Vinyl

33.3rpm or 45rpm records.

First Light

12 Feb 2018
Freddie Hubbard
Vinyl
CTI / Pure Pleasure

This is the album that placed Freddie Hubbard right in the blossoming fusion mainstream, winning him in the process a Grammy for best commercial jazz album. It comes back to life in the guise of a 180gm vinyl reissue courtesy of Pure Pleasure Records who have established quite a respectable catalogue across a number of genres. This reissue is faithful to The CTI sound but has managed to add more colour and dimension. The original CTI sound on this album came across as dry, the musicians were isolated in a spaciousness that was probably due to a much larger than usual acoustic space of the recording studio. By 1971, when First Light was recorded Hubbard had already established himself as the all round trumpet player that everyone wished to study. His ability to dazzle with stunning alacrity and quick-fire phrasing was equally matched by his second to none, rich, elegant tone and an innate sense of melody. Here, it is worth remembering that Hubbard had in fact entered the fusion fray with Red Clay (CTI 1970), a head on meeting of fusion and hard bop but then slipped funk and soul into the mix with Straight Life (CTI 1970). With First Light, his third and final album for CTI, Hubbard boldly decided to expand his project and musical outlook by adding strings whilst continuing with the jazz/funk/soul approach. For years, jazz purists and critics have moaned and groaned about Hubbard’s decision to introduce Don Sebeski’s string arrangements.

Whilst it can’t be denied that mixing jazz with strings has always been a source of argument between jazz fans, here Sebeski somehow charted a far more subtle course than usual. His light as a feather infusion of flute, harp, vibraphone and strings somehow delivers a warm, engaging counterpoint to the solid, hot funkiness produced by bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette. This is most evident on side A.  The title track, written by Hubbard, starts off in a guarded fashion almost sounding like a spin off from a Miles electric session then graduating into a bossa driven mid-tempo groove, with the trumpet hitting some exhilarating staccato notes and trills; the drums break the drive with suppleness in changes coloured by the flutes and George Benson soloing as if his life depended on it, pushed by sporadic bursts of horns, woodwinds and violins. Hubbard’s cover of Paul and Linda McCartney's ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ brings on a fully fledged funk excursion with a sudden turn into hard bop territory. Here, the warm, breezy arrangements create an ideal setting for Hubbard and Benson’s improvisations with Hubert Laws joining in on flute.

Sadly, with the end of side A also comes the end of Benson’s appearance on this recording with Hubbard moving into more lyrical territory. Side B is where Hubbard moves more deeply into the world of melody. The choice of material here is clearly designed to be in tune with a more mainstream audience.  But there is still an enormous amount of mileage to be had just by listening to his undoubted artistry when performing a ballad. Henry Mancini’s ‘Moment to Moment’ gets an elegant, sultry rendition with Hubbard’s trumpet sprinkling gold on each single note he plays. Once again, he reminds listeners of his innate ability to discover the inner melody.  The soft core approach then becomes even more evident on Sebeski’s ‘Yesterday’s Dreams’. Extended muted trumpet lines bringing tropical heat amidst a sudden outburst of orchestral joy. Whilst undoubtedly firmly of its time, again Hubbard’s ability to wring out every note to its last shred of emotion draws the listener in without fail.

Bernstein’s ‘Lonely Town’ brings the album to a close with its sedate, mournful and somewhat dramatic mixture of harp colours, strings and brass. Hubbard once again playing extended notes saddled with melancholia as bassoons, flutes and violins fuse into a forceful weave, the mid-section then gaining some swing with DeJohnette and Carter keeping a steady groove allowing more exquisite soloing from Hubbard and Richard Wynands on piano.  On balance, the undoubtedly soft core production values where firmly of their time and yet Hubbard and co still managed to make this hardly detract from an often moving, uplifting experience fully deserving of many a spin on the turntable.

Charles Imperatori

Formats also available: 
none

España

15 Jun 2017
National Symphony Orchestra
Vinyl
Chasing the Dragon

Earlier in the year Mike Valentine’s most ambitious recording project to date came to fruition when he brought the NSO together with conductor Debbie Wiseman and mezzo soprano Rosie Middleton at Air Studios in north London. This was the first orchestral direct cut vinyl recording he had done and as you can imagine it wasn’t cheap. But once he had explained to the musicians that it was essentially a live performance without an audience they came to terms with the unusual by recording standards approach that a direct cut requires. Because each side of the vinyl has to be cut in one go there is no opportunity for the performers to do multiple takes or to have much of a break between pieces. But this was a professional orchestra with a lot of experience and once the concept was clear it was plain sailing.

