Vinyl Audiophile Reissues Feature

by | Jan 28, 2007 | Special Features | 0 comments


It has been far too long between our vinyl review features. Activity continues in this important area of audiophilia – toting up to more sales than both SACD and DVD-A disc sales put together – at least in the U.S.  Super-high-end turntable systems of the price-no-object ilk continue to be introduced, and more new pressings of both reissues and new recordings are available today than since the LP era was “officially” ended and most vinyl production ceased.  The following is a look at some of the vinyl releases which have been waiting in our rack for some time now.

Before beginning auditioning, I took the time to reset a parameter of turntable operation which is often overlooked: redoing the VTA (vertical tracking angle).  Some analog aficionados say this should be done every month or two; in my case it had been a very long time. Misadjusted tracking angle can rob vinyl playback of much of the uncanny realism which often puts vinyl ahead of any two-channel digital reproduction and keeps vinyl fans coming back for more in spite of the extra efforts required. Nearly all the audiophile vinyl pressings are now either 180 or 200 grams. I believe all those reviewed below – except the first – are 180g. But unless we just got into vinyl recently most of our LP collections are lighter and thinner platters.  Therefore one has to decide whether to adjust for the thicker discs or the preponderance of thinner ones. (That is all except those lucky few who have one of the arms allowing instant VTA adjustment while the disc plays!)

In my case the suspension had indeed sagged a bit over the months and I had to raise the VTA slightly. I used the track The Man I Love from the vinyl version of Jazz at the Pawnshop on Proprius. When the sax really jumps out at you  on louder notes and the metallic dings on the drum set near the end sing with clarity rather than sounding muffled, I’ve got it. I also used Sumiko’s Flux buster to demagnetize my cartridge halfway thru the auditioning, which I also realized had not been done for a very long time. By the way, here’s my analog front end:

SOTA Star vacuum turntable converted from springs to elastomer suspension, SOTA record clamp, SME-V tonearm with Sumiko mod & Cardas internal wiring, Transfiguration Spirit MC cartridge, Grado phono preamp, Jena Labs cable to “Source Direct” on Sunfire preamp. Table is on extra large MapleShade threaded brass feet on MSB Isobase which is on an Arcici inflated isolation base.

All of my comparisons were made with both LP and CDs feeding the preamp set at Source Direct – two channel without any digital processing. We are beginning with four vinyl reviews from our other writers; the remainder will be mine.

 – John Sunier

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child Box Set – Classic Records RTH-2016 – Four 140-gram translucent red LPs ****:

Upon first hearing about this set, my curiosity was definitely tweaked, but when I found out that Classic Records was offering this four LP box in a choice of 200-gram LPs or 140-gram translucent red vinyl – well, let’s just say I was much more than simply “interested”! I don’t know how these things affect the average vinyl aficionado, but when I hear the words “colored vinyl,” it triggers an instantaneous left brain-right brain clash where all logic tends to evaporate, and my mind slips into the “Duuuuude – colored vinyl!!!!!” mode. Regardless of how much the logic and reason functions of my cranium really attempted to get me to order the 200-gram pressings – Duuuuude, we ordered the 140-gram colored vinyl – and it’s the most beautiful translucent red vinyl you ever feasted your eyes on! My friends are mesmerized during playback of these recordings – the music is hypnotic, and so is watching those flaming bright red platters spinning!

The music needs no introduction – it’s all classic Hendrix, and is evenly split between four sides of studio recordings and four additional sides of live material. This is much more than a “greatest hits” collection; when Al Hendrix finally gained control of his famous son’s estate a decade or so ago and established Experience Hendrix, we finally got to hear the studio recordings released in greatly improved (for Red Book CD of the time) sound, along with many alternate takes and unreleased studio gems. The same was true for the live recordings, with many of them only having been previously released in sub-par sonics or only available at all as bootlegs. This compilation (which has only previously been available on CD) culls many of the best available tracks, and will please novices as well as diehard Hendrix fans.

I’ve owned many Hendrix discs over the years (unfortunately, not any of the original pressings), but trust me – these LPs absolutely KILL any previous LP or CD versions of this material I’ve come in contact with. The LPs were mastered on all-tube equipment by Bernie Grundman, and mixing and engineering was supervised by none other than Eddie Kramer; needless to say, the sound is simply superb. Tons of grunge and (purple?) haze have been lifted from the studio tracks, giving them a truly remarkable clarity. The live recordings are equally stunning, with the only exception being the less-than-optimal sound of the Woodstock version of The Star Spangled Banner, but please don’t blame Jimi for that debacle – history demands its inclusion! These discs are more alive and three-dimensional in their presentation of the material than anything you’re likely to come in contact with anytime soon.

The packaging is magnificent, and harkens back to the glory days when the LP was king. The heavy-duty hardboard case houses four individually slip-covered LPs, and the beautiful four-color artwork throughout is a loving tribute to Jimi Hendrix. A really cool booklet ices the package, with lots of great photos of Jimi, along with copious track detail and an astute, informative essay by Kurt Loder. The large format LP sleeves and artwork are a beauty to behold, especially in an unfortunate age where we’ve been maniacally programmed by the major labels to deal with scrawny, illegible Red Book CD packages.

