Top Studios and Concert Halls – Columbia 30th Street Studios

Listening in Depth to Chicago Transit Authority

More of the Music of Chicago

Reviews and Commentaries for Chicago Transit Authority

It’s amazing that this hard-rockin’ band from 1968 could be the same band that gave us “You’re The Inspiration” and other power-schlock ballads in the ’80s. Have they no shame?

Fortunately, this isn’t your Mom’s Chicago. Here, with their freshman effort, the band stands on the threshold of becoming True Rock Legends. Even today the album still sounds fresh. Who can argue with the brilliance of tracks such as “Beginnings,” “I’m a Man” and “Questions 67 and 68”?

This is as good as the band ever got, man! It’s all here.

All four sides boast some of the boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band ever. These boys have no problem standing toe to toe with the likes of Blood, Sweat And Tears.

If you don’t find yourself turning the stereo up during “Beginnings,” this music is not for you. The energy they bring to their cover of Spencer Davis’ “I’m A Man” puts the original to shame. They jam its rock and roll groove, then take it places nobody else would even think to go.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Introduction
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy you’ll know it pretty quick. Grit and grain in the vocal on this track will have you running for the nearest exit. Conversely, you still need presence without smear or the brass won’t have the bite of the real thing, and a Chicago album without good brass is pretty pointless.

They really put their best foot forward with this cut — a true sing-along anthem.

Beginnings

THE best Chicago song of all time! Pop music just does not get any better. The one-two punch of that amazing trombone solo followed by the equally amazing trumpet solo still knocks me out.

Part of what makes Chicago’s brass so distinctive is the infrequent use of a saxophone in the brass section. The Chicago brass is darker and heavier than, say, that of Blood Sweat and Tears, and that Heavy Brass Sound was never better than on this, their first album.

Side Two

Questions 67 and 68

When the chorus comes in the bass had better be tight or the whole thing will turn to mud. The best copies have tons of energy and life on this song. Though not a hit, it still stands as one of the best tracks on the album and a real highpoint for early-period Chicago.

Listen
Poem 58

Side Three

Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m a Man

Not the typical audiophile’s first choice in a Demonstration Quality track, but if you have the right kind of stereo (a big one, natch) and a top quality pressing (for side three anyway), watch out.

This track has the power to knock you right out of your socks. The bass part that Cetera opens the song with has an unbelievably solid tone. At the same time it’s harmonically rich and has subterranean power that must be heard to be believed. Holy Smokes does it ever sound good!

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Miles Davis – Someday My Prince Will Come

More Miles Davis

More Vintage Columbia Hot Stamper Pressings

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this Miles Davis classic – exceptionally quiet vinyl too for an original pressing
  • This vintage Columbia 6-Eye stereo LP is full-bodied, high-rez and spacious, with Miles’ horn uncannily present, a sound you just cannot find on Heavy Vinyl no matter who makes it
  • If you have the big system and dedicated room a record of this quality demands, you can put Miles right in the room with you with a Hot Stamper pressing as good as this
  • Vintage pressings that play this quietly, and are free of scratches and groove damage, are few and far between, but here’s one, perfect for even the most demanding audiophile
  • Another engineering triumph for Fred Plaut at Columbia’s legendary 30th Street Studios – the man is a genius
  • Musically this is one of our very favorite Miles albums, and the sound is Demo Disc Quality on the better copies
  • If you’re a jazz fan, this Must Own Title from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Wonderful Music and Sound

The reproduction of the trumpet on practically every track is nothing less than superb. It jumps out of the speakers front and center and forces you to listen to it, which is no doubt exactly what Miles intended.

Of course, the other giant on this record is John Coltrane, who plays on two tracks. Coltrane fans will hear some prime blowing from the master here. His style is so recognizable that it’s a bit of a shock when he plays because Hank Mobley is the saxophone player on the rest of the album and he sounds completely different. It’s unusual to change sax players in the middle of an album, but it happened on this one for reasons that we don’t need to go into here.

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Dave Brubeck Quartet / Time Further Out’s Engineering – When Less Is More

More of the Music of Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Further Out

Fred Plaut is one of our favorite recording and mixing engineers.

His work on Time Further Out speaks for itself — we think it’s the best sounding Brubeck recording of them all. 

We could find no information about the venue for this recording. It might be the Columbia Studios known as “The Church” — that would explain the amazing sound quality of the album — but it may just be Plaut’s engineering prowess in another location that makes this some of the best sound to be found on any Brubeck record.

Frederick “Fred” Plaut was a recording engineer and amateur photographer. He was employed by Columbia Records during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer.

Plaut engineered sessions for what would result in many of Columbia’s famous albums, including the original cast recordings of South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, jazz LPs Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty by Charles Mingus.

Wikipedia

Mark Wilder was interviewed about the recording of these Fred Plaut sessions and noted [bold added by me]:

Fred Plaut and Frank Laico were two of Brubeck’s recording engineers. Plaut is a true balance engineer; he’s my idol. I don’t know how he could pull off what he did in three hours.

