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Record Store Day Jazz Round-Up: New Live Archival 2LP & 3LP Releases By Cal Tjader, Ahmad Jamal and Wes Montgomery Plus 1LP Charles Mingus Candid Records Studio Alternates


I have been exploring several new Record Store Day releases, a few of which hail from two different labels with the common thread of being produced by the award winning modern day champion of Jazz, producer and archival sleuth Zev Feldman.

All of these releases offer generally high quality production values, copious liner notes, and of course compelling musical riches. As to whether you will want to invest in these multi-disc archival live releases on vinyl will ultimately depend on just how much of a fan you are of the artist as well as the producer’s output. 

I open each mini review following with a brief synopsis from the label’s official press materials or official website (presented in quotation marks) and then offer some initial impressions on the music and the overall sound.

Ahmad Jamal – Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968

(Jazz Detective/Elemental) Limited edition of 2300

“The third and final 2-LP set of previously unissued live recordings by Ahmad Jamal captures the spectacular 1966-68 performances by the master pianists’s trio featuring bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant. Package includes reflections by Ahmad Jamal himself, interviews with fellow pianists Les McCann, Emmet Cohen, Monty Alexander, and Joe Alterman, and essays by producer Zev Feldman and journalist Eugene Holley, Jr., among others. The extensive booklet features rare photos by Don Bronstein, Chuck Stewart, and more.”

I have to admit that these archival Ahmad Jamal releases which Mr. Feldman has championed — which I reviewed back in January, click here to read – have helped to expand my appreciation for this artist a great deal.

Previously, I had only really listened to Mr. Jamal’s early works, which I found pleasant enough but never really knocked me out. So I never bothered to dig deeper to his later works. My bad. I do understand and appreciate the nuance of his early approach. But for me, those earlier recordings were missing a certain amount of “muchness” (to borrow a phrase from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland).

In keeping with that perspective, the earliest recordings in the Live at the Penthouse series didn’t do much for me. However, the second volume of later recordings I found much more interesting as the artist seemed to be opening up a bit. I also got a sense that he was more connected with his rhythm section. 

These latest recordings in the Live at the Penthouse series are from a later period still , which edges up on what I’m learning was a peak period for Mr. Jamal’s career in the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s. At this time, his music was evolving, emerging from a cocoon like a beautiful butterfly. Recently I reviewed a reissue of his 1970 album The Awakening, a recording which I loved start to finish (click here for that review)

Production wise, Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 is very much in keeping with the others in this Jazz Detective series, offering high-quality pressings and album art, fine quality live recordings and compelling performances. 

One tune which jumped out at me for its very engaged and upbeat performance upon my first listen was the song “Mr. Lucky” (Side 2, Track 1). This is exactly the sort of take which makes me want to dig deeper into even more of Jamal’s music.

Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 can now be found online including at Amazon (click here). 

Wes Montgomery and Wynton Kelly – Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings (Resonance Records) Limited edition of 3000

“Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings is the first official release of the complete previously unissued recordings from jazz guitar giant Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio at the famed Half Note jazz club in New York City in 1965 with drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Herman Wright, and Larry Ridley. Including over 2 hours from the original radio broadcasts with host Alan Grant, the deluxe 2-CD set is mastered by Matthew Lutthans and comes with a multi-page booklet containing previously unpublished photos taken at the Half Note by Raymond Ross; plus a new essay from acclaimed journalist and author Bill Milkowski; interviews with jazz legends Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, who both recorded with Wes; guitar icons Bill Frisell and Mike Stern; plus bassist Marcus Miller, who is Wynton Kelly’s cousin! 2023 marks Wes Montgomery’s Centennial (born March 6, 1923), and this is Resonance’s 7th release of Wes Montgomery recordings in cooperation with the estate. Now Wes Montgomery fans can hear the rest of the music from the Half Note that was only broadcast on the radio nearly 60 years ago.”

There is no question as to the popularity and importance of the original 1965 1LP Verve Records release Smokin’ at the Half Note. In fact, I reviewed the recent Verve Acoustic Sounds reissue of this classic album (which you can read by clicking here). Pat Metheny has called this album “the absolute greatest jazz-guitar album ever made.”

So, it stands to reason for serious fan of these artists that being able to get more of the music made during those sessions — taken mostly from radio broadcasts — would be of great interest to hear. Especially as they feature extended performances where we get to hear Montgomery stretching out a lot more.  

Mostly, it is great. 

This release features a high quality package with strong production values and good quality 180-gram black vinyl that as well centered and quiet. The performances seem really interesting and well played. 

It is really only the latter discs where I began to have a problem with the collection. I don’t mind the recordings. In fact, I quite like them.  But I do have to raise an eyebrow given the likely retail price of the 3LP set which is selling for upwards of $80.00 once you add in your taxes (it is going for around that price on Amazon in fact, click here).

I am reminded of an earlier Resonance Records release, Sonny Rollins In Holland, which had a similar composition of some really good fidelity, rare live tapes fleshed out with rather disappointing sounding audience type recordings. 

