I don’t quite understand the pricing differentials on many Atlantic Records jazz reissues — I see them selling in stores at prices ranging from $10 to $18. But whatever the case, the fact of the matter is (a) it is exciting that these albums are being reissued and (b) it is a joy to be able get crisp, good sounding pressings of these vintage albums presented in a manner that even a hardcore collector and audiophile can generally be content with.
Here are two I just picked up by the great Charles Mingus:
Tonight At Noon is another of Mingus’ fine recordings for the label, issued in 1965 and featuring recordings from 1957 and 1961. The 1957 side is a bit more on the manic/swingin’ side of Mingus, with the title track percolating along like the proverbial fox on the run. The 1961 material on side two features two lovely tunes, “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” and “Passions of a Woman Loved” played with a cool reserve where you can almost imagine the loving couple courting one another. Really nice stuff, and the 180-gram pressing benefits this music wonderfully: the mostly dead quiet vinyl is perfectly centered, allowing the breathy saxophones of Roland Kirk and Booker Ervin to, well, breathe! The cover is printed on firm oaktag-type cardboard and the artwork is nicely printed, complete with original liner notes by Gunther Schuller. The period-accurate rainbow swirl label is tasty icing on the cake. My only quibble on this pressing is there were one or two instances of periodic groove noise in a couple spots, sounding as if something extraneous was in the groove; not sure if that is on the original recording or a groove anomaly (I may give this one a cleaning to see if that goes away). But ya know what? For $10, I’m not going to complain! For the most part it sounds great.
Oh Yeah is one of my favorite Mingus records and holds a special place as that one special recording that converted me into genuine fan who wanted to go deep on the composer’s catalog. For years I have had a decent sounding green/red Atlantic Records (WEA-era) pressing from the early 80s. I say “decent sounding” as it certainly portrayed the music fairly, but listening to it now on my Music Hall MMF 7.1 turntable, I am hearing quite a bit of surface noise from the disc which gets in the way of the quiet passages on tracks like “Ecclusiastics.” On the new 180-gram pressing, the vinyl is (again) dead quiet and that really makes a big shiney difference in the sound on this explosive recording. Speaking of explosive, if you haven’t heard the track “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me,” you really owe it to yourself to hear this gem where Mingus near-preaches as if from a church pulpet — “Don’t let ’em drop it! Stop it! Be bop it!” — before launching into a swinging blues romp. Great stuff, this.
The only nit I can find on this edition is that this album too comes in an oaktag type cover; and while the original cover art is reproduced decently, it pales in comparison to the nice laminated cardboard cover of my 1980s pressing. But I have an easy fix that will satisfy my inner collector geek: I’m swapping out the covers and I’ll be getting rid of that older copy.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who’s songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written. www.smotroff.com