Audiophile LPs: Fresh Blood Needed

Consider this a wish list from someone who loves owning classic jazz albums reissued on clean, thick slabs of virgin vinyl, preferably cut at 45 rpm—but who’s weary of seeing the same titles pop up over and over again with each slightly new format (180g, 200g, single-sided 45, clarity, etc.). I understand the impulse: certain labels and titles have a mystique (e.g., Blue Note and Blue Train); they’re surefire winners; it’s an uncertain business, so go with the sure thing.

But there are other titles, by equally big-name artists, on the same vaunted labels, that somehow get passed over every round. In some cases, these albums that I have in mind are better, and better-sounding, than the ones that get re-re-re-mastered.

I’d like to include newer musicians and newer music on this list, but people in the business tell me that customers just don’t buy LP reissues of fairly new jazz. I don’t know if that’s true; I suspect, given that this is a boutique business to begin with, that the fans could be found. But I’ll stipulate that it’s true for purposes of this wish list—and here it is:

Artists House LPs. In the 1970s, John Snyder produced a lot of terrific albums on his short-lived Artists House label. The sound was very good, often superb. In the ‘90s, Verve licensed a few of the titles for CD, but the sound was lousy. Assuming the original tapes are still around, someone like Classic, Acoustic Sounds, or Speakers Corner should have a go. My favorite of the bunch: Soapsuds, Soapsuds, a wonderful, melodic, even lyrical duet album by Ornette Coleman (on tenor sax, as opposed to his usual alto) and Charlie Haden on bass.

Masterpieces by Ellington. This is Duke Ellington’s first LP, made in 1950, but except for the mono, you’d think it was a modern audiophile reference recording. (I say this on the basis of a $10 DSD-mastered CD put out by Columbia/Legacy a few years ago.) And these are some of the Duke’s grandest arrangements ever. It’s a jaw-dropper. (Some audiophile houses have reissued other early Ellingtons, but this is the one.) While we’re at it, let’s have a good vinyl reissue of his 1957 Shakespeare tribute on Columbia, Such Sweet Thunder and his 1967 proto-“world music" fling on RCA, The Far East Suite.

Other Blue Notes. For all the Blue Note reissues out there, it’s curious that these have been passed over: Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil; Jackie McLean, Let Freedom Ring; Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch; Andrew Hill, Point of Departure.

Japanese Direct-to-Disk LPs. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, several Japanese labels produced direct-to-disc albums, most notably Sony, and most notably there, Herbie Hancock’s solo The Piano. A few years ago, Sony put out a CD of this album, with alternate takes, mastered from the back-up tapes. (The sound was so-so.) But Sony engineer Mark Wilder told me at the time that the master lacquers still exist in Tokyo. Somebody, go get them, and press some D-to-D albums all over again! Another eye-popper was Lew Tabakin’s Trackin’, a 45 rpm, direct-to-disc on Japanese JVC/RCA.

Other M.I.A.s. Frank Sinatra & Count Basie, Sinatra-Basie (Reprise) (the rendition of “I Won’t Dance” is worth the price of admission); Lee Konitz, Motion (Verve); Art Pepper, Today (Galaxy); Chico Freeman, The Outside Within (India Navigation). And how about some Mapleshade titles, for instance, its long-time decent-seller, Clifford Jordan, Live at Ethel’s.

Readers: Any other suggestions?

Audiophile reissue houses: Any takers?

ducatirider's picture

If Jack Johnson and Norah Jones can break into the fold then any exciting artist can. I would love to see some Avi Cohen or Tomasz Stanko on vinyl.

Dick Gentry's picture

Agreed, wholeheartedly. And not just for jazz. My reaction has been to spend much more time mining my LP stacks, finding many unrecognized gems with great sonics and performances in several genres. It seems that the labels are encouraging those who bought into cd's and sold their records to now back-fill their old collections but the value remains in the oboscure treasures instead of the old warhorses.

David Cullen's picture

I agree there is much more quality jazz that needs to be reissued properly on vinyl.However you can remove Eric Dolphy's "Out To Lunch!" from the to-reissue list as it has already been given the royal treatment by Music Matters. Two 45 RPM, 180g slabs of clean vinyl with a quality cover and photography. It was released in 2009. The bad news - it is already out of print. It can be found online though.

DLKG's picture

I would love some more 20th Century Classical music to be brought out on high quality vinyl also. There are so many incredible titles that could be reissued and maybe sell this time since they'll be more visible than when everything came out on vinyl only. Although some of the price points are getting too high. $30 is my limit (And I mean it has to be something I've been looking for for a long time) to pay that much for a piece of vinyl but the $20 to $24 range seems more fair to me. I pass up a lot of good records when the price of each gets too high but I frequently buy a few records that add up to way more money. I just think more LP's would sell with a lower price point and they may even make more money. Am I way off on that?

