NYT: Jazz Reissues on Vinyl

sound and music

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August 6, 2010
Back in the Groove: Jazz Reissues on Vinyl
By FRED KAPLAN
THERE are two kinds of obsessive record collectors: those who buy original pressings of rare old LPs because theyre rare and old, and those who buy them because they sound good.

In the jazz world one record label has attained near-mystical status among the antiquarians and the audiophiles: Blue Note, especially the albums released in its heyday, from 1955 to 67.

Mint-condition Blue Notes from that era sell in specialty stores and online auctions for hundreds of dollars, and in some cases, a few thousand.

Yes, theyre available on compact disc, but the CDs lack the LPs visual cool the urban photos and silk-screen lettering on the hand-pasted cardboard covers and fall far short of the first-edition vinyls sonics: the vibrant horns, wood-thumping bass, head-snap drums and sizzling cymbals.

Lately a few audiophile companies have taken pains to recreate this golden-age experience. Working with the original master tapes and custom-built record-cutting gear, theyre reissuing classic Blue Notes on 12-inch LPs that are not only made of pristine vinyl but also mastered to play at 45 revolutions per minute. Since 45 r.p.m. is about one-third faster than the 33 1/3 r.p.m. of standard LPs, each disc holds one-third less music, meaning that the tracks on a single album have to be spread out over two slabs of vinyl.

These double-disc 45-r.p.m. Blue Notes are boutique items, made by just two companies Music Matters Jazz in Los Angeles and Analogue Productions in Salina, Kan. (A third company, Classic Records in Los Angeles, which pioneered the practice, suspended business several months ago and was recently bought out by Analogue Productions.)

Both companies press these albums in limited editions of 2,500 per title. Music Matters has released 64 titles so far, with 116 more in the works. Analogue has put out 32. Each title sells for $50 (through direct order from their Web sites, musicmatters.com and acousticsounds.com).

Fifty bucks may seem outlandish for a record album. But if your turntable cost a few thousand dollars, and your stereo system cost much more, its not out of line, especially since these reissues sound better than originals costing 10 to 100 times as much (when you can find them).

The Blue Note sound, as devotees call it, was the creation of Rudy Van Gelder, an optometrist who, starting in the early 1950s, took off a day or two each week to record jazz musicians in his parents living room in Hackensack, N.J. Demand for his talents grew so steadily that in 1959, at the age of 35, he quit his practice, built a studio in nearby Englewood Cliffs and became a recording engineer full time.

Michael Cuscuna, a record producer who has deeply plumbed the Blue Note archive, said: Rudy went to see a lot of live jazz as a young man. His goal, as an engineer, was to capture that live experience on tape.

There were a handful of great jazz engineers at the time: Fred Plaut at Columbia, Roy Goodman at RCA, Val Valentin at Verve, Roy DuNann at Contemporary. (Some audiophile companies Speakers Corner, ORG, Music On Vinyl and Pure Pleasure have also reissued LPs of their albums.)

What made Rudy distinctive, Mr. Cuscuna said, was that he had no fear. Other engineers were cautious at setting levels. Rudy pushed it to the edge. He got more signal, more music, more power this saturation of sound. When you listen to Jackie McLean playing saxophone on a Blue Note album, you hear all this wind pushing through the horn. Theres this up-close, you-are-there sound.

In 1994 Mike Hobson, who owned a high-end audio store in Lower Manhattan, approached Mr. Cuscuna with the idea of reissuing a series of Blue Notes on high-quality vinyl. Mr. Hobson, then 35, had just started Classic Records and was making vinyl reissues of RCA Living Stereo classical LPs, the originals of which were audiophile collectors items.

Mr. Cuscuna helped Mr. Hobson select titles and arrange licensing rights. Classics first Blue Note reissues famous titles like John Coltranes Blue Train and Cannonball Adderleys Somethin Else came out in 1996 and sold well enough to spur more.