Mike and his engineer Rupert Coulson combined Chasing the Dragon’s favoured Decca tree microphone arrangement with individual mics on most of the musicians and mixed a small amount of the latter with the more reverberant sound picked up by the three mics on the tree. For this recording they also used a binaural or dummy head, this is designed to pick up sound in the same manner as our ears and produces results that work particularly well with headphones. The feed from this was recorded on a two channel Nagra digital recorder and has been released as a download and a CD. I heard a sample of the change from the regular stereo feed to the dummy head through headphones and was very impressed with the way it projects the sound to give a loudspeaker like experience with acres of space and no sense of it being in your head. Mike was so impressed with the results that he has embarked on a series of binaural head recordings for the label.

The music chosen for España was selected partly for its dynamic impact, this is a bit like the stereosound dem records of the late fifties when stereo was the latest thing. But none of those were cut direct to disc with modern equipment and none have the scale and depth of image that this does. I have heard a number of CtD’s direct cuts but this has to be the most impressive, largely because it’s the biggest ‘band’, and it has some serious tympani, so the low end is glorious while the mids and trebles project a huge soundstage. The performance is excellent as well, I’m not that familiar with these pieces: España by Chabrier, Bizet’s Carmen and Gypsy Song and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, so can’t tell you how they rank in the general scheme of things but it’s a dramatic and rousing experience to listen to nonetheless. If you want to hear just how good your system is I can think of few more effective demonstrations.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
CD, DL

Follow Your Heart

14 Feb 2017
Ross Hammond
Vinyl
Prescott Recordings

The life of the purist finger guitar player is not an easy one. The potential audience for acoustic finger pickers appears to be a tiny fraction of what it is for those that sing at the same time. At any given time there are only a handful to be found producing commercial releases, that’s one reason I treasure Ross Hammond. He is a Sacramento, California based player who makes his work available on bandcamp and this month releases his first vinyl album Follow Your Heart. This contains nine glorious tunes played on six and 12 string acoustic all of which are infused with the natural reverb of a turn of the century church in Hammond’s home town. Some are played on an acoustic resonator guitar with a circular metal device containing spun metal cones where the hole would normally be, they’re usually called Dobro or National guitars. 

The recording is good and clean with minimal polish, presenting a strong image of the instrument with all its dynamic variety intact. The reverb of the building gives it a vibrant immediacy that is very appealing, it’s an inspired choice of locale, a situation that’s instantly clear with the vinyl release. But don’t put this on your list for later, it’s a limited edition (like the CD) and won’t last long after it’s release on Feb 17th.

Hammond’s style is essentially blues based, his playing is more about feel than finesse but it’s hard to fault from a technical perspective. His influences must include Ry Cooder and John Fahey but he brings his own  style to everything he plays. Of the tracks collected on Follow Your Heart the stand outs include the title track, a beautifully picked ode to his daughter, and the slide harmonies of ‘How Does a Monkey Write Its Song’. But in truth there isn’t weak tune on this collection, just some great playing from the current standard bearer for a very rare breed.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
CD, DL

The Crimson Investigation

26 Jul 2016
All Times Big band
Vinyl
STS Digital

For readers who like big band music we have selected a real audiophile production, mastered by the Dutch company STS-Digital, cut and pressed in Germany on 180 grams vinyl. Tunes by Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Cole Porter are among tracks like ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’, ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’ and ‘Love For Sale’. Next to piano, drums, guitar and bass the All Times Bigband encompasses a brass section with trumpet, trombone, bass/tenor/alto and baritone saxophone, next to singers of both sexes. They take you back into the good old days when big bands were the main attraction at jazz festivals. When the lady sings ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’ she takes me to a concert hall and makes my feet swing into the air. On ‘Mack The Knife’ a deep male voice opens the song that is arranged by the conductor especially for these musicians.

STS-Digital produces high quality recordings in close cooperation with manufacturers of high end audio equipment. The Crimson Investigation points to the Crimson cartridge by Van den Hul that was used for playback checks. Other brands in use in the studio are AudioQuest and Siltech for cables, Metrum Acoustics for the D/A conversion, Grandinote amplifiers and Dr. Feickert Analogue playback systems. All brought together by Fritz de With, owner of the company and the man responsible for the sound quality. The STS-Digital sound may not be the most neutral you can find, but it’s very easy on the ear. Full of detail in nice stereo sound stages with a light emphasis on the bass notes giving a slightly warm sound, making big bands that can sound too harsh with all those brass instruments easier to enjoy. The end result is a record that can be used to show your friends what a great sound system you have, but as soon as they are gone you can enjoy the music on your own too. Recording and pressing are among the best you can find, although it won’t surpass the original Harry James King James Version on direct-to-disc Sheffield vinyl. But that sold out long ago, which is all the more reason to enjoy The Crimson Investigation instead. Turn up the volume a little more than normal to really get involved and the uncompressed and undistorted recording will let draw you in.

