It’s the time of year for saving money!
By Mark Smotroff
With so many titles coming out in the realm of audiophile leaning vinyl reissues, it’s indeed difficult to keep up with the pace of releases. Even for us reviewing its sometimes hard to know which ones you “need” to own among the many we fence-sit on. Today I’ve cherry picked a quartet of recent issues from Verve Records / UMe and Craft Recordings / Concord Music, all crafted under the watchful eyes of the esteemed Acoustic Sounds series, which you might find worthy of your attention.
All of these releases following share some fine common stats. Each album is pressed on high-quality, dark black and well centered 180-gram vinyl manufactured here in the United States at Quality Record Pressing (QRP). Each LP arrives in a plastic lined audiophile grade inner-sleeve. The releases feature all-analog remastering from original tapes by top engineers such as Bernie Grundman (Grundman Mastering) and Ryan Smith (Sterling Sound).
The packaging on each LP is exemplary, re-creating — and arguably exceeding — the quality of the original issues and featuring thick cardboard construction, high quality cover art and printing. To boot, the Verve/UMe titles feature very deluxe laminated gatefold designs, a bonus over the single pocket editions from the early 1960s. They all include period-accurate reproductions of the original record labels.
Here are the four I’ve been getting into lately:
Charlie Mingus’s Pre-Bird (Verve Records/UMe)
Reissue mastering: Ryan Smith, Sterling Sound
I have to admit I’ve been looking for an original copy of this album originally titled Pre-Bird for quite some time! The album was titled “Pre Bird,” in reference to the contents of the album: a collection of music recorded in 1960 but which he wrote long before he ever heard pioneering Be Bop saxophonist Charlie Parker (aka “Bird”).
Like many of Charles Mingus’ albums, they can be quite elusive out in the wilds of record collecting. There have been reissues over the years, including one notable 1965 edition on Mercury Records’ Limelight subsidiary label. Issued under a different title, Mingus Revisited, that version features very different (but wonderful in its own way) cover art, which is what I have owned for years.
Pre-Bird finds Charles Mingus beginning to ride the wave of his newfound acclaim from his landmark 1959 Columbia Records release Ah Um.
This album features lush large band works, including a swinging Mingus-ized opening arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s classic made-for-Ellington composition “Take The A Train” (Side 1, Track 1) and the now classic Mingus composition “Weird Nightmare” (Side 1, Track 5).
“Half-Mast Inhibition” (Side 2, Track 3) is an absolutely gorgeous, classical-leaning piece, probably categorizable as “Third Stream” jazz music. Its a moody piece with fantastic spotlights for cellist Don Butterfield. From the May 24, 1960 session conducted by Gunther Schuller, this quite stunning work was apparently written when Mingus was just 18 years old!
Mingus’ bands here are well oiled and rocking right out of the gate propelled by no less than iconic drummers Max Roach and Dannie Richmond. Jazz icons like Clark Terry on Trumpet, Eric Dolphy on alto Saxophone and flute as well as a sextet of saxes including Booker Ervin, Yusuf Lateef, John LaPorta, and Joe Farrell round out this super0grouping.
Talk about “A list” players!
In general, Pre-Bird sounds pretty great to begin with but this new edition outshines my 1965 Mingus Revisited second pressing. It sounds very alive with a more open high end and cleaner sense of separation and soundstage. No contest. The sax solo on “Weird Nightmare” sounds pretty huge here.
Pre-Bird comes in a gatefold cover, different than the original which was just a single pocket. Original pressings are surprisingly elusive out in the wilds of collecting. For example, up on Discogs at this time there are exactly three original copies available in no greater than VG condition. I don’t know about you, but as much as I like “OG” copies of favorite albums, if I had to choose between spending $30 plus shipping on a VG original vs. a mint remaster of this caliber, I’d probably go for the latter.
For me, this reissue of Charles Mingus’ Pre Bird is a winner!
(Craft Recordings/Concord Music)
Reissue mastering: Bernie Grundman, Bernie Grundman Mastering
This is one of those albums that I have seen for years on the walls of certain collector’s shops but which I have never found affordably out in the wilds. And I’ve never actually known anybody who had it or if they did have it weren’t necessarily raving about it so I never was enticed to fork up the high coin for an original copy.
Accordingly, my anticipation was very high when a nice reissue of You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce arrived. Another release in the vinyl reissue series from Craft Recordings, this album was originally issued on Contemporary Records in 1957.
