Taking Liberties…the poor man’s Blue Note

THE LIBERTY YEARS 1966-70:  A TALE OF TWO OWNERS

(A summary of the final conclusions of this post, incorporating comments and futher research and new pictures has been added to the permanent pages of LJC “Blue Note: The Liberty Years here)

Liberty_Records_In 1966, the iconic record label and greatest catalogue of jazz recordings of all time, Blue Note Records Inc, was sold to the giant Liberty Records Inc. and in a short space of time, “Blue Note Records,  a Division of Liberty Records Inc” was born. Master engineer Rudy Van Gelder continued to work for Blue Note, recording and engineering, as he always had, with many labels. A long list of titles were already prepared for release, to be joined by reissues of many earlier Blue Note titles, on the new Division of Liberty label.

Judging by market prices –  generally a third or a quarter of “run-of-the-mill” original pre-1966 Blue Note pressings – Liberty has earned a reputation among dealers and collectors  as “the poor man’s Blue Note”.  Counting about ninety “Liberty” Blue Notes of one sort or another  in my collection, including the first release of titles recorded in the Blue Note years, some superb quality pressings, and not a few lacklustre editions, it seemed overdue to take stock of The Liberty Years. A lot has been written about the Blue Note years, but very little on what followed, so LJC jumps in, both feet first.(Caveat: as always, the opinions here are my own, ymmv)

Good years, bad years

Immediately after the acquisition there was a period of “good” Liberty Records, extending for the next two years, but ending in a “not so good” Liberty Records after its acquisition by the conglomerate Transamerica Corporation in 1968/9. Somewhere between the two was a “middle” period where much good can still be found.

Fortunately for the vinyl collector, these three periods are identifiable from the changing look of the Division of Liberty label, though bad news for the colour-blind collector. Below are  three “Blue Note” releases of Art Blakey, which illustrate the changing ownership and management of “Blue Note Records” ( catalogue numbers do not follow chronologically).

On the left, Liberty 1 (updated March 8th, 2013) ,  a healthy 155gm Liberty Blue Note with all the label characteristics of original Blue Note, saturated blue and white-cream, printed by the same specialist printers of original Blue Note – Keystone, Scranton PA, hence the similarity. Both first pressings and reissues of this period are of extremely high quality. This  includes the “notorious ” earless NY/Liberty pressings – old stock original NY Blue Note labels, with metal-work pulled from the Van Gelder master, but no Plastylite “ear”. Most if not all of these early Liberty Blue Notes were pressed by All Disc Records, Roselle NJ, an East Coast  plant bought by Liberty at the same time as the acquisition of Blue Note. The most reliable indicator of provenance is the Keystone label, with its perfectly former registered trademark symbol, a circled “R”, and vinyl weight at the upper end of the range towards 160 gm.

In the middle, Liberty 2,  the yellow-cast label with blue tinted towards towards cyan.  The quality of pressing of these records is mostly very good, but not reliably so. I reckon 1-in-4 not so good, but that is just my collection. Source of pressing unknown, label printers unknown but unlikely to be Blue Notes previous printers (Registered Trademark “R” beneath NOTE is malformed, with the circle barely visible, if at all) Pressing could be competetively placed, and those labels supplied to any plant, hence the variability of quality.

On the right, Liberty 3, dark royal blue and buttermilk label, associated with thinner vinyl of an average 135 gm, and thinner still audio quality, some not even Van Gelder mastered.  It is still recognizably music, but to the sound quality often  flat and anaemic-sounding, at least in my five copies, which are  linked with later Liberty and “Entertainment from Transamerica Corporation”

Records exist in a world of variations and exceptions. I count six distinguishable variants among Division of Liberty labels, suggesting a variety of print sources, and the near- impossibility of tying any particular variety of label to a particular pressing plant or as a predictor of quality, in contrast to the  almost complete consistency of quality offered by original Blue Note and Plastylite.

A Steve Hoffman Forum poster adds this nugget of arcane knowledge: Some pre-Liberty Blue Notes that wouldn’t have had the Plastylite ‘ear’ could’ve come from the West Coast. I’ve seen some scans of LP labels where the typesetting of the label copy came from Bert-Co Press in Hollywood, as opposed to the Plastylite-pressed copies whereby label copy was set by Keystone Printed Specialties Co., Inc. of Scranton, PA.

This is the sort of knowledge you could live without, but it may be the key somehow to these label differences.

(See update 10th December 2012, at foot of post)

Sellers often little help

$T2eC16RHJF0E9nmFSH7UBP9i2gGwiw~~60_57Unfortunately, most record sellers photo’s are taken with inexpensive point and shoot cameras under a mixture of light: tungsten indoor lighting (yellow cast), natural window light (blue cast) or eco-nonsense (green colour cast), resulting the loss of colour fidelity: you are sometimes hard-pressed to tell which you are looking at. This Liberty seller’s mind was clearly on the gatefold not the label. Well, at least he’s normal. Many people are not aware of colour variation – they see “blue and white” and they are at a loss how else to describe it.

Where it all went wrong: Transamerica Corporation

Transamerica_building_san_franciscoIn the 1960s, Transamerica, originally a banking and an insurance group was forced to divest itself of its banking arm, and reinvented itself as a diversified financial conglomerate, which went on to include United Artists film and records, the Transamerica airline, and Budget Rent A Car among other interests.

In 1968  Transamerica bought Liberty Records for $38m, to  enlarge its entertainment industry portfolio, two years into Liberty’s ownership of Blue Note. When the entertainment arm of Liberty and United Artists began to post significant losses Transamerica was said to have introduced “new management techniques” to restore profitability. Sinister.  Having been on the receiving end of management techniques on  many occasions, reducing the cost of manufacture rather than increasing product quality will have figured high among them.

In 1969 Transamerica merged United Artists with Liberty Records, commencing a decade of Blue Note under the United Artists label. This period produced few original titles and a large quantity of indifferent quality reissues, apart from briefly, the unexpectedly fine “Division of United Artists” series (1970-3). I have twelve, and all but one is a cracker.(That one destined for a future post)

Collectors Corner – some thoughts

Blue Note collectors are always panning for gold. Searching for that elusive original first edition of Mobley 1568, chasing first pressings on Ebay, very often coming up empty-handed. The good news is that gold just got a whole lot easier to find – selectively, from the Liberty Years.

Blue-Note-Collectors-panning-for-goldSays on the label its a Division of Liberty, Deke, whadya think, should I toss it back?”

“I’m kinda surprised, Jed. I never knew you could read.”

Early  Division of Liberty Blue Notes are on the whole very well pressed records, with a Van Gelder master source and vinyl production quality to the high standard pre-dating the Oil Price hike of 1973, and great value. They make great listening, perhaps not as great as original Plastylite Blue Notes but at a third of the price or less, and for especially sought after titles, often all that is available.

However, that said, it would not stop me from upgrading from a Liberty to an original Blue Note if one came up at an affordable price. Which is not very often.

Liberty vs Japanese pressings

The obvious question for the cheapskate price-conscious collector is how do Division of Liberty Blue Notes compare against the similarly priced Japanese Blue Note pressings? Though I am full of respect for the quality of King and Toshiba engineering, where I have both a Japanese and a Division of Liberty edition for comparison, I have to say the Liberty is the more enjoyable experience. More slap and immediacy, with the Japanese press more “polite” and restrained. Hopefully that is not a bit of national stereotyping kicking in.

The only reservation I have is that I first started to appreciate the strengths of “Division of Liberty” pressings only after a series of  turntable improvements . Until then I held a pretty dim view of them. It may well be that it requires equipment beyond the ordinary to extract the quality of Liberty pressings.Or perhaps better quality equipment, properly tuned, makes all vinyl sound better, pulling Liberty up a couple of levels into the arena of happy listening.

Bad Liberty

Whatever the reason, I now class the “good Liberty” , especially the earless NY editions, as a jolly good listen.  With renewed confidence, I have picked up a couple of Libertys recently and have been very happy with them. The “Liberty 3” period however remain unsatisfactory in my view, and are dismissed … to the naughty step, until such time as they own up and admit they have been bad vinyl, and that they are very very sorry. Even then, I still won’t let them come round to my house and play. Only good vinyl is allowed to play.

Of course, Blue Note collectors of the original artefact, original first pressings, will never be satisfied with anything else. That is their priviledge.

UPDATE December 9th

Mystery: who pressed Liberty Blue Notes? Why do they start so good?

LJC poster Felix has found evidence, from Billboard (28th May 1966), that Liberty purchased their own pressing plant in New Jersey at the same time as the acquisition of Blue Note:” All-Disc, Roselle, New Jersey, operated by owner Van Amo”. Seems they may have pressed Blue Note, the “Caddilac of Jazz lines” for themselves.

More interesting, the plant acquisition was a second foray into pressing plants by Liberty, following the purchase of Research Craft LA the previous year. Research Craft are documented as pressing Riverside US editions.