Steve Dollar's picture

Very true, Fred. It might be a licensing nightmare (I have no idea) but I'd love to see some classic Black Saint/Soul Note LPs get the treatment. David Murray's "Ming," for starters. And how about Arista's 1970s catalog (Braxton, et al)? I know Mosaic has dealt with Braxton's stuff, but I'd love to see a 45rpm of Creative Orchestra Music. A&Ms Jazz Master series? (Don Cherry, Sun Ra) ... the list goes on.Re: 45 rpm. Do you find the reissues to be improvements over the original pressings?

Stephen Mejias's picture

Great post, Fred. I would love to see Sonny Sharrock's later albums, especially Ask The Ages, reissued on vinyl. (I'd buy like five or ten copies of Ask The Ages. Please?!)

Scott Atkinson's picture

Stephen can't have all the 'Ask he Ages.' I get a few.Also, I'd stock up on 'Soapsuds, Soapsuds' (bought a used copy last year) and the rest of that period of Coleman - 'Of Human Feelings' in particular.I'll second the vote for Black Saint/Soul Note (and if you can't do that, then put em' out as lossless files on HDTracks) and I'll raise you the Steve Lacys on RCA/Novus.Scott A.

Jim Austin's picture

Totally agree about Ellington's "Masterpieces." Of course it has been reissued, though not by an audiophile house -- after all, it was 1956! I love my (reissue) even with some clicks and pops; listen to it as often as any other LP. There are lots of great-sounding Riversides, including, also from the Duke universe: Clark Terry's "Duke with a Difference", with Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves and Billy Strayhorn and Tyree Glenn, and ... OJC reissued it -- do they count as an audiophile label?

Fred Kaplan's picture

Note to Jim Austin: "Masterpieces by Ellington" is actually 1950, and as far as I know it's never been reissued on vinyl, certainly not in the "digital era." The DSD-mastered CD on Columbia Legacy is very good, but that's what makes me salivate for a vinyl reissue from the original analog tapes. The OJC vinyl reissues are pretty good, some of them, and still available, several of them - but they don't approach what Classic Records, Analogue Productions, Speakers Corner, and others have managed...Fred

JimAustin's picture

Fred - I realize this is an ancient thread, but I just discovered it so I thought I'd respond. I do indeed own a reissue of "Masterpieces by Ellington," released in 1956 by Columbia. It's CL-825; the original was CL-4418. I've never had the opportunity to compare the two directly, but my copy of CL-825 sounds amazing.



fabio's picture

I'm sorry to upset those who like them, but while digitizing my LP library I've found that modern "Audiophile" LPs are way worse than the good old LPs from the 80's.The new heavy weight LPs are much stiffer than the old LPs. This is bad, stiffness transmits lots of vibrations. Stiff records resonate. The TT motor generates some vibrations (60Hz, 120Hz), and some will get to the platter and to the cartridge.Measuring the background noise spectrum of a typical 80's record (say, Joe Jackson's New World) shows a little spike (-80dB) at 120Hz. A modern Audiophile LP (Muse - The Resistance) has a big spike (-65Hz) at 120Hz. This is a very reproducible problem, I have verified it on all records I've been transcribing so far.Also thick LPs seem to be more brittle, the surface is more easily damaged wrt the old "softer" LPs and generate more background noise.Incidentally the best vinyl I've found are the Polygram records of the 80's from Europe (Brian Eno's Before and After Science is quite amazing).

Fred Kaplan's picture

Fabio - No offense, but it sounds like you need a new turntable - or at least to adjust your VTA. Everything you say is the opposite of what I, and most other vinyl freaks I know, have experienced.

fabio's picture

Hi Fred,no offense taken, I've been puzzling it for a while myself. The TT is a vintage Thorens TD 166 MKII mounting a Shure V15 Type V. I have personally restored the TT and applied a number of improvements to it, including adjusting VTA and all else I could think. All in all performance is very good, better than what I thought could be achieved. The typical SNR is better than 75dB below 150Hz and better than 106dB above that. Not many TTs do that good.What I'm lamenting is that the older records are measurably quieter at low frequencies.I can publish a few FFT diagrams if you like. What would be best is if any of you guys could make an independent measurement.Methodology is simple, buy a decent audio interface for your PC (I have an EMU 0202 USB very nice) and record the signal in the empty grooves between songs, then perform an FFT, let me know what you get.It would also be very nice to have objective measurements with TT and cartridge reviews, listening-only tests always leave me wondering...

Fred Kaplan's picture

Interesting. I would make two points. I am not saying that audiophile reissues are all better than original pressings. Not at all (though most of the 45 rpms are - even here, though not all.). However, funny you should bring up the bass. For some reason (maybe the ones you've latched on to), the original pressings are almost all better than even the very good reissues when it comes to bass...Fred

Nathan's picture

As for new jazz LPs, I think its a Catch 22. I rarely even look for new jazz on vinyl, simply because I can never find what I'm looking for. Same goes for Classical. I'd probably quit using CDs altogether if Harmonia Mundi, Deutsche and the other big names began issuing vinyl again.Also, I'm not looking for "audiophile grade" LPs in most cases: I just want the music, I don't want to pay 2x as much for 60 extra grams of wax.