The sound quality here is excellent and the performances are lovely, especially notable for the presence of the great Harold Land on tenor saxophone (who was a standout in my recent review of the Cadet Records boxed set, click here to read that if you missed it). Under-appreciated trumpeter Jack Sheldon (who later spent much of his career as Merv Griffin’s music director and on-screen sidekick and was the popular voice of Schoolhouse Rock hits like “Conjunction Junction” in the ‘70s) contributes his buttery tone to the cocktails-worthy rendition of “Stranger in Paradise” (Side 2, Track 1).
This session has been growing on me. There is a sweet bluesy melancholy on some of the tracks such as “Too Close For Comfort” (Side 1, Track 3). Recorded by the great engineer Roy DuNann at Contemporary Records studios in Los Angeles, this is another fine example of tasty and tasteful West Coast cool jazz.
Given that there at the time of this writing there were zero original 1957 copies available on Discogs, and the Analog Productions 45 RPM edition is selling for between $150 and $600 there (!), the suggested retail price of this fine reissue $29.99 feels like a total and sensible bargain.
Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago (Mercury Records / UMe)
Reissue mastering: Ryan Smith, Sterling Sound
This is another one of those “no brainer” reissues many of you will want to grab if you haven’t already. Featuring basically the core band that played on Miles Davis’ 1959 landmark recording, Kind of Blue, Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago is a beautiful — albeit, very different — listen.
Is it as good as Kind of Blue? Put that question out of your head as this album is a different thing entirely which was recorded before Miles’ masterpiece. Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago has a more upbeat, swinging and (frankly) straight-forward hard bop feel than Miles’ magnificent moody modal manifesto. While Cannonball’s upbeat sound is the focus, this album is also a bit of a Coltrane showcase — it was just before he would emerge as a leader of significance and you can hear his classic sound blossoming here. Two of the five tunes here are penned by Trane.
Finding originals of Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago in the wilds of collecting is not all that easy. I’ve been looking for a clean copy for years and have yet to find a really great one (I have pretty nice Mono copy but never have found a really good Stereo edition). This was probably a pretty popular album which people actually played and enjoyed a lot (imagine that!).
Thus, a nice high quality reissue makes an awful lot of sense since — as I’ve indicated — super clean originals are scarce. At the time of this writing, there were eight 1960-era stereo pressings available on Discogs, none in any better than VG-plus condition ranging in price from $20-$55. So for $38.99, getting a sparkling new mint condition copy which sounds wonderful feels like a win win, especially for fans of Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb (again, effectively the Kind of Blue band).
Roy Haynes Quartet: Out Of The Afternoon (Impulse Records/UMe)
Reissue mastering: Ryan Smith, Sterling Sound
Legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes is, according to the Wiki, “among the most recorded drummers in jazz… and is considered a pioneer of jazz drumming.” As if that street cred wasn’t enough, just a quick look at some of the artists he has recorded with as a sideman reads like a “who’s who” of jazz as we know it today: Lester Young, Stan Getz, Oliver Nelson, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollings, Ray Charles, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Jackie McLean, Pat Metheny, Michel Petrucciani and so many more.
His lone album as a leader recorded for Impulse Records in 1962 features a crack band including Roland Kirk on everything from Tenor Saxophone to nose flute, Tommy Flanagan on Piano and Henry Grimes on Bass. Its a swinging and at times even rocking album.
Amazingly enough, it probably didn’t sell super well so original pressings are extremely collectible these days. Of the three Mono originals on Discogs the starting price for a VG condition copy is $200 on up to $420 for a VG-plus. There is one 1967 Stereo copy going for $160. So, the $38.99 being asked for the new Acoustic Sounds edition again seems a complete bargain.
That the recording sounds wonderful is an even bigger bonus. The cover art looks at least as nice as my original Mono copy and maybe even better given the nicer cleaner modern laminate. While the Mono and Stereo are different sonic animals, I did notice that the new edition is mastered a bit more quietly than the louder Mono. Its neither better nor worse in that regard, but just an interesting difference. This new Stereo version surely sounds excellent and the original recordings by Rudy Van Gelder certainly hold up to this day — some fine sounding drums amidst a very tight and swinging hard bop ensemble. Its only too bad this group seems to have only made this one recording.
Nonetheless, this one’s a keeper.
[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.]