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Rare Records Rebound: Jazz Classics From Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Red Garland Return In High Quality, Great Sounding 180-gram Vinyl Editions 

Mark Smotroff listens to fine new editions of sought after jazz rarities…


By Mark Smotroff

Three new stand out reissues now hitting store shelves in a high quality form are attention-worthy for fans of vintage, mid-20th century jazz by the likes of John Coltrane, Ben Webster, Red Garland and Kenny Burrell. 

All three albums are presented with high quality original album graphics, manufactured in vintage style heavy cardboard — sometimes laminated — cover construction and period-accurate label designs. Each LP arrives housed in an audiophile grade protective plastic lined inner-sleeve. Most importantly, the albums are pressed on top quality 180-gram black vinyl that is well centered and beautifully quiet, allowing the rich original monaural recordings to shine. 

This latter detail is worth considering for some as many times older (and often “collectible”) pressings — if you can find them — will inevitably have a certain amount of surface noise for any number of reasons, from wear ’n tear from regular play over the years to dust ’n dirt in the grooves (which many times can be cleaned out) to simply the quality of vinyl formulations used back in the day at a particular pressing facility (some were better than others).

Each of these newly reissued albums have been remastered from original analog tape sources by great engineers at Cohearant Audio and Sterling, pressed at top plants such as QRP and RTI.

These 1LP releases sell for about $38.99 or less and are well worth the investment. This is especially true when you dig down into trying to find a rare original pressing in comparable “mint” or even “near mint” condition. Following is a quick rundown about the albums and insights to help your decision making process as to whether you need to get these sooner than later.

Red Garland: Groovy

(Prestige Records / Craft Recordings / Original Jazz Classics) 

As I have been getting deeper into pianist Red Garland’s own recordings beyond his often iconic session-player appearances on other artist’s albums, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find it hard to track down original pressings out in the wilds.  Over the years, I’ve only seen this 1957 release — titled Groovy, a term in use a many years before the 1960s hippie movement — show up in better collector’s shops, often selling for many hundreds of dollars. I have never seen a copy show up at a garage sale, flea market or thrift shop.  

Indeed on Discogs, only 10 originals appeared at the time of this writing selling for between $75 for a G-plus condition copy on up to $250 for a “near mint” specimen. So, if you could get an authentic feeling and sounding reissue for less than $40, that would be a good thing, right?

It is in fact pretty groovy thing, to borrow a phrase from the album’s title! This pressing is exemplary as one might expect a Cohearant-remastered vinyl disc pressed at the prestigious RTI facilities to be.  The high quality single-pocket cover features lovely black and white laminated artwork and they even reproduce the look and feel of the original “fireworks” style Prestige Records labels of the period.

And the music of course is sublime, bringing Garland’s lovely and often understated piano playing to the foreground, backed by no less than Paul Chambers on bass and Arthur Taylor on drums.  This heartfelt and swinging trio set is a very happy addition to my collection, especially as I don’t expect to see a clean original show up in the wilds of collecting anytime soon. And this one is going for about just $30 on Amazon!

Tracklist

Side A

1. C-Jam Blues

2. Gone Again

3. Will You Still Be Mine?

Side B

1. Willow Weep for Me

2. What Can I Say, Dear

3. Hey Now

 k the links embedded here) Groovy is a steal! 

Ben Webster: Soulville 

(Verve Records / Acoustic Sounds / Universal Music)

Iconic and influential saxophonist Ben Webster — he of the legendary “Blanton-Webster” 1940s era of jazz icon Duke Ellington’s band — was in fine form when he teamed up in the late 1950s with fiery pianist Oscar Peterson and some of his mates including Ray Brown on bass, Herb Ellis on guitar and Stan Levey on drums. 

A sweet, swinging and at times bluesy session, finding clean and reasonably priced copies of Soulville is again the challenge in the world of collecting original pressings. I have never come across a mint copy of this and even most of the used copies you see (rarely) in collector’s shops tend to show a lot of wear and tear. At the time of this writing there were just 10 originals on Discogs in no better than VG-plus condition selling for as much as $164 down to $20 (for what sounds like a beater copy). 

Those who owned this album back in the day clearly loved and played it a lot!  Thus a nice reissue was indeed in order and I couldn’t be more pleased. The good folks at Universal Music and Acoustic Sounds have delivered a modern edition which is probably better than any original you might find out in the wilds save for that rare-as-hen’s-teeth uber-mint copy stashed away in someone’s closet for decades.  