There are a few caveats, and Duuuuude, unfortunately they mostly stem from choosing the red vinyl! While the colored vinyl has undeniable savior faire, it weighs in at a skimp 140 grams, and therefore, arrived much less perfectly flat than 200-gram vinyl typically does. Nothing that the arm/cartridge combo can’t handle with ease, but I have to be brutally honest with you – it’s a bit less gratifying to watch the arm surfing a slightly wavy disc. Here’s the real shocker – the LP inner sleeve was made of unlined paper! Of course, it kind of goes with the whole psychedelic throwback packaging theme, but really – a package of this magnitude deserves the royal treatment, along with lined sleeves. I bet the 200-gram versions are packed with Classic’s usual sleeves! [You need a vacuum turntable – odd there seem to be fewer of them still around anymore!…Ed.]

Also somewhat disturbing is that the dead wax areas of these discs are pretty noisy. I’ve been listening to these albums quite a lot, and fairly critically, and the noise in the lead-in, between tracks and lead-out isn’t present in the music portions of the discs – it’s just a little annoying, that’s all. I just recently bought all four Ramones LP reissues – also on standard weight translucent red vinyl – and they’re not only whisper quiet, but perfectly flat as well, and at only twelve bucks each that’s quite an accomplishment. Despite my bellyaching, I consider these faults to be relatively minor, especially considering the undeniable allure this superb package presents in the overall big picture. Very highly recommended, and Duuuuude, the red vinyl is Waaaay Cool!

– Tom Gibbs

Donovan: Sunshine Superman (recorded 1966) –  produced by Mickie Most – Sundazed Records 5028 – 180-gram premium LP *****:

Prior to the release of “Sunshine Superman,” his third album, most everyone considered Scottish folk singer Donovan Leitch little more than a Bob Dylan wannabe with a couple of pretty good tunes to his credit. Even Dylan himself offered Donovan no encouragement in a well-documented mid-sixties backstage encounter. That all changed in 1966, the same year Jimi Hendrix (curiously, also heavily influenced by Dylan) mysteriously transformed himself from obscure sideman to rock god – and Donovan found his own eclectic voice and jettisoned his Dylanesque vocal affectations for good. The transition from simple folkie to purveyor of acid-drenched, psychedelic pop – heavily influenced by jazz, classical and medieval musical forms – was nothing short of remarkable, and created the mold for his continuingly campy and diverse career.

The opening track, “Sunshine Superman,” was a smash hit, and formed the gateway to Donovan’s later successes, reaching number one on the U.S. music charts (the song reached the number two position in England). With irresistible vocal hooks and superb guitar work from Jimmy Page, Donovan sang “I’ll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind!” And our minds were blown, because, wasn’t this the guy who was until just recently strumming his guitar singing protest songs about stopping the war? And as the final notes of pop-single heaven fade, a jarring clash of cellos snaps us to rapt attention, ushering in the divine acoustic ballad “Legend of a Girl Child Linda.” While Donovan’s  acoustic guitar prominently sets the stage for most of this truly diverse album, an eclectic mix of instruments, including harpsichord, sitar and tabla, massed strings and tenor sax are employed throughout this truly enjoyable melange of rock, ballads and blues.

Donovan traveled in all the right circles, and many of the tunes here are homages to the hipsters and happenings of the day. None of the songs, however, seem at all dated – listening to this disc was almost like hearing these funky and fresh songs for the very first time. As a real testament to the importance of this album in Donovan’s recorded canon, seven of the disc’s ten songs were included in “To Try For The Sun – The Journey of Donovan,” last year’s superb four-CD box set. That collection truly enlightened me, and opened my eyes to the breadth of Donovan’s stature as a musician and performer.

The 180-gram LP from Sundazed uses the original mono source tapes, and while I’m a huge fan of classic jazz albums, for example, presented in their original mono mixes – I’ve always been a bit suspect of mid-sixties and later pressings (especially rock-oriented music) offered in anything other than stereo. Mono has always suggested “less” and that translates to “inferior,” right? Well, wrong – listening to this mono LP was illuminating – I really couldn’t believe my ears, or that what I was listening to was coming from a mono source. I’d call this a really “wide” mono presentation, not at all unlike classic Blue Note LPs from the fifties, and I was really impressed with how the soundstage filled the width and depth of my listening room. Donovan’s voice had an uncanny realism and presence that simply astonished me.

My listening room currently is a quasi-ITU surround setup to accommodate SACD and DVD playback, but I mostly listen to two-channel sources, and my listening position has what I’d call a fairly distant perspective. Through some experimentation while listening to Sundazed mono releases, I’ve found that moving the listening position to more of a nearfield scenario really improves the experience exponentially. Placing a chair in the classic equidistant triangle between speakers and listening position really snapped everything much more into focus. I also found that I could crank the volume to much more realistic listening levels, without so much of the “doubling” effect that sometimes is a problem when listening to mono sources played back through stereo equipment.

The 180-gram pressing was superb in every aspect; the disc was ruler-flat and whisper-quiet, with very few ticks or pops, and seemed to get quieter with each play. Mickie Most’s production doesn’t get too much in the way of the music. I can’t recommend this album highly enough – artistically it’s a knockout, and playback was truly a joy.