Again, I am not judging the performances negatively here — I can certainly understand and appreciate the importance, especially for fans who want to hear every note by the artist! There is some hot stuff here (I’m diggin’ “Four On Six” a bunch!). 

But from “Cherokee” through “Oh You Crazy Moon” (ie. the end of Side 4 and all of Sides 5 and 6) the sound quality takes big jump downward in fidelity from the earlier tracks. These are just OK sound quality audience recordings of some exemplary performances.  

So basically your interest in this package will come down to how much you want to hear these basically “LoFi” recordings on audiophile grade vinyl. Certainly, if you are a hardcore fan of the artist and a vinyl purist, then you indeed will want to own all this set 

I do wonder if there might be a different way of presenting this sort of important but ultimately supplementary material as part of the set without incurring the cost of the additional vinyl. For example, they could have made this a 2LP set and included a CD or download of the lesser quality recordings which would  probably be more than adequate for most listeners and might — just might — help reduce costs.  Just saying. Food for thought.

Cal Tjader – Catch The Groove – Live at the Penthouse 1963-1967

(Jazz Detective/Elemental) Limited edition of 2,000

“This is the first official release of previously unissued live Cal Tjader music in nearly 20 years. These sets were recorded in the 1960s at the Penthouse Jazz Club in Seattle. A limited edition 3-LP set will be followed by a deluxe 2-CD set and digital download. Vibraphone legend Cal Tjader is heard with a variety of quintets, backed by pianists Clare Fischer, Lonnie Hewitt and Al Zulaica, bassists Fred Schreiber, Terry Hilliard, Monk Montgomery and Stan Gilbert, drummers Johnny Rae and Carl Burnett, and percussionists Bill Fitch and Armando Peraza”

Generally, I have found Cal Tjader’s live performances across the years to be quite consistent and performed at a very high level. These new recordings are no different. Its hard for me to pick out any one track so far that is jumping out at me. But overall this feels like a strong batch of recordings worth exploring — Cal’s music is always very enjoyable. Most of these Penthouse tapes seem to sound pretty great all in all.

Again, your interest in whether you buy this lovely 3LP set — a limited run of 2,000 — will come down to your fandom. Amazon has it for about $75 at present (click here). 

So if you are a fan and prepared to foot the bill, it should be a logical one to pick up. 

Charles Mingus – Incarnations

(Candid Records) Limited edition of 3,000

“The music Charles Mingus and his group (including the legendary Eric Dolphy) recorded during his landmark 1960 sessions for Candid Records—the first in which he was given total creative freedom—produced three of the most revered jazz albums of the era. INCARNATIONS is the fourth great Mingus album to emerge from those historic sessions: a new masterpiece thoughtfully assembled from rare and unreleased material that stands proudly in the Mingus canon of masterworks. Presented in a heavyweight sleeve with period-perfect artwork, liner notes by Pitchfork and Rolling Stone contributor Hank Shteamer, audio restored and remastered by Bernie Grundman, and pressed on 180g vinyl, INCARNATIONS is the Mingus masterpiece nobody knew they were missing.

Includes newly discovered, previously unreleased recording remastered and cut by Bernie Grundman.

This album is a bit of a mixed blessing. There are a number of rare-ish and excellent alternate takes of great tunes from the earlier Nola Penthouse (NYC) recording sessions in 1960 (released across several single LPs on the Candid Records label back in the day). There is one newly discovered track, “All These Things You Are” which is apparently is not even on the highly revered Mosaic Records 4LP boxed set The Complete Candid Recordings Of Charles Mingus. Some of these tracks also apparently did see release in 1988 on the Reincarnation Of A Love Bird collection issued in Germany (which I only own on CD, alas, and is not super easy to find on vinyl in the wilds of collecting save for online).  

So, in a way this RSD release is a useful album for vinyl enthusiasts.

Generally the recording and pressing sound excellent but it comes with a caveat or two. My copy came with a scratch on it (probably from sloppy handling in manufacturing) which left an audible click for about minute on my copy. Unfortunately,  the store where I bought this is not near by for me to easily return it in a timely manner so I guess I am stuck with it. 

It could be worse: an East Coast-based acquaintance on Facebook warned me on RSD that his copy of the album was unlistenable and had very audible wooshing noises on it (I hope he was able to return his copy of the album!).  

So, this release seems to be something of a mixed bag. I love Mingus’ music so it was important for me to pick it up. But I do think the packaging could have been more transparent about the exact content of the disc. The hype sticker copy “Reincarnated As A New Mingus Masterpiece” doesn’t directly clue the buyer in to the reality that much of this music is previously released elsewhere. There could have been a better way to position this. ‘Nuff said.

If you can’t find this in your favorite store, you can likely pick it up from the multitude of sellers on Discogs for around $25-30. Click here.

[Mark Smotroff has been reviewing music at AudiophileReview for many years but can also be found at AnalogPlanet.com. In the past he has written for Sound & Vision, DISCoveries, EQ, Mix and many more.  An avid vinyl collector and music enthusiast who has also worked in marketing communications for decades, you can learn more about his background at LinkedIn.]

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