The trail is hot.

Lib-Expansion

Update 10th December

“Nice theory, shame about the facts, LJC” Too many anomalies for me to feel comfortable with, so no rush to judgement. Looks like one may have to consider who printed the labels, as well as who owned to company, and which plant pressed the record.. I am in the process of going through each of the forty odd Division of Liberty pressings I have, to come up with a better story. Whatever it is, it is more complex than I initially imagined.

UPDATE 11th December

All of the labels, around forty, shot under identical lighting, and put them into similar groups, in which I count six main variations. These  show little consistency over time, suggesting they could just be variations in print suppliers rather than pressing plants, as I believe the record company commissioned and delivered the labels to the chosen pressing plant. Four of the forty have the Capitol “sixpence” depression, which I understand is definitive, so 90% are not pressed by Capitol. Around half colour-match original Blue Notes in a Classic Blue Note design, complete with registered trademark.   Around 90% have a VAN GELDER or rarely, an RVG master source.

LibMaster1600-FINAL

RegMark-LIBS

Some label printers seemed not have a registered trademark symbol in their font set, hence the plain character “R” in place of the circled R, as deployed in the Blue Note-like Classic label typsetting. Its always the little things that give you away.

Sound Quality

Sonically the worst sounding records are those which don’t have a Van Gelder source master.The best, I found a couple which are sourced from an “RVG” stamped master which sound a fresh as yesterday. I am still of the view that the closer to 1966 the better, and the closer to 1970, the worse, though that may be for a host of reasons other than company ownership.

Conclusion

I am not sure how much this has added a lot to our understanding of the Liberty years, except they come across as confused, inconsistent and probably not worth further effort to understand.

In one of those Rumsfeld moments, the amount I don’t know I don’t know has reduced (I am guessing of course) but  the amount I know I don’t know has increased.

So that’s all good then.

UPDATE December 19, 2012

W.B at Steve Hoffman Forms responded to our enquiry , thank you  so much W.B   – this really puts  perspective on the Liberty East/West Coast dimension, Great!

Link:

http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/who-wants-to-compile-a-list-of-pressing-plant-initials.37991/page-18#post-8320452

For the mouse-challenged, this is the text of W.B’s response:

Well, though this is peripheral, in the period up to 1968 United Artists Records (which, along with its film company parent, was acquired by Transamerica in 1967) had their LP’s on the East Coast pressed by Abbey Record Mfg. in East Newark, NJ since at least 1966; I can’t say for sure if Abbey pressed for Blue Note in the years leading up to the Transamerica acquisition of its then-parent Liberty, though it may be possible.  What I do know is, West Coast Blue Note pressings at the point of the Liberty acquisition would have been by L.A.-based Research Craft which Liberty had taken over in 1965, while on the East Coast there was also the little matter of All Disc Records in Roselle, NJ, which Liberty acquired the following year (and which I saw was touched on in the blog post in that link).
Based on this, it appears BST 84245 (“Liberty 1,” with label typesetting by Keystone Printed Specialties of Scranton, PA) would have been an All Disc pressing, while the other two examples of BST 84170 and BST 84258 (“Liberty 2” and “Liberty 3,” respectively, with label typesetting by Bert-Co Enterprises of Los Angeles) were pressed by Research Craft; the former plant had 2.75″ diameter circular indent on the label area (just as latter-day Plastylite Blue Notes), while the latter had a 2.875″ diameter circular indent which was long associated with Monarch pressings and the “delta numbers” on the deadwax.  It is very unlikely RCA would have pressed Blue Notes in the two-year interim between the Liberty acquisition and the onset of the Transamerica era (given their 2.75″ diameter “deep groove” and use of glossy paper for their labels), but then I’ve been surprised more than once by certain pressings that shouldn’t have been.
It should also be noted that by the time the Transamerica era was well underway, Liberty’s own studios in Los Angeles (which were rebranded as United Artists studios upon Transamerica’s early 1971 dissolution of Liberty and their absorption of what was left of their artist roster to UA) took over the lion’s (no relation to Blue Note co-founder Alfred Lion) share of the job of lacquer mastering which may explain why the sound of those latter Liberty-era Blue Notes was “anemic.”  (I’ve quite a few Liberty/UA-mastered 45’s in my collection; there was a big hunk o’ compression in many cases, and some with somewhat narrow stereo.  I’m also at a loss as to which lathe Liberty/UA would’ve used – whether it was a Scully or Neumann – maybe the former, given their use of constant [not variable] pitch and depth.  Van Gelder, of course, always used Scully mastering equipment – most definitely the 1950 model that was the first to have variable pitch/depth control and preceded the 1955 Model 601.)
Also, by the end of Liberty’s existence, some 45’s on Blue Note were pressed by Columbia (and maybe a few LP’s, too).  I have one such 45, by Richard “Groove” Holmes (one side of which was a rendition of the theme from the film Love Story); the typesetting and pressing (styrene, natch’) came from their Pitman, NJ plant, and the Blue Note label design (at least on 45) was conformed to the “Liberty style” design of labels, with “Liberty/UA, Inc., Los Angeles, California” in the rim print; the lacquer mastering on that release was handled by New York-based Mediasound, Inc., on a Scully lathe by former Bell Sound mastering engineer Dominick Romeo.

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71 thoughts on “Taking Liberties…the poor man’s Blue Note

  1. I don’t like any of the classic white/blue Blue Note label designs as I prefer the Liberty designed black with the light blue section (to the left of the spindle hole) label that was used from 1966-1970. THAT was the cool Blue Note label design. Long live Liberty/UA!

    • Undeniably great music, and good quality pressing against the tide of sliding industry standards, not to belittle Liberty/UA. Even the Blue label/black note has some corkers, though sadly not reliably so.

  2. Let me add that as far as those pressings currently I.D.’d as “Capitol Press” in the image – https://londonjazzcollector.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/libmaster1600-final.jpg – may not be Capitol at all. Their pressing rings measured 1.5″ diameter, ever since the period around which EMI first acquired Capitol in 1955. The rings on the examples shown herein, however, look more like 1.25″ diameter – which was omnipresent on pressings from MGM Records’ Bloomfield, NJ plant from c.1960-61 until its closure in 1971. What deadwax markings (besides the write-out of the matrix numbers) would have been on such pressings?

  3. dlukaskon October 24, 2013 at 16:23 said:

    So could you speculate that a NYC Label Blue Note without the P/Ear but including a 2.75 circular depression, before the labels were changed completely, could still be a Plastylite pressing? Or at the very least a very high-quality pressing? For instance, the first pressing of “Dippin” by Hank Mobley uses NYC Labels, but has no P. It’s somewhere in that transition period. Would this qualify?

    I just bought a NYC, RVG, No Ear mono pressing of Grant’s First Stand, and while not the original pressing (I’m holding out for an EX or better of that – it’s my favorite jazz record), I’m hoping that it delivers a true dynamic range that is close enough to the original in the meantime. (Have you had any experience with this pressing?)

    • BLP 4086 Grantstand – my copy has the ear, so I can’t speak for that particular title, but I have a dozen or more earless NY Label pressings and I am delighted with all of them (and I am very fussy about sound quality).

      Whether some were pressed by Plastylite without the ear or some other plant is moot. We have established Liberty purchased a “captive” pressing plant – All Disc, Roselle NJ, around the time of the acquisition of Blue Note. Why would they acquire an East Coast plant, embark on a wave of reissues from their newly-acquired Blue Note catalog, and then still send the pressing work to someone else’s business? May be they still used Plastylite for extra capacity, who knows? Why did Plastylite drop the “ear” for its last half decade? Who knows. Mid Sixties NY Plastylite and Liberty earless in NY labels sound equally good to me.

      I just bought an 1966 earless Liberty with Lexington labels (hilarious) and its metalwork is direct family of RVG hand etched and the 9M, just no ear. I am not an antique collector, I buy to listen, and am delighted. I don’t believe it sounds worse, and I don’t really know who pressed it. The mastering is what I think matters, rather than the pressing plant (though they could still screw up)

      It really does come down to why you think you want a “first edition”.

      • The mono NYC copy of “Grant’s First Stand” I mentioned (not “Grantstand”), is EX vinyl. It, too, has “RVG” and the “9M,” again just no ear. So I’m excited to get it. Seeking a specific “first edition” pressing – for me anyway – is merely an itch of being a enthusiastic fan of a particular artist and/or album moreso than another and wanting that artifact as it was when it was first vaulted into existence. In any case, it’s really about finding a clean copy, as I, too, buy to listen.

        I supposed the “ear-itating” part of paying large amounts of money for Blue Notes is a just the nature of mass production and the collector market, but anything made in quantity over time is going to have some variation. Luckily it seems like there’s a confusing yet discernible period of time when the transition to Liberty didn’t dampen the quality of results.