–  Tom Gibbs

John Lennon – Mind Games – Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, Original Master Recording, 180 gram MFSL 1-293, ***1/2: 

Recently, I reviewed the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab gold CD of the same exact record—originally released in 1973.  You can go back to read the information on the music in that review.  The LP version is half-speed mastered on 180 gram vinyl and includes a high quality inner sleeve and protective jacket.  The release makes use of “Gain 2 Ultra Analog System.”  You can read more about the process here.  Despite all this care, the record I received had multiple scuffs across the first band for about two inches along the record.  As a coworker (who could be considered a vinyl fanatic by some) said, “If it were a $5 record, then it would not be surprising, but for $25 I’d expect more.”  He also pointed out there were some concerns about production quality raised on the Steve Hoffman online forums about bad pressings/warping.  All the reading I did suggested that some people had problems, but the company was okay with replacement under those conditions.  Ah, the price you pay for loving vinyl.

Since I had both the CD and LP re-release I thought I’d spend some time tackling the age old debate:  Which is better, the CD or the LP.  If you are unhappy with my analysis, please don’t start spamming my email.  Just take it for what it is: One man’s opinion and no more.  Better to spend your free time listening and enjoying music than getting yourself all up in a huff.  If you are still here, then good.  Here goes:  First, the extras.  The CD came with a few bonus tracks that I quite enjoyed.  The LP did not.  The CD insert came with photos, art, advertisements in addition to the song lyrics—some of which was discussed in the other review.  The LP came with the song lyrics and the letter about the declaration of Nutopia, but nothing else.  Of course, the cover art on the front and back of the album is much more impressive on the LP due to the difference in size.  Just to point out an important fact to some—the cost of the LP and the CD is the same at $24.95.  As far as the aesthetic aspects, this is very personal.  I admit that I don’t get the same feeling of excitement about sticking a CD in a CD player as I do when I’m cueing up an LP, but to each his own.

To conduct the listening I thought it would be fair to use similarly priced source components.  Some may object to the test right at this point, but it seemed like a good place to start.  Anyway, vinyl enthusiasts claim that the differences are plain in even the most basic turntable setups, and the CD camp either claims that all CD players sound very much the same or that the superiority of the CD format is plain even compared with much more expensive turntables.  I used a modest system consisting of a Monster Signature HTS5100 Power Conditioner, Paradigm Reference Studio 60 III speakers, Audioquest cabling, and a Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated amplifier.  For source components I used the Music Hall mmf cd-25 CD player ($600) and a Music Hall mmf-5 ($629) turntable fitted with the stock Goldring 1012GX cartridge (included in price). 

A friend who was over at the time was “expecting the CD to sound worse than it did.”  I started with track three.  The sound between the two sources was radically different.  The LP presentation was softer, layered, and easier on the ear, but there was some audible surface noise.  The CD had better dynamics, more high frequency output, and transient response seemed more pronounced.  On voice, the LP was actually flatter but more spread out, while the CD made John’s vocals sound congested yet more “fleshy.”  With track five the CD had more upper end that sounded irritating in comparison to the LP, but an immediate switch made the LP sound dull.  Thirty seconds or more and my ear would adjust to the sound of either making both sound less offensive/flawed as opposed to the quick switch.  Track eight sounded heavier in the bass and softer on the top end.  At first I believed the CD was better on this track, but more listening and switching made me decide that it sounded a bit mechanical and while the LP was far from perfect, it did ease me into the performance better.  Ultimately, I don’t think I’d be satisfied with either system–that means upping the cost to get me to where I’d like to be.  But, if I had to pick the source to stick with on this day, with this system, in this room, with this recording, etc., etc. it would be the LP.  I’d love to do some more testing on a better turntable and CD player if  Mobile Fidelity would send me duplicate copies of some other records.

Songs included are:  Mind Games; Tight A$; Aisumasen (I’m Sorry); One Day (At A Time); Bring On The Lucie (Freda Peeple); Nutopian International Anthem; Intuition; Out The Blue; Only People; I Know (I Know); You Are Here; Meat City.

– Brian Bloom

Cisco Music’s Living Stereo Vinyl Reissues
GRIEG: Orchestral Suites Nos. 1 and 2 from Peer Gynt; Lyric Suite – Eilleen Farrell, soprano/ Boston Pops Orchestra/ Arthur Fiedler – LSC 2125/ Cisco Music, recorded 1958 in Boston Symphony Hall. 180 gram vinyl reissue ****:

This superb vinyl LP demonstrates why it’s worth reissuing recordings made almost 50 years ago. This Living Stereo record has escaped the attention of audiophile record collectors because the original issue never captured the complete sonic landscape. With the improvement in the cutting machines that transfer the sound on the tape to vinyl we now can hear everything on the master tape.  Reissue consultant Robert Pincus has made a new sonic mix from the original three track master. You can throw away your original shaded dog or white dog copies.

You need proof? listen to the Arabian Dance of Suite 2. You’ll hear the bass drum clearly as it gains volume and is joined by the cymbals. This LP has superb fidelity – string choirs that lack edginess, woodwinds, horns and percussion that are easily definable. The imaging of the instruments reflects their position in the orchestral soundstage. The recording dynamics convey the excitement of the extremes, with the low end strings, brass and percussion clearly audible. The midrange dynamics give plenty of life to the strings, brass and woodwinds. That famous Symphony Hall reverberation is present but it doesn’t obstruct instrumental clarity. Having said that, this is not one of the few handful of great RCAs because it lacks transparency and depth of orchestral choirs that characterizes those monuments to early stereo recordings. What’s missing is the back of the hall presence that gives depth that balances the immediate clarity of the sound.