Initially he cut these LPs at 33 1/3 r.p.m. That was daring enough: CDs had reigned supreme for nearly a decade; most audiophiles figured vinyl was dead. Still, Mr. Hobson ultimately wanted to make 45s, and he cut some test pressings just to hear them. They sounded much better.

The grooves on an LP are the musics actual acoustic waves, etched on a master discs cutting lathe. A turntables cartridge traces those grooves; the signal, when amplified, reproduces the sound.

On standard-speed LPs, however, some grooves, especially those representing very quiet sounds, are so tiny and so tightly curved that no cartridge can track them perfectly. As a result fine details the full shimmer of a cymbal, the vibrating wood of a bass, the sense of real people playing in a real space get a little bit smeared.

But the grooves on a 45-r.p.m. LP are spread out more widely. Their undulations are much less sharp, so theyre easier to navigate. The cartridge ferrets out a lot more low-level detail within the grooves walls, Mr. Hobson said. It connects you a little more closely to the live music. Were trying to do time traveling here.

In the mid-1970s a handful of small labels released albums of new music at 45 r.p.m. They never sold enough to generate even a minor trend, but they sounded amazingly vivid.

In 1998 Mr. Hobson took a leap and released his first 45-r.p.m. reissues, starting with RCA Living Stereos. In 2000 he moved on to some Blue Notes. (The first ones were, again, the Coltrane and Adderley LPs.) He pressed only a few hundred copies of each. And they didnt exactly fly out the window, he recalled.

One problem might have been that he went too far. Hed heard tests in which single-sided LPs with grooves on one side, a flat blank surface on the other sounded better than two-sided LPs. (This may seem crazy, but its true; Ive heard the same tests.) So he put out his 45s like that, meaning each album had to be spread out across not just two slabs of vinyl but four. I figured if were going all out, lets go all out, he recalled. But these records were very expensive to make, and even audiophiles found them unwieldy.

Still, those who heard them were impressed with the sound. One was Chad Kassem, president of Analogue Productions. A canny entrepreneur who speaks in a slow New Orleans drawl, Mr. Kassem started collecting records in 1986, when he was 24. He turned it into a business four years later, first buying and selling private collections, then manufacturing LP reissues, including albums from Fantasys Original Jazz Classics catalog, like Bill Evanss Waltz for Debbie and Sonny Rollinss Way Out West.

After hearing Classics 45s Mr. Kassem put out the first of 100 Fantasy albums in 45 r.p.m. (though on just two LPs per title, not four), in editions of 1,000, for $50 each. About half the titles sold out.

Around this time Ron Rambach and Joe Harley started thinking about joining the game. Mr. Rambach had run the archive for Leon Leavitt, the worlds largest purveyor of rare jazz records. Mr. Harley was (and still is) vice president of a high-end audio manufacturer, AudioQuest, and had produced some jazz records on the side.

Both were passionate about Blue Note and decided theyd reissue only Blue Note albums. Initially they were going to put them out at 33 1/3 r.p.m., but after they heard Mr. Kassems Fantasy 45s, they knew they had to match that sonic standard.

They took the competition up a notch by meticulously recreating the Blue Note album covers, matching the Pantone colors and the 3-mil laminate lettering, even using the original photos rather than simply taking a digital scan. And rather than putting each of the two discs inside one record sleeve, they made gatefold covers and filled the inside spaces with fine reproductions of the famous photos that Francis Wolff took at the recording sessions.

Finally they decided to reissue some of the more adventurous Blue Notes. Classic and Analogue had focused on more commercial hard-bop artists (for example, Hank Mobley and Art Blakey). Music Matters did some of that too, but also reissued the likes of Eric Dolphys Out to Lunch and Andrew Hills Point of Departure.

In the meantime Mr. Kassem has moved on to reissuing 45-r.p.m. LPs from the Verve and Impulse jazz catalogs. Kevin Gray, of RTI and AcousTech, who masters LPs for Analogue and Music Matters, and for several larger pop-music labels, is cutting more vinyl now than at any other time in his companys 15-year history, he said. Last year 2.5 million LPs were sold nationwide, up from 1.9 million in 2008 and 990,000 in 07. These figures amount to less than 2 percent of the music market, but theyre at their highest level in two decades.

