Top Engineers – Tom Dowd

John Coltrane / Coltrane’s Sound – A Very Good Reissue by Bernie Grundman

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Sonic Grade: B+ (at least)

This is one of the better sounding Heavy Vinyl pressings we have played recently. What makes it different from so many others that fail to live up to the remastering hype that surrounds them (and irritates the hell out of those of use who know what a good record is actually supposed to sound like)?

  • It’s tonally correct from top to bottom. At most five or ten per cent of the audiophile repressings we’ve played in the last ten years can make that claim.
  • The bass is not boosted or poorly defined. This eliminates at a minimum 95+% of all the Mobile Fidelity pressings we have ever played. Nobody seems to notice how bad the bass is on their records. A real puzzler, that fact.
  • It’s not exceptionally veiled or recessed. I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of Heavy Vinyl pressings that are not much too veiled and recessed to compete with their vintage vinyl brethren.

It is slightly veiled, and lacks some of the life, the space and obviously some of the presence of the real thing, the real thing in this case being an early stereo pressing on the Blue and Green Atlantic label.

Still, for your money you are getting one helluva good record. One of the top two or three Rhino records to date.

(Bernie did a great job on this Coltrane album, but whatever you do, don’t waste your money on his recut of Lush Life. It is just plain awful, a Hall of Shame pressing that’s so bad it defies understanding. Something sure went wrong somewhere, I can tell you that. Stay tuned for my review.)

• Lacquers cut by Bernie Grundman
• LPs cut from the original analog masters
• Packages replicated to the finest detail manufactured with more care than ever

OUR PREVIOUS COMMENTARY

This is yet another superb Tom Dowd recording of Coltrane in his prime, with support from the brilliant McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones.

Advice on Which Pressings to Buy

Forget the later Red and Green Atlantic pressings. Every one we’ve ever played was flat, dry, and thin. They sound like the cheap reissues that Atlantic churned out in the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong; there are some good sounding records on the Red and Green label, but you really have to know what you are doing — or be really lucky — to find them.

We’ve played them by the score, and found relatively few winners among a slough of losers. If you want to take your chances on some, knock yourself out, more power to you, but expect to come up with nothing to show for your time and money almost every time. That’s been our experience anyway.

And be very thankful if you happen to run into one of these early Atlantic stereo pressings. Few Classic Coltrane albums survived the jazz lovers of the day and their awful turntables.

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Ornette Coleman / Ornette N Tenor – Demo Disc Jazz Sound

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  • A big, bold, KILLER sounding Atlantic pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This is one of the BEST sounding jazz albums we have played in many months – it is ALIVE with energy and dynamic contrasts
  • We had a superb original Plum and Orange Mono pressing and as good as that one may be, this stereo pressing takes the music to another level entirely (on big speakers at loud levels of course)
  • Compare this pressing to anything ever recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and you may be in for quite a shock
  • Engineered by the team of Tom Dowd and Phil Iehle, the men behind some of Coltrane’s most iconic, best sounding albums for Atlantic
  • 5 stars in Downbeat – Allmusic notes: “It’s an understatement to say that Ornette Coleman’s stint with Atlantic altered the jazz world forever, and Ornette on Tenor was the last of his six LPs (not counting outtakes compilations) for the label, wrapping up one of the most controversial and free-thinking series of recordings in jazz history… far ahead of its time.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended if you play it at moderate levels.

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Systems driving Big Dynamic Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me.

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Jerry Jeff Walker / Mr. Bojangles

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  • A wonderful find of Jerry Jeff’s from 1968, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Clean and clear, rich and natural, with good vocal presence and wonderful energy throughout
  • The title track sounds amazing, but that’s just one of the great songs with excellent sound on the album
  • The engineering team of Tom Dowd and Phil Iehle really worked their magic on this one
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…Walker favored the country and folk side of folk-rock much more than the rock side.”

This is only the second title by Jerry Jeff that we’ve been able to do shootouts for. Most of the records we’ve played of his from the ’70s left a lot to be desired sonically and more often than not musically, so we gave up on them.

His Vanguard release from 1969 has superb sound, as does this Atco from 1968. There may be one or two more coming down the pike but that could be many years from now. His records never sold all that well, and not many of them can be found in Southern California.

And they are hard to find in audiophile playing condition. (more…)

Cream / Disraeli Gears – Live and Learn

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A classic case of Live and Learn

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Our shootout quite a while ago for Cream’s classic second album provided proof positive that We Was Wrong when we said:

No reissue we’ve ever played sounded especially good and none likely ever will.

Ah, but some do! We would love to tell you exactly what to look for so that you can go find one for yourself, but that’s bad for business as I’m sure you can see. Let’s just say there will be at least one later reissue of the album with very good grades coming soon to a site near you.

We also have to admit to being wrong about this:

If you’re expecting Sunshine of Your Love to rock on record like you remember it rockin’ on the radio back in the day, forget it. When you heard that song your brain added the bass and dynamics that are missing from the record. Either that or you did it through the loudness control on your old receiver. There’s maybe five db of dynamic range on that song and there can never be more than that.

There are copies with dynamic vocals on that track. The vocals are practically the only thing that do get loud, but on some copies they do; we heard it. Likewise, on some copies the drums have much more body and punch than than they do on most.

So, when it comes to bass and dynamics, yes, some copies have some, maybe even more than you remember. (more…)

Ray Charles – The Best of Ray Charles

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Like any compilation the sound varies from track to track, but most of the material here sounds WONDERFUL
  • This collection of instrumentals gives you a taste of Ray’s prowess at the piano, with surprisingly good sound to boot
  • All these recordings are from the late 50s, including a live performance from the Newport Jazz Festival

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. So high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. Ray Charles was a genius (it’s his nickname for heaven’s sake!) and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of that fact.