The performance of the great Boston Symphony Orchestra of the late 50s and early 60s is all one can ask for. The diaphanous strings are beautifully reproduced in Solvejg’s Song and perfectly balanced with Eileen Farrell’s smoky soprano voice. The woodwinds descent against the high strings in the Lyric Suite’s Norwegian Rustic March is simply magical. The March of the Dwarfs at the conclusion of the Lyric Suite sounds powerfully Wagnerian, despite the fact that Grieg reorchestrated Anton Seidl’s original reworking of these piano pieces because he thought they were too Wagnerian. The underrated conductor Arthur Fiedler delivers a performance that reflects the different musical moods in each piece, with tempi that never lags but is sensitive to the lyrical and emotionally expressive segments. If you’ve owned this record as I have, you have no idea what it really sounds like until you experience this reissue.

— Robert Moon


BRAHMS: Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Cello, Op. 102 – Gregor Piatigorsky, cello/ Jascha Heifetz, violin/ RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/  Alfred Wallenstein, conductor – RCA LDS-2513/ Cisco Music, 180 gram vinyl reissue ****:

String lovers who are looking for an LP reissue that captures the essence of two of the great string players of the 20th century – violinist Jascha Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky will relish this release of the Brahms Double Concerto. The performance was recorded on the Republic Stage in North Hollywood in 1961, a notoriously dry acoustic for an orchestral recording. The violin and cello are reproduced thrillingly and accurately. The orchestra is close and present, with little acoustic reverberation. Although at times the solo instruments obscure the orchestra, I did not find this annoying. And to their credit, Robert Pincus and Kevin Gray have resisted adding excessive reverberation that would bloat the solo instruments and diminish orchestral clarity. The LP reissue is clearer and tonally more accurate than the RCA CD reissue made in 2000 (09026-63531-2), although some may prefer the added ‘hall sound.’  What’s lacking is transparency and depth.

Of course, this is one of the many recordings made by Heifetz and his esteemed colleagues in the 1960s in Los Angeles. Presumably, the orchestra is composed of musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and others. In many ways the performance is reflective of how musicians play today: it’s dramatic, exciting, with quick tempos but eschews the sense of emotional longing that is present in other recordings (try the classic Rostropovich-Oistrakh with Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra for an alternative approach).  It’s a no-nonsense, brilliant performance. However, I was moved by Piatigorsky’s heartfelt playing which serves as an antidote to the brilliant and brittle tone of Heifetz that is often prevalent in the recordings he made late in his career. To hear the younger Heifetz, who was technically without peer, find an LP copy of one of the three recordings he made for American Decca (DL 9760, DL 9780 or DL 8521).  I’m not particularly fond of this great violinist’s interpretation, preferring David Oistrakh’s tonal depth and emotional expressiveness. The outstanding musical strength of this recording is how beautiful Piatigorsky’s playing is captured. The Soria booklet is reproduced as part of the package. A treasurable reissue for string lovers.

— Robert Moon

[Robert Moon is a classical music journalist and co-author of “Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound – A History and Discography of Early London/Decca Stereo Classical Instrumental and Chamber Music Recordings (1956-1963)”]


BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major Op. 92 – Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wojciech Rajski – Tacet Tube Only 180g vinyl LP L149, 37:51 ****:

This is part of the enterprising German label’s growing Tube Only – Transistor Free series on both CD and LP.  The double-fold LP package has closeup photos of the Neumann mikes from 1951 used in the recordings, and notes on the specially-constructed all-tube mixer, tape deck and other equipment used in the series. At the same time five-channel digital recordings were made and this same performance of the Seventh is paired with one of the Eighth Symphony on a Tacet SACD – 4009850014942.

The performance is excellent, capturing the dancelike feeling of this symphony which has always been my favorite of the Beethoven Nine, as it is for many other music lovers. The venue is a church with good reverb characteristics. Tacet’s CEO and engineer Andreas Spreer says in the considerable liner notes (also in German of course) that if you have only tube electronics in your system you will really enjoy the more pleasant reproduction of this disc vs. the digital counterpart. Well, though I have tube amps I am using a solid state phono preamp and running its signal thru my Sunfire preamp on Source Direct (without any processing), so I’m only part way to valve nirvana I’m afraid. I do hear a somewhat more mellow sound overall than the standard CD layer, but very little difference from the stereo SACD layer.  When I switch the SACD to the 5.0 surround option, I’m instantly sold on the advantages of both SACD and surround sound for music.  So I feel that for me all the hassle for 37 minutes of valve-only audio on the vinyl is not really worth the effort.