The 45-r.p.m. LP is a fringe phenomenon, but its the fine-laced fringe of a market thats in revival. Mr. Rambach said, Theres plenty of room for everyone.
 

ajay124

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My initiation into jazz music in the mid 80's was on blue note 'collections'.I remember a c 90 panasonic tape recorded from blue note lps's.I used to carry the tape with me,even when I went to my friend's houses.Insisted they dump the Dylan's/Led Zep's/Door's/Traffic's and listen to this.Most of them were so much into rock music that they would start yawning and after a while switch back to 'Sultan of Swing'.But I fell in love with jazz and pretty soon discovered Miles Davis/John Coltrane/Duke Ellington/Louis Armstrong/Sonny Rollins/Thelonious Monk/Charlie Parker Dizzy Gillespie,Ben Webster....
 

rajivdallas

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I will attest these 45 rpms sound amazing. Have a friend locally who has a VPI Scoutmaster along with the VPI cleaner and once he does the cleaning (even on a mint vinyl as there is some manufacturing residue left) these albums sound like you were there in the studio - that pure organic analog sound.

Speaking of which, I am also seeing a bunch of 180g vinyl releases here in the US of rock classics like Doors, Floyd, CCR etc and they sound amazing as well.

Kevin Gray who is mentioned in this article, along with Steve Hoffman, worked on Steely Dan's Aja album and released the 180g lp on the Cisco label - sounds amazing!

BTW, Ajay124, I can relate to the experience you are relating about trying to induct folks into jazz and them switching back to rock...still happens to me :)

Rajiv
 

shaizada

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As a long time buyer (and subscriber at one point to the Fantasy 45 series and Music Matters Jazz 45 series), I can assure you, these 45rpm reissues are to die for if you are a Jazz fan. Very limited and phenomenal sound quality. These reissues remind you why you dropped thousands of dollars on turntable, arm and cartridges. Organic reality!

The Cisco label has departed, but BoxStar records has taken its place and is run by the same owners. If you like Steely Dan Aja, get it on the Cisco label as it is easily the best sounding version and most likely won't be at this quality again. It's in 33rpm vinyl an only a few issues left.

Good job Ajay...we should talk Jazz sometime as I love it immensely.

Anyhow, I'm off to a Porcupine Tree concert tonight. They are playing at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles! Damn exited!!!!! Part of their Incident Tour. Wooo hooo!!!

I'll try and take pictures tonight and post them here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/
 
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SKR

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A very well written thread by Sound And Music. Wealth of knowledge and information for us--vinyl lovers. Thanks.

I agree that in general 45 RPM will sound better, but I personally feel the Recording of music for any format - CD or LP is the most important. A well recorded music will sound good on CD,SACD, LP 120gms, 180gms, 200 gms or 45rpm.

That is the reason Sonny Rollins Way out of west sounds so good on any format and on any music system costing from $1K to $50K.

As an audiophile or shall I say as a Music Lover I am fed up with these re-issues. I have CD, gold special edition CD, SACD and LP of the same music and now comes 45 RPM. If we go by press comments and reviews every things said in various threads and by experts is correct as they have to sell the SAME MUSIC again and again. Now we have HD Tracks I think 178hz recordings and 24/192 upsampled programs for some new DACS which they say sound even better. And definitely some marginal improvement might be there which I agree.
Actually there are no new good Jazz recordings and we don't have those olden days musicians like Sonny Rollins, Mile Davis etc. etc. SSo best thing is to sell the same thing over and over again to same people. Chad Kasem is a marketing man first then a music lover.

That is why in my opinion recording of the music is the most important and a well recoded music will sound good in any format and on any playing machine.
But as long as we audiophiles are willing to spend our money on same music and audio press is able to convince us about its superiority over the earlier issue these re-issues will keep coming.
My comments here are not against any of earlier thread and I appreciate what has been written , speacially by Sound and Music which gives a lot of information on vinyl.

