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Jazz Reissue Round-Up: All Analog Remastered Reissues Return Rare Vinyl To Store Shelves In Fine Form, Featuring John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson and Phineas Newborn Jr.

Mark Smotroff digs into some more vintage jazz reissues…

By Mark Smotroff.

Three sought after late 1950s and early 1960s LPs have returned to record store shelves courtesy of Universal Music and Craft Recordings.  All present an excellent value and viable options for audiophile-leaning vinyl enthusiasts seeking an excellent sounding edition of these LPs which mirrors the original releases in terms of mastering and packaging.  

The Cats

A number of years ago I came across beautiful condition 1965 edition of a 1959-era LP featuring 1957 recordings by a group labeled “The Cats.” This assemblage features pianist Tommy Flanagan (who wrote four of the five tunes here), guitarist Kenny Burrell, trumpeter Idrees Sulieman and a then emerging saxophonist named John Coltrane. This rare album has recently been re-issued as part of Craft Recordings’ wonderful and ongoing “Original Jazz Classics” (OJC) reissue series.  

My remarkable 1965 vintage edition of this album is technically a re-issue on a curious budget subsidiary label created by parent company Prestige Records: “Status Records.” While I don’t have a first pressing to compare, the Status pressing does have the highly desired “RVG” stamp in the deadwax / run-out-groove indicating it was pressed from a lacquer cut by engineer Rudy Van Gelder (possibly, even, the same stampers as the 1959 editions).  First pressings were originally issued on the “New Jazz” label — also a Prestige subsidiary — and that design is in fact what you will see on the label design when you buy the new OJC edition. 

Comparing the two pressings, I have to say I’m very impressed with the new OJC edition which sounds at least as good as my “Status” copy — albeit a bit different — and probably a little better in some ways. Kevin Gray’s mastering is excellent, respectful of the original album’s feel yet it is overall a bit rounder and richer sounding. The Status pressing is brighter and somewhat thinner on the mid ranges and low end, yet with slightly more crisp airiness on the the high end. 

The 180-gram vinyl on the new OJC edition is thick, dark black and very quiet as it was pressed at the prestigious RTI manufacturing facility. While the cover design is not the most amazing art work to begin with, the new edition is certainly a fine reproduction akin to my 1965 copy (which may well be leftover stock from the original 1959 run as it sports the “New Jazz” name and serial number on it).

And for the price, this new edition is one that you’ll want to pick up.  Finding a clean original of this LP is likely a difficult or potentially pricey prospect. For example, there is just one copy listed on Discogs and it has an asking price of $660! Originals on eBay and Popsike are in the $400-600 range as well. There is only one of the Status editions like mine listed on Discogs but it is in rough condition without the cover (for $15!). Heck, even the early 1980s OJC editions are commanding prices in the $50 range. So, for $38, the OJC seems like a fair deal for a quality reissue crafted with such a fine pedigree.

Phineas Newborn Jr.’s A World Of Piano!

Another exemplary release in Craft Recordings Acoustic Sounds series is by under-appreciated jazz pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. called A World Of Piano!

This is one of those records I have never seen showing up “in the wilds” (as crate digging collectors say these days) anywhere, so scoring a nice reissue is the next best inevitable thing for most of us who just want to hear the music on vinyl. Quite remarkably and coincidently, just as I received this new version for review a friend happened to give me some of his old records which included a 1980s reissued by then parent company Fantasy Records (in the original OJC series, actually).

As I have found with most new Craft Recordings reissues, this new edition is generally exemplary. It is in many ways better than the 80s version I have. And while I don’t have an original 1960s edition to compare, I suspect this fares favorably, especially given the lacquers were cut by no less than Bernie Grundmann. 

To that, my 80s pressing is a little off center which only really impacts slow tracks like Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” Curiously, I noticed a little bit of tape speed issues, wow ‘n fluttering on the new Craft edition on this same song. Perhaps in the 40 ensuing years since the earlier OJC the master tape has aged, stretched and deteriorated a bit, resulting in different anomalies that might only be corrected by a digital restoration technique like Plangent Processes. Its a minor nit to pick but there is that sort of consideration depending on your personal quest for perfection.

The 180-gram vinyl quality is excellent — certainly higher than the standard weight ‘80s edition — and was pressed at QRP (Quality Record Pressing). The cover art is made to the exacting standards of the vintage LPs from the 1960s which is very different from the 1980s edition which is made of flimsy oaktag stock. 

Also, because Craft is paying attention to important details for collectors, A World Of Piano! is issued on the black stereo Contemporary Records label design of that period  Mono pressings at that time sported a yellow label. The ‘80s OJC edition has a yellow label but is in Stereo. 

Confused yet? I understand if you are as the world of record collecting and reissues is littered with inconsistencies like this..

A World Of Piano! is a nice listen set if you like Mr. Newborn’s playing. I have been exploring some of his other recordings and while none of them have been complete knockouts for me, I enjoy what he’s doing enough to keep them in my collection for future exploration. This new edition will be a nice upgrade over my ‘80s pressing.

Oscar Peterson With Milt Jackson‘s Very Tall

Universal Music — through it’s Verve Records label and in conjunction with Acoustic Sounds — continues to issue excellent restorations of classic jazz albums from the 1950s and 60s in exemplary form. 

One challenge with collecting original editions of Oscar Peterson’s earliest records is that finding nice condition original pressings of his albums can be a very difficult prospect. While these are not wildly collectible/valuable records these days, it is simply not easy to find a clean copy of many of his classic LPs.  Petersons’ albums were enjoyed by their owners, played a lot and frequently on average recording playback gear of times — notably automatic record changers which were usually not properly aligned and could have heavy tone arms, resulting in groove damage over time. 

To that, I’ve gone through many upgrade copies of Very Tall by Oscar Peterson with Milt Jackson over the years so, I — for one — am happy to finally just have a brand-spanking new copy which sounds and looks great! The laminated gatefold cover is beautiful, and the label design is almost identical to what a 1960s Verve Records label looks like.

Musically, this is a wonderful recording if you like the sound of the Vibraphone and Milt Jackson’s playing as paired with Peterson’s classic trio.  And as far as how the recording sounds, in a word its: outstanding.

Another clear winner from the Verve Records Acoustic Sounds series, especially for the estimated $38 price point. 

[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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