ANTON BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 – Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/ Hans Knappertsbusch – Westminster/Speakers Corner WST 235 (2 discs) ****:

Knappertsbusch was one of the great Bruckner specialists. This 1963 Bavarian recording captures his controlled emphasis on the inevitability of the composer’s massive musical blocks. The conductor tried to make the work’s symphonic structure stand out more palpably with subdivided strings and strong variations of instrumental color. My comparison was with my favorite Bruckner series on CD – Gunther Wand’s on RCA. The earlier vinyl effort was warmer and more distant-sounding, with the massed French horns having a richer sonic. The CD was sharper, more etched and also occasionally steely-sounding vs. the vinyl.  With the relaxed length of Bruckner’s movements, some of these LP sides run over 27 minutes – not your usual LP goal for best reproduction, but the sound is clean – tho not with the level of fine detail found in the best modern digital reproduction. The brass section was a bit muffled, and the deepest bass a little flabby vs. the CD – which also boasted more distinct string sound. Sections which at low levels sounded rolled off on the LPs took on greater clarity as the dynamic level increased, leading me to suspect some sort of noise reduction effort on the original tapes. After all, it has been 44 years.


BRITTEN: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; DOHNANYI: Variations on a Nursery Tune – Victor Aller, piano/ Concert Arts Symphony Orchestra/ Felix Slatkin – Capitol/Cisco Music SP8373 ***1/2:

This 1959 stereo recording is a classic but doesn’t employ the full-size symphony orchestra of other versions. Plus it was recorded in a rather dead acoustic environment – perhaps Capitol’s own Hollywood studios? The soloists in the Britten demonstration of the various orchestral sections are exemplary, but the effect tends more toward the sound of a Hollywood movie studio soundstage rather than a full orchestra in a concert hall. The vinyl surfaces are very silent, and the percussion section in the Britten really shakes things up.

ESQUIVEL – Exploring New Sounds in Stereo – Esquivel and his Orchestra – RCA/Speakers Corner LSP-1978 ****:

The Mexican pianist/arranger was a perfect match for RCA Victor in the late 1950s. This easy-listening LP takes one back to those heady days of the very first stereo discs.  Esquivel arranged his outrageous orchestrations which emphasized the left/right audio display so dear to the early stereo demonstrations, and used all sorts of exotic instrumental sounds in them, including Chinese bells, ankle bells, gongs, Brazilian tambourine, Greek finger cymbals, jews harp, something he called a buzzimba, and even the theremin. I doubt if his treatment of the theme from Spellbound will leave you spellbound.

Originally recorded in New York’s Webster Hall in l958 – the year stereo discs were introduced – you may cringe a little at the ham-fisted arrangements, but you won’t have any doubts as to whether your left and right channels are working properly! Esquivel’s arranging moxie will surely make you smile. I was in mind of Lawrence Welk or maybe Spike Jones doing a gig at an early Hi-Fi Show. This is like those Hong Kong gung fu movies – you really get your money’s worth in Stereo with this LP!

TrackList: My Blue Heaven, Bella Mora, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Lazy Bones, Spellbound, All of Me, Whatchamacallit, La Ronde, My Number One Love, The Third Man Theme.

Jim Hall, guitar – Concierto – Musical Direction by Don Sebesky – CTI Records/Pure Pleasure Records PPAN 6060 (2 LPs) *****:

(With Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd & Roland Hanna)

I feel this is the best album Jim Hall has ever recorded so far, and one of the very best of Creed Taylor’s productions for LP. The big number here is the 19-minute version of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez – surely just as magnificent an improvisation on its glorious themes as the better-known Miles Davis version.  The two quite different takes of Cole Porter’s You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To are very special as well.  Each of the six performers turn in some magisterial solos, and Hall blends in beautifully with each of them just as he did with anybody he ever recorded with. Leonard Feather’s liner notes are preserved from the original LP issue and are worth reading.

I did an A/B with the Columbia Legacy reissue of the album’s same nine tracks and found them close to identical.  If really pressed I would say Carter’s bass comes across better on the vinyl – more acoustic and bassy-sounding – while it had more of an electronic edge on the CD.  The piano and drums sound a bit more like themselves on the CD, especially the subtle cymbals. However, Paul Desmond’s sax had a more reedy quality and sounded more real via  the vinyl. Pays yo’ money and takes yo’ choice – though the vinyl way is lots more expensive – especially if you have one of the really fine turntables – meaning over $1K invested in it.

TrackList: You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, Two’s Blues, The Answer Is Yes, Concierto de Aranjuez, Rock Skippin’, Unfinished Business

Horace Silver Quintet – Six Pieces of Silver – Blue Note 1539/Classic Records ****:

(Donald Byrd, trumpet; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Horace Silver, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Louis Hayes, drums)

I don’t understand why these vinyl reissue labels don’t put at least a small sticker on their vinyl reissues so one can know the source, but  perhaps there’s a financial advantage to the discs looking like they might be the original LP releases that someone took extremely good care of. Even tho they’re not.

This 1956 session engineered by Rudy Van Gelder didn’t include Silver’s glorious Song for my Father, but it has his funky Senor Blues, and the great Hank Mobley soloing on tenor sax.  With Byrd on trumpet, but due make a swingin’ front line. The seven tracks are all Silver mini-masterpieces, with two of them losing the front line for simple trio performance: Shirl and For Heaven’s Sake. Though mono, this is another of Van Gelder’s “deep mono” efforts, which would fool most listeners, including the audiophiles.

