Revinylization #20: Kind of Great: Kind of Blue

Does the world need another audiophile reissue of Kind of Blue? This was the obvious question to ask upon news that Chad Kassem's Analogue Productions was joining the party. The album's arrival in the mail (yes, of course, I bought one) signaled that something special might be happening: the classy hard-box slip case with the wooden dowel spine, the Stoughton tip-on gatefold jacket graced with well-reproduced session photos, a handsome booklet, and, finally, the LP: a 200gm UHQR pressing on off-white Clarity vinyl.

Does the package justify its lavishness? Is it worth the $100 price tag? Most importantly, how does it sound?

Little need be said about this Miles Davis 1959 masterpiece. It's the best-selling jazz album ever, arguably the best jazz album and the culmination of Miles's experiments with modal jazz (structured on scales rather than chords). It's a send-off, too, as Kind of Blue is the only studio album made by this entire band (Miles, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb); the members soon moved on, as did Miles's music. There's a purity to this music, which is almost completely improvised: Four of its five tracks are unedited first takes.

Finally, as recorded in Columbia's spacious (and long ago demolished) 30th Street Studio by Fred Plaut (one of the greats but unsung, because Columbia never listed engineers on its credits), it sounds as lifelike as almost any Rudy Van Gelder Blue Note.

In the mid-1990s, Michael Hobson of Classic Records put out several vinyl reissues of Kind of Blue, mastered by Bernie Grundman from the original three-track tapes. By Grundman's account, he did not tweak the EQ; it was already perfect. He only monitored the dials carefully, ensuring that the center track was consistently distributed to the left and right channels.

He made one other tweak. Sony/Columbia had recently discovered that the tape machine used to record one session was running a little slow, making Side A of the album, on playback, sound a little fast and higher in pitch by a quarter tone. Sony used the backup tape, which was running at the correct speed, for all subsequent reissues. Grundman manually adjusted the three-track master tape so that it matched the correction.

From Grundman's masters, Classic stamped out limited-edition LPs on 180gm vinyl, then 200gm vinyl, then a double album with both versions of Side A (kind of silly) and the one alternate take of "Flamenco Sketches." Finally, Hobson released a four-LP package of one-sided LPs, each mastered at 45rpm—one-sided to minimize the resonance between the platter and the bottom surface of the vinyl. I have A/B'd a few one-sided vs two-sided 45rpm LPs; the difference was slight but noticeable.

All of Classic's LPs were revelations—Columbia's own pressings of the 1970s sounded flat and lifeless—and each new edition sounded better than the one before it. Until now, that four-LP, 45rpm set was the best of all vinyl reissues, although it didn't quite match the original "six-eye" pressing, which sported crisper cymbals, tighter bass, and a warmer (though not necessarily more accurate) midrange.

Over the past decade, a few other labels have taken shots at the title. On the album's 50th anniversary, Sony/Columbia put out a blue-colored LP which was bafflingly noisy. Music On Vinyl, based in Europe, released an LP mastered from 24/96 digital files; I never heard it, but Stereophile's Michael Fremer gave it a very favorable review. More recently, Mobile Fidelity released a two-LP, 45rpm reissue mastered not from the original tapes but from a recent Sony two-channel mixdown. It was disappointing—the bass in particular was too boomy. It was the only letdown in MoFi's otherwise superb series of Miles Davis 45s.

When Classic Records went out of business, Analogue Productions bought its assets, including Grundman's masters from the original tapes of Kind of Blue. For this new edition, Kassem renewed the license for the material, had technician Gary Salstrom create plates, and pressed the records by hand, one at a time, on an in-house, heavily modified, temperature-controlled Finebilt press.

The result (drum rolls) is the best-sounding Kind of Blue ever, superior in every way to all previous pressings, including the original. The pressing is superquiet, allowing the slightest of details to pop out from the black backdrop.

Cobb's drumkit is spooky real. I've heard this album, in one version or another, hundreds of times, and there are fine touches in Cobb's snare swooshes and cymbal taps—accents on accents, rhythms within rhythms—that I've never heard before. Chambers's bass lines are stunningly clear: the notes he's playing, the pluck of the strings, the glow of the wood. There are also new layers of detail in Miles's mouthpiece manipulations, Evans's pedal work, and the sheer beauty of Coltrane's and Adderley's saxophones.

The music—and that's what we're here for—is mesmerizing. I sat listening as if I was hearing it for the first time (as much as this is possible for an album heard hundreds of times); there it was, right before my eyes and ears.

