Revinylization #15: More premium jazz vinyl from Craft Recordings and Blue Note

I shall always recall fondly the hours I spent shopping for used vinyl at my "local," my favorite Portland, Maine, used record store. If you wanted great-sounding records of great music in very good condition, for just a few bucks, this was the place. My local did not carry much collectible vinyl, but that was okay: I was never really interested in the high-dollar stuff. It wasn't until I moved to New York City that I started to wonder where it had all gone. The proprietor, I knew, traveled the country buying up collections. It was the '00s; he would have encountered many valuable records—so where did they go? He was a total luddite—not the type to sell on eBay, I knew.

One summer, I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the memoir by Haruki Murakami, long-distance runner, jazz fan, audiophile, and seller of millions of books worldwide, especially in Japan. In the book, Murakami mentions a record-buying trip to northern New England while he was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I immediately recalled a conversation I'd had years before in which said record-store proprietor told me he regularly shipped records to a guy in Japan. Hmmm.

On a recent visit to Portland, I stopped by the store. The bins were almost empty. The proprietor asked me if I had any records to sell. These are tough times for the used-vinyl trade.

For fans of jazz reissues on vinyl, though, life just keeps getting better.

If you're a jazz-vinyl fan, you know about the Tone Poet series from Blue Note, and Music Matters Jazz, and other premium jazz-vinyl reissue series. Here's one you may not know about: the "Small Batch" series from Craft Recordings, the first release of which is due to hit the streets at about the same time as this issue of Stereophile.

Physically, the Small Batch series resembles a slimmed-down version of MoFi's One-Steps. The records are 33rpm, not 45. A convincing reproduction of the original outer sleeve (but with a Craft Recordings catalog number following the word "Prestige") tucks inside a luxurious outer box with a ribbon to make pulling it out easier. There's a nice insert with reissue notes and photos of the master-tape boxes.

The first Small Batch title is John Coltrane's Lush Life, which documents three recording sessions in 1957 and '58, several years before the record was released in 1961 on the Prestige label. 'Trane had left Prestige for Atlantic and released Giant Steps, Olé Coltrane, and My Favorite Things, but Prestige kept issuing Coltrane sessions for years. Lush Life was an attempt by Prestige to capitalize on Coltrane's fame by issuing old recordings. It's not a bad record. It's not a great one, either.


Sonically and musically, it sounds like at least two albums. Side 1 is lovely and spare, with just three musicians: 'Trane, Earl May on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. It's unmistakably Coltrane, but it sounds like a Sonny Rollins record. Apparently that's not by intent: Coltrane told Joe Goldberg, who wrote the liner notes, that the pianist—Red Garland, according to other sources—just didn't show up. Side 2 adds piano—Garland—on both tracks and Donald Byrd (trumpet) on the first one. Paul Chambers is on bass here, with Louis Hayes and Albert Heath on drums. The sound is good mono. On Side 2, Garland's piano burbles vaguely as it often does on Rudy Van Gelder recordings. Coltrane's playing is good on the ballads, but he seems tentative—and less articulate than usual—on his more ambitious solos.

The resemblance to MoFi's One-Steps is more than skin deep: Small Batch records utilize the same process, in which the lacquers are used to generate a "convert," which in turn is used to make stampers, skipping two lossy generations. Bernie Grundman cut the lacquers, from the original analog master tapes. A thousand copies of each title will be pressed at RTI on 180gm Neotech vinyl. The price is $99.

This first issue in Craft's "Small Batch" series is beautifully done. Ultimately, the series' value will depend on the quality of the records Craft reissues. As I write this, future titles have not been announced.

When Blue Note introduced its 75th Anniversary series in 2014, I sampled a few. I wasn't impressed. I skipped the rest of the series—and also its successor, the 80th Anniversary series that commenced in 2019. That was a mistake; the 80th series was good.

With Blue Note's 80th anniversary year past, the label continues that series under a new name: Classic Vinyl. Despite the low price ($24.98), there are similarities to Blue Note's Tone Poet series. Classic Vinyl records are remastered by Kevin Gray from the original analog tapes (when the original recording was analog). They're pressed at Optimal, not RTI, on 180gm vinyl. The outer sleeves are simple, not gatefold.


A few weeks ago, I received one of the first releases in the series, Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder. It's great music and it sounds superb.