TrackList: Cool Eyes, Shirl, Camouflage, Enchantment, Senor Blues, Virgo, For Heaven’s Sake


The Modern Jazz Quartet – Django – Prestige LP 7057/Fantasy Records/Acoustic Sounds 45 rpm 2-LP set (mono) *****:

(John Lewis, piano; Milt Jackson, vibes; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums)

This is one of the 100 Fantasy 45 Series remastered by Acoustic Sounds.  Using the original analog master tapes from Fantasy, AcousTech Mastering used a Class-A disc-cutting system to master these discs at 45 rpm speed instead of 33 1/3. With the plating and pressing plant at the same location the lacquer could be plated right after cutting to avoid any degradation of the grooves. There is a 35% reduction with 45s in groove curvature compared to 33s, so the undulations of the groove are stretched out over a longer distance for easier tracking, wider excursion and higher peaks in level.  I’ve compared several different realizations of the same master recordings and the 45 rpm pressings always came out on top. In this case I would have once been able to do a comparison to the same album recorded on a 16 2/3 rpm disc – remember 16 2/3 rpm? Needless to say, if I still had that Prestige 16 2/3 LP – and a turntable capable of playing it – it would definitely not have been a contender for best sound! (The format was intended primarily for spoken word recordings but never caught on for that purpose. The flutter and wow on music was horrible.)

It would really be nice if Acoustic Sounds not only put their label on these discs somewhere, but also if there was some indication of the discs requiring 45 rpm playback!  There is absolutely no notice – even on the actual disc labels – of these being 45 rpm!  Thus the MJQ started off sounding even more laid back then they normally did…

My main comparison was between the Fantasy mono SACD and the 45 rpm reissue vinyls. Even with the advanced closer-to-the-master-tapes  reputation of SACD, the vinyl carried the day. Milt Jackson’s vibes are more mellow and resonant-sounding on vinyl. The Fantasy SACD has a strident sort of edginess to the sound.  The 45s also reveal a more real-sounding John Lewis piano. It is also as if the treble EQ was cranked up a bit too high in mastering the SACD transfer.

This was the MJQ’s second session for Prestige, but their first really popular LP. The tracks were recorded between 1953 and 1955, and the big hit as far as I’m concerned is their first of many surveys of John Lewis’ tribute to Django Reinhardt.  I have nearly all their LPs and CDs and I keep returning to this one. Even with the hassle of setting the turntable to 45 speed and having it mono and only eight minutes or so per side, it’s all worth it with this super-classic album.

TrackList: The Queen’s Fancy, Delaunay’s Dilemma, Autumn in New York, But Not For Me, La Ronde Suite, Django, One Bass Hit, Milano.

Duke Ellington/Charlie Mingus/Max Roach – Money Jungle – Blue Note 15017/ Classic Records 200 gram vinyl ***:

This 1962 recording preserves one of the finest triumvirates of jazz masters ever assembled, led by the greatest genius jazz has produced and probably America’s greatest composer, period. (It was originally released on United Artists.) As I recall, the three hadn’t played together before. But they jell and really listen to one another as if they had been playing together as a trio for many years. What else would you expect from such stellar jazzmen? There were rumors at the time that the three jazz giants didn’t get along with one another very well at this session; you certainly wouldn’t know it! Mingus and Roach are obviously deep into Ellingtonia, and they contribute their own special slants on these seven tracks, which are all Ellington originals. It makes them show facets we have never before heard in other treatments, both by Ellington and others.

Newport Jazz founder George Wein did the original liner notes and he points out that one would naturally think the title tune of the album was an original by a more protest-concious musician such as Roach or especially Mingus.  Yet Money Jungle turns out like all the others to be an Ellington composition. Mingus’ forceful and very rhythmically strong bass lines are well captured on the recording, and while Roach does his usual masterly timekeeping with flourish, he never overbalances the trio’s sound as do so many drummers.

Speaking of the sound, this may have been an unfair A/B comparison, because  I had the Blue Note CD reissue of 2002, which involved going back to the original three-channel analog tapes and remastering to 24-bit PCM. Reissue maven Michael Cuscuna (Mosaic Records) was in charge and contributed new liner notes to follow the reprint of George Wein’s originals. He also found in the vaults eight bonus tracks to add to the CD release: four were Elllington tunes new at the time, and the rest previously unissued alternate takes of two of the tunes plus an interesting false start on Backward Country Boy Blues. It is apparent a great deal of dedicated work went into this reissue, and it happened just about the time that considerable improvements were being made in the mastering and pressing of standard 44.1K CDs which has greatly enhanced the fidelity of most jazz and classical releases today.

The first thing I discovered in my A/B comparison was that the channels are reversed between the CD reissue and Classic’s vinyl reissue.  I’m not sure which is correct, but I had to switch cables on one of the inputs in order to make a worthwhile comparison.  Initially I could near no difference at all on the seven tracks of the original album. I decided to do a modicum of further tweaking I hadn’t yet done. I hadn’t used the Flux buster for some time to demagnetize my MC cartridge, and did. I also zapped the CD with the MapleShade Super Ionizer and placed the Marigo Stabilizer Mat on top of the CD. (I was using the Oppo 981 for playback.)  Guess what? The CD now took the lead – although slight – sounding clearer and more transparent. Ellington’s piano sounded a bit more solid and grounded, as pianos seem to for me on all CDs vs. vinyl. Keeping in mind the additional eight bonus tracks, expanded note booklet, and lower cost, the CD wins this one in my book.