  4. Sorry, a couple more questions:

    1. So aside from differences in tints of colors, is there any way to tell the difference visually (a la ebay) between an early Division of Liberty and a late one? It looks like the “R” has a circle for both 1 and 3 at the top of this page.

    2. Any info on what kinds of labels are known to exist without a “P”? New York USA is obvious but what about W63 and Lexington? I feel like I’ve heard there is such a thing as a Lexington without a “P”…?

    • 1. I just checked the full-sized label photos and of the six “Royal Blue/Buttermilk” series just the one has a circle round the “R”, which loooked at real close is poorly formed – the other five have no circle. So the one I picked for the photo is an anomaly, dammit.

      As a general rule, I think from what WB has commented at Hoffman, the distinction remains, that the circle around the R indicates printing by Keystone Printed Specialties of Scranton, PA and pressing by All Disc Records Roselle NJ. All East Coast manufacture and I believe indicate high quality pressing, and that includes the NY label no “P” Liberty releases. Vinyl weight is mostly in the higher 145-155 gram range

      The Cyan/yellow tint has the circle around the R on most of my copies and I dont have a fix on what to make of these – yet

      It seems likely the other variations are West Coast printing, by Bert-Co Hollywood, and pressing by Research Craft LA. Vinyl weights tend to be in the lower range 135-145, though this is variable and not definitive. These are mixed quality, some good some not so good. In most if not all of my copies there is no circle around the R on these labels.

      As for the “no “ear” Libertys, numerically, most of these used up old-stock NY labels, but I have a couple where they had even older labels, including a couple of 47 West 63rd with no ear and original Lexington labels and no ear. As always, the absence of the ear is definitive, and indicated pressing after 1966. The label itself is not proof of date of manufacture as it was custom and practice to use up existing stock of labels before ordering more. I am sure this applies to original Blue Notes too, hence mixed side A and B labels on some original Blue Notes with ear.

      The interesting thing with original Blue Note mixed labels, after Blue Note became incorporated with the Registered Trademark R,around 1960/1, when old labels are used up, one of the two will have the R, I assume a legal priority to protect the trademark.

      The “Liberty Years” are strictly 1966-70, though the tail end is ragged as Transamerica became new owners of Liberty in 1968, and we saw the organisation morphing eventually into “Division of United Artists” after 1970, and after 1973, United Artists Music and Records Group. This is as much as I think I know, and always happy to be corrected .

        • Thanks Dean, helpful in nailing down the timeline, naming the names, and confirming the Liberty/ All Disc connection. It all points to Liberty having their own captive plant, All Disc,NJ, taking over where Plastylite left off, and another captive, on the West Coast, Research Craft.

          • “The label itself is not proof of date of manufacture as it was custom and practice to use up existing stock of labels before ordering more.”

            Yes, I have found this to be true as well. Again, your post on “The Lexington That Wasn’t”, BLP 1520, is priceless.

            I’ve decided to give the no “P” New York USA and Division of Liberty labels a chance, but if it’s a Division of Liberty I’m not gonna bid unless the seller can weight the record 😉

            BTW: The only non-P copy I have is 4169 “Search for the New Land”, the label is New York USA, it has the cyan tint you’re talking about and the “R” has a circle. The record sounds great and weighs a hefty 175 grams.

            Regarding weight, the weird thing is I have a mono “P” pressing of The Sidewinder and it’s a whimpy 130 grams. I had a “P” pressing in stereo before too and the stereo was much heavier, I think around 160…?

              • Search for a New Land is one heck of a fine record, Morgan’s finest before he went “commercial”. My copy is earless but it has never failed to give a satisfying performance on the turntable. I have written before, whilst in theory the closest to the original source tapes the better, there is always the intervening variable – the decline in quality between the first and the last off the stamper. The only test is listening, and it is not unknown to have found an original which is “disappointing” and a second pressing or early reissue which is more spacious, fresh, makes a bettter emotional connection. I believe the quality overlaps between Plastylite and its successor. One heck of a lot depends on what kind of gear you are listening on.

                A 130gm P is unusual but there is a range of variation, from 180 down to 135 in my collection. Sidewinder sold in very large quantities, far more than your typical Blue Note, meaning long pressing runs. Maybe the plant was running low on vinylite and economised on the size of the buiscuit to keep the press running. No idea if that ever happened, but just about everything I have seen has “anomalies” and this is another.

                • “…whilst in theory the closest to the original source tapes the better, there is always the intervening variable – the decline in quality between the first and the last off the stamper. The only test is listening, and it is not unknown to have found an original which is “disappointing” and a second pressing or early reissue which is more spacious, fresh, makes a bettter emotional connection. I believe the quality overlaps between Plastylite and its successor. One heck of a lot depends on what kind of gear you are listening on.”

                  /\ This /\

                  Couldn’t have said it any better =)

              • funnily enough in another thread i mentioned a copy i recently found of a stereo ‘P’ ‘in search for new land’. i found that it sounded identical to a 70s blue label pressing (which also had van gelder and stereo in run out groove). sounds audacious but maybe my ‘P’ orig copy had a late mother or older stamper (sorry i don’t know the technical terms all that well).

  5. Thanks to Bob, Aaron, Felix and Richard, and anyone I missed, for this input. I dont think there is anything like it elsewhere, so gold stars all round.
    I was thinking the other day, there are two kinds of “knowledge” – the knowledge put on-line, which thanks to Google, everyone has access to – we are all geniuses now, and the stuff locked up in individuals heads, which they alone own. A whole lot of knowledge just shifted from the latter to the former, which in turn may unlock more still. All good.
    I think even I am beginning to understand this mono/stereo development, a sure sign I have probably got it wrong somewhere along the line. I take note of the fact I hear Roy DuNann stereo, and I hear Rudy van Gelder stereo, both late Fifties, and one of the two is very primitive to my ear, and the other extremely rich. Thinking outside the RVG box, what was DuNann doing right that Van Gelder wasn’t? Was it technology or artistic intent, or something else? Even Van Gelder admits, when he had the opportunity to remaster, he changed his original judgements.

    • I suspect everyone will have different answers to this question, but my personal take (and I think Richard’s RVG quote bears this out) is that for RVG and Alfred Lion, stereo was seen as something more akin to three channel mono.

      True stereo, as heard on a Mercury Living Presence stereo LP, for example, involves more than one microphone picking up a given sound source (say, an oboe). In a typical RVG recording Coltrane’s sax was picked up by only a single microphone (for the most part), the oboe in a Living Presence recording was picked up by all three microphones.

      These phenomenas are generally referred to as ‘separation/isolation’ and ‘bleed’, respectively.

      With a true stereo recording, your two ears compare the audio information and use relative volume, phase, and delay cues to determine spatial positioning. A true stereo recording has a sort of “trompe l’oreille” effect which leaves you to sense that you are sitting in front an array of instruments and also imparts a sense of acoustic space given the presence of natural reverberation. This is usually most apparent in the ‘sweet spot’ directly between and about half the separation distance in front of the two speakers.

      A great example of this kind of stereo recording technique applied to jazz is “Kind of Blue” recorded at Columbia’s massive 30th Street Studio (a converted church sanctuary):

      http://marycaple.tumblr.com/post/591647419/columbia-records-studio-at-207-east-30th-street

      When you listen to Kind of Blue, the reverberation you are hearing is that of the of this gigantic chamber. This is also the same acoustic space you are hearing if you listen to a Columbia Masterworks recording of Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic.

      With very close microphone placement, such as RVG employed, the channel separation becomes extreme most/all of this spatial information is effectively discarded. While this allows for much greater mixing control and very detailed sound, a true stereo image is no longer an option. To compensate for this, RVG added artificial reverb at the mixing board, initially using a spring reverb unit and later by building a dedicated reverb chamber and crossfading it with the direct signal.

      Here’s an example of this kind of setup:

      RVG’s reverb chamber was likely much smaller and simpler. For example, the reverb chamber at Goldstar studios Phil Spector used for his famously reverb-drenched Wall of Sound recordings allegedly utilized only an 8-inch speaker and a ribbon microphone in a concrete crawlspace.

      While this reverb is aesthetically pleasing and does create a sense of space, it lacks the intricate phase and delay cues needed to trick our brains into perceiving a direct spacial relationship in the instruments we are hearing.

      I hope someone else can speak more intelligently about DuNann, as I only have one stereo Contemporary pressing. I do know that DuNann’s recordings were famously made in a back storage room at Contemporary and that he employed a spring reverb unit in between the tape machine and the cutting lathe (the reason the original Contemporary masters are truly unique). My guess is that he achieved a truer stereo image by allowing more bleed.

      Of course, as always there’s a lot more to all of this, but hopefully this gives a bit of insight into the various ways stereo was applied (or to some folks, misapplied) during its earlier years.