René van Es

 

Formats also available: 
reel2reel

Blessed With Your Love

16 Feb 2016
Madeline Bell
Vinyl
STS Digital

It has been years since I last heard from Madeline Bell, an artist known for singing in Blue Mink and later a member of The (New) London Chorale. This record from the Dutch label STS Digital is not really new either. It was recorded some 15 years ago and used as a promotional CD at audio shows. But STS Digital got the rights and turned a good recording into an outstanding vinyl pressing. The A-side contains classics like ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘Sail On Sailor’ and a ‘Beach Boys Medley’, while the B-side has Madeline’s own compositions made with the Dutch vibraphone player Frits Landesbergen, a musician who played with Joe Pass, Monty Alexander, Scott Hamilton and a lot of others.

STS Digital is an audiophile label producing CDs and LPs and for a few months now, master tapes as well. The mastering engineer Fritz de With likes a slightly warm sound with soft high notes and deep bass, to form a background for the singer(s). He did an outstanding job transferring the CD master to vinyl, revealing a far better soundstage and changing the dry studio sound into a performance that could have been live. The vinyl material and cutting are among the best I have in my collection. The songs on the A-side may not be new, but they still have plenty of appeal. Especially the ‘Beach Boys Medley’ with the band is shining behind the singer.

The second side starts with ‘Good Morning Freedom’, the Blue Mink hit from back in 1969. It’s a strong, jazzy composition with a powerful bass line to drive the rhythm. It blows the dust of your woofers before a more relaxed song starts, where the vibraphone plays a leading role. The following tracks are a soul/funk/easy listening mix with a swinging character and Madeline Bell having fun. This makes the record far more listenable than so many audiophile records that were only made to make your system sound outstanding. With ‘Blessed With Our Love’ you can both enjoy music and hear just how good your record player is. Madeline Bell is very much alive on this album which is a must have unless you only prefer hard core metal.

René van Es

Formats also available: 
none

Western Suite

24 Nov 2015
Jimmy Giuffre
Vinyl
Atlantic/Pure Pleasure

In the past Jimmy Giuffre has always struck me as being a little bit too smooth, his west coast cool sound has never struck a chord but Western Suite has changed all that, now I have to hear more. A saxophonist, clarinettist and composer Giuffre composed this suite for the trio he had been playing with in the year precdeding this 1958 recording, a band that differentiates itself by the complete absence of a rhythm section. Alongside Giuffre was trombone player Bob Brookmeyer and guitarist Jim Hall, they were all extremely adept players and these pieces find them weaving the most intricate yet effortless and fluent patterns around one another.

By leaving out the drums and bass Giuffre creates a totally fresh vibe with compositions that are subtle, light and nimble. This is achieved with various techniques including the two horns playing together and the guitar in counterpoint or with all three creating a multi tonal collage that has an effortless  groove. The recording is an early stereo production with lots of space in it, the presence of notes about the “high fidelity” recording indicating that there’s nothing new in high resolution except a name. In the liner notes Giuffre makes the point that not having a drummer or bassist to “make time” gave this band the freedom to flow, as he put it: “I believe in letting the music play itself instead of forcing it.” That is clearly what he achieved on a remarkable album that sounds as good as you could imagine thanks to Pure Pleasure’s painstaking remastering and high quality pressing.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
none

God Bless The Child

23 Jul 2015
Kenny Burrell
Vinyl
CTI/Pure Pleasure

Burrell’s heyday was in the fifties and sixties when he played with John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Smith and Oscar Peterson among many others, but his only release for CTI proved that he still had it in 1971. That it is two things, tone and groove, yet what strikes you with the opener ‘Be Yourself’ is his understatement. Rarely has an album’s first track seemed more at odds with the cover art, there is no hint of shock or awe, just sublime playing over subtle backing. Among others the band features bassist Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet, Billy Cobham in unusually restrained form on drums and Hubert Laws’ flute, so a classy line-up. Orchestration is arranged by Don Sebesky who does a fine job of enhancing results with nuance rather than broad strokes, a statement that effectively sums up the album as a whole.

