About those Blue Notes...

In the we-all-make-mistakes department:

A few weeks ago, I groused in this space about the tendency of audiophile LP companies to reissue the same jazz titles over and over. Yes, the pressings are nice and thick, the sound generally excellent, but I called on their proprietors to stretch a bit. I mentioned some untapped labels, some (I hope) intriguing direct-to-disc possibilities, and other random oversights.

I also noted that if the ’philes were determined to perpetuate the Blue Note mystique (for understandable reasons, both commercial and artistic), the label did produce several masterworks that have gone curiously passed over, among them Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Jackie McLean’s Let Freedom Ring, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, and Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch--all, admittedly, more adventurous than Hank Mobley or Coltrane’s Blue Train, but still melodic and accessible.

Well, it turns out that Music Matters Jazz has been on my wavelength for months now, but my radar was turned off. This latest of the Blue Note reissue houses is run by Ron Rambach and Joe Harley (the latter of AudioQuest), with mastering by the peerless team of Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray (of AcousTech)

And they’ve released 45 rpm, stereo, gatefold-cover reissues of Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Wayne Shorter’s Juju (arguably better than Speak No Evil), Jackie McLean’s Bluesnik, among several dozen others. They’re currently shipping Joe Henderson’s Our Thing (a hard-to-find great one with Kenny Dorham and Andrew Hill), two of guitarist Grant Green’s best (Matador, with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, and Talkin’ About! with Jones and Larry Young). And upcoming titles this spring include, among other goodies…Hill’s Point of Departure.

When Music Matters Jazz first hit the scene in 2008, I wrote about it in this space somewhat dismissively. I was grumbling about the umpety-umpth reissue of Blue Train, about the deification of Rudy Van Gelder (and, with it, the neglect of unsung engineering masters like Columbia’s Fred Plaut and Contemporary’s Roy DuNann), and I carelessly threw MMJ into the pile. I did observe that one of their first two titles, Horace Parlan’s Speakin’ My Peace, was one of the best-sounding Blue Notes I’d ever heard—which should have moved me to pay attention, but I didn’t. As I said, they dropped off my radar screen.

Then I wrote the blog last month, and a few readers, including Joe Harley, commented that several of the alleged oversights had been well covered by MMJ.

So I acquired a copy of the 45 rpm, 2-LP pressing of Dolphy’s Out to Lunch (it’s out of print but still available at some of the label’s vendors). And let me tell you: Wow!

First, these are the quietest pressings I have ever heard (or not heard). Second, the sound is superior to the original 1964 pressing in every way (I’ve long owned a copy that’s in excellent condition). Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes ring and reverberate; Tony Williams’ drumkit makes you blink; Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard’s horns are spot-on; and Richard Davis’ bass plucks and strums like a wood upright bass. When I first A/B’d the MMJ and the original, I thought the former cut off some deep bass, but on second hearing, I realized that the original pressing was boosted a bit around 50 Hz (common back in the day when almost no hi-fi gear could dip that low).

So my sensors are switched on now to the Music Matters Jazz schedule, and so should yours be. Each title retails for $50 a pop, but (a) try finding an original pressing in good condition any cheaper (hint: you won’t), and (b) so does each title offered by those other audiophile houses that make 45 rpm Blue Notes—Analogue Productions and Classic Records. May they all live and prosper.

Uday Reddy's picture

Nice, but the one reason I have not gotten back into vinyl is that there is woefully little current jazz on LP. Now if Blue Note, Verve, Concord or Sony/Columbia, etc., would issue current releases on vinyl, I'd have to give it some thought. Is anyone listening?

Fred Kaplan's picture

Uday - I've asked several people in the industry (commercial and audiophile) about this, and they all say there's no market for vinyl issues of new jazz. Who knows if this is true, especially when we're talking about a boutique (limited-edition) market? Might be interesting if someone gave it a try (beyond Norah Jones and a few others who are really pop stars)...Fred

Uday Reddy's picture

Fred- If there's no market for current jazz, then how's there a market for current pop/rock recordings? There are quite a few artists releasing their latest albums on vinyl. Given the age of the average audiophile (I'm in my mid 40s), I find it hard to believe that teens and college age kids are the only buyers, especially with the prices that new vinyl goes for. Even in low volumes, I'm sure this could be profitable. I just read an article about Brad Mehldau's new album in the New York Times. In that article, it's mentioned that his CD, Largo, sold a respectable 34,000 copies. That must have been profitable or else Brad wouldn't have a contract. C'mon guys, take a chance!-Uday

Stephen Mejias's picture

I find it hard to believe that teens and college age kids are the only buyers, especially with the prices that new vinyl goes for.Uday, I hear where you're coming from, but it should be noted that most pop/rock vinyl albums aren't very expensive. I bought hundreds of pop/rock titles over the last year, and rarely paid more than $20 for any one of them. Most cost between $15 and $20. And lots of kids are buying used vinyl at far lower prices.All that aside, I also wish that there were more new jazz titles available on vinyl.

