Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder on vinyl

For some time now, I’ve been urging (begging) the audiophile vinyl-reissue houses to focus on Duke Ellington’s great 1950s albums on the Columbia label, and finally Pure Pleasure Records has done it.

Pure Pleasure is a British company that has remastered lots of great jazz titles, many of them unjustly unsung, from the Columbia, Candid, Verve, and RCA catalogues. A few Ellington Columbias have been among them, but they’ve either been sonically less-than-pristine (Ellington Uptown, First Time with Count Basie, Blue Rose with Rosemary Clooney) or musically slight (The Nutcracker Suite).

But now they’ve done it—a thick, quiet, 180-gram vinyl pressing of Such Sweet Thunder, the Duke’s 1957 LP of Shakespeare-inspired compositions. It’s fair to say, I think, that the world can be divided between two kinds of people: those who swoon over Johnny Hodges’ solo on “Star-Crossed Lovers” (loosely based on Romeo and Juliet) and those who don’t. The whole album is gorgeous.

In 1999, Columbia Legacy reissued Such Sweet Thunder on a very good-sounding CD, which boasted the additional bonus of being in stereo. Back at the dawn of two-channel audio, Columbia recorded this album in mono and stereo but decided to release it only in mono. Forty years later, ace audio sleuth Phil Schaap found the stereo master tapes in a mismarked box in the studio’s vaults and produced the reissue in its “360” glory (and with some splendid alternate takes, too).

The Pure Pleasure LP sticks to the original mono, but sounds fresher nonetheless. Clarinets are woodier, horns are brassier, percussion is more percussive, the piano is warmer, the bass is deeper, pluckier, and vibrating with more wood resonance. Throughout, there’s more air, greater depth. It’s swoonier.

Now, Pure Pleasure or somebody, anybody, please reissue the best Duke Columbia, one of his most jaw-dropping albums period, musically and sonically: the 1950 (yes, that’s no typo, 1950) LP, Masterpieces by Ellington (which, meanwhile, is available as an excellent-sounding, DSD-mastered Sony Legacy CD).

Nick's picture

I have a few of those DSD mastered CD's of Ellington and Davis and I find it hard to believe they can be bettered. Can they?

Fred Kaplan's picture

Nick - A 45rpm LP would certainly sound better, a 33rpm LP might. (None of those DSD-mastered CDs, as far as I know, have been remastered on vinyl by one of the audiophile houses that knows what it's doing, so there's no basis for comparison.)

tmsorosk's picture

Nick , No . MAX

canyelles's picture

I simply cannot agree that the Nutcracker Suite is 'musically slight'The Three Suites CD on which it currently appears is a joy from beginning to end and sounds wonderful.

Joe Harley's picture

Fred, thanks much for the tip. I just got through playing this reissue (using a Lyra Titan mono) and you're dead on. The music and sound are to die for. Swoon worthy? Absolutely!Masterpieces in 45? Hmmmmm....Joe

Jesse's picture

Fred, do you use a dedicated mono cartridge, like Joe Harley does? If so, do you switch armwands on your VPI, one for stereo and one for mono?

Fred Kaplan's picture

Jesse - No, I don't use a mono cartridge.