The Shape of Jazz to Come in 45rpm
A little over two years ago, I raved in this space over Rhino's 180-gram vinyl pressing of Ornette Coleman's 1959 album The Shape of Jazz to Come, one of the greatest and most important in all of jazz. Now I'm here to rave louder still (with one frustrating caveat) about another reissue, mastered by Bernie Grundman at 45rpm for the audiophile label ORG.
In my earlier post, I said the Rhino "sounds in every way better than the original pressing, which itself sounds quite good," adding, "Everything is clearer, highs are extended, bass is more defined, dynamics are wider."
Double all that, plus some, for the ORG 45. You hear more of the music's rhythmic subtlety, the slightest shift in dynamics: the finger-flexing on the neck of Charlie Haden's bass, the full polyrhythms (and more of the kick drum) on Billy Higgins' trapset, the sputtering of Don Cherry's pocket-trumpet mouthpiece, and the sharp beauty of Ornette's white alto sax. In short, it sounds like another veil has fallen away between you and the master tape; there's more air, snap, and color-saturated tone. The sound billows forth. By comparison, the original and, to some extent, the Rhino sound flat and static.
This is the recording that redefined the possibilities of ensemble improvisation, that took the notion of harmony untethered from chord changesan idea that was floating around in theoryand turned it into revolutionary, gorgeous, and still-riveting music. The original stereo pressing, on Atlantic, sounds very good. The Rhino sounds great. But for one of the greatest jazz recordings, you might as well have it in the greatest sound (if your rig can handle it).
I have just one complaint: the presentation. When it comes to reissues of classic jazz albums, I'm not a stickler for authenticity in visual cosmetics. But the folks of ORG seem not to care at all. The original cover shows a Lee Friedlander photo of Ornette holding his sax. It's a wonderful photo, a classic in its own right. The ORG cover turns his rich brown face into a splotchy red. ORG's back cover is a cheesy disaster: ugly white print on orange. (Martin Williams' liner notes are printed in the gatefold. At least there is a gatefold, so the two discs can slide into separate folders. I'll say that for ORG.) Then there are the discs themselves: specifically, the center labels. Rather than reproducing the original white label with the green and blue trim, ORG has chosen to reproduce the green and red label that Atlantic used for its dreadful 1970s pressings. Ignorance is the only reason I can imagine.
One more thing: nowhere on the cover, or the plastic wrap, or the record itself are prospective customers informed that the album should be spun at 45rpm. They'll find out soon enough, but still, an odd lapse.
If you already own this album in one form or another, buy this one but save the cover from the earlier pressing. If you're a newbie, do buy the ORGbut you might also want to buy the big book of Friedlander's photos (including the one of Ornette, as well as several other jazz musicians) beautifully published by the Museum of Modern Art. (If you're a fan of modern photography, you might want to get that one anyway.)