      • Very cool info about “Kind of Blue”, Felix. I wonder how the mono release came about if the miking techniques were stereo…? I’m a fan of the Columbia sound, and I have no idea how they handled the stereo-mono thing.

        So how was Kind of Blue mic’ed then? Did they do a mix of close mics and rooms mics, or is it all room mics? I know there’s a book out there on the making of Kind of Blue but I’ve never read it.

        • Hopefully I’m not veering to far off topic here, but:

          1. As far as I am aware, Stereo-era Columbia mono LPs are simple fold downs, although lacking any of the fireworks of the kind RVG added to Blue Note monos.

          2. “Kind of Blue” was recorded with direct, non-ambient mic’ing. Instruments were mic’d individually, but with enough distance to ‘hear’ the ambient reverberation of the studio space as opposed to being right up on the microphone in RVG’s sessions. Columbia also used the Neumann M49 large diaphragm condenser which had three remotely switchable patterns (omni, cardioid, bi) as opposed to the Neumann U47s two (omini, cardioid).

          Here’s some pictures to give a general idea of mic placement:

          Even more insight can be gained from examining Dave Bruebeck’s “Time Out” recording sessions recorded in the same studio a few months later and also produced by Teo Macero.

          Here is a more detailed photo showing the setup of that session:

          And here is an article which goes into detail regarding mic setup and mic placement:
          http://www.prosoundweb.com/article/print/remastering_three_jazz_classics_the_dave_brubeck_quartet_art_pepper_and_son

          For the sake of contrast, here is a typical setup for a stereo Columbia Masterworks session using only two M49 condensers a great distance in front and above the sound source for an almost entirely ambient sound (other mics are being used to reenforce the percussion section). Stravinsky is conducting:

          30th street 1960

          • Re. Columbia and Columbia Masterworks: There were no “fold-downs” of stereo masters; there were dedicated separate mixes for both mono and stereo, being as Columbia’s studios were strict union shops. For that matter, the same was true with RCA Victor and its Red Seal division.

            As for RVG and the Scully he used to cut all his LP’s and 45’s for his array of client labels (Blue Note, Prestige, MGM-era Verve, CTI): It’s obvious looking at it that it was the 1950-55 variant model, I’m only at a loss as to the exact model number. (The pre-1948 Scullys with a gearbox with seven levels of fixed pitches [88 – 136 lpi for coarse pitch, 150 – 234 or 178 – 274 lpi for finer pitch] were designated Model 501, and the post-1955 lathes with two rows of buttons on the control panel [as opposed to the one row of buttons on his lathe] was Model 601.) The serial numbers wouldn’t be the same as the model number. But seeing the control panel, the lead-out pitches on his lacquers – 3.4825 lpi for LP’s, 1.83 – 1.86 lpi for 45’s – were indicative of the Scullys of that vintage which he worked on.

  6. Hello,

    Let me start by apologizing for jamming up the comments of this wonderful blog post with all this discussion about mono vs. stereo. I have recently become a hobbyist Rudy Van Gelder and Blue Note historian, and I have some information to help clarify this mono-stereo matter, as I believe it is extremely important to understand an artist’s intention (Van Gelder here) in appreciating their work. My understanding has been derived in part from email correspondence with Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray of the Music Matters team, and from in-person conversations with Fred Cohen, author of the Blue Note originals book.

    So sorry to crash the mono-stereo party late but everybody is missing one extremely important fact: there is strong evidence that, FROM NOVEMBER 1958 ON, VAN GELDER RECORDED TO TWO-TRACK TAPE ONLY BUT MONITORED IN MONO (see the quote from Cohen’s book and question 2 below). Additionally, while he was running both full-track and two-track tape between May 1957 and October 1958, he was also monitoring in mono.

    When I first heard this, I didn’t understand that 1. All “mixing” was done on the fly, i.e. there was no mixing process after the recording was made, 2. The master tape was spliced from the session tapes, and 3. The mastering process didn’t include bouncing to a new tape but consisted solely of cutting the lacquers disks for the pressing plant. So when it came time for Van Gelder to play back the two-track tape in order to make the mono lacquer, he heard virtually the exact same thing he did when he was mixing on the fly in mono.

    Bob, I understand that you believe Van Gelder’s vision was mono. I am trying to explain that this is true, but the details are a little different.

    FROM COHEN’S BOOK:

    “All session in Hackensack were recorded on full track mono tape up to May 8, 1957. After that date session were recorded on both mono and two-track tape at the same time, up to October 30, 1958. The two-track tape was filed away and basically I ignored it until November 1958, when mono taping was dropped. The studio in Hackensack never had a stereo monitoring system. It had only one speaker in the control room…SO ALL THE TWO-TRACK SESSIONS WERE MONITORED ON ONE SPEAKER.

    When the stereo LP became viable and it seemed obvious that stereo LPs would replace mono LPs*, Alfred still expected me to create a two-track tape from which I could make the mono master disk while mono was still in demand. Later I could then use the same tape as a master for the stereo LP.

    I did this by combining the two tracks in a manner that we called 50/50, from which I could make the mono LP directly from the original tape. This became the tape that was edited and assembled. There are many tape boxes in the vaults with that description written on them by Alfred Lion.

    Both LP formats could be made from the original tapes—not copies because analog tapes do not like to be copied to another analog tape.”

    “WHEN THE STUDIO IN ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS OPENED IN JULY 1959 IT HAD THREE SPEAKERS IN THE CONTROL ROOM…BUT THE PRACTICE OF EDITING** AND MONITORING IN MONO CONTINUED FOR A FEW YEARS.”

    “THE SOLE PURPOSE OF THE ORIGINAL TWO-TRACK SETUP WAS NOT PLACEMENT IN SPACE BUT TO MAKE THE MONO SOUND BETTER (caps here by Van Gelder).”

    *It makes sense that he would be talking about late 1958 when they stopped recording to full-track tape.

    **By editing here he means splicing the best takes out of the session tape to create the two-track master tape.

    There are only two things that are unclear at this point for me:

    1. When Van Gelder bought a two-track tape machine for Hackensack in 1957, did he also buy a stereo lathe? If so, since Hackensack only had a mono monitoring system, is it possible that he cut stereo lacquers at Hackensack without EVER hearing them?? Could there have been headphones for the stereo lathe or something??
    2. When he says “monitoring in mono continued for a few years”, how long does he mean? 1962-3? 1968? Also, does he mean mono STRICTLY in mono? My hypothesis is that he monitored in mono through the 60’s, but at some point he may have started to give more attention to the stereo mix as well. As I mentioned above, I believe this information is extremely important in understanding which pressings were ultimately made with Van Gelder’s utmost care and attention.

    • Hi Richard,

      I believe you may have set an all time high score for most posts in the shortest amount of time!

      “When Van Gelder bought a two-track tape machine for Hackensack in 1957, did he also buy a stereo lathe?”

      My understanding of lathes is that the lathe itself is neither mono nor stereo, rather it is the cutting head. From this, I would guess that RVG acquired a new cutting head for stereo. Here’s a detailed picture of a Scully lathe with a Farichild stereo cutting head:

      http://www.aardvarkmastering.com/history.htm

      Also, “W.B.” over at the Steve Hoffman site (who seems to very much know what he’s talking about) responded to LJC’s Liberty questions with additional info about the particular lathes RVG used:

      http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/who-wants-to-compile-a-list-of-pressing-plant-initials.37991/page-18#post-8320452

      As for how he went about monitoring the cutting process, that’s a very interesting question. My personal guess is that the cutting process was only “monitored” after the fact by playing back the lacquer on either a stereo or mono reference turntable setup. Certainly, your idea that this was monitored via headphones seems plausible as well.

      Here’s a great picture of RVG and Alfred Lion with Rudy in headphones:

      http://blog.americanhistory.si.edu/.a/6a00e553a80e108834015391a16b34970b-500wi

      (I believe the boxes in front are microphone preamps. You can also see an Ampex deck. I am going to guess that the rack in front of RVG is a portable mixer since this seems to be a remote recording session).

      • Wow! Has anybody seen this 20+ minute interview with Michael Cuscuna and Rudy Van Gelder yet?

        Lots of great interior shots of the Englewood Cliffs studio plus a great account of the infamous final Monk/Miles recording session.

        Towards the end (which is truncated for some reason) RVG actually demonstrates how he cut records on his Scully lathe.

        Really it’s worth watching just for the hairstyles alone. 🙂

  7. In response to Bob:

    “What he had done with those stereo and multitrack masters is known to anyone who ever collected Blue Notes: namely, he created DEDICATED (!) mono mixes for the mono audience and stereo mixes for the stereo audience.”

    So I hope you can now see that this is not true based on your wording, Bob. There was really only one mix—the mono one (at least up until the mysterious date when he may have started to pay more attention to the stereo balance at Englewood Cliffs).

    “…most collectors would be aghast to hear that a recording label is praising the stereo engineering of a guy who practically invented and patented the glorious mono sound and whose mono releases are the stuff of the legends.”

