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Super Hot Stamper - Ornette Coleman - The Art of the Improvisers

The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.

Super Hot Stamper

Ornette Coleman
The Art of the Improvisers

Atlantic LP
Regular price
$169.99
Regular price
Sale price
$169.99
Unit price
per 
Availability
Sold out

Sonic Grade

Side One:

Side Two:

Vinyl Grade

Side One: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

Side Two: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be very hard to beat - exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Engineered by the team of Tom Dowd (whose work you surely know well) and Phil Iehle - the pair recorded some of Coltrane’s most iconic albums for Atlantic: Giant Steps (1960) and Coltrane Jazz (also in 1961)
  • 5 stars in Downbeat - Allmusic notes: "It's an understatement to say that Ornette Coleman's stint with Atlantic altered the jazz world forever, and Ornette on Tenor was the last of his six LPs (not counting outtakes compilations) for the label, wrapping up one of the most controversial and free-thinking series of recordings in jazz history... far ahead of its time."
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This vintage Atlantic pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What superb sides such as these 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 1962
  • 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 the record is 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 a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The Engineers

The engineering duties were handled by Tom Dowd (whose work you surely know well) and Phil Iehle, who happens to be the man who recorded some of Coltrane’s most iconic albums for Atlantic: Giant Steps (1960) and Coltrane Jazz (also in 1961).

Phil Iehle also helped engineer Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around, as well as albums by Mose Allison, Jerry Jeff Walker, Charles Mingus, the MJQ, Herbie Mann, Eddie Harris, Hank Crawford and dozens of others. Staff engineer at Atlantic? That’s my guess. But a supremely talented one nonetheless.

Bones Howe also recorded some of the tracks, specifically the first two tracks of side one.

What We Listen For on Ornette On Tenor

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack the full complement of harmonic information.

In addition, when the top end is lacking, the upper midrange and high frequencies get jammed together -- the highs can't extend up and away from the upper mids. This causes a number of much-too-common problems that we hear in the upper midrange of many of the records we play: congestion, hardness, harshness, and squawk. (Painstaking Vertical Tracking Angle adjustment is absolutely critical if you want your records to play with the least amount of these problems, a subject we discuss in the Commentary section of the site at length.)

Tube smear is common to most pressings from the '50s and '60s. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have little or none, yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

Full-bodied sound is especially critical to the horns; any blare, leanness or squawk ruins at least some of the fun, certainly at the louder levels the record should be playing at.

The frequency extremes (on the best copies) are not boosted in any way. When you play this record quietly, the bottom and top will disappear (due to the way the ear handles quieter sounds as described by the Fletcher-Munson curve).

Most records (like most audiophile stereos) are designed to sound correct at moderate levels. Not this album. It wants you to turn it up. Then, and only then, will everything sound completely right musically and tonally from top to bottom.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better 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 originals.

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.


Side One

The Circle With A Hole In The Middle
Just For You
The Fifth Of Beethoven
The Alchemy Of Scott La Faro

Side Two

Moon Inhabitants
The Legend Of Bebop
Harlem's Manhattan

AMG Review

Like many of Ornette Coleman's Atlantic sides, The Art of the Improvisers was recorded in numerous sessions from 1959-1961 and assembled for the purpose of creating a cohesive recorded statement. Its opening track, "The Circle with the Hole in the Middle," from 1959, with the classic quartet of Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, and Charlie Haden, is one of Coleman's recognizable pieces of music. Essentially, the band is that quartet with two very notable exceptions: The last tracks on each side feature a different bass player. On the end of side one, the great Scott LaFaro weighs in on "The Alchemy of Scott La Faro," and Jimmy Garrison weighs in on "Harlem's Manhattan" to close the album out.

These last two sessions were recorded early in 1961, in January and March respectively. As an album, The Art of the Improvisers is usually undervalued when placed next to This Is Our Music or The Shape of Jazz to Come. This is a mistake in that some of Coleman's most deeply lyrical harmonic structures reside here in tracks such as "Just for You," with literally stunning intervallic interplay between him and Cherry from the middle to the end. The track also messes with standard blues form and comes up in a modal way without seemingly intending to. The set roars into "The Fifth of Beethoven," which collapses a series of flatted fifths around Haden and Cherry, and Coleman goes on a Texas blues spree in his solo, dancing all around them. "The Alchemy of Scott La Faro" must have pissed off the hard boppers like nothing else. Here is a straining sprint that the quartet takes in stride as LaFaro and Blackwell charge around the edges in frightening time signatures.

Coleman and Cherry for the most part clamor around a B flat-C sharp major figure and run circles around each other in muscular fashion as LaFaro goes pizzicato to head with Coleman in the middle, turning the saxophonist's phrases into rhythmic structures which Blackwell accents as if cued. But he's not; this is invented on the spot. Coleman's deep lyricism shines through despite the tempo, and the entire thing goes out in a blaze of light. "The Legend of Bebop" is a jazz history lesson with the band working out on the front line, quoting from Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong, moving through some Ellingtonian themes, and slipping around the corner to a slow, blued-out bebop before taking off in consonant solos and counterpoint. "Harlem's Manhattan," with Garrison in Haden's bass chair, begins with a quote right from Parker and Gillespie before challenging the framework of the blues and its tempos. Blackwell is a blur of the dance, his cymbal work against Garrison's punctuated accents make Coleman's and Cherry's jobs knotty and difficult, but always rooted in the melody that blues inspires. This is basically one of Coleman's most uptempo records for Atlantic, but also one of his most soulful. It deserves serious re-evaluation.