The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- You'll find solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides of this original Kudu pressing
- The sound is everything that's good about Rudy Van Gelder's recordings - it's present, spacious, full-bodied, Tubey Magical, dynamic and, most importantly, alive in that way that modern pressings never are
- You'd be hard-pressed to find a copy that's this well balanced, big and lively, with wonderful clarity in the mids and highs and Washington's sax front and center
- 4 stars: "The bottom line on A Secret Place is that while the set did well commercially, it got nowhere near the critical praise of its predecessors. That's a shame, because it is a truly fine album whose grooves and pleasures stand the test of time easily. It's ripe for reappraisal."
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This vintage Kudu 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 The Best Sides Of A Secret Place 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 1976
- 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.
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. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
Learning the Record
For our shootout for A Secret Place, we had at our disposal a variety of pressings that had the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman'd it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.
If you have five or more copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what's right and what's wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that the other pressings do not do as well, using a few carefully chosen passages of music, it quickly becomes obvious how well a given copy can reproduce those passages. You'll hear what's better and worse -- right and wrong would be another way of putting it -- about the sound.
This approach is simplicity itself. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle -- or fail -- to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.
It may be a lot of work but it sure ain't rocket science, and we've never pretended otherwise. Just the opposite: from day one we've explained step by step precisely how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection. Not the good sounding pressings you happen to own -- those may or may not have Hot Stampers -- but the records you actually cleaned, shot out, and declared victorious.
What We're Listening For On A Secret Place
- 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 attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight, full-bodied 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.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The saxophone isn't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. It's front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt -- the one and only Rudy Van Gelder in this case -- would put it.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
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 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 Secret Place
- Dolphin Dance
- Not Yet
- Love Makes It Better
AMG 4 Star Review
Tenor and soprano saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. was faced with an almost impossible task in 1976: following up his two 1975 critically acclaimed and wildly successful commercial recordings Mister Magic and Feels So Good. Both recordings crossed over to R&B on the radio and on the charts. A Secret Place was produced by Creed Taylor and issued on his Kudu imprint, while the versatile David Matthews arranged the horn section. The players include pianist Dave Grusin, drummer Harvey Mason, Ralph MacDonald on percussion, bassist Anthony Jackson, guitarist Eric Gale, trumpeter John Gatchell, and alto saxophonist Gerry Niewood. Guests include bassist George Mraz and guitarist Steve Khan, who appear only on a reading of Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance."
This lineup may not be surprising, but the scope of the recording is. Washington could have gone the easy route and followed up his R&B chart success with a series of uptempo, rousing tracks that leaned heavier on funk -- in the style of the title tracks of both the previous albums. But he went in a different direction, at least partially. There are four cuts here, each between eight and nine minutes. The first two (which comprise side one of the LP), the title track, and Hancock's tune, are a bit more laid-back and mysterious. Washington takes his time letting them unfold, utilizing dynamics.
"A Secret Place" does have a slippery funky backbeat, and a killer guitar line by Gale (did he ever play anything else in the '70s?) but the groove is nocturnal, spacy, and soulful. His soprano sings over the backbeat as Grusin's Rhodes piano plays down a vamp for the rhythm section, and fills in the painted backdrop beautifully. The tempo picks up with Jackson's bassline becoming more prominent in the mix, but it never overpowers the easy groove established at the beginning. "Dolphin Dance" begins every bit as sparely and exotically spacious as Hancock's own version, with beautiful soprano and alto work, gorgeous floating Rhodes piano, and lots of warmth. When it begins to swing near the middle, it does so in such a relaxed and languid manner that the shift from soul-jazz on the preceding tune to the straight up fingerpopping nightclub swing on this one is seamless.
As usual, Washington's own soloing and melodic improvising are stellar. "Not Yet" opens the second half of the set. It's a funky groove, but the easy, laid-back feel and chord changes in this Washington original make it irresistibly sexy. Once more, Gale's guitar pleases as it leads the horn section vamps that fill his sophisticated, soulful, bluesed-out solo. The lilt in Grusin's Rhodes piano is the perfect tastemaker, since Washington's tenor is so throaty and on the low-end growl. Harvey Mason's straight up funky soul number "Love Makes It Better," takes the set out on a high note, with gorgeous guitar vamps by Gale, the three-horn line playing a sparse but pronounced melody line, and Grusin filling the middle with enough sweetness and light to offer the drums and percussion room to really pop. Washington's tenor solo is sophisticated and utterly tasteful; its emotion ratchets up the dynamic in the entire tune.
The bottom line on A Secret Place is that while the set did well commercially, it got nowhere near the critical praise of its predecessors. That's a shame, because it is a truly fine album whose grooves and pleasures stand the test of time easily. It's ripe for reappraisal.