Ella & Louis, Quality Records Pressing, 45rpm

If you follow jazz, you know that Ella & Louis, the 1956 Verve album of duets with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, is one of the most delightful vocal recordings ever.

If you're an audiophile, you've read that Chad Kassem, proprietor of Acoustic Sounds, in Salina, Kansas, has bought the finest vinyl-pressing equipment, hired some of the hottest engineers to modify and operate it, and come up with a new line of LPs called QRP, for Quality Records Pressings.

One of his first QRP products is a 45rpm, 200-gram pressing of Ella & Louis. If you're a jazz-following audiophile, go buy this right away. Flummoxed by the $50 price tag? How much would you pay for the most palpable illusion you'll ever experience that Pops and the First Lady of Song are back among the living—standing, breathing, singing, and blowing, right in front of you?

You hear not just Ella's smooth and perfect voice, but the puff of air that carries each note of lyric from her lips out into the room. When Louis dips his parched voice down into the nether octaves, you hear the vibrations in his chest. When the two sing together, they don't merge (except spatially, by definition; the album was recorded in mono); they remain distinct, whether in unison or in harmony.

I've played this album for several people now. They never fail to let out a laugh, of wonder, at how real they sound. When the stylus hit the one five-second passage where the (otherwise dead-silent) vinyl surface sported a bit of dust, which produced a couple very light ticks (this was before I cleaned the album, after which the ticks vanished), one friend said he was relieved to hear the evidence that this was a record album; it had been getting a bit too spooky.

A few caveats. First, on a few songs, Armstrong's trumpet sounds a bit harsh. In part, this is due to his technique (which, this pressing reveals, wasn't in the finest shape); in part, I think, it's due to the microphone. (The slight harshness is there on another pressing I have of this album, too. It's also worth noting that on the songs that begin with Pops blowing the horn, it sounds fine—rich and warm—which suggests that microphone placement may be a factor.)

Second, the piano sounds a bit hooded, but this is definitely on the master tape; that's just the way a lot of mid-1950s jazz recordings sound.

Third, I wish Chad had designed a gatefold cover (like the folks at Music Matters Jazz, who reissue Blue Note classics in two-LP 45rpm pressings). Cramming two thick slabs of vinyl into a single slot (even protected, as they are, by nice rice-paper sleeves) can't be good for the records or the cover.

Fourth, Chad has numbered the covers for each of the first 1000 pressings, suggesting that they're part of a limited edition. But they're not. After those 1000 are sold, he plans to press more, the only difference being that the newer covers won't be numbered. Chad tells me that some customers like this, even to the point of requesting the same numbered copy for all the albums they order. Whatever turns you on . . .

But back to the main point. This is an amazing-sounding album. It's the only QRP Verve I've heard so far, but if it's a harbinger of things to come, it's what Satch would call a mitzvah!

superaudiolistener's picture

I believe I had a copy of this back in the day and it was mono?

Is this new pressing mono?

If it is mono I assume Mr Kaplan is playing it on a stereo cartridge and still likes the sound?

John Atkinson's picture

Is this new pressing mono?

Yes. Fred does say so above.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

tmsorosk's picture

$50 a pop, for Pops, no thanks. Chad will have to find a more economical way to do this kind of project. There is a recession on. And keep in mind he is working with very old recordings.  

deckeda's picture

$50 is unfortunately the going rate for these types of double-LP 45rpm remastered reissues. It's not just Chad.

And keep in mind he is working with very old recordings.  

... which are often the most worthy, both for performances and sonics.

WillWeber's picture

Available from HDtracks at a much better price, I wonder how the mix and the sound compare?

jacobg12's picture

I have this full album, picked it up at a garage sale for $1 perfectly clean, it is mono but its a fantastic sounding album. 

DetroitVinylRob's picture

What a beautiful, beautiful performance.

Credit goes to so may folks who have made records like this one from the past, available for the modern listener. There is nothing like cutting open a brand new pristine vinyl like this for an afternoon listen. Make no mistake though, Chad Kassem's vision and hard work have lead the way to bringing us hundreds and hundreds of titles in this 2x 45RPM Lp format and my hats off to him, everyone has been an amazing insight into our great American treasure of jazz music and a true reference standard for Hifi music reproduction. And what do ya know, a few have followed his proven formula for success and maybe, just maybe, we are all better off for it.

