The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)*
- This superb copy of Duke Ellington's 1961 release boasts Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) from top to bottom - just shy of our Shootout Winner
- The sound is gloriously ANALOG - smooth, relaxed and full-bodied - almost no other copy in our shootout had this kind of exceptionally natural sound
- Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, room-filling All Tube Radio Recorders Studio sound like nothing you have ever heard
- One of Ellington's most enjoyable classic collaborations with Billy Strayhorn
- "All in all, it's one of Ellington's most focussed large-scale efforts... It ends on a swinging Ray Nance solo (on violin, yet!), miles away from the politesse of Grapelli. I've heard only one other violinist (and not a jazz violinist, surprisingly) swing this hard."
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*NOTE: On side two, a mark makes 10 light to moderate pops at the end of track 2, Schwiphti.
These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that's often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers ("relative" being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don't agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.
This Columbia Six Eye Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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 Ellington, 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 the best sides of Peer Gynt Suite/Suite Thursday 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 1961
- 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 space of the studio
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.
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren't veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we've heard them all.
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 their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
What We're Listening For on Peer Gynt Suite/Suite Thursday
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- 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 attack, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
- Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering -- which ties in with good transient information, as well as 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 players.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space
One of the qualities that we don't talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record's presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small -- they don't extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don't seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies -- my notes for these copies often read "BIG and BOLD" -- create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They're not brighter, they're not more aggressive, they're not hyped-up in any way, they're just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it's an entirely different listening experience.
Skip the Mono
This album is fairly common in mono but we found the sound of the mono pressing we played seriously wanting. It's dramatically smaller, more recessed and more lifeless than even the worst of the stereo LPs we played.
If you're a jazz collector of course you want the mono. If you're an audiophile who likes jazz, you will want the stereo. And if you are a very serious audiophile who has a great deal of time and money tied up in his equipment and room, someone whose motto might boil down to "nothing but the best," then you need a killer Hot Stamper pressing like this one.
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 later 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 that is a key part of the appeal 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.
Side One (Selections from Peer Gynt)
In The Hall of the Mountain King
Side Two (Suite Thursday)
All of these things have encountered critical resistance, I believe, for the following reasons: Critical ignorance leads the rest. Classical critics don't usually have a firm idea of jazz tradition or procedures, and they tend to seriously undervalue both. Racism probably entered into the initial critical reaction, but it doesn't explain the current resistance. I believe most classical critics are keeping Ellington's work at arms' length not because he's black, but because they just don't get it. They don't get it because they don't listen to jazz enough, and they don't listen to jazz because they don't take it seriously. They don't take it seriously because they haven't listened seriously to enough of it - a circle of ignorance.
Furthermore, a great deal of Ellington's work resulted from a collaboration between himself and the composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn. Consequently, critics don't know how to assign credit: did Ellington or Strayhorn come up with this particular wonderful thing? Testimony from various sources doesn't help, since almost every witness says that Ellington and Strayhorn's techniques were identical. To finish a piece on deadline, Ellington would work on a passage, wake up Strayhorn, and catch a nap while Strayhorn took over, often in mid-measure. The fact that Ellington and Strayhorn frequently couldn't remember who thought of what doesn't help matters. Nevertheless, we can deal with the last problem by assigning credit to both, creating an entity known as Ellington-Strayhorn.
As orchestrators and harmonists, Ellington and Strayhorn found inspiration in Debussy and Ravel. Relatively late in his career, Ellington decided to release an album devoted to orchestrations of other composers and chose Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite - not exactly a safe choice, since many consider Tchaikovsky one of the great orchestrators.
The arrangement of Grieg's Peer Gynt suites comes closer to typical Ellington and therefore surprises me less, although I don't sneeze at it. The opening chords alone provide more to think about than many a symphony. Nevertheless, it seems a brilliant arrangement, rather than, like the Tchaikovsky, a magnificent recomposition. High points include the plucked bass chords from Aaron Bell, the Dreigroschenoper ensemble writing that open "Ase's Death" as well as the range of color at each repetition of the theme, and the almost-Cubist breakup of the theme into big-band riffs and short, tasty solos from the reed soloists (Hamilton, Hodges, and Gonsalves) in "Anitra's Dance."
In 1960, the Monterey Jazz Festival commissioned Ellington for a large-scale work. Since Monterey is Steinbeck country, Ellington decided to write a piece based on Steinbeck's novella Sweet Thursday - which, in typical Ellingtonian wordplay, became Suite Thursday. The links with the prose piece seem more fanciful than literal, with "Misfit Blues" (the first movement) a musical portrait of Steinbeck himself, according to Ellington. "Schwiphti" flies fast as photons, with a punched, jagged solo from Ellington himself and fleet displays from saxophonist Gonsalves.
All in all, it's one of Ellington's most focussed large-scale efforts, despite a tendency to ramble in the third movement. It ends on a swinging Ray Nance solo (on violin, yet!), miles away from the politesse of Grapelli. I've heard only one other violinist (and not a jazz violinist, surprisingly) swing this hard.
The sound is typical of the way producers like to mike big bands - a little bass-heavy, apparently to put more "muscle" in the music - but it's bearable. [We find it quite bearable.] As for the performance, come on - it's the Ellington band. You might as well question whether Sid Caesar's writers were funny.
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