Side One: Mint Minus Minus*
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus*
Side Three: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)
Side Four: Mint Minus Minus
- With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them on all FOUR sides, these vintage Stereo Verve pressings were giving us the sound we were looking for on this Ella and Louis classic
- Spacious, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with Ella and Louis front and center (particularly on sides two, three, and four), this is the sound you want for their brilliant collaboration from 1958
- If you've never heard exceptionally well recorded male and female vocals from the 50s, this is a great opportunity to have your mind blown
- Two vocal giants came together to perform Gershwin's timeless opera, revered by both music lovers and audiophiles to this day
- Marks and problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs - there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
- 4 1/2 stars: "What's really great about the Ella and Louis version is Ella, who handles each aria with disarming delicacy, clarion intensity, or usually a blend of both."
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*NOTE: On side 1, there is a stitch that plays loudly once at the start of track 1 on side 1, "Overture." There is also a mark that plays 6 times lightly about 1/2 way into the same track. On side 2, there is an indentation in the vinyl that plays as 10 moderate thumps about 1/4 of the way into track 1, "My Man's Gone Now." There is also a mark that plays 8 times at a moderate level at the end of the same track.
The sound is big, open, rich, and full, with the performers front and center. Ella and Louis are no longer representations -- they're living, breathing persons. We call that "the breath of life," and this record has it in spades. Their voices are so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music because there's no "sound" to distract you.
These vintage Verve LPs have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing any sign of coming back.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Ella Fitzgerald and a real Louis Armstrong singing together, live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 65 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we've played can serve as a guide.
And we know a fair bit about Ella's recordings at this point. As of today we've done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums.
What The Best Sides Of Porgy and Bess Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1958
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing these records are the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find pressing that sound as good as these two do.
Hardness and Brashness
Want to know what we are on about with all this talk of hardness and brashness on records of this vintage? Unless you have been exceptionally fortunate to have chanced upon a properly mastered and pressed and cared for copy, you will hear plenty of both on most pressings.
It's one of the main reasons we have such a hard time doing shootouts for Ella's '50s and '60s albums. The other of course is the poor condition most copies are in. Few pressings do not have marks that play or damaged grooves. The record players of the '50s and '60s, not to mention their owners, were ruinous on the records of the day.
Obviously, we wouldn't bother if the music and sound weren't so good. When you are lucky enough to find a copy that sounds as good as this one, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.
What We're Listening For On Porgy and Bess
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight note-like bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
A Must Own Duet Album
This Demo Disc Quality recording is a Masterpiece that should be part of any serious Vocal Collection.
Others that belong in that category can be found here.
- I Wants To Stay Here
- My Man's Gone Now
- I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'
- Buzzard Song
- Bess, You Is My Woman Now
- It Ain't Necessarily So
- What You Want Wid Bess?
- A Woman Is A Sometime Thing
- Oh, Doctor Jesus
- Medley: Here Come De Honey Man - Crab Man - Oh, Dey's So Fresh And Fine (Strawberry Woman)
- There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York
- Bess, Oh Where's My Bess?
- Oh Lawd, I'm On My Way
AMG 4 1/2 Star Review
Producer Norman Granz oversaw two Porgy & Bess projects. The first involved Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and came together during the autumn of 1957 with brassy big band and lush orchestral arrangements by Russ Garcia. This is the classic Verve Porgy & Bess, and it's been reissued many, many times. The second, recorded during the spring and summer of 1976 and issued by RCA, brought Ray Charles together with versatile British vocalist Cleo Laine, backed by an orchestra under the direction of Frank DeVol.
A comparison of these two realizations bears fascinating fruit, particularly when the medleys of street vendors are played back to back. Those peasant songs, used in real life to purvey honey, strawberries, and crabs, were gathered and notated by George Gershwin and novelist Du Bose Heyward in 1934 during a visit to Folly Island, a small barrier island ten miles south of Charleston, SC, known today as Folly Beach. As Charleston Harbor had been one of the major ports during the importation of slaves from Africa, the waterfront was mostly populated by Gullahs, a reconstituted community that retained and preserved its ancestral cultures and languages to unusual degrees.
Gershwin, who even learned to chant with the Gullah, absorbed the tonalities of the street cries he heard and wove them -- along with all of the other impressions stored within his sensitive mind -- into the fabric of his opera. What's really great about the Ella and Louis version is Ella, who handles each aria with disarming delicacy, clarion intensity, or usually a blend of both.
Her take on "Buzzard Song" (sung 19 years later by Ray Charles) is a thrilling example of this woman's intrinsic theatrical genius. Pops sounds like he really savored each duet, and his trumpet work -- not a whole lot of it, because this is not a trumpeter's opera -- is characteristically good as gold. This marvelous album stands quite well on its own, but will sound best when matched with the Ray Charles/Cleo Laine version, especially the songs of the Crab Man, of Peter the Honey Man, and his wife, Lily the Strawberry Woman.