    I’m with you, Bob!

  8. In response to Aaron:

    “Bob? Did you read the fourth paragraph?: “And every one of those master tape boxes had the same hand written notation “mono master made from 50/50 stereo.” That is a fold-down by definition, not a dedicated mono mix . Sure there could be some mastering differences, like the higher compression often found on the mono folds, but there are NO MONO MASTER TAPES after 4003. That alone should speak volumes. To create the mono records, the left and right channel of the STEREO TAPE were combined 50/50.”

    You’re exactly right, Aaron. 50/50 fold-down means there was no altering the balance between the channels. The catch is he was monitoring in mono the whole time =P

  9. In response to Felix:

    “Mixing, as it is used in the modern sense, was not part of the process by which Blue Note records were created. Also, ‘mastering’ in this context is used in its original sense to refer to the actual cutting of the lacquer master for LP production…In early recording, ‘mixing’ was done during recording since there were no multitrack recorders…All the ‘mixing’ (again we are referring to the live balance on the mixing board during recording, not the familiar 16-track afterthought of the rock and roll era) was monitored by Alfred Lion and RVG in mono using the control room speaker shown in the photograph. Alfred Lion continued to use the mono LPs to approve the final releases.”

    Exactly.

    “RVGs setup remained largely unchanged even after the move to Englewood Cliffs in 1959.”

    As you can see from the Cohen quote above, not quite. He did in fact have stereo monitoring at Englewood Cliffs (I am assuming the three-speaker setup consisted of one center for mono monitoring and two at the sides for stereo).

    “For stereo, it’s said that RVG’s board did not even have pan pots found on modern boards. He simply had three-position switches for each channel on the board: right channel, left channel or both (center). This is why his stereo mixes often strike many listeners as primitive. Van Gelder has consistently stated that stereo was simply not something he and Alfred Lion really put much thought into.”

    This seems plausible, and it would make sense to me, but there doesn’t seem to be any hard evidence of this at the moment.

    “Of course, as Aaron also pointed out, this does not mean that you can hear the sound of the mono release of a Blue Note title sounds like by playing back the stereo version and summing the two channels. RVG did not simply run the tape playback straight into the lathe. At the very least, he almost certainly utilized different compression and EQing when cutting both the stereo and mono masters.”

    Excellent point again in favor of the mono mixes, which I agree with wholeheartedly.

    • If anybody has any kind of evidence pointing to the fact that Van Gelder’s board didn’t have pots, by all means, share! This would do a lot to explain the hard L-C-R panning of instruments in this era. Is it possible that pan pots weren’t invented and implemented into mixing boards until a specific point in time? (Late 60’s?)

  10. And again in response to Bob:

    “At issue here is whether the RVG’s mono pressings between roughly 1958 and 1965 are mere stereo-to-mono mixdowns…i.e. recordings which were simply folded to mono from the existing 2- or 3- track recordings without any discretionary intervention from the recording engineer (Van Gelder) or recording supervisor (Lion) = OR = they are true, dedicated mono mixes, created SPECIFICALLY for the mono release and using the engineer’s and artist’s judgment, taste and preference.”

    I hope I have helped sort out this confusion: the mono pressings are in fact 50/50 fold-downs of the two-track (stereo) tapes, but Van Gelder’s discretion was exercised the entire time, as he was monitoring in mono all along even though he was recording to two-track tape.

    “The difference between DEDICATED mono mixes and (typically promo-only) stereo-to-mono mixdowns could not possibly be more significant and material.

    I hope you can see now that they actually are the same thing. The only difference is between the time periods, the former of which mono copies were pressed for commercial release, the latter of which mono was issued for the radio only.

    “At issue here is whether Rudy Van Gelder personally participated in these recordings as a proactive participant and lent his recording artists his legendary ear and his acoustic “brain” to the proceedings, or his part in the recording process was purely perfunctory and accidental.”

    Of course he took part in the mixing process, it was just on-the-fly and not after the fact, as it’s done today.

    “A simple comparison between, say, mono pressing of Dexter Gordon’s ‘A Swinging Session” or Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Goin’ Up’…reveals a truly MASSIVE difference between stereo and mono versions. Differences in dynamic and frequency range, depth, consistency, texture and “feel”. It simply ISN’T POSSIBLE that these mixes or “mixes” are stereo-to-mono fold-downs in any sense. There is not even a slightest hypothetical chance. This is an empirical, not a doctrinal argument. A simple “mixdown” (a misnomer Aaron is using) would cause RVG’s monos to sound exactly the same as stereos, which patently isn’t the case here.”

    The stark differences that exist between the mono and stereo copies of a particular title is very much so possible merely from differences at the mastering stage of each. When Van Gelder went to the mono lathe (there WAS a difference between a mono and stereo lathe in those days, right?), he heard what he heard when he was recording EVEN THOUGH HE WAS LISTENING TO A TWO-TRACK TAPE. He then added equalization and compression/limiting distinct from that of the stereo mastering process. The key factor is, when he wasn’t monitoring in stereo at all, he had no idea what the stereo mix sounded like when it came time to create the stereo lacquer (nor did he apparently care what it sounded like). So the differences between original mono and stereo pressings of the same title are for two reasons: 1. The fact that the mixing was done in mono without any regard to stereo, 2. The equalization and compression/limiting (and lathe?) were completely different for each pressing, and 3. Well, one spread is mono and one is stereo! =P

    “There are four (that I am aware of) distinct ways Van Gelder could have created this palpable differences in the sound between mono and stereo masters: He could have:

    (1) Remixed the multitrack (2- and 3-track) recording into DEDICATED mono (a most likely and plausible explanation). IT REALLY DOES NOT MATTER – AND I CANNOT STRESS THIS FORCEFULLY ENOUGH – WHETHER THE “MIXING” WAS DONE ON THE MIXING BOARD (DURING THE RECORDING) OR AS AN AFTER-THE-FACT INTERVENTION. IN BOTH CASES, THE ENGINEER GETS TO CHANGE TO HIS LIKING THE SIGNAL WHICH MICROPHONES (PLURAL!) TRANSMIT FROM THE RECORDING ROOM. YOU HAVE TWO SIGNALS COMING INTO THE MIXING ROOM, YOU HAVE ONE (CHANGED) SIGNAL GOING OUT.”

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that Van Gelder put his artistic input and vision into the mixing of the music. The point is the music was mixed on-the-fly and not after the fact, and once it was recorded, he did NOT alter the balance between the channels of the two-track tape.

    “(2) Add echo and reverb. Van Gelder was not known for doing this, and I am not aware of a single BN pressing that has any amount of detectable echo or reverb.”

    Really? You’ve never heard that beautiful-sounding reverb on the horns? There’s no way he got that reverb from the living room at Hackensack and I highly doubt he got it from Englewood. I’m pretty sure I have a quote on-hand of Van Gelder stating that he had a reverb unit that he used…I can try to dig it up if you like.

    “(3) Significantly re-equalize the original 2- and 3-track recordings. Same as # 2. Exceedingly unlikely. Although, obviously, some reequalization HAD to be done to comply with the RIAA curve, I think it is a foregone conclusion that Van Gelder never went beyond technically required minimum.”

    Equalization apart from the RIAA curve is possible though I don’t have any hard evidence of it, and compression/limiting is a given.

  11. Thank you Bob,
    you are right it is rechanelled fake stereo. The first time I listened to my copy I accidently used my mono pick up and it sounded much better than playing it using a stereo cartridge.
    Thanks for your help/ information.
    Best regards Jan

  12. For jazz collectors, pre-1970 Contemporary Records if I’m not mistaken, were pressed by RCA as indicated by the style of machine stamped matrix, deep groove and small “H” for Hollywood apart from the catalog number in the deadwax.

    “Likewise, he (Van Gelder) probably did not want to be associated with stereo-to-mono mixdowns found on the promo-only mono releases (1968-1969), virtually none of which bear his imprimatur..”

    That doesn’t really hold water as RVG proudly stamped his mark on Blue Notes after 4003 which were all stereo-to-mono mixdowns.

    • Aaron:

      NONE of the post-1961, pre-1967 Blue Note monos were stereo-to-mono mixdowns. Not a single one. None whatsoever. These were all true, dedicated mono mixes, created specifically by Van Gelder and, in most cases, with the artist’s input in mind and on hand.

      I am suspecting you are confusing stereo-to-mono mixdowns found on BN’s post-1967 promo-only releases with mono-to-stereo electronic rechanneling (found on some, but not all BN releases, typically those recorded before 1960, BN 4003 included),

      Electronic rechannelling aims to achieve precisely the opposite of the stereo-to-mono mixdown: while stereo/mono mixdown seeks to create mono mix from the existing multitrack recording (for a variety of technical reasons, typically to accommodate the AM radio frequency band, which in the late 1960s encountered a huge technical problem of how to transmitting the stereo signal) , electronic rechannelling seeks to create an illusion of stereo mix from a true mono recording, i,e, from a recording where multitrack (stereo) source does not exist. . The term mixdown typically (but not always) refers to the promo-only mixes or very late mono mixes created circa 1968-1972, which were not in any way significantly different from the stereo mixes, but simply extracted from the stereos by using the same, existing, stereo tracks.

