Well Recorded Jazz Albums – The Core Collection

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

  • Outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this Black Label original on vinyl that’s about as quiet as they ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is a Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • It’s also our favorite jazz piano performance by Andre Previn on record
  • Only a handful of copies of this title have made it on the site in the last few years – finding them in audiophile condition is getting harder (and more expensive) than ever these days
  • “Previn’s piano is the lead voice and his virtuosity, good taste, melodic improvising, and solid sense of swing are chiefly responsible for the music’s success.”

I have a very long history with this album, going back decades. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP (I sold off the old one years ago) but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was.

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Oscar Peterson Trio – West Side Story

More Oscar Peterson Trio

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A vintage Verve stereo pressing with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them throughout
  • Rich, solid bass; you-are-there immediacy; energy and drive; instruments that are positively jumping out of the speakers – add it all up and you can see that this copy had the sound we were looking for
  • Which wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t swingin,’ but it is – every track shows just how good this trio was in 1962
  • Credit engineer Bob Simpson, the man behind the legendary Belafonte at Carnegie Hall live recording from a couple of years before
  • An absolute Must Own – for sound and music, this is our pick for The Best Oscar Peterson Album of All Time

This album checks off a number of important boxes for us here at Better Records:

  1. It’s a Jazz Demo Disc (on the right stereo pressings)
  2. It’s the Best Sounding Oscar Peterson album we know of
  3. It’s a Jazz Masterpiece, and, lastly,
  4. It’s a Personal Favorite of yours truly

I’ve known this was a well-recorded album since I first heard the DCC gold CD back in the ’90s. It sounded great to me at the time — I had nothing to compare it to — but it sure didn’t sound like this. (more…)

Phineas Newborn, Jr. – A World of Piano!

More Phineas Newborn, Jr.

More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • This copy of Newborn’s first album for Contemporary boasts seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the most musically impressive jazz piano recordings we’ve played in years – Newborn’s improvisational skills are operating at a very high level
  • The team of Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer insure that everything you want in an Audiophile Quality piano trio recording is here
  • If you don’t have any Phineas Newborn albums in your collection, this is definitely the place to start
  • 5 stars: “Phineas Newborn’s Contemporary debut (he would record six albums over a 15-year period for the label) was made just before physical problems began to interrupt his career…. He performs five jazz standards and three obscurities by jazz composers on this superb recital…”

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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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Charles Mingus – Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus

More Charles Mingus

More Jazz Recordings

  • This original Impulse Stereo pressing boasts supeb sound from the first note to the last
  • Exceptionally spacious sound is a hallmark of any classic Mingus album, and this one does not disappoint — in fact, with Shootout Winning sound, it excels in its recreation of the three-dimensional space of the studio (and in practically every other area of reproduction too)
  • Impulse released a Heavy Vinyl pressing in 1995, as did Speakers Corner in 2003, but neither can hold a candle to the real thing
  • Mingus was undeniably one of the Giants of Jazz — the originality of the music on this record is simply more proof of his genius
  • 5 stars: “It closes out the most productive and significant chapter of his career, and one of the most fertile, inventive hot streaks of any composer in jazz history.”
  • 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. Mingus’ 1964 release is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

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. (more…)

Benny Carter – Jazz Giant

More of the Music of Benny Carter

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

  • Both sides of this superb Contemporary reissue earned excellent Double Plus (A++) sonic grades
  • If you still think that Analogue Productions is remastering records properly, you have definitely never heard a real Contemporary that sounds as good as this one does
  • The music of this Jazz Giant comes alive on this copy, with space, size, clarity and richness that few other pressings can match
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Benny Carter had already been a major jazz musician for nearly 30 years when he recorded this particularly strong septet session for Contemporary … This timeless music is beyond the simple categories of ‘swing’ or ‘bop’ and should just be called ‘classic.'”

If you like the sound of Contemporary Records, you won’t find a better example than this. Midrange magic doesn’t get anymore magical.

It’s been several years since our last shootout, but we hope the lucky buyer of this copy realizes it was more than worth it. To find a copy of Jazz Giant that sounds as good as this one is a very special event indeed.

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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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Weather Report – Heavy Weather

More Weather Report

More Fusion Jazz

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish, you will not believe how BIG and BOLD this copy is
  • Birdland on this pressing has some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl
  • Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius are both here and at the absolute peak of their creative powers – this is a work of GENIUS
  • 5 stars: ”Birdland’ is a remarkable bit of record-making, a unified, ever-developing piece of music that evokes, without in any way imitating, a joyous evening on 52nd St. with a big band.”
  • 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. Weather Report’s seventh (!) album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

The hottest of the hot stamper pressings demonstrate that this is a truly amazing recording, with some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl. The grit, grain and grunge of most pressings is nowhere to be found on these killer sides, and that alone puts them in a very special league indeed. (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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Milt Jackson & Wes Montgomery / Bags Meets Wes!

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

These two guys were made for each other; they have the same musical sensibilities.

Credit must also go to Wynton Kelly; his every solo is a thing of beauty. The three principals here are at the tops of their games and the sound will have you drooling. Good luck finding a more involving and enjoyable jazz record with this kind of sound — they just aren’t out there. That’s why, even with some surface problems, we think you are getting your money’s worth and more with this one.

If you’re a jazz fan, this Must Own Title from 1962 belongs in your collection

The complete list of titles from 1962 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.


This is an Older Jazz Review.

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we developed in the early 2000s and have since turned into a fine art.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.

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