophone Ballad session has to be seen as yet another recording triumph for Rudy Van Gelder. The best pressings of these OJC reissues from 1989 sound like the vintage jazz albums they emulate, and sometimes they even beat the originals at their own Tubey Magical game. They can be every bit as rich, sweet and spacious as their earlier-pressed brethren in our experience.

In the case of At Ease with Coleman Hawkins, we simply have never seen an original copy clean enough to buy, so we have no reference for what an original would sound like.

But, having critically auditioned literally hundreds and hundreds of vintage jazz records over the course of the last few years, we’re pretty confidant we know what they are supposed to sound like.

And they sound just like the best copies of this very pressing.

What to Listen For

The best copies are rich and tubey; many pressings were thin and modern sounding, and for that they would lose a lot of points. We want this record to sound like something RVG recorded in 1960, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless have to offer.

Some copies have much more space; some are more present, putting the musicians right in the room with you; some are more transparent, resolving the musical information much better than others, letting you “see” everyone in the studio clearly. Some have more rhythmic drive than others. On some the musicians seem more involved and energetic than they do on the average pressing.

The copies that do all these things better than other copies are the ones that win our shootouts.

More Coleman Hawkins

More recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

Potentially Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Not Very Good Sounding OJC Pressings

John Coltrane / Lush Life – Should You Collect the Original Pressing on this Title?

No. Which means we was wrong about Lush Life.

A classic case of Live and Learn. Previously we had written:

“There are great sounding originals, but they are few and far between…”

We no longer believe that to be true. In fact we believe the opposite of that statement to be true. The original we had on hand — noisy but with reasonably good sound, or so we thought — was an absolute joke next to our best Hot Stamper pressings. Half the size, half the clarity and presence, half the life and energy, half the immediacy, half the studio space. It was simply not remotely competitive with the copies we now know (or at least believe, all knowledge being provisional) to have the best sound.

Are there better originals than the ones we’ve played? No doubt. If you want to spend your day searching for them, more power to you. And if you do find one that impresses you, we are happy to send you one of our Hot Copies to play against it. We are confident that the outcome would be clearly favorable to our pressing. Ten seconds of side one should be enough to convince you that our record is in an entirely different league, a league we had no idea even existed until just this year.

By the way, the mono original we played was by far the worst sound I have ever heard for the album.

By far.

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

(The operative word in the two sentences above is “right.”

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John Coltrane / Soultrane – The Original OJC Sucks

The early OJC reissues of this title are awful, and whatever Heavy Vinyl they’re churning out these days is probably every bit as bad, but in the opposite way.

The OJC is thin and bright, and the modern reissue (I’m guessing, based on playing scores of them) is probably thick, veiled, overly smooth, lacking in space and boosted in the bass — because that’s the sound that audiophiles record buyers seem to like these days.

 

Without the excellent sounding ’60s and ’70s reissues that we are still able to find in audiophile playing condition, all that we would have available with which to do our shootouts would be the originals. At the big bucks those records go for nowadays, shootouts would simply be impossible.

So our thanks go to Rudy for doing a good job on these later pressings!

And brickbats to George Horn, who seems to be the guy who cut the original OJC pressings. We like a lot of his work, but in this case he’s let us down.

Potentially Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Not Very Good Sounding OJC Pressings

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Sonny Rollins / Saxophone Colossus – Try the DCC CD

Our last White Hot Stamper Gold Label Mono pressing went for big bucks, 900 of them in fact.

Of course, a clean original goes for many times that, which is one reason you have never seen such a record on our site.

How much would we have to charge for a Hot Stamper pressing of an album we paid many thousands of dollars for? Far more than our customers would be willing to pay us, that’s for sure.

You Say You Don’t Have Nine Hundred Bucks for This Album?

Try the DCC pressing from 1995.

The DCC Heavy Vinyl pressing is probably a nice record. I haven’t played it in many years, but I remember liking it back in the day.

It’s dramatically better than the ’80s OJC, which, like many OJC pressings, is thin, hard, tizzy up top and devoid of Tubey Magic. (We have many reviews of OJC pressings on this very blog for those who are interested.)

I would be surprised if the DCC Gold CD isn’t even better than their vinyl pressing.

They usually are.

Steve Hoffmann brilliantly mastered many classic albums for DCC. I like DCC’s CDs much better than their records. Their records did not have to fight their way through Kevin Gray’s opaque, airless, low-rez, modern transistor cutting system, a subject we discussed in some depth here.