      BOTH Blue Note electronically rechannelled releases AND their promo-only stereo-to-mono mixdowns were manufactured during the label’s Liberty years (definitely NOT earlier) and you will have hard time finding either ones with RVG stamp or initials. While I have seen his imprimatur on ONLY TWO electronically rechannelled titles, I have NEVER seen a single stereo-to-mono mixdown that had his stamp (someone please correct me if I am wrong).

      In view of the above, I think we can safely and comfortably infer that Van Gelder simply would not have his name attached to something that, in his view, significantly compromised original recording or artist’s vision. This, almost certainly, was done by some hired hand at Liberty.

        • Um….Aaron..?

          Where exactly in this article does it say that Van Gelder did not produce dedicated mono mixes after BN 4003? If Music Matters ever made such a claim, I surely missed it.

          The article merely states that Van Gelder did not SIMULTANEOUSLY RECORD his sessions in mono and stereo after 1958, but strictly in stereo (and then, later, probably mutltitrack) technology.

          What he had done with those stereo and multitrack masters is known to anyone who ever collected Blue Notes: namely, he created DEDICATED (!) mono mixes for the mono audience and stereo mixes for the stereo audience (some stereo mixes came significantly later, even though he did have the stereo master tapes, because the market was still unprepared for the format in the early 1960s). This does NOT mean that he was tinkering with the recording or compromising the artistic vision on his mono mixes. On the contrary: he simply created a relationship between instruments with his own distinct flair and favor and aural vision. This arrangement apparently ended around the time mono format was abandoned nationwide (roughly the first quarter of 1968), when he stopped working on mono mixes altogether. This is why his name is never found on promo-only mono mixdowns that I am aware of.

          Music Matters is a reissue label which may or may not have a vested commercial interest in defending stereo format against monos (this is a long and complex story and I would rather not get into it right now). Personally, I like a good stereo much better than a good mono, but there are numerous (too numerous to list) exceptions to this general rule, and I believe I am speaking for the BN collectors worldwide when I say that most collectors would be aghast to hear that a recording label is praising the stereo engineering of a guy who practically invented and patented the glorious mono sound and whose mono releases are the stuff of the legends. In one respect, I do, however, completely agree with Music Matters: you cannot take a dogmatic view of this issue.

          indeed. Some albums sound better in stereo, some in mono. But, seriously, how could anyone in the sound mind and clear conscience prefer a stereo version of Dexter Gordon’s “Go” over the mono masterwork? It’s like checking into Louvre to see the works of Roy Lichtenstein or ordering pizza at the Japan’s emperor’s state dinner.

          Well into his late ’80’s now, Van Gelder is on record as defending his (stereo) remasters, but, look, nobody is really buying it. As good as those (digital) remasters sound, they can’t hold a candle to the original mono analogue sound. Believe me, they don’t. And if you don’t trust my judgment, please feel free to ask folks willing to pay $5K for the original BN mono album. Those original BN monos really, truly are a breed apart.

          • Bob?
            Did you read the fourth paragraph?:

            “And every one of those master tape boxes had the same hand written notation “mono master made from 50/50 stereo.”

            That is a fold-down by definition, not a dedicated mono mix . Sure there could be some mastering differences, like the higher compression often found on the mono folds, but there are NO MONO MASTER TAPES after 4003. That alone should speak volumes. To create the mono records, the left and right channel of the STEREO TAPE were combined 50/50.

            And you state:
            “I am suspecting you are confusing stereo-to-mono mixdowns found on BN’s post-1967 promo-only releases with mono-to-stereo electronic rechanneling (found on some, but not all BN releases, typically those recorded before 1960, BN 4003 included)”

            No confusion on this end regarding 4003 which was recorded in true (not re-channeled) stereo, as were many titles that go back to the late-mid 1500 series. I do appreciate your contribution about the Capitol pressed Liberty-era Blue Notes as that explains the small pressing ring found on the odd vintage album.
            -Regards

            • I’m confused by their terminology. You don’t really record in stereo, you mix in stereo. You record with the ability to make a stereo mix, surely. Or am I getting something wrong there.
              The other issue there is that how the mono mix is created is not so important as to how it sounds. If people prefer the mono masters, they just do, suddenly finding out that they are stereo to mono conversions makes no difference.

              • I think the confusion arises from peoples familiarity with modern recording vs. early recording.

                Mixing, as it is used in the modern sense, was not part of the process by which Blue Note records were created. Also, ‘mastering’ in this context is used in its original sense to refer to the actual cutting of the lacquer master for LP production.

                RVG was one of the first recording engineers to buy the Ampex 300 tape recorder and begin recording to tape instead of direct to disc. This allowed him much greater flexibility during recording sessions as well as the opportunity to experiment with different mastering technics and test pressings.

                Here is a very rare (unique?) shot of RVG is the control room built into his parents’ house in Hackensack, NJ where he did all his recording up to 1959.

                http://blog.americanhistory.si.edu/.a/6a00e553a80e108834015391917f99970b-500wi

                In the picture you can see two Ampex 300 tape machines. Behind Van Gelder is his Scully lathe and above is the single monitor speaker for the control room. The famous living room studio we’ve all seen in so many Francis Wolff photos is on the other side of the glass behind those closed blinds.

                In early recording, ‘mixing’ was done during recording since there were no multitrack recorders. When RVG acquired a two-track Ampex 300 machine in 1957, he briefly continued to run both the one track and two track machines for recording sessions, resulting in the true mono true stereo mixes found up to and including BLP/BST 4003 (this is probably the timeframe of the picture above). Thereafter, he only ran the two-track machine, which resulted in the stock of 15 ips, quarter inch, two-track master tapes currently under discussion.

                Although his tape machine evolved, very little else about RVGs recording process changed. All the ‘mixing’ (again we are referring to the live balance on the mixing board during recording, not the familiar 16-track afterthought of the rock and roll era) was monitored by Alfred Lion and RVG in mono using the control room speaker shown in the photograph. Alfred Lion continued to use the mono LPs to approve the final releases. This is one of the chief arguments of proponents of the Blue Note mono pressings. RVGs setup remained largely unchanged even after the move to Englewood Cliffs in 1959.

                For stereo, it’s said that RVGs board did not even have pan pots found on modern boards. He simply had three-position switches for each channel on the board: right channel, left channel or both (center). This is why his stereo mixes often strike many listeners as primitive. Van Gelder has consistently stated that stereo was simply not something he and Alfred Lion really put much thought into.

                It’s really only accurate to refer to mono and stereo ‘mixes’ when discussing titles originating during the brief period when RVG was running two Ampex machines. As Aaron has pointed out, since all the mono masters RVG cut after this period were uniformly sourced from a 50/50 mix (or fold down), the ‘mix’ (here meaning the relative levels of the instruments) is exactly the same.

                Of course, as Aaron also pointed out, this does not mean that you can hear the sound of the mono release of a Blue Note title sounds like by playing back the stereo version and summing the two channels. RVG did not simply run the tape playback straight into the lathe. At the very least, he almost certainly utilized different compression and EQing when cutting both the stereo and mono masters.

                RVG is notoriously secretive about his audio engineering technics and recreating the sonic impact of his cutting process is one of the primary challenges of ‘reissuing’ original Blue Note material. This is why pressings made from the original masters, indicated by the ‘RVG’ and ‘VAN GELDER’ stamps are highly sought after.

                To bring things back around to LJC’s original topic: this is one of the chief reasons why market prices on Liberty pressings, especially the solid blue label era ones, are so low. If anyone wants to hear the reason people spend so much time dithering over these seemingly academic matters, simply compare a UA staff mastered Blue Note pressing with it’s RVG counterpart and all will be revealed.

                For anyone interested in more history and information about RVG and his Hackensack recordings, this “Current Musicology” article is well worth reading:
                http://jazzstudiesonline.org/files/RudyVanGelder.pdf

                • Hi Felix
                  very interesting, and it explains a lot about RVG’s recording that I didn’t know.
                  However when did Rudy start using multi-track recording? Do we have those details?

                  On the subject of the mono ‘audition discs’ the only one that I have to hand has a Van Gelder stamp – Duke Pearson’s ‘The Right Touch’, so he was certainly doing some of those.

                • Regarding RVG and ‘multitrack’ recording (in this context meaning utilizing more 3 or more tracks, necessitating a stereo mixdown phase): I don’t know for sure. I think the general consensus is that it coincided with his switch to solid state electronics in 1967.

                  All things considered, 1967 doesn’t seem to have been a good year for Jazz.