This is one of the rare of the rare ones though, I too have played (with stereo cartridge) my low (numbered) copy of Ella and Louis, this lovely recording, for a number of family and friends of our local SMAC Southeastern Michigan Audio Club with a very similar response to Mr. Kaplan's listeners, a gasp, a chuckle, and then a big grin. I like this record, it tends to be one of those that reduces the audiophile chit-chat until the in-between of flipping the sides. I so love this whole Gestalt of record playing, the mere process causes focus and a reverence for the music, somewhat of a physical meditation. I think those who experience this, are truly a fortunate lot.

Happy Listening and JUST DO IT, BUY THIS RECORD!

JBLMVBC's picture

I just received my copies of this fantastic album. 45 RPM restores the dynamics which on JBL pro monitors (4 way active filter, 18" bass, 15" low, 2" midrange compression and 1" HF) and Bryston electronics (1,500w per channel) , Linn Sondek source sounded great.

Now to Fred Kaplan's comment about the harshness of Louis' trumpet. It is not only happening in the first track but there are other instances where it does happen. A Foggy Day is a good example. It is not only the trumpet but also the voices that change. I therefore suspect that they used two sessions with a different microphone. In fact I'll use April in Paris as an example. Ella starts with a well defined voice, very present. The instruments are well in the background it's extremely 3 dimensional even for a mono recording. The sound is well rounded. Then when Louis comes in, the sound bloom changes, slightly warmer, perhaps flatter -instruments are all on the same plan. His trumpet is warm and never aggressive. Only the very end of the track reverts to Ella's well rounded, present sound and in fact Louis' trumpet last bit comes a tad aggressive on the midrange. My own guess is that they had a first take with a mike placement or type and after listening they realized it was too hot when Louis played his horn. They either changed the mike or placement on the second session. In the end they mastered with what they liked best even if it meant keeping some of the too hot moments.


DetroitVinylRob's picture

It never ceases to amaze me... Louis horn/ mike harshness???

The last time I sat in front of a live acoustic performance (not Mr. Armstrong, unfortunately) the last thing that went through my mind or was obsessed about was whether of not the microphone or horn or whatever the hell else was sweet and text book perfect, spot on, save the hooded piano. It usually happens that no performance (even recorded) is "perfect", however one person might define "perfect" as compared to another. And this comes from a guy who is timbre obsessive and also loves everything Tom Waits.

I am aware of the sounds that some of you are referring to but, in relative importance in juxtaposition to 1. just grateful we have this performance, 2. Amazed by the beauty of these two legendary performers talents and expression of their craft, 3. impressed with the quality of mastering and pressing of this current vinyl, ... for me it means nothing.

I have had chamber seats at Detroit Orchestra Hall for years, seen (and heard) everything from Zeppelin at the Olympia in the early days to sitting three feet away from the likes of J.J. Cale at the Ann Arbor Ark as well as sitting in with countless friends and families jam sessions and it is just beyond me how someone with a bunch of wires, amps, and transducers in between them and the music can spend life's valuable time focused on a horn pushing a little brassy at a near field mike. Actually I like that quality, it is humanly flawed maybe, powerful and expressive definitely, and so f***ing what? Sounds like miking not Louis, anyway. Nothing personal but, geez...

For reference I'm not listening to this on a close-and-play either, Linn, Avid, Sony, Aesthetix, Atma-Sphere, Coincident CPRE-T's... Gear is cool, very cool, but owning this performance on 2x/45RPM/Lp vinyls, listening to it and sharing that experience is KILLER!!!!

Happy Listening! to the music, hopefully.

JBLMVBC's picture

As if I suggested these were not superlative performances and great recordings...

Chill out pal! I live with a Steinway D tuned for a concert pianist at home so I know what live sound is and the challenges of recording it too. I thought that beyond the obvious artistic quality we all know, love and cherish here -otherwise why would we bother owning and commenting about these re-issue, we could have here a serious discussion about these legendary recordings. Clearly for me I do not feel the new pressing and mastering is at fault as it is part of the original editing. That's all. Some of us are also interested in the making of great recordings and the balance artists/engineers/producers have to find.

Do I recommend these new pressing? Hell yes, of course!

DetroitVinylRob's picture

I'm chill'axing just fine, thank you for your concern.

My point was not to correct or berate you personally and publicly, I felt that was obvious by generalizing, plural tense, and being somewhat self deprecating in my delivery.

If you disagree, fine.

If I offended your delicate sensibilities by my observation or the proverbial shoe fitting a little too well, please except my sincere apologies. And yet, it does not change my feeling or my belief of the accuracy of my observation one iota.

My point was, what never ceases to amaze me, and yes, have been told that on occasion I state the obvious and unfortunately prove no wittier than that.

Happy Listening! 

JBLMVBC's picture