Fabio's picture

I'm into Rock music, I listen to lots of Jazz and Classical too, but Rock is what raises the hair on the back of my neck. What drives me to vinyl is the horrible job labels have been doing at mastering CDs. They really sound bad, compressed and distorted, the usual sound is tizzy at best. Having restored my TT I'm digitizing all my splendid vinyl from 70s->90s. Sounds soo much better. To make an example I own 6 different editions of Peter Gabriel's III, 4 on CD and 2 on Vinyl (including a modern audiophile version). Three CDs are different european "remasters" from the 80s of the original analog tapes, one is the recent 2000s remaster. The latter is a disaster, of the 80s remasters are a total puzzle, the are "interpretations" of the original, all sound different from each other (very much so) and different from the original vinyl. The original sounds the best and a 80s Nimbus CD edition gets close to it. But vinyl has lots of limitations, noise and dynamics are what they are, I'd love a 24/96 DVD done right.

Fred Stark's picture

I would like to get my hands on vinyl by the jazz label Strata East. You could start with trumpeterCharles Tolliver and pianist Stanley Cowell.

Tim's picture

I agree with Fabio;most 80's Jazz re-issues from the 50's & 60's (esp. Toshiba prints) sound much better than most of the thick, heavy new ones, sadly.

Greg's picture

How about some re-issues out of the DIW catalogue and some of the older Steeplechases records? The key to getting them to sell is not to release a flood of records and market the ones you do release properly. Choose great obscure ablums and make each re-release an event. Talk up WHY its a great album worthy of reconsideration. Some of them might actually sell better as re-issues than they did originally. Someone like Acoustic Sounds would be well placed to do a project like this.

Chris Sommovigo's picture

Hey Fred!I recently covered Soapsuds, Soapsuds on my blog. I don't profess to be a particularly talented or insightful reviewer, but someone might get a kick out of the "fragment" (to borrow from Coleridge) I wrote on the subject:

Artie's picture

Fred,I agree entirely. It's the same titles, over and over and over, from Analogue Productions et. al. I was told a while back that they choose what to issue on 45 RPM based on what has sold well previously! Clever marketing. But the larger problem is the (evidently) timid musical taste of "audiophiles." They can't stand late Coltrane, Dolphy, Sam Rivers, let alone anything new. They are not genuine jazz fans, IMHO, they just want pretty, safe sound, like the dreck you hear at audio shows.

Fred Kaplan's picture

Artie - I think you go too far. Several of these oft-re-remastered albums (Kind of Blue, Waltz for Debbie, Blue Train, Somethin' Else) are far from "drek." I wasn't even asking, in my piece, for more adventurousness (though I would certainly welcome it and think that more people than these companies seem to think would welcome it too); I was just asking for some stretching.

Joe Harley's picture

Fred, very worthwhile topic to bring up, thanks. We've made a concerted effort at Music Matters to expand our Blue Note releases to include some of the more adventurous titles like Dolphy's Out To Lunch (which you will be hearing very shortly), Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, Grachan Moncours' Evolution, Sam Rivers' Fuchsia Swing Song, Larry Young's Unity, Grant Green's Talkin' About (just released)...and that's just off the top of my head. The point is, Music Matters is hardly just releasing the same old Blue Note titles. I really get a kick out of hearing from customers who are turned on to an Blue Note album or artist they were completely unfamiliar with before. This happens with every new set of releases. However, I will say that when we release something like Out To Lunch we also receive some complaints from customers who do not relate to such adventurous music. So, we choose our pairings very carefully, always putting something more “out” along with something more down to earth and swinging in the traditional sense.Thanks again for bringing up an important topic!Joe

Cemil's picture

Out to Lunch is available on 45rpm issued by Acoustech. It sounds fantastic too.

Steve Dollar's picture

I just got my copy of Out to Lunch in the mail. It's really terrific packaging, class all the way. Music Matters seems to put more effort into the packaging than its peers in the audiphile reissue biz ... the gatefold, the classic photographs. $50 DOES seem a little steep, about twice what I'm used to paying for brand new sealed rock releases (i.e., Wilco's A Ghost Is Born from Rhino Handmade), but it's definitely good value. I wouldn't pick up every single title, 'cos a lot of the vintage Blue Note hard bop, as it good as it is, has been so burned into my brain I'm quite happy with an AIFF file off of iTunes. But it's going to be hard to resist getting Point of Departure, for instance ... I'm going to draw up a list of edgier BN faves and send 'em a note!Also, given how these discs appreciate in value, maybe I should buy 2 copies and save one for ebay. It'll be better than putting money in the bank.