                  Incidentally, here’s a nice photo of a Englewood Cliffs-era RVG master tape for anyone who’s curious:

                • Hi Felix:

                  Very eloquent argument, but , sorry, I disagree.

                  But first, I have to explain what it is that I disagree with, because your post leaves quite a few of unconnected spots.

                  First of all, we need to EXCLUDE all those recordings made in 1957-1958 which were made parallelly and simultaneously in mono and stereo. Those, as you stated, are not a up for debate and fall outside of our current discussion.

                  At issue here is whether the RVG’s mono pressings between roughly 1958 and 1965 are mere stereo-to-mono mixdowns (a term which did not even exist as such until roughly 1969), i.e. recordings which were simply folded to mono from the existing 2- or 3- track recordings without any discretionary intervention from the recording engineer (Van Gelder) or recording supervisor (Lion) = OR = they are true, dedicated mono mixes, created SPECIFICALLY for the mono release and using the engineer’s and artist’s judgment, taste and preference.

                  I do not believe Aaron understands the difference between the two.

                  The difference between DEDICATED mono mixes and (typically promo-only) stereo-to-mono mixdowns could not possibly be more significant and material.

                  The argument is more than merely scholastic. At issue here is whether Rudy Van Gelder personally participated in these recordings as a proactive participant and lent his recording artists his legendary ear and his acoustic “brain” to the proceedings, or his part in the recording process was purely perfunctory and accidental.

                  A simple comparison between, say, mono pressing of Dexter Gordon’s ‘A Swinging Session” or Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Goin’ Up’ (or, for that matter, any number of 1960-1965 BN mono titles — I could easily come up with another 20 titles) reveals a truly MASSIVE difference between stereo and mono versions. Differences in dynamic and frequency range, depth, consistency, texture and “feel”. It simply ISN’T POSSIBLE that these mixes or “mixes” are stereo-to-mono fold-downs in any sense.. There is not even a slightest hypothetical chance. This is an empirical, not a doctrinal argument. A simple “mixdown” (a misnomer Aaron is using) would cause RVG’s monos to sound exactly the same as stereos, which patently isn’t the case here.

                  You say that:

                  “Although his tape machine evolved, very little else about RVGs recording process changed. All the ‘mixing’ (again we are referring to the live balance on the mixing board during recording, not the familiar 16-track afterthought of the rock and roll era) was monitored by Alfred Lion and RVG in mono using the control room speaker shown in the photograph”

                  Look, this is not in dispute. What IS in dispute is that the extent of Van Gelder’s personal intervention in the creation of DEDICATED mono masters.

                  There are four (that I am aware of) distinct ways Van Gelder could have created this palpable differences in the sound between mono and stereo masters: He could have:

                  (1) Remixed the multitrack (2- and 3-track) recording into DEDICATED mono (a most likely and plausible explanation). IT REALLY DOES NOT MATTER – AND I CANNOT STRESS THIS FORCEFULLY ENOUGH – WHETHER THE “MIXING” WAS DONE ON THE MIXING BOARD (DURING THE RECORDING) OR AS AN AFTER-THE-FACT INTERVENTION. IN BOTH CASES, THE ENGINEER GETS TO CHANGE TO HIS LIKING THE SIGNAL WHICH MICROPHONES (PLURAL!) TRANSMIT FROM THE RECORDING ROOM. YOU HAVE TWO SIGNALS COMING INTO THE MIXING ROOM, YOU HAVE ONE (CHANGED) SIGNAL GOING OUT.

                  (2) Add echo and reverb. Van Gelder was not known for doing this, and I am not aware of a single BN pressing that has any amount of detectable echo or reverb.

                  (3) Significantly re-equalize the original 2- and 3-track recordings. Same as # 2. Exceedingly unlikely. Although, obviously, some reequalization HAD to be done to comply with the RIAA curve, I think it is a foregone conclusion that Van Gelder never went beyond technically required minimum.

                  (4) Electronically rechannel the original recording. Obviously, this does not apply here. Again, I am not aware of a single Van Gellder-approved BN fake stereo pressing (I have only seen two, but both on Verve, not BN), and, in any
                  event, virtually all fake stereos were created by the industry after 1963.

                  So, yes. I will hold my ground. Whether Van Gelder created the dedicated mono mixes during the recording, or by mixing the tracks after the fact, he undoubtedly exerted his personal judgment, engineer’s intuition, sense of space and dynamics on all the sessions he recorded. I can’t . for the life of me, even begin to imagine how those famed BN sessions would have sounded without his personal and active involvement, but his presence was clearly a blessing to numerous generations of future Jazz lovers. And no, his mono mixes (or “mixes”) CLEARLY are not mixdowns in any sense of the word.

  13. Once again another superb article two wrap my head around. Posts like this keep me running to and fro… From computer screen to my records in the expedit and back. I may even lose some weight 🙂

    Anyway, it makes for some exciting reading on the usual dreadful Monday morning. I am looking forward to seeing comments from the Steve Hoffman users, Felix and Bob have given a lot of insight, let’s see who can add a few more (defining?) details.

    And in agreement with Bob: I, too, have to say that the few RCA pressings that I have (not jazz in this case) indeed have a certain look and feel that you can’t compare to other records. It is absolutely true that they feel, well… smoother, better taken care of and seem to have been produced as a labour of love.

    • Thanks Matty…”smoother and better taken care of, like a labor of love” is definitely a good way of putting it. It is unfortunate that we can’t provide a 3-D illustration on this thread of what we both have in mind, because the physical distinction would be immediately easy to grasp. For me, personally, RCA Victor pressings remained unsurpassed and superior to any other label’s WELL INTO their infamous “dynagroove” period (1963-1969), and only started seriously degrading in quality with the introduction of even more infamous “dynaflex” phase, around 1970 or so.

  14. I’ll have to check the colors on my Liberty’s. I have a Grant Green Streets of dream that is incredibly dynamic and I never knew why. Of Course we have the RVG and No RVG’s but I also took notice that some have the Circle around the “R” and other don’t.

  15. Thoughtful stuff, Bob. And brief, my goodness. Are you alright?

    The RCA connection I read somewhere in one of those interminable Steve Hoffman threads, where someone claimed Liberty already had “preferred client” guest relationship with RCA, and the ex Blue Note work passed into those usual hands. I have no knowledge other than that, and your explanation sounds better informed. I have no dog in this fight, as we say here. Whoever pressed those NY Liberty earless did a good job. If anyone knows more, let them speak. I am all ears.
    Sound quality is subjective. Depends on many variables – what record, played on what, compared with what. If some sound better to you, then thats true for you, no problem. On this, everyones mileage may vary.

    • RCA pressings are easy to identify. They will always have one of the following plant indicator stamps in the deadwax:

      ‘I’ – Indianapolis, Indiana
      ‘H’ – Hollywood, California
      ‘R’ – Rockaway, New Jersey

      http://www.anorakscorner.com/PressingPlantInfo.html

      While pressings mastered at RCA will have the familiar RCA machine stamped matrix numbers, contract pressings for outside parties mastered elsewhere will retain whatever markings which existed on the lacquer provided to RCA. Pressings done with third party masters will still feature the plant indicator stamp, however (much like the Plastylite ear/RVG stamp situation).

      As for the genesis of the notion of RCA-pressed Liberty-era Blue Notes:

      For me I think it started after reading this thread on stevehoffman.tv where some were discussing that RCA did some pressings for Liberty in the 60s:

      http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/who-wants-to-compile-a-list-of-pressing-plant-initials.37991/

      At some point, I got it into my head that some Blue Notes must have been pressed by RCA. I think this may have even caused me to mistakenly recall that I had some early Liberty-era pressings with the RCA ‘I’ in the deadwax (unfortunately, I found an old post on Jazz Collector where I asserted as much). In hindsight, I think I was wrong about this, so I apologize if I may have contributed to any confusion.

      I would be very interested to know if anyone has a Blue Note (or any Liberty pressing) with an RCA plant mark. Certainly, I think we can rule out the mysterious ‘serrated edge’ as RCA pressings, as I have never seen an RCA LP with this feature.

      • Here’s a 1967 Billboard article that indicates Liberty was outsourcing some of their pressings to “Southern Plastics” in Nashville:

        http://books.google.com/books?id=5icEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA54&ots=0zJRLbNxQ6&pg=PA54

        This 1968 article covering the UA/Liberty merger seems to indicate that Liberty also had its own pressing plants as well:

        http://books.google.com/books?id=zwoEAAAAMBAJ&pg=RA1-PA86&lpg=RA1-PA86&ots=EFAghkxV6H&sig=z4DD7sajtEqfr3577d0AFIzLz3s&hl=en&sa=X&ei=k6PEUNa3MceciAKtq4GIAw&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAjgU

        • Yes well spotted Felix – amazing – this was the Hoffman thread where I read about RCA and Liberty. The three key posts (out of 439) are

          RJL2424, Sep 23, 2004
          #11
          I would like to add Liberty Records and its affiliated labels as one of the main custom clients for RCA’s pressing plants during the ’60s. In fact, much of Liberty’s … ’60s vinyl output was pressed at RCA…in contrast to the ’50s Liberty output (most of the ’50s Liberty pressings were made by Capitol)”
          W.B., Sep 23, 2004
          #14
          Alas, Liberty’s pressing relationship with RCA ended around 1966-67;.