Its most intense moments are on ‘Love Is The Answer’ where Burrell ratchets up the groove to excellent effect. The all star backing is good but never as good as the lead, a fact made clear by the title track which is a mellow peach with just enough edge, it’s immaculate but not stoned. As ever Pure Pleasure has done an excellent job of the mastering and pressing of this album, one that does full justice to Rudy van Gelder's original recording as well as the artistry of the musicians at work.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
CD

Newport Uproar!

9 Jul 2015
Lionel Hampton
Vinyl
Pure Pleasure/RCA Victor

Big band, with my reputation! It’s not usually my bag but this 1967 recording is something else, for a start it’s fabulously energetic and large scale and brass never sounds as good as it does on top notch vinyl. Something that Pure Pleasure knows all about.

Lionel Hampton had a pretty stellar career, he popularised the vibraphone in jazz music, played with a who’s who of jazz musicians including the Benny Goodman Quartet, Charlie Mingus, Wes Montgomery, Dinah Washington and Dizzy Gillespie. His ‘Flying Home’ featured here was a hit in 1942. But by the mid sixties his fortunes were in decline and he might well have seen this performance at Newport as a last ditch opportunity to revive a flagging career. Hampton and his sizeable band whip up both remarkable vitality and some top grooves, ‘Greasy Greens’ is the highlight in this respect thanks to a blues theme and some fine tenor sax playing from Illinois Jacquet. The rest of the band, which included Milt Buckner on piano, were all top notch guys who must also have been feeling the change in the wind that the sixties brought in.

The sound here is typical of its era inasmuch as the brass is not as full bodied as it can be but the recording captures a lot energy and the way a large ensemble can swing so nimbly when directed by an old master. In essence it is the sound of great musicians having a ball and an audience that is thoroughly enjoying it, something that will never go out of style.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
none

Kensington Blues

21 Apr 2015
Jack Rose
Vinyl
VHF

I have long been a major fan of the late American guitarist John Fahey, a musician so unappreciated in his own lifetime that he died virtually penniless. I saw him only once and to be honest it was too late. So when I came across another musician who could play as well as Fahey, in fact sounds so similar as to be difficult to distinguish at times I was thrilled. Here at last was a good reason for the existence of Spotify. I was therefore deeply unimpressed to find that Jack Rose had failed to make it to his 37th birthday, what is it about great musicians, is it bad luck or does such a supreme ability to channel their feelings make them vulnerable.

The good thing about Rose is that he recorded in the present century and some of his work is still available on brand new vinyl, and it’s sensibley price. Kensington Blues from 2005 is delightfully packaged in a gatefold sleeve by VHF in Virginia and it sounds superb. Rose plays slide and picks steel string with a verve and intensity that breaks your heart, there are upbeat numbers but naturally its those informed by the blues that strike the deepest. Rose is very good at providing a rolling background to perfectly chosen melodic lines. It’s not a smooth sound, it’s too vibrant for that but it belies considerable technical skill that for once is allied to equally powerful expressive abilities. He has something to say and says it very eloquently, and despite a clear debt to Fahey Rose managed to build on his mentor’s work, to take his rarely mastered finger picking style forwards. Even if you don’t dig vinyl this is an essential release.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
CD

Live 1970

28 Oct 2014
Nucleus with Leon Thomas
Vinyl
Gearbox

Never before released this was made at the Montreux Jazz Festival where Nucleus won first prize this finds the British fusion pioneers fronted by jazz vocalist Leon Thomas. Thomas was a very distinctive singer with an ululating style that was brought to the jazz world’s attention with the The Creator Has A Master Plan recorded with Pharoah Saunders. The tune, based on the Love Supreme riff, is played with considerable sophistication by Nucleus, a band that was at the forefront of the jazz rock movement, a movement whose birth is oft credited to Miles Davis but which actually had a wider base and not all of it in the US.  Headed up by trumpet player Ian Carr, in this its first iteration it features Chris Spedding on guitar, Karl Jenkins on oboe and piano and Brian Smith on soprano and tenor sax plus flute.

Thomas’ singing gives this live performance a distinctly bluesy vibe, while a jazz singer he combined a social consciousness with considerable vocal dexterity, as ever there is more to him than the hit would suggest and it’s all good. Spedding shines as well, mainly because the guitar is placed up front in the mix and seems to get a greater share of lead slots than most, the propulsive energy of drummer John Marshall is excellent as is the oboe playing for that matter. The recording is top notch for its time and has plenty of ambiance, you can almost hear the steam rising off the band as they work to deliver as much intensity as they can without overpowering the vocals. Rather special, and it’s on Gearbox.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
free 24/48 download with vinyl

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