You may have noticed that Tom Dowd, the recording engineer for these tracks, receives a fair amount of criticism on our site. We’re not always fans of his work on rock albums, but on jazz music he usually managed to do a great job. The sound is open, sweet, transparent, rich — all the stuff we like here at Better Records.

Just drop the needle on the first track, Hard Times. The brass is breathy and full-bodied, the piano has real weight, and the vocals sound Right On The Money. The extended solos by David Newman on tenor sax are especially brilliant.

If you want a good Blues based Jazz record, performed by men who were at the height of their powers, you can’t go wrong with this one. All these recordings are from the late 50s, including a live performance from the Newport Jazz Festival. (more…)

Cream / Wheels of Fire and its Glaring Lack of Bass

See all of our Eric Clapton and Cream albums in stock

 

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It’s EXCEPTIONALLY difficult to find even decent sounding copies of this album. We’ve played SCORES of original domestic copies, original imports, and all kinds of reissues — trust me, most of them would make you cringe.

When you get a good copy, this music is AWESOME! For ’60s power trio hard rock, you just can’t do much better than the studio material.

White Room, Sitting On Top Of The World, Politician, Born Under A Bad Sign — this is the very essence of Classic Blues Rock. Unfortunately, the typical copy barely hints at the potential of this recording, and the audiophile pressings are even worse.

The DCC Gold CDs are especially bad in our opinion; they sound nothing like the good pressings we’ve played over the years.

Where’s The Bass?

Most early pressings you find these days are thrashed beyond belief. We used to pick up every clean Plum & Gold label copy we’d find back in he day, but no more. We gave up. The Cream magic was just plain missing from the early domestic pressings. The problem is simple: a glaring lack of bass.

Let’s think about that. Cream is a power trio. The music absolutely demands a solid, weighty bottom end. Sacrifice the bass and the sound is just too lean to rock.

We can sum up the sound of the whomp-less copies in a word: fatiguing. As is always the case, some copies sound better than others, but none could give us the kind of bass that we were hoping for. (more…)

Cream – Disraeli Gears

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  • A KILLER UK stereo copy of Cream’s second studio album with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • You aren’t going to believe how hard this pressing rocks, with all the WHOMP and ENERGY you never knew was there
  • Surprisingly good sound for classics like Strange Brew, Sunshine Of Your Love and Tales of Brave Ulysses
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…the imagination of the arrangements, the strength of the compositions, and especially the force of the musicianship make this album transcend its time.”

This amazing copy has the kind of smooth, analog sound you need for this music — warm, rich, smooth, and pretty much free of the nasty grain that gets in the way on most pressings. There’s good extension up top, and the bottom end is meaty and well-defined.

The lesson we’ve learned over the years is that when the extremes are properly transferred to the vinyl, the middle will take care of itself. Since the extremes seem to be the hardest thing to get right, at least on this record, that might explain why so many copies don’t really sound the way they should. (more…)

Sonny Stitt – Stitt Plays Bird

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a better than Double Plus (A++ to A+++) side one, this copy on the lovely Blue and Green Atlantic stereo label is practically as good as it gets
  • No reissue in our shootout could touch it, and where are you going to find an early pressing like this one in audiophile playing condition?
  • Tom Dowd engineered, which is why the best copies of the album sound so damn good – Dowd recorded many of the best Coltrane albums in the early ’60s
  • 4 1/2 stars: Sonny Stitt forged his own approach to playing bebop out of the sound and style of Charlie Parker, so this tribute album was a very logical project… Stitt, who mastered bebop and could play hot licks in his sleep, is in top form… making this an essential item for straight-ahead jazz fans…”

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Ornette Coleman – The Art of the Improvisers

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Engineered by the team of Tom Dowd (whose work you surely know well) and Phil Iehle – the pair recorded some of Coltrane’s most iconic albums for Atlantic: Giant Steps (1960) and Coltrane Jazz (also in 1961)
  • 5 stars in Downbeat – Allmusic notes: “It’s an understatement to say that Ornette Coleman’s stint with Atlantic altered the jazz world forever, and Ornette on Tenor was the last of his six LPs (not counting outtakes compilations) for the label, wrapping up one of the most controversial and free-thinking series of recordings in jazz history… far ahead of its time.”

(more…)

John Coltrane – Coltrane’s Sound – Forget the ’70s Reissues

More John Coltrane

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This is yet another superb Tom Dowd recording of Coltrane in his prime, with support from the brilliant McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones.

Advice

Forget the later Red and Green Atlantic pressings. Every one we’ve ever played was flat, dry, and thin. They sound like the cheap reissues that Atlantic churned out in the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong; there are some good sounding records on the Red and Green label, but you really have to know what you are doing — or be really lucky — to find them.

We’ve played them by the score, and found relatively few winners among a slough of losers. If you want to take your chances on some, knock yourself out, more power to you, but expect to come up with nothing to show for your time and money almost every time. That’s been our experience anyway.

And be very thankful if you happen to run into one of these early Atlantic stereo pressings, especially if it plays as quietly as this one does. Few Classic Coltrane albums survived the jazz lovers of the day and their awful turntables

The Players

John Coltrane — tenor saxophone on all except “Central Park West” soprano saxophone on “Central Park West” and “26-2”
McCoy Tyner — piano
Steve Davis — bass
Elvin Jones — drums (more…)