Top Producers – Lester Koenig

Hampton Hawes / At The Piano

  • A huge, rich and natural Contemporary pressing boasting excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • This is the last record Hawes made, and it’s one of the most deeply emotional and satisfying albums of his entire career – it may even be his best, and for a man of his talents, that’s really saying something
  • “Hampton Hawes’ final recording found him returning not only to the acoustic piano after having dabbled in electric keyboards from 1972-74, but to producer Lester Koenig and his Contemporary label, where Hawes recorded most of his classic gems of the 1950s… Teamed up with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, Hawes shows that he was still in prime form.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Hampton Hawes last album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

This is my favorite Hampton Hawes record of all time. He died less than a year after these sessions. Looking at the cover, you can almost see in his face his acceptance of the end he knew was coming. He plays with deep emotion here.

Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, the same rhythm section who back Joe Sample on my all-time favorite piano trio album, The Three, accompany Hawes beautifully here.
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Hampton Hawes – All Night Session, Vol. 1

More Hampton Hawes

More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • A KILLER vintage Contemporary Stereo LP boasting top quality sound from the first note to the last
  • Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom – this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best, thanks to the engineering brilliance of Roy DuNann and producer Lester Keonig
  • This copy is simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than all of what we played – it puts you front and center in the studio with the players
  • The first of three albums of material recorded by Hawes, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer Eldridge “Bruz” Freeman on the night of November 12 and into the morning of November 13, 1956
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The interplay between these four men is marvelous, particularly when heard [on] a sound system allowing for a full appreciation of the stereophonic balance achieved by the recording engineers.”
  • “It’s hard to put into words how good it feels to play jazz when it’s really swinging…I’ve reached a point where the music fills you up so much emotionally that you feel like shouting hallelujah — like people do in church when they’re converted to God. That’s the way I was feeling the night we recorded All Night Session!” – Hampton Hawes

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Hampton Hawes – All Night Session, Vol. 3

More Hampton Hawes

More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • Exceptional Demo Disc Sound on this STUNNING Contemporary Stereo LP boasting top grades on both sides
  • This is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best, with Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom thanks to the engineering brilliance of Roy DuNann and producer Lester Keonig
  • The last of three albums of material recorded by Hawes, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer Eldridge “Bruz” Freeman on the night of November 12 and into the morning of November 13, 1956
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…contains three spontaneously improvised variations on the blues, one very cool extended rendition of Duke Ellington’s ‘Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear from Me’ and a strikingly handsome treatment of Harold Arlen’s ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.’ The briskly paced ‘Blues #4’ is especially progressive and exciting.”
  • “It’s hard to put into words how good it feels to play jazz when it’s really swinging…I’ve reached a point where the music fills you up so much emotionally that you feel like shouting hallelujah — like people do in church when they’re converted to God. That’s the way I was feeling the night we recorded All Night Session!” – Hampton Hawes

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Barney Kessel – Hard Left, Hard Right Staging “Problems”

We hear complaints from time to time about hard-left/ hard-right staging, but the right pressing, properly cleaned, then played on the right equipment and all the rest, will allow you to hear the ROOM in the middle, the real space the musicians are in.

It’s the same with The Beatles twin track stereo stuff — there is a room there. The sounds may be stuck in the speakers at your house, but over here that music is floating in the real space of the studio, left to right and including the middle.

This Kessel record really doesn’t have a problem with hard right hard left sound, but some Contemporary titles do and I just thought I would get that off my chest. Modest equipment (as well as not so modest equipment, especially if it’s modern, if my experience is any guide) has one helluva time finding the ambient information on most recordings, just one more reason why we don’t recommend cheap tables and inexpensive phono stages.

A Top Kessel Title

Barney Kessel comes out SWINGIN’ on this 1962 album — he is up for this gig! The energy you hear in his playing is partly the Hot Stamper pressing of course. When you get a record that has all of its dynamics and transients intact, the musicians just come alive in a way that the typically compressed, dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl reissue cannot begin to communicate. We HATE that reissue sound; it’s the main reason we stopped carrying them.

