Written by 7:00 am Audiophile News, Audiophile, Audiophile Music

Lou Donaldson’s Mr. Shing-A-Ling Jams On Blue Note Tone Poet Reissue

Some of you know by now that I’m a bit of a crate digger. Actually, I am a pretty serious one, building much of my collection from garage and estate sales, thrift shops, flea markets and antique / curio shops.  Necessity being the mother of invention, growing up I didn’t have much money so that route really helped kickstart my passion for music and record collecting. Even now as an adult, I enjoy the challenge of the treasure hunt, going out looking for bargains where ever they may arise.  It is a process that keeps things fresh for me. 

That isn’t to say I don’t like spending some money on a nice reissue from time to time, within reason. The recent Tone Poet and Acoustic Sounds reissue series from Universal Music have been inspiring developments, generally offering very high quality reproductions of classic vintage Jazz titles for a price that won’t break the bank. Many times these reissues are easily on par with the originals and in some regards they are much better. I’ve reviewed a handful so far this year and have yet to be disappointed. 

Click on the titles following to read my reviews of: Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle, Sam Rivers’  Contours and Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson, Getz / Gilberto, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Jackie McLean’s It’s Time! and in his 1956 debut, Introducing Kenny Burrell

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that when a new reissue series appears, original pressings of rare albums start to appear out in “the wilds” of collecting. This phenomenon has afforded me an opportunity to somewhat affordably compare and contrast so called “OG” pressings with the reissues (as I did with some of the reviews above, notably the Kenny Burrell debut which is a pretty rare one to find in any condition).

All that said, in 2019 I started picking a number of Lou Donaldson albums on Blue Note after years of rarely seeing these albums around. And, sure ‘nuff, it turns out some of these have been reissued via the great Tone Poet series. Most of these I’ve heard thus far have been remastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and the albums pressed on 180-gram vinyl at the prestigious RTI plant. 

Donaldson’s late 1960s albums tend to be soul jazz groove affairs and there is no doubt in my mind these albums were ideal party music for the swingin’ jazz heads of the period.  Thus finding clean condition copies is not an easy task for a reasonable price. 

Mr. Shing-A-Ling is a fun album with a pretty killer band including Lonnie Smith on Organ and one Leo Morris on Drums (aka Idris Muhammed).  My original Blue Note pressing sounds remarkably good given its age and condition.The vinyl quality was still OK at that point in Blue Note’s history, having been purchased by Liberty Records so the sound was still pretty rich as these releases go. 

The new edition, most importantly, sounds like Mr. Shing-A-Ling should sound. There hasn’t been any effort to modernize the sound or equalize it madly and that is a good thing. 

Perhaps the only difference is actually offers a bit more open high-end perspective than my original. There is some more air to the new one generally the overall vibe is really quite similar with some caveats.  

For example, on the opening track “Ode To Billy Jo” the high end instrumentation like the sizzle on the cymbals during is very nice. However, the mid ranges feel somewhat harder edged than my original. Jimmy Ponder’s guitar solo sounds a little less round than the original and drummer Leo Morris’ (aka the future Idris Muhammad) tom tom hits present a bit less of the flex of the drumsticks hitting the drum heads than on the original.  

But this kind of aural microscopy is an exercise in splitting very fine hairs folks… in general, this one sounds quite close to my original.

This is not entirely surprising but one can’t take these things for granted. The folks at Blue Note Tone Poet are clearly trying to be as authentic as possible while opening up some new vistas that may have been compromised out of necessity back in the day due to limitations of average turntables back in the day.  Since modern turntables and cartridges generally boast more wide range capabilities, there is no reason for the albums to be reigned in. 

One last thing of interest is that this is the first Tone Poet reissue I’ve seen where the cover design is near identical to the original. So don’t expect a fancy gatefold design for Mr. Shing-A-Ling which was originally a single pocket design. But it is a nice thick cover with beautiful laminated artwork, so in that sense it is indeed a better edition than the original.

All in all, this Mr. Shing-A-Ling reissue seems like another Blue Note Tone Poet winner. A fun and previously challenging to find album reasonably priced and in nice condition, now within reach for every jazz fan and collector.

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