Indeed, the most exciting thing about the Classic Vinyl series is the music: Horace Silver's Song for My Father; Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else; Hank Mobley's Soul Station; Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch!; and Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage are among the scheduled releases. There's much overlap with recent Music Matters Jazz reissues, although these records are much cheaper and will presumably be easier to buy than those excellent-sounding, limited-edition premium reissues, which sell out fast.

shawnwes's picture

I love the work that Craft is doing with their reissues. I've purchased a few of them recently and they've been ideal.
However, I don't like the non-subscription concept of the Small Batch series. The Coltrane was sold out in 20 minutes because Flippers are beating everyone to it and then jacking the price to hundreds of $. How the F is that doing anything for the collector who loves the music? Until Craft is offering a subscription or preorder I won't be bothering. It might get people talking about it but I find it disgusting trying to click my mouse button as though I was trying to get Stones tickets.

Jim Austin's picture

You anticipated the topic of my May AWSI. But in the case of Craft's Small Batch Lush Life, this wasn't intentional. With their first release, they simply underestimated demand:

Best Wishes,

Jim Austin, Editor

shawnwes's picture

Thanks for that Jim & didn't mean to pre-empt next month's follow up -LOL -but it still doesn't solve the primary problem. Subscription or pre-order is the only way to satisfy everyone's demand. Trying to guess how many will sell is a crapshoot. Just my 2 cents from a long time fan of most things the Concord Music Group puts out. If anyone from CMG reads this I've purchased every one of the BN80, Tone Poet & Blue Note Classic lps I've wanted, and it's almost all of them, via pre-ordering - just doesn't get rid of flipping but it does allow almost everyone who wants one to get one unless they're snoozing.

cgh's picture

That's interesting. If you're correct, and some basic economics holds, pressing more to address the scarcity will eventually reduce demand from this secondary market. Maybe it's just that there's a ton of analog jazz-lovers out there.

I love these re-pressings but I am at this point, accumulated over years, that I have multiple pressings of the same performances. I suppose that's the case for many of us.

Jim Austin's picture

We all have tastes and preferences, the way we wish the world would be, but if a label in good faith aims to produce enough in a limited-edition release, I'm okay with that. (MoFi is an example of a company that releases pretty large limited issues.)

In any case, if you want to see this trend taken to the extreme, Google "NFT music".

Jim Austin, Editor

PeterPani's picture

That's a funny thing. To own something digitally, but can be copied 1:1 anyway. Analog copying of music or art degrades the quality. Digital copying does not. So what is the sense of "owning" a digital original (except you have a bunch of good attorneys to support). A digital original movie or music clip can be copied 1:1. A blockchain-key will not prevent this, because at some point the digital stream must go into a DAC, beamer, flat screen etc., at which signal point the signal can be copied. At least, as long as the hardware of this final devices is not sealed and "blockchained", too.

Very weird
(but one reason more for not selling my bitcoins :-)

Anton's picture

Couldn’t Craft simply make more?

Demand seems there, so they could increase supply.

Doesn’t seem impossible, they will make more of future pressings.

I agree that the subscription model would likely work.

volvic's picture

Everyone makes excellent arguments above. I was torn with this release; I got the email and immediately went to order and could have ordered but didn't. My biggest complaint was and is the price. I just ordered the Porgy and Bess Mo-Fi reissue for two 45 rpm discs for $49.99. I also finally received the Craft four-disc set of Chet Baker's Riverside recordings for $119 with a nice Riverside T-shirt. I have ordered so much over the last year that a sense of dollar fatigue has set in; sure, I wanted the Coltrane but in the end, did I want to spend $99 for a single reissue when I already have it on vinyl? That day I exercised restraint and put my credit card away. That kind of money gets me a nice pile of used vinyl at Academy. At some point, I have to realize that I cannot have everything and shouldn't.

As Mr. Austin said above, I am okay with Craft releasing it in small numbers and charging their price; they did their break-even analysis and their costs and decided on the price, that is cool, keep em coming. But I would have preferred a larger batch and half the asking price.

rl1856's picture

If CRAFT uses a process similar to MOFI One Step then there is a finite number of LPs that can be pressed before quality declines. There are opportunists who will purchase, then wait for the title to go OOP and then resell on the secondary market at an inflated price. We have seen that with many subscription or wider supply premium releases. The process just takes longer. I have exchanged private emails with more than a few collectors who took 2-3 subscription slots in a program, just to purchase "sealed" stock to resell at some later date.

Jim Austin's picture

If CRAFT uses a process similar to MOFI One Step then there is a finite number of LPs that can be pressed before quality declines.

True. However, MoFi's One-Steps, though limited, are produced in significant quantities--several thousand or more--so the limit isn't that low, apparently.

Jim Austin, Editor