Top Producers – Lester Koenig

Barney Kessel – Let’s Cook

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

We were simply blown away by this Yellow Label pressing, which earned an A+++ for side one and an A++ for side two in a recent shootout. The transparency and clarity are SUPERB, and the amount of tubey magic is unbelievable! Folks, if you like guitar jazz, do not miss out on this album. I guarantee you will be absolutely knocked out by the sound of this pressing, not to mention the fantastic music!  (more…)

Andre Previn & His Pals’ West Side Story – Our Shootout Winner

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This superb sounding Black Label Stereo Contemporary pressing has close to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on side two. Side one earned a Double Plus, which makes this by far the best copy to ever hit the site and a great way to hear this classic piano trio swingin’ in 1959. This is yet another Demo Disc for Contemporary, more brilliant work from house engineer Roy Dunann. 

One of Previn’s best piano trio records, this album was recorded in 1959 by Roy Dunaan when he was at the height of his engineering powers. You will not find many piano trio records with sound better than this.

Note on the vinyl condition: it’s rare to find any Black Label original in audiophile playing condition, and almost none will play better than the Mint Minus Minus this one plays.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Something’s Coming 
Jet Song 
Tonight 
I Feel Pretty

Side Two

Gee, Officer Krupke! 
Cool 
Maria 
America

AMG Review

The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio of pianist Andre Previn, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Shelly Manne finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story. As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.

Shelly Manne & His Men – More Swinging Sounds

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Contemporary Yellow Label MONO LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! 

One quality of this side one that really took us by surprise was how DYNAMIC it is. The second track gets loud in a way that only one or two out of a hundred records does. (This is about the number of records we play in a week and I would have to say that no other record this week was more dynamic, hence the rough estimate above.) 

As you can imagine there’s not much going on at the frequency extremes, high or low; we have yet to hear a Mono recording from 1956 that boasts full bandwidth sound, but the middle sure can be awfully nice!

Side One

A+ to A++, with rich, smooth, lovely West Coast jazz sound. The horns can get a bit hard when loud.

Check out the dynamics on track two — Wow!

Side Two

A+ to A++, clean and lively. Zero smear and nearly as dynamic as side one. Track two, more than fifteen minutes long, is richer than track one by the way.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Moose the Mooche 
The Wind 
Pint of Blues

Side Two

Tommyhawk 
Quartet

The Poll Winners Straight Ahead – Their Best Album? We Think So

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is a Minty looking Contemporary Records LP with SUPERB MUSIC AND SOUND! We pulled together enough copies to do a small shootout, and this copy was the champion for BOTH SIDES! The sound is very clean and clear, yet tubey magical. 

You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up.

Musically, this is my favorite Poll Winners record! These guys got back together for this album and wanted to prove to the world that they still had their youthful excuberance!

They play with more spunk here than on any other album I’ve ever heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around mentioned that Roy DuNann, the famous recording engineer, had lost none of this skill in the intervening years either. This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best.

Ray Brown / Barney Kessel

Ornette Coleman – Something Else!

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  • Outstanding sound throughout; Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first 
  • Both sides are big, full-bodied, clean and clear with lots of deep punchy bass and a nice extended top end
  • It’s not quite as ‘out there’ as some of his better known material, but those of you with a taste for adventurous jazz will still find much to love here
  • “… the most important thing about Something Else! was that, in its angular, almost totally oppositional way, it swung and still does; like a finger-poppin’ daddy on a Saturday night, this record swings from the rafters of the human heart with the most unusually gifted, emotional, and lyrical line since Bill Evans first hit the scene.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

For us audiophiles the sound is shockingly good. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1958 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot

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  • This superb pressing of Kessel’s brilliant 1959 larger group outing has a shootout-winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • With Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, and dead on tonality from top to bottom, this is a textbook example of Contemporary’s sound at its best
  • An All Star West Coast lineup came together for this one: Art Pepper (on sax and claritnet!), Shelly Manne, Joe Gordon and others
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Such tunes as “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” “Runnin’ Wild,” “Down Among the Sheltering Palms,” and “By the Beautiful Sea” are given fairly modern arrangements…”

This copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. The liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)

Benny Carter – Swingin’ the ’20s

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy took top honors in our recent shootout
  • These good 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. . . .'”

We finally built up enough copies of this great album to do a shootout, our first since 2012, which ought to tell you something about the used record market these days. This copy had most of the Tubey Magic of the originals we played, with all of the amazing clarity and freedom from distortion the later pressings are capable of reproducing — the best of both worlds.

Our Yellow Label Contemporary pressing in stereo of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz recording from the late ’50s mastered through a modern, very high quality cutting chain. There’s good extension on the top end, with TONS of what you might not expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it! (more…)

Contemporary Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

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In some ways yes, in some ways no, and we are happy to lay it all out for you based on the critical listening we undertook recently. 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…)

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

More of Our Favorite Contemporary Jazz Recordings

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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). This is 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. (more…)