Tracklist: Money Jungle, Fleruette Africaine, Very Special, Warm Valley, Wig Wise, Caravan, Solitude.
CD adds: Switch Blade, A Little Max (Parfait), REM Blues, Backward Country Boy Blues, Solitude (alt. take), Switch Blad (alt. take), A Little Max (alt. take), REM Blues (alt. take).


Madeleine Peyroux – Careless Love – Rounder/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Original Master Recording MFSL 1-284 ****:

(Madeleine Peyroux, vocals & acoustic guitar; Dean Parks, guitars; Larry Goldings, piano/Wurlitzer piano/Estey/ Hammond B-3/celeste; David Piltch, bass; Jay Bellerose, drums & percussion; Lee Thornburg, trumpet on two tracks)

What a voice!  Peyroux became my favorite jazz vocalist of today the first time I heard her. This was her 2004 album for Rounder Records. The general observation about Peyroux is that she sounds like Billie Holiday.  That’s not entirely wrong, but it’s far from a Lady Day imitation.  She has a vulnerable and intimate sound, but it’s  more innocent and naive than colored with the depths of Holiday’s punishing personal life.  I heard her a couple years ago here in Portland, and her stage self is the opposite pole from show-biz troupers such as Liza Minelli; in fact some reviews of her live appearances have observed that she seems ill at ease on stage.

Now 32, Peyroux is a whiz at choosing tunes, leaning toward classics by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Leonard Cohen and their ilk.  She started her career in Paris, so there is usually at least one song in French. The opening tune here – Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love – is her entire inimitable approach wrapped up beautifully. The French song is J’ai deux amours, and Madeleine tries her hand at an original together with two others, including her producer – the sweet Don’t Wait Too Long. The title tune of the album, by William C. Handy, was the favorite tune of my first girl friend, so Peyroux has my full attention on that one.  Keyboardist Larry Goldings is a standout on his various instruments; you don’t hear celeste on many jazz recordings today, nor Estey – which appears to be a reed organ or harmonium (shades of Kurt Weill…). 

I had the Rounder CD for a comparison.  I feel that usually the human voice sounds a bit more real on vinyl, but this time I found them identical except for that awful noise on the vinyl following Track 6 (the side ends, in other words…).

Gerry Mulligan Meets Scott Hamilton – Soft Lights & Sweet Music – Concord Jazz/Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs Original Master Recording MFSL 1-286 ****:

(Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax; Scott Hamilton, tenor sax; Mike Renzi, piano; Jay Leonhart, bass; Grady Tate, drums)

Gerry Mulligan first came to fame writing big band arrangements for Gene Krupa, then was part of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans circle. Going to California he drew attention with his piano-less quartet and became a leading figure in West Coast Jazz. He also had a great big band of his own. Along the way we arranged for studio encounter with such fine reed players as Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, and his enjoyable album with Thelonious Monk remains one of my personal favorites.

For this “meeting” session of 1986 Mulligan was working with Concord Jazz founder Carl Jefferson in doing a “Gerry Mulligan Meets…” series of album, and Hamilton was to be the first of the series.  Mulligan arranged for the rhythm section and had to teach the tunes to Hamilton himself since at the time the tenor saxist didn’t read music very well.  All seven tunes except the first by Irving Berlin are Mulligan originals. Another interesting fact about the session is that Mulligan didn’t write the two sax parts as harmony – he usually had Hamilton either playing an octave above him or in unison. With the different timbre of the two saxes the effect is perfect that way. One of the most quirky tracks is Mulligan’s musical joke involving the initial phrase of the Star-Spangled Banner in Do You Know What I See?  The chords come from the tune Oh Look At Me Now!

The deep and rich sound of Mulligan’s baritone sax makes an excellent foil for Hamilton’s tenor and the music seems made to order for high quality vinyl reproduction. The surfaces are completely quiet.

TrackList: Soft Lights and Sweet Music, Gone, Do You Know What I See?, I’ve Just Seen Her, Noblesse, Ghosts, Port of Baltimore.


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Tide – A&M/CTI Records SP-3031/ Speakers Corner *****:

(Antonio Carlos Jobim, guitar/piano/electric piano; Jerry Dodgion, alto sax (Girl from Ipanema); Joe Farrell, bass flute (Carinhoso, Caribe) and soprano sax (Caribe); Hermeto Pascoal, flute (Tema Jazz); Ron Carter, bass; Orchestra arranged & conducted by Deodato)

This 1970 session was one of the best of the early bossa nova jazz albums, and a good example of the more easy-listening jazz production values espoused by Creed Taylor in his A&M series. It polishes the rough edges off  authentic samba and makes it warm and cuddly. The cover, with a striking image of the statue overlooking Rio, is a classic of album art.  Even if the reissue pressing didn’t present the superb sonics it does, it would be worth having just for the greatly superior front and back cover art, and for the LP doing a little time travel trip for you, jumping back to the early 70s and perhaps some nice memories – especially if you owned this LP at the time.