Where is the life of the music you ask? It’s on the kind of Hot Stamper pressings you are reading about right now. The band is cookin’, and because the pressing is so transparent, so open and spacious, you can hear each and every player’s contribution clearly and effortlessly. The cool air of the studio surrounds every instrument. They’re in a nice-sized room and you can really hear the sound bouncing around, just as you would if you were sitting in with the band.

And what would a good Contemporary be without Tubey Magic, especially on the guitar. Man, we love that sound. And check out the deep bass while you’re at it. No half-speed mastered audiophile pressing EVER had bass like this.

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Roy DuNann

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To Swing Or Not To Swing in 1955 with Barney Kessel

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  • 1955 turned out to be a great year for recorded music
  • Not only is the first copy to hit the site in many years but also the BEST, with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++)
  • As Good As It Gets — bigger, richer, fuller, more spacious and with more Tubey Magic than every other copy we played
  • Definitely one of the best early Contemporary LPs we’ve ever played – this is why audiophiles love mono!
  • “Guitarist Barney Kessel’s string of recordings for Contemporary in the 1950s included some of the finest work of his career … highly recommended to fans of straight-ahead jazz.” 
  • If you’re a fan of West Coast Jazz, this All Tube MONO Recording from 1955 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1955 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This Early Contemporary Yellow Label Mono LP sure has AMAZING SOUND! (more…)

Barney Kessel / Let’s Cook – What a Guitar Sound!

  • Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary Stereo sound at its best
  • For some reason, the guitar sound from this era of All Tube Chain Recording is seems to have died out with the times – it can only be found on the best of these vintage pressings, and the better the guitar sounds, the more likely it is that the record will win our shootout
  • For those of you who appreciate what Roy DuNann were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own
  • “[A]n excellent session from guitarist Barney Kessel…matched with vibraphonist Victor Feldman, pianist Hampton Hawes, bassist Leroy Vinnegar, and drummer Shelly Manne.”

We were simply blown away by this pressing. 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!

Barney Kessel comes out SWINGIN’ on this album — he is up for this gig! The energy you hear in his playing is partly the Hot Stamper pressing, of course. When you get a record that has all of its dynamics and transients intact, the musicians just come alive in a way that the typically compressed, dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl reissue cannot begin to communicate. We HATE that reissue sound; it’s the main reason we stopped carrying them.

Where is the life of the music you ask? It’s on the kind of Hot Stamper pressings you are reading about right now. The band is cookin’, and because the pressing is so transparent, so open and spacious, you can hear each and every player’s contribution clearly and effortlessly. The cool air of the studio surrounds every instrument. They’re in a nice-sized room and you can really hear the sound bouncing around, just as you would if you were sitting in with the band.

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Ornette Coleman – Something Else!

More Ornette Coleman

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

  • With its presence, clarity, space and timbral accuracy, this pressing is guaranteed to be one of the best sounding jazz records you’ve heard in a very long time
  • It’s not as ‘out there’ as some of his better known albums, but those of you with a taste for adventurous jazz will still find much to love here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… 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.”

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…)

Benny Carter / Swingin’ the ’20s – Skip the OJC

More of the Music of Benny Carter

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

This album is fairly common on the OJC pressing from 1988, but more recently we’ve found the sound of the OJC pressings we’ve played seriously wanting. They have the kind of bad reissue sound that that plays right into the prejudices of record collectors and audiophiles alike, the kind 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. (We tend to like those, by the way.)

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 reliance on 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.

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Benny Carter – Swingin’ the ’20s

More Benny Carter

More Shelly Manne

  • 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 Men – The West Coast Sound, Vol. 1

More Shelly Manne

More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • Killer Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Contemporary in 1956 was making some awfully good jazz records, with room-filling, natural and realistic mono sound, the kind of sound that still holds up today and doesn’t need a lot of “mastering” to do it
  • 5 stars: “The music has plenty of variety yet defines the era… Highly recommended and proof (if any is really needed) that West Coast jazz was far from bloodless.”
  • If you’re a fan of West Coast Jazz, this is a Top Title from 1956, and one that certainly belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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