Top Producers – Creed Taylor

Jimmy Smith – Got My Mojo Workin’ – Reviewed in 2010

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Verve Stereo LP with RVG Stampers and very good sound. This album has that analog richness, warmth and smoothness that we prize so highly here at Better Records. Jimmy does some pop tunes, some Ellington and more on this one, which has a real funky feel to it, with Jimmy really getting into it and grunting along with the music in places.

This copy (especially on side one) was just plain bigger and richer and tubier, as well as more dynamic than the others we played. (more…)

Chet Baker – She Was Too Good To Me

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

We guarantee you have never heard this album — or any later Chet Baker album — sound as good as this one does.

There’s so much life in these grooves. The sound jumps out of the speakers right into your lap. This kind of warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever. You have to go back to 1974 to find it!

The early ’70s were a good time for Van Gelder, the engineer for these sessions. Grover Washington Jr.’s All the King’s Horses from 1973 is an amazing Demo Disc for large group. We could easily name-check a dozen others on CTI recorded by RVG that we’ve done shootouts for. 

But any album only sounds good on the copies that it sounds good on, on the pressings that were mastered, pressed and cleaned right, a fact that seems to have eluded most jazz vinyl aficionados interested in good sound but axiomatic (if not tautological) here at Better Records.

The extended song structures, ranging from four to seven minutes in length, leave plenty of room for the band to stretch out.

And of course Chet sings the title track beautifully. (more…)

Stanley Turrentine – Sugar

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

The best copies seem to have more space and are even more clear while at the same time keeping the sound rich and tonally correct from top to bottom. That sound is exactly what you will hear on this side two! It won our shootout because it gave us the feeling that we were hearing everything that was being recorded in the studio exactly the way Rudy, Stanley and his jazz buds wanted us to. In those long ago sessions at Van Gelder Studios in November of 1970, this is how it went down. 

And don’t forget to check out some of the most soulful sax playing Stan the Man ever committed to tape: the solos he plays on Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Sugar. We simply cannot recommend a jazz album any more highly than Kenny’s landmark album for Blue Note from 1963. To this day it blows my mind. (more…)

Astrud Gilberto – The Shadow Of Your Smile

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The space is HUGE and the sound so rich. The vocals have dramatically less hardness and the orchestra sounds right for once. Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD.

More Astrud Gilberto

If you don’t like at least some reverb on your vocals, this album is probably not for you. The standard recording approach for Male and Female Vocals in the ’50s and ’60s was to add reverb to them. Sometimes it sounds right and sometimes it’s too much. For “too much” play some of Nat King Cole’s records from the era to hear what I mean. (Try “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” from 1963 if you want a good place to start.)

Like any processing of the sound in the studio — compression, limiting, reverb, EQ, etc. — it can be used with taste and discretion and make the recording better, or it can be overdone and ruin everything. For our part we think Astrud Gilberto’s recordings use reverb more or less tastefully. And of course there sure aren’t going to be any versions of this music coming along any time soon without the added echo. Getting the reverb to sound right is one of the things a good Hot Stamper has to do on a record like this. (more…)

Grover Washington Jr. – Inner City Blues – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

TWO A+++ SIDES ON QUIET VINYL, making this the best copy of Inner City Blues we’ve found! This copy trounced the other ones we played, giving us the kind of open, transparent sound that brings out the best in this music. The overall sound is very clean and clear with lots of weight down low and extension up top. I don’t think you could find a better sounding copy no matter what you did. 

The lineup here is absolutely stellar, with players including Ron Carter, Idris Muhammed, Richard Tee, Airto and Eric Gale, among many others.

Yer Average Copy

The typical sound we find on most pressings is full of heavy compression as well as the kind of high frequency restriction that prevents the top end from extending naturally. The result: Grover’s horn takes on a slightly sour quality — not a fun way to hear this kind of music. (more…)

Grover Washington Jr. – All The King’s Horses – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Side one of this original Kudu pressing is 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!

I’ve been a big fan of this record since I first heard it all the way back in High School. I only found out later that this is not what most people would consider “real” jazz — it’s CTI jazz, more in the pop jazz or soul jazz vein. But I love the music more with each passing year and would not hesitate for a moment to recommend it to any jazz lover or audiophile. If the first track doesn’t knock you out, this album may not be for you. Without a doubt, in my book it’s the best thing Grover Washington ever did.

The really good RVG jazz pressings sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located and surrounded by the natural space of the studio. As our stereo has gotten better, and we’ve found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has begun to impress us more and more.

Obviously the credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for recording and mastering the album so well.

The early ’70s were a good time for Van Gelder. All the King’s Men from 1973 is an amazing Demo Disc for 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…)

Grover Washington – Mister Magic – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

The typical pressing is murky, overly smooth and lacks energy. Many copies also suffer from serious congestion and veiling. No such problems here! You get tons of space and energy, along with balanced tonality and great presence.

A 4 1/2 star album in the All Music Guide. Washington is backed here by excellent players including Bob James, Phil Upchurch, Harvey Mason, Ralph MacDonald, Eric Gale and many more. (more…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This White Hot Stamper Shootout Winner has the REAL Wes Montgomery/ Creed Taylor/ Rudy Van Gelder MAGIC in its grooves. You will not believe how big, rich and full-bodied this pressing is on side one! Since this is one of Wes’s best albums, hearing this side one was a THRILL for us and will no doubt be as big a thrill for you too.   

Beware any and all imitations (even the one I like somewhat, the Cisco version). They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way this pressing does. This White Hot Stamper exhibits huge amounts of ambience and spaciousnesss, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have. 

Wall to Wall

Note especially how so much musical information is coming from the far sides of the soundfield. The Cisco reissue makes a mockery of that wall to wall sound, sucking it into the middle and flattening it into a single plane. Ugh.

To be fair — and I always am — the Cisco did beat and will beat the pants off of practically any copy you run across. There is a very simple explanation for this: Verve is probably the most poorly mastered label in the history of the world. No other label produced so many wonderful sounding recordings that were turned into lousy sounding LPs — I could list them for days. We rarely even pick up most Verves, having been burned so many times we just can’t face another badly mastered noisy LP. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More Freddie Hubbard

More Sky Dive

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

With a sonic grade of A+++ this White Hot Stamper original CTI pressing has a side two that won Top Honors in our recent shootout. It’s CLEARLY the best sounding side we have ever offered of this funky jazz classic, but it has serious condition issues, including a mark that plays at the end of track one all the way into track two. If you can live with that mark you will hear some amazing sound and music on side two. And if you buy this copy and realize you can’t, feel free to send it back for a full refund.

We ran into lots of condition problems with this album; perhaps your experience has been the same. Not many played anything close to Mint Minus, including this one. (more…)

George Benson – The Other Side of Abbey Road

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

An A++ side one backed with an A+++ side two! We just shot out a bunch of these and this copy finished way ahead of the pack. George Benson and a top-notch backing crew (Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Ray Baretto, Freddie Hubbard and many more) knock these jazzy Abbey Road covers out of the park, and Rudy Van Gelder did a great job putting it to tape. Of course not every pressing sounds good, but the best copies like this one are killer!  (more…)