TrackList: Girl from Ipanema, Carinhoso, Tema Jazz, Sue Ann, Remember, Tide, Takatanga, Caribe, Rockanalia

Stan Getz – The Best of Two Worlds, featuring Joao Gilberto – Columbia Records PC 33703/ Speakers Corner *****:

In 1976 Getz – who already had the most-heard bossa nova jazz album around in his first Getz/Gilberto LP (it’s said his recordings changed the Brazilian economy) –  encored his stint with Gilberto on this disc.  In the dozen years which had passed Gilberto’s voice had gone deeper and his lyrics had more maturity in their poetry, as pointed out in the extensive liner notes by lyric writer, singer and jazz writer Gene Lees. His own notes wax poetic in observations such as “At times people forget the beauty of the sound of humanity in the human voice.”  Gilberto’s sound does come across with great presence and beauty on this disc. I had not paid much attention when hearing the lyrics previously which Gilberto wrote (in 1973) for his tune Waters of March. This time, both with his wonderful delivery in English, and the fact they are printed in the album, I did.  They are compelling poetry for sure, and cleverly supported by their accompaniment.

The session was produced by Columbia’s famed Teo Macero and among the sidemen is the remarkable pianist Albert Dailey. There is a delightful female voice in the style of Astrud Gilberto but with better intonation and a more professional delivery. She is Heloisa Buarque, sister of another top Brazilian singer/songwriter, Chico Buarque.  She was brought up from Brazil to weave her warm voice with that of Gilberto and Getz’s horn.  Getz too, has deepened and enriched his sound during the dozen years.  It’s all right here in the grooves of this gem of Brazilian music.

TrackList: Double Rainbow, Waters of March, Ligia, Falsa Bahiana, Picture in Black and White, Izaura, Eu Vim da Bahia, Joao Marcello, E Precisco Perdoar, Just One of Those Things

Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus – Candid Records CJS 9005/ Pure Pleasure Records *****:

(Eric Dolphy, alto sax/bass clarinet; Ted Curson, trumpet; Dannie Richmond, drums; Charles Mingus, bass)

This 1960 session produced just as fine a Mingus statement as his better-known albums for Columbia and RCA. It also provides an opportunity for those wary of Dolphy’s usual cutting-edge free jazz to hear him in a more traditional vein – at least on the first of the two sides.  The first track turns into a New Orleans-style funeral march, and the second – original Faubus Fables – may have a biting protest slant behind it, but due to the Mingus and Richmond’s outrageous vocals – similar to Dizzy’s Salt Peanuts – one can only smile broadly. The second side enters the free jazz area a bit more heavily, and talk about taking freedoms, look at the title of the final track.

This is just one of the 180 gram vinyl reissues from Tony Hickmott of the UK’s Pure Pleasure Records.  His pressings are excellent and moreover he’s been digging up great jazz and pop from sources not mined by others, such as Candid, Blue Horizon, Epic and Pacific Jazz.

TrackList: Folk Forms No. 1, Original Faubus Fables, What Love, All the Things You Could Be By Now If Siegmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother.

The Genius of Coleman Hawkins – Verve Stereo AVER 6033/ Speakers Corner *****:

(Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax; Oscar Peterson, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Herb Ellis, guitar; Alvin Stoller, drums)

Not a bit of marketing hype in that album title!  The unique saxist was a genius – nobody else had that sort of rich, warm vibrato timbre and could turn out lines of improvisation that sounded like he had carefully written them out beforehand to make certain every note was the perfect, only, choice. And look at his sidemen – can’t lose with that lineup!  The dozen tunes on this 1957 date in LA – produced by Norman Granz – are all rather short, but when a solo is so just right, what else is there to say?  It seems the ballads are the best, but all the tracks are a kick and half.  I have several Hawkins CDs (not this particular one though) and none of them communicates the richness of his distinctive sound as does this Speakers Corner vinyl reissue.

TrackList: I’ll Never Be the Same, You’re Blasé, I Wished on the Moon, How Long Has This Been Going On, Like Someone in Love, My Melancholy Baby, Ill Wind, In a Mellow Tone, There’s No You, The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise, Somebody Loves Me, Blues for René

Clark Terry – Color Changes – Candid 9009 / Pure Pleasure Records *****:

(Clark Terry, trumpet & Flugelhorn; Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Julius Watkins, French horn; Yusef Lateef, tenor sax/flute/English horn/oboe; Seldon Powell, tenor/flute; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Joe Benjamin, bass; Ed Shaughnessy, drums; Budd Johnson, piano (Nahstye Blues only))

Another Candid album from 1960, with supervision by Nat Hentoff, who also did the above Candid album.  Clark Terry was allowed to select his sidemen for this session, and to choose all the tunes and arrangers. A basic octet setup is what we have here, with some lush chamber music-type sounds of woodwinds and French horn courtesy of Lateef, Powell and jazz French horn virtuoso Julius Watkins. Four of the tunes are Terry’s own, with one from Lateef, one from Duke Jordan, and another from Bob Wilber.  The Jordan tune is from the original French film Liasions Dangereuses, of  which most of the music came from Thelonious Monk – though he didn’t get credit. The Wilber tune, Blue Waltz, opens the album in 3/4 time, giving a somewhat classical feel right away. Two of Terry’s originals have French titles – one portrays his favorite area of his favorite city – La Rive Gauche (The Left Bank). The other honors a small nightclub near Notre Dame called A Cat That Fishes.  Again, surfaces are quiet and this all-analog project has a nice warm finish to it that matches the many different textures and feelings in the album.

TrackList: Blue Waltz, Brother Terry, Flutin’ and Fluglin’, No Problem, La Rive Gauche, Nahstye Blues, Chat Qui Pèche.

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