What's Old is New Again
A survey of in-print jazz reissues on vinyl - Part 1
audiophiles have coveted original pressings of classical LPs from the
Decca, RCA Living Stereo, and Mercury Living Presence catalogues - and
rightly so, as many of these recordings represent the pinnacle of the
recorded art and exemplify a set of sonic values all but absent today.
Unfortunately, the cost of many originals is prohibitive for all but
the wealthiest of collectors. In fact, many mint-condition LPs derived
from early stampers can fetch hundreds of dollars on the open market.
In response to an
outcry for affordable reissues of these classic recordings, companies
like Classic Records, Speakers Corner and Testament began ambitious
reissue projects, thus far having released many of the titles most
sought after by collectors. The results of these reissue projects have
been reported on thoroughly by the audiophile press, our own Anthony
Kershaw having recently embarked on an in-depth survey of the Classic
Records vinyl reissues, of which two installments have been published
(with several more on the way). However, to my knowledge, and
considerable consternation, no one has yet to discuss, with any great
consistency of purpose, the abundance of vinyl reissues documenting
the great jazz performances of the likes of Miles Davis, John
Coltrane, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Julian "Cannonball"
Adderley et. al from Analogue Productions, Blue Note, DCC, Impulse!,
Original Jazz Classics, Verve etc.
In the coming
months I intend to survey a selection of in-print jazz LP reissues
and, whenever possible, make sonic comparisons with the originals.
Unlike those of the classical genre, many of the originals can often
be found on the used market for reasonable sums.
My survey begins
with three reissues from Original Jazz Classics
the Miles Davis Quintet:
Original Jazz Classics
was assembled from the two final, and highly prolific, sessions
the quintet (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers,
and "Philly" Joe Jones) recorded for Prestige - so prolific,
in fact, that enough material remained from which three additional
albums, Cookin', Steamin' and Relaxin', were
culled. Released originally as Prestige PRLP-7166, Workin' was
reissued by Fantasy on the Original Jazz Classics label in 1987 and by
Analogue Productions in 1997.
Replete with what
effectively constitutes two sets bounded by Davis' signature, Theme,
and Ahmad's Blues (on which both Davis and Coltrane are
tacit), Workin' could quite easily be mistaken for a recorded
club date, sans audience noises and applause. Both Davis and
Coltrane are in fine form, unparalleled in their ability to coax
preternatural beauty from the mere twisted metal of their respective
instruments. The ever-lyrical Red Garland demonstrates superb touch as
he leads the rhythm section through Ahmad's Blues, and proves
a most accomplished accompanist elsewhere. Workin' also
provides ample opportunity for the listener to revel in the unshakable
foundation that is Jones and Chambers, upon which Davis (wisely) chose
to build 1958's stellar Kind of Blue.
Comparing the OJC
reissue of Workin' to an original blue-label Prestige
pressing, leaves me fairly confident that the former was (as
many OJCs are rumored to have been) remastered digitally. The OJC
compresses soundstage depth noticeably, the rhythm section and horns
seemingly at the same position relative to stage front. This effect
is, no doubt, exacerbated by the sound of Jones' cymbals and snare,
which are unnaturally brash and tizzy and far too prominent in the
mix. Coltrane's unique tone, which can sound quite aggressive on even
the finest all-analogue efforts, sounds excessively so on the OJC.
Listen, for example, to 'Trane's solo on Half Nelson, which,
unlike the original Prestige, the OJC presents as bereft of warmth and
richness. Unfortunately, neither the Prestige nor the OJC afford
Chambers' bass sufficient weight, resulting in the overall
presentation sounding decidedly lightweight.
Turning to the original pressing (PRLP-7166), one finds a more convincing sense of stage depth, the piano, bass and drums presented clearly behind the horns. Cymbals sound considerably more natural and resonant, as does the sound of Jones' brushed snare, which conjured up the aural image of dry, rustling leaves on the OJC. On the Prestige, the upper registers of Garland's piano have slightly less sparkle, and Chambers' upright bass is infused with more body and woody resonance. The acoustic presented is less dry and antiseptic than that of the OJC, with more of the intrinsic sound of Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack, NJ studio being heard around and between the soloists.
I have yet to have the
opportunity to hear the Analogue Productions reissue but, given its
all-analogue pedigree, have little doubt it would better (and not by a
small margin) the OJC. Alas, this reissue is only available as part of
Analogue Productions' five-LP box The Great Prestige Recordings
(for the princely sum of US$200.00) and no plans have been
announced to make it available separately.
the Miles Davis Quintet at the zenith of their improvisational (and,
in the case of Coltrane and Davis, compositional) powers. No serious
collector of recorded jazz should be without at least one version in
his collection. For those unable, or unwilling, to seek out an
original pressing, the OJC (at around $10.00) represents good value.
This version, while not on heavyweight vinyl, affords quiet surfaces
and faithful reproduction of the original cover and liner notes.
Serious audiophiles, however, should pass on the OJC and seek out the
original Prestige (which can be found on the used market for as little
as $20.00). While the surfaces will, no doubt, be somewhat noisier,
the original boasts superior sound, and communicates more faithfully
the musical mastery of what many consider the finest working jazz
quintet of the 1950s.