He continued:

It’s amazing how well-recorded the group was back then. The sound is so three-dimensional, bigger than life.

Yet it’s amazing how little the engineers did to get that sound. They just put one mic a few feet from each instrument, and mixed live to 3-track—for left, center, and right. Then they edited the tape and mixed down to 2-track.

The old stuff sounds better than what we’re doing now. We’ve been going in the wrong direction sound-wise for many years. The layout of the stereo stage was more realistic then, too. Drums were on the left, piano on the right, sax and bass in the middle. (more…)

Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess on the Six Eye Label

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

More Miles Davis / More Gil Evans

  • Insanely good sound on both sides of this original Columbia Six-Eye pressing with each earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Both sides are full of that old-school Columbia jazz Tubey Magic – the brass is full-bodied with lots of air, the bass is surprisingly well-defined, the top end is extended and sweet, and the soundfield is HUGE and three-dimensional
  • 5 stars: “It was Evans’ intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively capture the essence of both… No observation or collection of American jazz can be deemed complete without this recording.”
  • Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious sounding 30th Street Studio.
  • It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.
  • If you’re a fan of the marvelous collaborations of Davis and Evans circa 1959, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this album belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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The Gerry Mulligan Quartet – What Is There To Say?

More Gerry Mulligan

More Recordings on Vintage Columbia Vinyl

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) grades from top to bottom, this early 6-Eye stereo LP is doing just about everything right
  • The sound here is tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with more of that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing ever has
  • With explosive dynamics and rich, full-bodied, Tubey Magical sax sound, it’s hard to imagine any reissue, vintage or otherwise, can hold a candle to the sound of this amazing record
  • Recorded at Columbia’s famous 30th Street studios, here is a record that sounds like Kind of Blue, Ah Um and Time Out, for the simple reason that all were recorded in the same studio using the same equipment (and perhaps even the same engineers)
  • 5 stars: “The last of the pianoless quartet albums that Gerry Mulligan recorded in the 1950s is one of the best … every selection is memorable…”

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Billie Holiday / Lady In Satin – On Classic Records

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic Records pressing that came out in 1998, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally correct but with somewhat low-rez vocals and lacking in both space and warmth.

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such records are even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A recording like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the record spinning on the table. The listener normally does not even know the label of the pressing he is reviewing. It could be a Six Eye original, the 360 reissue, or even a (gasp!) ’70s-era LP.

We don’t care what the label is. What does that have to do with anything? We’re looking for the best sound. We don’t play labels, we play unique pressings of the album.  We assume that every pressing sounds different from every other pressing. Our job is to figure out what each of them is doing right and wrong. 

We mix up all our copies and play them one after another until we come across the best sounding one.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that most audiophiles — at least the ones who buy into the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

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Dave Brubeck – Time Changes

More Dave Brubeck

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • With a breathy sax, lively and present piano, and a smooth, full sounding orchestra on some of these tracks, this is just the right sound for this music
  • The wonderful sounding CBS 30th Street Studios in New York deliver another amazing Demo Disc for Dave Brubeck and his famous fellow jazzmen
  • Produced by the legendary Teo Macero, this is the fourth entry in Brubeck’s time signature series of classic jazz

Production and Engineering

Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious-sounding 30th Street Studio. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

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Ellington-Basie / First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

More Duke Ellington

More Count Basie

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this early Columbia 6-Eye pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Reasonably quiet vinyl too, considering its age – how many early ’60s Columbia Stereo pressings survived with audiophile playing surfaces the way this one did?
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1961 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ellington’s elegance and unique voicings meet Basie’s rollicking, blues-based Kansas City swing, and it works gloriously. The Duke and his band accentuate their swinging dance band side, while Basie and company have never sounded as suave and exotic as when playing Billy Strayhorn arrangements. Everyone has a good time, and that joy infuses this album from start to finish.”
  • If you’re a fan of either or both of these jazz giants, this Classic from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess on the 360 Label

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

More Miles Davis

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage Columbia 360 Stereo pressing
  • The 360 label pressings don’t win shootouts, but they can sound very good, and are guaranteed to beat anything you have ever heard — from any era — at any price
  • Both sides are full of that old-school 30th Street Studio Tubey Magic – the brass is full-bodied and airy, the bass is surprisingly well-defined, the top end is extended and sweet, and the soundfield is HUGE and three-dimensional
  • The music is a classic example of the brilliant partnership between Davis and arranger Gil Evans, and a Must Own for serious jazz fans
  • 5 stars: “It was Evans’ intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively
  • If you’re a fan of the collaborations of Davis and Evans circa 1959, this album belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um

More Charles Mingus

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • Don’t let the Columbia Red Label scare you off – this pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Most of the later pressings sound as bad as you would expect, but if you know your stamper numbers, gems like this one will come your way eventually
  • A superb 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer)
  • The rich, sweet, spacious sound of the vintage tubes used to record the session is reproduced faithfully here – without that sound, it would just not be Ah Um
  • 5 stars: “Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners… Mingus’ compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um”

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