I personally do not like 45 RPM because there is too little music per side and one has to get up very soon from his chair to change sides.
SKR
 

ajay124

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Musicians like Miles Davis/Thelonious Monk/Oscar Peterson/Sonny Rollins seem to have paid a lot of attention to recording quality,which is why they sound stunning in every format/equipment.This may be a major reason for the 'shelf space' they command.There were many other equally good jazz musicians from those days who are virtually 'invisible'.I have been looking for good quality recordings of Bud Powell/Art Tatum/Charlie Christian/Django Reinhardt/Lester Young and have failed to find many.
Clifford Brown is my favorite trumpeter based solely on a single CD I possess(At Basin Street/With Max Roach).Clifford passed away at the age of 25.Therefore could not have released many albums.On the other hand I may have heard/owned 20-30 CD's of Miles Davis.I like Miles.But gimme Clifford 'Brownie' any day!Hunting in vain for CD of 'Study In Brown'/Clifford Brown with Max Roach.
Totally dislike the post 70's jazz(?)musicians who seem to have been 'inspired' by the super selling Miles Davis' 'Bitches Brew'.Musicians trying to fuse jazz with rock was for me the end of the golden age of jazz(1935-1965).Have never been able to 'finish' a CD of John Mclaughlin/Herbie Hancock/Joe Zawinul/Chick Correa/Chuck Mangione etc. as they fail to engage me.Where as the first blast of a Coltrane/Parker/Brown horn has me hook,line and sinkered!
Kenny G of course takes the cake for the most banal and boring jazz EVER recorded.Although,in recent times Diana Krall seems to be catching up with Kenny.Some of the early Diana Krall with Anthony Wilson was nice but her recent albums like Quiet Nights/From This Moment On are great cures for insomnia.I have put them on at 3 am at night when I was unable to sleep and by the 2nd or 3rd track fallen into a deep,dreamless sleep.No wonder they sell so well!
 
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ajay124

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Hi-Fidelity recordings or great music?
An 'audiophile' listening only to the best recorded/remastered/reissued vinyl/cd's may never 'hear' some of the best jazz ever made,because the sound quality was awful.I have a very expensive 4 cd box set of Charlie Parker.For a long time I felt that I should not have splurged on this set.Recently for the first time I actually 'heard' the music rather than the recording.Combined with the other Charlie Parker's I have,I finally got a glimpse of why 'Bird' is considered among the 4-5 most influential jazz musicians ever!In trying to decipher my favorite jazz music I realised that what made certain musicians/albums stand out for me were that these guys were not playing by the established rules,did not give a damn about the audience(that eternally deaf,dumb and blind beast?)or the demands of critics and studio's.John Coltrane,Charlie Parker,Dizzy Gillespie,Duke Ellington and Clifford Brown (for me) are the greatest because they created music that soared high into the sky,free from the earthly shackles of money,stardom and applause.
A jazz.com blog about great jazz from the 20's-50's ....
Listen to these CDs . . . Even If They Sound Awful! – Jazz.com | Jazz Music – Jazz Artists – Jazz News
 
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SKR

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I have a few INDIAN LP's about 30 to 40 years old which are exceptionally well recorded and are comparable or better then these re-issues or 45RPM ones.
To name a few I have LP's from EMI Pakistan LTD of Munni Begum (1975) and Iqbal Bano (1980) which are both very well recorded very clean sounding with great dynamics and soundstage and full bodied sound.I doubt if we can make this kind of LP today. I really do not know why this is so as in those days we did not have good recording techniques, equipments or cabling etc. I think the reason was that recording used to be simple with a few microphones. These days it is getting complicated.
Apart from above 2 LP's I have more by Lata,Talat Mahmood, Jagjeet singh, Gulam Ali etc which are of exceptional quality.
It is bad that we don't manufacture them any more.
SKR
 
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