The Bill Evans
Original Jazz Classics
Just one year after
joining the Miles Davis Quintet, a union which bore much musical
fruit, Bill Evans left for the more intimate climes of his own jazz
trio. Paired with the rhythm section of Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul
Motian on drums, the trio recorded some memorable sessions for the
Riverside label, including The Village Vanguard Sessions, Portrait
in Jazz, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, and 1961's Explorations.
is notable for its dearth of original Evans compositions, musical
delights abound. The trio splashes cold water in the face of such
standards as How Deep Is the Ocean, Sweet and Lovely,
and Beautiful Love, while treading on the less trodden, yet no
less enchanting, compositions of Miles Davis (Nardis), John
Carisi (Israel), and Earl Zindars (Elsa). Throughout,
Evans displays understated brilliance, possessing the ability to say
more with a simple phrase or melodic line than most. One need simply
give an ear to Beautiful Love or Elsa to understand
the tragedy of Scott LaFaro's untimely death just ten days after the
trio's landmark Village Vanguard sessions. His innovation and
boundless creativity lent strong support to the notion of jazz bassist
as leader rather than sideman. Drummer Paul Motian provides a solid
rhythmic canvas for Evans' melodic sketches, his fine brushwork on
snare and cymbals tickling the ear with its delicacy and finesse.
Motian, a consummate musician in his own right, takes several
opportunities to dash off a fiery solo to the delight of the listener.
Having the good fortune
of owning a mint original Riverside pressing of Explorations
(RLP-9351) made listening to the OJC reissue a sour disappointment. If
Riverside could capture a goodly portion of the weight and warmth of
Evans' piano and LaFaro's bass (using early-60s technology, no less),
why can't today's crack engineers armed with the wonders of technology
follow suit? Sadly, the OJC remaster neuters the full, meaty sound of
LaFaro's bass and thins the rich texture of Evans' piano. Repeatedly,
Fantasy's engineers reduce Evans' exquisitely voiced progressions to
mere clunks and clanks. Motian's cymbals and brushed snare endure a
similar fate - all sizzle and splash with little of the air and
effervescence of the real thing.
Explorations is much more than simply a superb musical achievement, it is an historical document chronicling a brief flicker of time in the lives of three of our most influential musicians. Sadly, the OJC reissue extinguishes much of the musical flame. Therefore, while original pressings are far from plentiful, a copy is well worth seeking out by the earnest jazz collector [sources have spotted mint used originals for as little as $20.00 - Ed].
Meets The Rhythm Section:
Original Jazz Classics
In Bill Evans' brief
essay entitled Improvisation In Jazz (in essence, the
liner notes of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue), he observes that "Group
improvisation is a further challenge. Aside from the weighty technical
problem of collective coherent thinking, there is the very human, even
social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common
result." On the recorded evidence of 1957's Art Pepper Meets
The Rhythm Section, the daunting challenges of group improvisation
were overcome in brilliant fashion by this east-meets-west pairing of
alto saxophonist Art Pepper, and "The Rhythm Section"
comprised of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer "Philly"
Joe Jones. Within five hours of beginning, the album's nine tracks had
been completed, two of which (Waltz Me Blues and Red
Pepper Blues) were composed during the session.
The '50s and '60s found
Pepper hopelessly addicted to drugs and in and out of prison [read
Pepper's own autobiography, Straight Life - 1979, with Laurie
Pepper - for more about this very difficult period in his life
- Ed]. It is a tribute to his personal strength and musical
convictions that he refused to allow the microphone to sense his
anguish. Indeed, Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section is a
high-spirited outing with nary a hint of the despair which engulfed
the session's leader. Songs like Cole Porter's You'd Be So Nice To
Come Home To and Pepper's own blistering Straight Life,
lively fast-paced numbers in the finest be-bop tradition, illustrate
this dichotomy delightfully.
The impromptu nature of
this session is clear from the outset (it is said that Pepper wasn't
even aware of the date until the morning of). The air is charged with
nervous energy as the group winds its way through the opening chart, a
dazzling rendition of the aforementioned Cole Porter tune. Pepper, by
his own admission, is a bit rough around the edges on this date, yet
his beautifully rounded tone and abundant chops are in evidence
throughout. The remainder of the session finds a more relaxed, yet no
less energetic, Pepper, as he quickly acclimates to the singular
backing trio of Garland, Chambers and Joe Jones. Little remains to be
said about this threesome that an army of jazz historians has not
rendered redundant. Through the wonders of technology, their unrivaled
mastery of the jazz idiom is, and forever will be, a matter of public
Remastered by Phil De
Lancie, the OJC reissue of
Meets The Rhythm Section sounds
superior to many of Fantasy's classic jazz transfers. While somewhat
brighter on top and less weighty on the bottom than the Contemporary
original (S-7532), its tonal balance is satisfying, if still somewhat
reminiscent of a digital master. Curiously, the OJC pan instruments
hard left and right, with little of the center-fill heard on the
original issue. Listen, for example, to the way the Fantasy engineers
condensed Joe Jones' trap set into the remaster's right channel,
robbing it of the natural spread afforded by the Contemporary release.
As is the case with the reissue of Bill Evans' Explorations,
cymbals sound unnaturally brash, though not offensively so, and rim
shots lack depth. Garland's piano, set somewhat farther back in the
soundstage, misses the last bit of body and richness on the OJC, but
sounds quite lovely nonetheless. The most pleasant surprise is the
sound of Pepper's alto sax - round, warm, and velvet-smooth, a hair's
breath from the consuming beauty of the original.
At $10.00, which buys
you pristine surfaces, faithful preservation of cover art, liner notes
and label, the OJC represents a reasonable alternative to both an
original issue and, considering price alone, the thrice as expensive
Analogue Productions release (not auditioned). Altogether, a fine
effort by the reissue team, if not an unqualified success.
To be continued
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