Getz / Gilberto's Classic Verve Records Acoustic Sounds Vinyl Reissue Compared, Contrasted

AR-GetzGilbertoVerveVINYL450.jpgOne would think that an album widely considered to have popularized the Bossa Nova jazz movement internationally would be easier to find in great condition and great sound out in the wilds of record collecting. One might think that one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time would not really need to be re-issued once again after all these years.

Getz/Gilberto is just such an album, crafted by American saxophonist Stan Getz with Brazilian guitarist and genre-pioneer João Gilberto, released in 1964 by Verve Records. Winner of three Grammy Awards including Album of the Year --  the first jazz album to ever win the top honor -- it marked the start of singer Astrud Gilberto's career. The album featured pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim who also composed many of the tracks including the smash hit "The Girl From Ipanema."

One would think that a record which sold more than two million copies in 1964 alone and has gone on to be considered one of the greatest albums of all time would be easier to find in a good sounding original vinyl pressing. But the reality is Getz/Gilberto was a popular party album, likely played on then-trendy-but-often-clunky console stereos and portables of the day which were not exactly kind to the grooves over the years. 

I have gone through many used copies of this album looking for a clean original pressing with relatively quiet vinyl, one that isn't distorted particularly on the inner grooves towards the center of the album. Heck, finding a cover that is not beat up or trashed isn't that easy. Make no mistake, you can find this album quite readily at mostly flea markets, thrift shops and record stores. But in my experience, it never quite sounds as great as you might hope.

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That said, there are many reissues of this album on the market  - music collecting site Discogs shows more than 1300 variants there for sale right now on Vinyl, CD, SACD, Cassette and even Blu-ray Disc.  When you filter it down to original 1964-era vinyl copies, there are only seven original copies listed as "mint" or "near mint" condition ranging in price from around $40 to $250 dollars.  So, yes, there is need for a well done, affordably priced reissue to fill that void. 

Enter a new series of jazz reissues driven by Universal Music and Acoustic Sounds delivering classic titles from the Verve Records catalog for a new generation of music collectors to discover. Kicking off the series is this classic Getz/Gilberto album.

From Universal's official press release, here are some useful insight on these reissues:

"Getz/Gilberto will be released as the first title of Verve/UMe's new Acoustic Sounds series. Seeking to offer definitive audiophile-grade versions of some of the most historic and best jazz records ever recorded, the series, supervised by Chad Kassem, CEO of Acoustic Sounds, the world's largest source for audiophile recordings, utilizes the skills of the top mastering engineers and the unsurpassed production craft of Quality Record Pressings. Mastered from the original analog tapes, the album will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl and packaged by Stoughton Printing Co. in high-quality tip-on gatefold jackets."

Roughly mirroring Universal's acclaimed Tone Poet series of reissues from the Blue Note Records catalog, if this release is indicative of the whole series then I think we're in for a very happy run. The packaging is first rate with art that is very close to the original all things considered (I'm not sure if original production elements still exist for recreating the cover art but it is quite like the original).

AR-GetzGilbertoResonance450.jpgAs I discovered on a wonderful archival Getz/Gilberto release from Resonance Records several years ago (click here for my review of this essential album) one of the scintillating features of this type of music -- especially for singer/guitarist Joao Gilberto -- is an understated hushed presentation drawing in the listener. 

In a way, it takes the Cool Jazz concept to another level of seduction. This is very sexy music, folks!  

That same hushed-quiet performance makes it all the more important to have an equally transparent sounding vinyl noise floor to enjoy this music properly. By 1964 Verve Records was manufactured and distributed by MGM. They were generally good quality, thick and well centered records but were not always the quietest. 

On the Acoustic Sounds edition of Getz/Gilberto the vinyl virtually disappears allowing the music to emerge like a quiet sunrise on a private tropical beach. The Stereo separation on this new reissue is exceptionally distinct.  

I'm still immersing myself in the reissue of Getz/Gilberto so following is an exploration of the album's most iconic track for some initial perspectives and insights.

There is a more open upper-end on this remaster leading me to think that far less compression was employed as compared to the original pressings.  In particular, I detect a nice sense of air around the vocals and a brightness that wasn't as apparent on the original. Curiously, on the classic album opening hit track -- "The Girl From Ipanema" -- the channels are flipped compared to my original (Astrud comes in on the right vs. the left on the new reissue). The swish of the cymbals on the original -- which flow behind Stan Getz' solo -- glisten on this reissue compared to the original.  

The low bass seems surprisingly a bit more reigned in yet natural sounding on the new reissue of Getz/Gilberto compared to my vintage LP -- that isn't a bad thing necessarily but it was apparent. 

AR-GetzAstrudGilberto450.jpgThe increased clarity on this new pressing also brought to light some details I never noticed before. For example, then-new singer Astrud Gilberto (who had apparently not sung professionally prior to this album) makes some curious timing choices in her vocal delivery relative to the groove of the music.  Singing around the beat of the music can be a great technique adding a sense of swing and mystery to the performance, so I get that.  And for the most part those approaches work very well on this track so I can hear why they kept this track as the master take.  However, there are some brief awkward sounding moments which now feel more present and which might throw some listeners -- at least it caught my attention, something I never really took note of before. There is also a curious little blip where (I assume) Joao Gilberto comes in with a vocal harmony beneath Astrud's lead vocal at an odd time (probably accidentally, in a live take) -- this jumps out more on the new reissue.

I also now hear a very audible edit on Getz' solo which was not as apparent on the original pressing. It is there on the old LP but it might be more audibly visibile (if you will) now due to a lesser level of compression used, or simply the aging of the original master tape and the condition of the physical tape edit. This is probably one of the downsides of trying to keep productions in the analog domain -- they could probably fix that little glitch in Pro Tools in a flash, but that would kind of defeat the point of this kind of reissue.

Again, these are not big deals, but don't be surprised if you hear little differences. At the end of the day, Getz/Gilberto  is a lovely album, warts 'n all. Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto captured some magic in a bottle during these sessions that overrides any minor technical flaws. It was all about the vibe and the feel. And this album has it beginning to end.

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