The laminated gatefold cover looks nicer than any original (which was a single pocket un-laminated release) that I’ve seen. They reproduced the appropriate and short-lived Verve Records label of the time featuring David Stone Martin’s classic “Jazz At The Philharmonic” trumpet player design logo-graphics. And most importantly, the 180-gram black vinyl pressing is dead quiet and perfectly well centered so the music sounds great.  

For less than $40, Soulville is a bargain, an essential release for Webster aficionados or simply fans of rich-buttery tenor saxophone sounds in general. 

Track List

Side A

1 Soulville

2 Late Date 

3 Time On My Hands 

Side B

1 Lover Come Back To Me 

2 Where Are You? 

3 Makin’ Whoopee 

4 Ill Wind 

Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane 

(New Jazz / Prestige Records / Craft Recordings / Original Jazz Classics) 

It took me ages to find a decent and affordable copy of these 1957 recordings issued under the simple title of Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane, which were first released on the short lived “New Jazz” label in 1963 (later re-issued on parent label Prestige Records). Something of a classic of straight ahead, hard-leaning swinging bop, this session is driven by the same rhythm section of drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassist Paul Chambers who along with Coltrane would help to propel Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue to the stratosphere a couple of years later in 1959. 

If you are Coltrane fan you’ll want Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane as it presents the legendary saxophonist at the relative dawn of his ascent to superstardom paired with the brilliant guitarist Kenny Burrell. The music is wonderful in that special way in which early Trane performances with other artists could be — his sound is so distinct, it effectively becomes a defacto Coltrane album despite the presence of an equally gifted guitarist like Burrell. I file my copy with my other Coltrane albums despite having a sizable section for Mr. Burrell’s music (no disrespect!)

These recordings were made before the full on onslaught of his so called “sheets of sound” playing style fully kicked-in a few years later, and the lengthy excursions into spirituality and the cosmos to come in the mid 1960s such as A Love Supreme and Ascension.

Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane is simply a real nice listen of mid-late ’50s jazz flavors made by two of the masters of the times.  

As far as the overall sound goes, this is the one I’m a bit torn on amidst the three titles included in this review series. I have to give you, dear readers, a heads up about an anomaly which appears roughly midway through. The recording sounds great for the most part. Made from the original master tapes, time and the ravages of usage and perhaps once-negligent storage practices have however resulted in some significant “drop outs” at one point in particular.

For those not in the know, drop outs are moments where the physical master tape itself has either been wrinkled, ripped and spliced back together, or perhaps portions of the magnetic particles have broken free from the actual “tape” backing. This can result in periodic moments of loss of music and a sometimes wavy, warbly sound coming through your speakers. These kinds of anomalies are not super distracting most times and not a big problem for most listeners. Of course, if you own an original you’ll notice the difference immediately. It is kind of like the sonic equivalent of driving your car or bicycle over a bumpy road, or enduring a moment of airplane turbulence. 

Issues like this are one of the downsides of employing a purely analog process in manufacturing an album these days — there is no opportunity to do the forensic (if you will) detailing and repair necessary (and available) in the digital domain to try to correct those moments.

These days it is often possible to repair drop outs, tape stretching and even tape-speed variances from electrical stability issues from the original tape recorder (which can result in wavering and even very out of tune playback).  The latter detail is something that Plangent Processes technology can often correct, with at times stunning result, which I’ve reported on numerous times here on Audiophile Review and elsewhere on the internet.  

The point of all this is that while your new AAA reissue of Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane will sound as good as possible, sometimes there will be some audible tape anomalies. It is just one of the realities of all-analog productions. So, just know that at times like this if you hear something odd it may not be a pressing problem nor a problem with your stereo system but simply an issue with the original master tape. The most noticeable dropouts on this album reissue appear on Side A, Track 3, “Lyresto.”

Otherwise, this new Craft Recordings Original Jazz Classics edition of Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane sounds pretty ace overall.  It compares favorably to my very clean Prestige Records (blue label) 1964-era second pressing (lacquers cut by Rudy Van Gelder, stamped in the dead wax). Tthe new edition is mastered more quietly than my ’60s OG and opens up nicely when you turn up the volume a bit on your amp. 

And, its worth noting that this reissue of Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane is a lot cheaper than the two originals I found on Discogs at the time of this writing in VG-plus condition, selling for $85-$175 with seam splits and other wear evident. For less than $40, this new OJC edition seems like a pretty solid option (available in early June).  

Tracklist:

Side A

1. Freight Trane

2. I Never Knew

3. Lyresto

Side B

1. Why Was I Born

2. Big Paul

[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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