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The Story Of Herbie Hancock, Vinyl Me Please Boxed Set, Part 2: Head Hunters & River

Mark Smotroff continues exploring a gorgeous jazz boxed set…

In Part One of my listening report on the Vinyl Me, Please (VMP) boxed set The Story Of Herbie Hancock we explored some classic titles including Maiden Voyage (1966) and Takin’ Off (1962). Both of these proved to be excellent sounding editions. We also did a bit of informal price analysis, coming to the conclusion that this VMP set is actually a very good value. If you missed the first review, please click here to jump to it. 

Lets dive back into some more albums in the collection…

Next up is the second Herbie Hancock album I ever heard in my life (also from my brother’s collection), Head Hunters. Released in 1973, this album was an instant classic fusion of jazz, funk, rock and soul vibes — the first jazz album to reach Platinum sales status! It remains hugely popular, but clean originals are not always easy to find. This makes some sense as it was a common party record for sure. 

I know that I had to go through several copies until I found a decent original copy — no universal priced code on the back cover, 1A stampers on both sides, probably a Pittman pressing, for those of you who geek out on those sorts of details — after getting rid of the copy I had through college. Add to that the challenge that 1970s vinyl pressings could have a bit of surface noise due to the oil crisis, though Columbia Records albums were generally good sounding (especially compared to other labels like MCA and Warner/Elektra/Asylum titles).

The best complement I can offer here is that the new VMP version of Head Hunters sounds like Headhunters should sound. That is, it has not been brightened up to sound modern. It sounds very much like my original copy, maybe even a bit better.  

This edition is mastered a little more quietly than the original which has its advantages, leaving more “deadwax” at the end of the sides where distortion is more likely to creep in. So I had to turn up my amp a bit playing this right after my original pressing but things really opened up nicely.  The low bass throbs on “Vein Melter” sound especially…well… throbbing! This is no doubt going to be my go-to copy for regular play (but I’ll likely keep my original given the good copy I have). 

As I mentioned in Part One, the album covers in The Story Of Herbie Hancock are lovely high quality affairs replete with laminated artwork and crafted of thick brown cardboard stock. The cover for Head Hunters is gorgeous and this is arguably a better version than the original pressings which were printed on thin white oaktag stock common to the early 70s, with a flat finish. 

River: The Joni Letters is a beautiful late period tribute to Mr. Hancock’s friend and collaborator, the equally legendary singer, songwriter, performer, Joni Mitchell. For those not in the know, this album won the 2007 Grammy® Award for “Album of the Year,” beating out Kanye West, Amy Winehouse, Foo Fighters and Vince Gill! So, it was an important album. 

I reviewed it when the 10th anniversary editions came out on CD and on vinyl. You can click here jump to that report but in short while I love the music, my experience with the LP edition left something to be desired.  

This new VMP edition is a marked improvement over the original pressing (which was also pressed in the Czech Republic, btw). The dramatic solo piano opening sequence is beautiful, but here on the VMP version the vinyl dead quiet so there is no surface noise detracting from the hushed vibe.  The album is also happily nicely centered (so there are no wavering notes). 

River: The Joni Letters is one of those lovely digital recordings that are so well recorded the instruments sound rich and warm with no harsh edges. I am not a digital hater, as long as it is in the hands of engineers who know how to use the medium, how to mic the instruments and mix them to achieve an idyllic balance between the clarity of the technology yet bringing in the much desired warmth more common to analog recordings.

Like some of the other albums in this series, River: The Joni Letters is mastered more quietly than the originals so there seems to be more air around the music and resonance. 

The vocals sound rounder too here — I especially like how the new mastering treats Tina Turner’s voice on “Edith & The Kingpin,” feeling somehow more pure and airy, less grainy. Wayne Shorter’s saxophones are at times hushed and haunting. Luciana Souza’s take on “Amelia” is mesmerizing despite the only pressing anomaly I have encountered thus far, a very brief and thankfully relatively quiet groove noise (it is not quite a non-fill noise, I didn’t see the tell tale pearl lines in upon visual inspection so perhaps it will work its way out with more plays). 

Vinnie Colaiuta’s cymbals are so perfectly recorded and mixed here, giving you all that lift and chime without getting in the way of the other instruments.

This edition of River: The Joni Letters is a great improvement over the original editions in every way as far as I can tell. It even comes with a nice insert of credits / liner notes and photos which was not included with my original pressing.  I’m very happy that this beautiful album has receive such deservedly loving treatment. 

We’ll explore more on The Story Of Herbie Hancock next week. Stay tuned…

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