Eric Dolphy – Out There

More Saxophone Jazz

More Recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

  • Insanely good sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • This copy was doing it all right: rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical yet still super open and spacious
  • “A somber and unusual album by the standards of any style of music, Out There explores Dolphy’s vision in approaching the concept of tonality in a way few others — before, concurrent, or after — have ever envisioned.” – All Music, 5 Stars

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Grover Washington, Jr. – All The King’s Horses

More Grover Washington

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

  • Washington’s sophomore release finally returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • There’s so much life in these grooves – the sound jumps out of the speakers right into your lap
  • Credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for recording and mastering this album so well, and to Bob James for his brilliant big group arrangements
  • We cannot recommend this album highly enough – if you have the big speakers a big group of musicians need to perform live in your listening room, his record is going to be nothing less than a thrill
  • 4 stars: “. . . this set has assumed its proper place in Washington’s catalog: as one of his more ambitious and expertly performed sessions.”
  • If you’re a Grover Washington fan, this is a Must Own Classic from 1972 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Both sides of this original Kudu pressing are OUT OF THIS WORLD. The sweetness and transparency of Grover Washington Jr.’s breathy sax went beyond any copy we’ve ever played. Who knew it could sound like this? We sure didn’t!

It’s spacious and full of life with virtually no distortion. Of special note, this copy has amazingly articulate bass which brings out the undeniable funkiness of the music in a way that no other copy did.

The early ’70s were a good time for Rudy Van Gelder. All the King’s Men from 1973 is an amazing Demo Disc for a large group. But it only sounds good on the copies that it sounds good on, on the pressings that were mastered, pressed and cleaned right, a fact that has eluded most jazz vinyl aficionados interested in good sound.

But not us. We’ve played the very special pressings that prove the album can sound amazing. (more…)

Jackie McLean – A Long Drink of the Blues

More Jackie McLean

  • Shockingly good All Tube Mono Recording Chain sound from 1957 courtesy of Rudy Van Gelder, and the high-rez, tonally correct and wide-bandwidth mastering brings out even the most subtle nuances of the sound of this superb sextet
  • McLean’s sax is joined on the first side by Curtis Fuller on trombone and Webster Young on Trumpet
  • 4 stars: “Although not quite as intense as McLean’s later Blue Note dates, the ballad renditions show just how mature and original a soloist he was even at this early stage.” 
  • If you’re a fan of Jackie’s, this is a Top Title from 1957 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Donald Byrd – House of Byrd

More Donald Byrd

  • Two rare Donald Byrd albums in one, both with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The Tubey Magic is fully intact, making these two albums sound just the way 1956 RVG jazz should
  • Composed of two superb LPs, 2 Trumpets and The Young Bloods, these wonderful pressings capture some of Byrd’s best sound
  • “Art and Donald are in fine form, and if there is any competition it serves only to increase the musical yield.”
  • “… These blowing sessions (typical of Prestige’s albums of the 1950s) have their enjoyable moments with Farmer and Woods taking overall solo honors.

This reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s in this case. We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40+ years ago, not the generally opaque, veiled and lifeless mastering so common today.

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on both of these superb sides.

We were impressed with the fact that these pressings excel in so many areas of reproduction. What was odd about it — odd to most audiophiles but not necessarily to us — was just how rich and Tubey Magical the reissue can be on the right pressing.

This leads me to think that most of the natural, full-bodied, lively, clear, rich sound of the recording was still on the tape decades later, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound on to a record was simply to thread up the tape on the right machine and hit play.

The fact that practically nobody seems to be able to make a record nowadays that sounds remotely this good tells me that I’m wrong to think that such an approach tends to work, if our experience with hundreds of mediocre Heavy Vinyl reissues is relevant.

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Horace Silver Quintet – The Tokyo Blues

More Horace Silver

More Blue Note Albums

  • Spacious and three-dimensional, as well as relaxed and full-bodied – this pressing was a big step up over every other copy we played
  • 4 stars: “Silver’s Tokyo-influenced compositions fit right in with the subtle cross-cultural but very American hard bop he’d been doing all along… [his] compositions have a light, airy feel, with plenty of space, and no one used that space better at these sessions than Cook, whose tenor sax lines are simply wonderful, adding a sturdy, reliable brightness.”
  • Another Must Own Title from 1962. Other recommended titles from 1962 can be found here.

If you know anything about Blue Note, you know that finding a copy that plays this quietly is rare. Add to that the excellent sound and music and you have yourself a real winner with this LP! (more…)