Recording of July 2024: Cannonball Adderley: Somethin' Else

Cannonball Adderley: Somethin' Else
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (alto saxophone), Miles Davis (trumpet), Hank Jones (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)
Mobile Fidelity UD15 2-022 (2 45rpm "Ultradisc One-Step" LPs). 2024. Alfred Lion, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Krieg Wunderlich, Shawn R. Britton, mastering engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

For those who care about sonics, the current wave of expensive 45rpm vinyl reissues has made one question urgently relevant: Does convenience trump better sound? Put differently, does the ease of not getting up every 10 minutes to turn over or replace the record offset improved sound quality? It's settled science that a higher rotational speed can result in a better frequency range, better stereo imaging, less frequency fluctuation, and increased low-end response—if a record is well-pressed. Vinyl cut at 45rpm has a 36% higher groove velocity. The inner tracks in particular on a 12", 45rpm cut should sound noticeably better.

The downside is that the amount of recorded time is now also reduced by 36%, which means the records must be flipped sooner and more frequently, breaking up the continuity of a performance. This is why vinyl cut at the faster speed is especially problematic for classical music: The performance never gains any real momentum. In rock music, the careful sequencing of tracks on albums to tell a cogent story, an esoteric skill that rose to the level of an artform by the late '70s, can also be wrecked by a faster cut.

I pondered all this while listening to the new Mobile Fidelity "Ultradisc One-Step" 45rpm cut of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's timeless Somethin' Else. These LPs are cut on a premium vinyl formulation in a process that skips two generations. MoFi's recordings are not all-analog, since they involve a high-resolution DSD step.

For comparison, I listened to the 2015 160gm, 33 1/3rpm direct metal master reissue on Blue Note, the 2014 180gm, 33 1/3rpm reissue by Music Matters, a 2008 200gm, 45rpm version from Analogue Productions, and the 24/96 stream of a 2012 remaster. All the vinyl had Rudy Van Gelder's usual sound, bright but clear and dynamic. The DMM version was punchier than the others, as is so often the case with DMM. The differences between the Analogue Productions and Music Matters reissues are minor. The Mobile Fidelity version offers a bit more air in the soundstage and a bit more radiance in the high frequencies: more edge to the horns and more exact detail on the cymbals.

North Florida native Adderley, whose nickname came from "cannibal" after his prodigious appetites, moved to New York in 1955. He joined Miles Davis's group two years later, eventually playing on Milestones (1958) and Kind of Blue (1959). Soon after joining Davis—on March 9, 1958—Adderley convinced the shapeshifting trumpeter to play sideman at the recording date that would become Somethin' Else; the saxophonist was billed as leader. Produced by Blue Note founder Alfred Lion, it was captured by Van Gelder at his studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Only five tracks long (plus bonus track, "Bangoon (aka Alison's Uncle)," added here), it was Adderley's only recording session for Blue Note. It is also one of the few appearances by Davis on a Blue Note album, recorded at a time when the star trumpeter was curtailing his sideman gigs.

It is tempting to say that Miles, with his succinct solos and instantly recognizable muted tone, steals this show, but the reality is more complex and collaborative. In the opener, "Autumn Leaves," Adderley's fertile ideas flow naturally, communicating his range and improvisational gifts in a rich, warm tone. Just as responsible for the success of Somethin' Else is the nonpareil rhythm section: pianist Hank Jones, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Blakey. Sam provides the anchoring presence behind Adderley's gorgeous soloing on Cole Porter's "Love for Sale." The matchless Blakey, while in the background much of the time, is the rock upon which the entire session confidently rests.

The heart of this album has always been the midtempo title track, which showcases Adderley and Davis alternating solos; these are among the best moments ever on record from either player. "One for Daddy-O," a sprightly blues number written by Julian's trumpet-playing brother Nat, leads off with Cannonball showing his affinity for exuberant blues performances, a quality he'd amplify during his '70s turn to soul jazz. Miles counters with his own soaring journey through his horn's upper ranges. The perennially under-rated Hank Jones has his say. According to Leonard Feather's original liner notes, which are included in the MoFi release on a one-page insert, Miles "made" Cannonball play the final track, "Dancing in the Dark," with legato lines because Davis liked the way he'd heard singer Sarah Vaughan do it.

Timing can be everything, in both life and recording, and on Somethin' Else, it's clear that genius aligned. This creative convergence will forever remain breathtaking. As for which speed sounds best, there's no debate: Vinyl cut at 45rpm definitely sounds better, but it's more work. To go colloquial, I tend to agree with a post on one of the audio-focused forums: "Like cars and women, the faster the better."—Robert Baird

canyelles's picture

It was Adderley's only date as LEADER on BN.

He also appeared as 'Buckshot La Funke' on 'Here Comes Louis Smith' on BN.

Anyway, a truly outstanding recording session. Just about my favourite LP.

My recommendation is the Japanese CD (if you can find it) that came out a few years ago with an alternative take of 'Autumn Leaves'

WillyL's picture

Or better yet the SACD version

JohnnyThunder2.0's picture

I think that many of these LPs would not be as well known/loved if it wasn't for the art direction and brilliant use of type by the great Reid Miles. Everything about these LPs are iconic.

supamark's picture

lol, no it's a DSD copy of the original master recording (or safety copy if the actual master is not available) which has deteriorated over the years because physics and chemistry (woo, P-chem). Also, do we need yet another copy of this record? Really?

I'd never buy a record from MoFi, what's the point when the PCM version mastered by someone else will sound better? (yeah, I don't like the sound of DSD, sounds like smeared stucco - but analog tape also sounds smeared because physics, but not like stucco).