Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder on vinyl
Pure Pleasure is a British company that has remastered lots of great jazz titles, many of them unjustly unsung, from the Columbia, Candid, Verve, and RCA catalogues. A few Ellington Columbias have been among them, but they’ve either been sonically less-than-pristine (Ellington Uptown, First Time with Count Basie, Blue Rose with Rosemary Clooney) or musically slight (The Nutcracker Suite).
But now they’ve done it—a thick, quiet, 180-gram vinyl pressing of Such Sweet Thunder, the Duke’s 1957 LP of Shakespeare-inspired compositions. It’s fair to say, I think, that the world can be divided between two kinds of people: those who swoon over Johnny Hodges’ solo on “Star-Crossed Lovers” (loosely based on Romeo and Juliet) and those who don’t. The whole album is gorgeous.
In 1999, Columbia Legacy reissued Such Sweet Thunder on a very good-sounding CD, which boasted the additional bonus of being in stereo. Back at the dawn of two-channel audio, Columbia recorded this album in mono and stereo but decided to release it only in mono. Forty years later, ace audio sleuth Phil Schaap found the stereo master tapes in a mismarked box in the studio’s vaults and produced the reissue in its “360” glory (and with some splendid alternate takes, too).
The Pure Pleasure LP sticks to the original mono, but sounds fresher nonetheless. Clarinets are woodier, horns are brassier, percussion is more percussive, the piano is warmer, the bass is deeper, pluckier, and vibrating with more wood resonance. Throughout, there’s more air, greater depth. It’s swoonier.
Now, Pure Pleasure or somebody, anybody, please reissue the best Duke Columbia, one of his most jaw-dropping albums period, musically and sonically: the 1950 (yes, that’s no typo, 1950) LP, Masterpieces by Ellington (which, meanwhile, is available as an excellent-sounding, DSD-mastered Sony Legacy CD).