Kassem is pressing 25,000 copies of this new edition. If they're sold out by the time you read this, don't despair: He plans to follow up with a two-LP package mastered at 45rpm, also stamped from Grundman's perfectly preserved metal parts.

The chase is eternal. This reissue holds the brass ring, for now.

COMMENTS
Anton's picture

This album is great fun when it comes to comparing pressings, really looking forward to it.

Your enthusiasm is infectious.

Someday, I hope someone stumbles upon the mysterious mono master tapes.

shawnwes's picture

I haven't heard it but most comments are very favourable. I have the UHQR & while the packaging I can do w/o they did a very good job on the pressing.

curmudgeon47's picture

Really. How many KOBs do we need? Apparently yet another one. I
do not understand the fascination with this recording. It's seriouly
B O R I N G.

funambulistic's picture

.

Glotz's picture

So true!

shawnwes's picture

Hilarious.it's like someone who doesn't like bread walking into a bakery and declaring"I really don't like bread, what are you guys still doing baking bread?" Rather than travelling around the internet decrying simple pleasures you don't like or approve of, move on to those things you do like and approve of. You might be happier.

Glotz's picture

I have the MOFI pressing from a few years back, it is solid and pleasing. (I've also been told that it is the least impressive sonic offering from MoFi in some years. I concur.)

That said, this new release absolutely and unequivocally destroys(!) that and all others before. It is as FK precisely states! If the 45rpm version from AP will be better than this(??), get that one too!

To be a fan of Miles and not own this album pressing would be one's most glaring omission. Buy, steal or kill for it!

Metalhead's picture

Fred is a cool cat who is well versed in Jazz and not a salesman for AP.

I have only a cd issue from a few years back and scored this album.

Worth every penny and I listen to rock 95 percent of the time.

AnalogueFan's picture

A good First Press is enough.
The rest is poorly remastered with precarious and rudimentary techniques to obtain a mediocre, distorted, and high-priced product result.
That is the fake market for the true Hi-Fi consumer.
Indeed, comparing frequently, the conclusion is audible, due to the low quality of the editions after 1959.
Please, invest in better editions, if you can't find the first Press, you should find early editions.
Analogue is always superior to compressed digital, because analogs are authentic replicas of the original tapes, and have almost no distortion, no phase problems, and no jitter.
But even more, the analogs are high dynamic range, better linearity, and mostly without distortion.
That's how original the recording is. The popular problem is TT, and TA, Ph. Preamp, and some mediocre Cartridges, these days.

shawnwes's picture

...of our consideration because you said so. Luckily for our pocket books we can decide for and delude ourselves with this latest pales in comparison to your Original Pressing. The long con game of exorbitant OP valuations and having to go w/o for the rest of us is over thanks to this fabulous era of quality reissues.

tonykaz's picture

You present a Valid Point.

The Quality of 33.3 pressings has always been disappointing.

We've never had access to the better pressings, have we?

So, as Audiophiles, our first job has always been locating and owning good pressings.
Garage Sale Vinyl?
Goodwill Vinyl?
Salvation Army vinyl?

Outstanding Vinyl is & always was rare !

The Analog Hobby is Record Collecting more than playback. It is helpful to have an abundance of Time and Money + be in a Location where vinyl was popular ( like the upper East Coast USA )

Tony in Venice Florida

ps. Analogue has become a very pricy burden

Anton's picture

Somewhere out beyond your thought horizon, I am sure, but there are people who enjoy vinyl. But, far be it from me to deprive our 'Vinyl Onan' of his happy ending.

MatthewT's picture

I get the reference. The "Vinyl Onanist" would make for an excellent monthly comedy column.

tonykaz's picture

People with sarcastic name calling are showing your Cult Loyalties and obsessive defences.

You seem to be angry and who can blame you ? Good Vinyl is now $100 but it's always been Tape's poorer Quality cousin !

Tony in Venice Florida

Anton's picture

MRC Data (formerly known as Nielsen Music) just published their data for the first half of 2021, and it paints a pretty rosy picture of the current music industry. Some of the highlights include vinyl sales jumping 108.2%, from 9.2 million in the second half of 2020 to 19.2 million units, and CD sales gaining 2.2% as well, with 18.9 million units sold.

Keeping in mind that in 1973, 280 million records were sold.

https://www.riaa.com/u-s-sales-database/

Downloading is way down, it seem streaming/cloud is the dominant paradigm.

X