Derwyn Goodall's picture

Hey Fred,Great column, keep on writing and spreading the good word... A while ago you wrote about the Bad Plus. I ended up finding their latest release on vinyl and I was blown away. And as it turns out, they came to Toronto recently and they were simply incredible. Thanks so much for the tip. And yes, the Music Matters selections are interesting and sonically very pleasing.On another note, I will be in NYC the weekend of April 17. What jazz would you recommend checking out that weekend?

Fred Kaplan's picture

Derwyn - I'll be out of town when you're in town, so I haven't checked the calendars. Take a look at the websites for the Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Smalls, Blue Note, Birdland - and check the listings in Time Out New York. Something will grab you.

Derwyn Goodall's picture

Thanks Fred — I will definitely check out your suggestions. Last time my wife and I visited NYC, we managed to score two tickets for Bill Frisell at the Vanguard. That in itself was something, but I got the tickets the day of the performance and we ended up sitting in the first row! An awesome show... I will also be checking out Academy Records in the city and in Williamsburg. Those places are great! Do you have any other suggestions for jazz vinyl?

Fred Kaplan's picture

Lots of vinyl stores on Bleecker St. Also Red Rose REcords on E 12th or 13th.

Stephen Scharf's picture

The Music Matters Blue Notes are great. Superb remastering and pressing and production quality. Fred, strongly recommend you check out their version of Lee Morgan's Tom Cat. Superb. I use these albums as reference for system setup because their mix and mastering is so accurate and natural-sounding. If you get your TT set-up dialed with these LPs, you're good to go...

Steve Dollar's picture

There are indeed new jazz releases coming out on vinyl. If you know where to look. Not typically cheap (I think I paid $30 for a 2LP edition of William Parker QT's "Petit Oseau," for instance). There are a lot of small labels that do limited ed. runs of reish and new titles. 482 Music, for instance, has a series of vinyl-only releases. Your Drag City/Thrill Jockey indies also release vinyl ... Chicago Underground Duo, etc.

steve dollar's picture

I ordered a copy of OTL just now, after a little poking around on the web. For $50. eBay has a sealed copy up for grabs this week, sitting at $41 right now.Fred, we all have our preferences, but any others of the Music Masters reissues have you hankering?

Jefferson's picture

Yes these Music matters titles have amazing sound. Yes, photography is great and the packaging is phenomenal. However, I have been able to find OOP titles on Ebay & elsewhere for UNDER $50 (But not too much under :) In fact the only place where I was GOUGED was from Music Matters themselves and particularly Ron Rambach. After a lengthy conversation (Dominated by Ron insisting that he "barely makes money" on these titles), he sold me several out of print titles for $65. Nice. Create an artificial market by placing an "OOP" banner across the titles on website, and then charge your customers even more than retail. That being said, his assistant Lori has been awesome, and has offered to buy back the titles where i was gouged an additional $15 on an already expensive $50. Sorry if I'm coming across too negatively, but just as the "Deification of RVG" is unfair, so too is it to assume that the success of these titles is due to middle men like Ron Rambach, and not the superb remastering of Gray and Hoffman.

William Gallassero's picture

The "Out Of Print" banner is truth in advertising.The titles are in fact out of print ( no longer in production ). You can purchase some of these at 59.00,69, and 79.00 from the vendors advertised on Music Matters web site. 65.00 is a fair price for "out of print" titles.Now, keep up with the release schedule and by them for 49.99.

Ruyooka's picture

I have collected Jazz and Classical music recordings on vinyl for nearly 40 years. I have a special affinity to excellent performances by excellent groups that have been recorded well and reproduced on virgin vinyl by a caring company - the old RCAs, Mercury, EMI, Lyrita, Linn, Decca, London, Dragon, Concord .......  I have enjoyed and collected most of the reissues by Classic Records, Japanese Toshiba, King Records, and others that have brought us great pressings of old friends from the 1950-1965 catalogues.

Therefore I stand on firm ground when I give Music Matters a 5-Star rating for their Blue Note 45-RPM Reissues. I have collected each and every one of in their series and I have been very satisfied by the quality and service received. They have reissued long out of print and neglected gems.

If they are charging $65 for out-of-print copies, it is because that is what the market will pay. They are asking for less than some of the retailers are charging for similar items.  I am one very satisfied client.  And I have no relationship with Music Matters. except as a client.