This kind of review is hard, pitting a vintage recording from 50 years ago against a new reissue. There are so many reasons why the review can be meaningless depending on one’s perspective.
For example, a 1965 Stereo Blue Note pressing will have a certain sound to it influenced by how the lacquers were cut, any EQ that might have been applied at the time of transfer, quality of the vinyl used to press the records at the time, and so on. That same tape may have aged dramatically over time and may have new anomalies not present on the original from 50 years ago. Magnetic tape disintegrates over time and with each play loses a bit of information.
Thus, this comparison of my original copy of Jackie McLean’s much sought after classic “It’s Time!” to a new Blue Note Tone Poet reissue is something of an apples to bananas comparison.
On the one hand is the original which has that distinctive Blue Note sonic imprint in it that many jazz enthusiasts revere. It is the sound, really, of Rudy Van Gelder’s studio at the time and whatever compressors and microphones he used to get that music on tape eventually onto vinyl and likely some other things I’ll mention a little later on…
That said, when I play my original pressing, I’m “there” …. well… I am there in my imagined mythology of being in the Van Gelder studio as these greats are blowing like mad — Herbie Hancock, Cecil McBee, Roy Haynes, Charles Tolliver and Jackie McLean.
The closest I’ve been to even being remotely near the Van Gelder Studios was when I went to Hackensack and Englewood Cliffs for meetings with clients in the 1980s…
So, my original sounds cool. Sure it has some inevitable war wounds but the grooves are not distorted and the high end is pretty clean with Roy Haynes’ drumming driving the pulse in the left side of the soundstage and crisp cymbals making my head bob along in time.
For the record, my copy has the little Plastylite “ear” in the run-out groove with BST 84179 on the labels, ST 8179 on the back cover and 84179 on the front cover.
My Tone Poet copy of “It’s Time!” has the same soundstage (which I don’t take for granted, I have had reissues where channels somehow got flipped around). Immediately the Tone Poet wins on the front of having a more open high-end and in some ways greater detailing. On both recordings the bass is a bit subdued but it seems a bit more present (for lack of a better phrase) on the original perhaps due to more compression that might have been applied to tighten up the focus of the vinyl playback. I’m just guessing here.
Of course all this comes down to the question many of you want to know: should you buy a copy of Jackie McLean’s “It’s Time!” on this new Tone Poet Blue Note reissue series? If you don’t already have a copy and like Jackie’s music, absolutely.
The new reissue sounds excellent. The pressing is quiet and well centered, mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio and manufactured at RTI on 180-gram vinyl. The cover artwork is arguably far superior to the original with a sweet laminated gatefold design more akin to a vintage Impulse Records release — the original is a flat, single pocket basic cardboard sleeve. Nothing fancy there and you don’t get any of the groovy session photos that fill up the gatefold on the new edition.
But does it sound exactly like an original copy? No, I can’t say that. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. It really comes down to how much you want “that sound” vs. having a really solid representative copy of the music presented in an authentic and high fidelity manner. I can’t really give you that answer, Dear Readers. That decision will come down to what you want and prefer to listen to.
The question of course remains as to what exactly “that sound” is? Are we talking about simply Rudy Van Gelder’s recording processes in his Englewood Cliffs studio (ie. multitrack recording, mixdown, tape mastering)? Or is it that plus his specific disc mastering techniques (which are likely a bit different from Kevin Gray’s, no disrespect intended here, mind you). Or … is it all that combined with whatever process Blue Note used for pressing its albums back in the day as opposed to the likely more pristine and exacting processes used by RTI?
Your final decision will also come down to how much you want to spend for an original copy. If you go on Discogs, you’ll find Stereo originals like mine starting at $150 in VG to NM condition. I got my copy for fifty cents at a garage sale a couple of years ago in VG- / G+ condition — I admit I am a bargain hunter, a crate digger as they call us. When it comes to finding original pressings out in the wilds of record collecting, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt!
Do I like “It’s Time!” enough to spend hundreds of dollars more for a cleaner original? My fandom for Jackie McLean is still growing so I can’t answer that. For now I’m very happy with my Tone Poet copy and thankful for my quite enjoyable-but-well-loved original copy to have on hand as a reference.
I will say this: if you are aching for an original copy of “It’s Time!” but can’t wait or don’t have the budget, you won’t go wrong springing the $25-35 for the Tone Poet reissue. And when you find that near mint original copy at a flea market for a dollar, then you can make a decision as to whether to keep one vs. the other.