          RJL2424, Sep 23, 2004
          #15
          “…the year in which Liberty’s pressing relationship with RCA ended was 1968, when Transamerica’s acquisition of the label was made final.

          If these two gents are right, this opens up the possibility that “Good Liberty” was RCA custom client work, and that relationship terminated with the entry of Transamerica in 1968 – which doesn’t tell us who it was, but tells us who it wasn’t: It wasn’t RCA.

          I have no answer to Bob’s points about the way other RCA pressings look. It is quite possible there are other unknowns. I know nothing. The thread is still active, last post November 29th 2012. May be its worth asking.

          I discovered from this Hoffman thread that there are people waaaaay more crazy than me, and certainly off their medication. They can name fonts by sight.

          I also picked up the suggestion that there are other kinds of music than jazz. This, of course, is preposterous. They are clearly delusional

          • Here’s one final Billboard article, possibly the most interesting. This is the original article reporting Liberty’s purchase of Blue Note from May 28th, 1966:

            http://books.google.com/books?id=6xAEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA3&ots=xLDlhXsdWI&pg=PA3

            One of the most interesting details this article contains is that at the same time Liberty purchased Blue Note, they also purchased the “All Disc” pressing plant in New Jersey. Doesn’t it seem most likely that their intention would have been to shift production for their newly acquired label to their nearby newly acquired pressing plant?

            While your theory that there was intermittent contract pressings with RCA is plausible, if you believe the second SH post (#14) which asserts that Liberty stopped using RCA in 1966 or 1967 it seems quite possible to me that RCA _never_ pressed any Blue Note titles.

            To me, this theory fits in nicely with what we see in terms of Blue Note pressings from the transition period. That is, Liberty acquires Blue Note in 1966 and continues to press Blue Note titles at Plastylite until perhaps 6 months to a year later when they are able to shift Blue Note production to their newly acquired plant in NJ.

            As for the possibility RCA Blue Notes, I’m going to stick to my conviction that any RCA pressing will have an RCA plant mark. I have many, many pressings (Mercury and Dot just off the top of my head) from many different eras that have non-RCA matrixes but feature the RCA ‘I’ in the deadwax, so I’m pretty confident that that’s how they handled their contract pressings.

            Finally, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your blog may have dandruff. 🙂

            • Dandruff? Pah! Thats it, the WordPress “snow” has to go.

              I like the theory that Plastylite continued to press (some) Blue Notes for Liberty into the first year of ownership. It is entirely possible that some of the late 4200 – 4250 catalogue numbers were pressed WITH ear at the behest of Liberty, until they got their own alternative in place. It would explain the (high) quality.

              It does appear that Plastylite disappears off the scene soon after 1966. Otherwise, where are are the other jobs with ear, for other clients? Why abandon your trademark, the ear? I recall the Alfred Hitchcock line: “Murder is easy. The difficult part is getting rid of the body”. Where is Plastylite’s body?

              I hear all the arguments against RCA’s role. It was only inferential at best. Liberty use RCA, Liberty buy Blue Note, therefore… I have no idea, but I think the trail is getting hot.

              I have signed up to and left a post on the Hoffman thread, with a URLtrack back to here. Lets see if any of these guys can offer any insight.

              • I started a new thread earlier (before I saw your last post) on the SH forum as well:
                http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/rca-blue-note-pressings.303599/

                Unfortunately, it scrolled off the front page after only 15 minutes or so, so I’m not sure it’s going to get any responses. Hopefully, your update in the original thread will get a response.

                I feel the need to contradict myself one last time regarding the RCA/Blue Note connection. I finally recalled one other reason I believed some of my Liberty pressings were pressed at Blue Note:

                I have a lot of RCA “Living Stereo” classical titles and one of the more noticeable aspects of these pressings is very smooth, perfectly curved edges (there is no ridge in the center, as on other pressings). When I pick up an RCA pressing I always this immediately. It ‘feels’ like an RCA pressing. I don’t recall ever noticing these perfect edges on any non-RCA pressings.

                I could have sworn some of my Liberty-era Blue Notes that have this feature, but I was unable to locate any during a brief survey of my collection. The ones I pulled all had serrated or normal edges. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me again.

                Has any one else ever noticed this feature or am I just imaging things?

              • Hi Andrew:

                Quite a plausible theory! (that Plastylite continued pressing some Blue Note titles after 1966). Remember, Plastylite was pressing not only for Blue Note. They were also a pressing vendor for a number of local and regional record labels (Storyville and Foikways/Broadside/Smithsonian come to mind, possibly some Debut releases, etc,; I believe at one point very early in the label’s history, they were also pressing for Columbia). As the Plastylite “ear” disappeared from Blue Note (1965), it also disappeared from Folkways pressings, so it is entirely possible – even likely – that there are “invisible” (earless) Plastylite pressings between 1965-1966 and that the company simply ceased to use the “ear” stamp around 1965, but continued providing pressing services to Blue Note until their contract with Alfred Lion expired, i.e. until Liberty took over and found another vendor more to their liking.

                It is also extremely likely – I would say: near certain – that Plastylite’s pressing technology itself had changed by 1965 and that they simply were no longer using the good old technique that produced that mighty realistic BN sound, which may help explain the difference in physical appearance and weight of the “old” Plastylite pressings (the “eared” ones) and the Blue Note’s 1965-66 (and later) releases.. The history of business evolution is the history of business entropy, and so the Plastylite’s devolving into just another faceless and nameless record business entity makes perfect sense..

                Short, sharp and concise, or what? (I am learning!)

                  • So could you speculate that a NYC Label Blue Note without the P/Ear but including a 2.75 circular depression, before the labels were changed completely, could still be a Plastylite pressing? Or at the very least a very high-quality pressing? For instance, the first pressing of “Dippin” by Hank Mobley uses NYC Labels, but has no P. It’s somewhere in that transition period. Would this qualify?

                    I just bought a NYC, RVG, No Ear mono pressing of Grant’s First Stand, and while not the original pressing (I’m holding out for an EX or better of that – it’s my favorite jazz record), I’m hoping that it delivers a true dynamic range that is close enough to the original in the meantime. (Have you had any experience with this pressing?)

      • Hi Felix:

        Awesome and very intuitive analysis!. After reading your post, I am more than ever convinced that RCA really had nothing to do with Blue Note’s post-1966 releases, except – possibly (and highly unlikely) – as part of RCA record club marketing (again, extremely unlikely; I am not aware of any RCA record club Jazz titles)

        I am holding in my hands, pretty much as we speak, a copy of BN BST-84275 (McCoy Tyner’s “Tender Moments”, released in 1967). This baby is a hefty pressing with a solid 2.5 mm thick core, every bit as thick and heavy as the good old Blue Notes from, say, 1961-62 and with a sound to match (I do not have a precise enough a scale, but I am speculating that it is weighing somewhere between 150 and 160 grams, give or take 5). And you know what? The texture and appearance of the label does not match any of the three variants shown on Andrew’s photo illustration.

        This copy is 100% certifiable Capitol pressing, no ifs, ands or but(t)s, case open and shut, end of the sentence, end of the paragraph and end of the page; all dissent banned by decree!.

        How do I know?

        The label area has a shallow “channel” about 1.1/4 in diameter around the spindle hole which is a proof-positive sign of Capitol’s origin. Practically all EAST COAST (presumably Scranton, PA) Capitol facilities and subsidiaries (Apple, Starline, Blue Thumb, Island, etc), produced pressing with this birth mark. There is absolutely not even a hypothetical chance that a pressing with this mark could belong to RCA’s or, for that matter, any other label. It is about as distinct as a fingerprint.

        Granted, BN’s post-1966 releases with this mark are a distinct minority (I would hazard a guess about 10-15% at most), but they do exist and they were definitely a part of the initial batch of the post-1966 releases. Which – I am speculating – proves beyond reasonable doubt that BN (in its Liberty incarnation) was using multiple pressing vendors concurrently and habitually and did not exactly shy away from pitting one record pressing vendor against another in order to achieve a better pressing price per unit (ah, the joys of economy of scale!). No wonder, then, that some of them cheated by producing a subpar and lightweight product that did not withstand the critical judgment of time.

  16. Hi Bob, this is off topic, but I would like to learn more about a copy of Dexter Gordon blows hot and cool I recently bought.
    It has a yellow deep groove label with blue print. Labels say stereophonic recording.
    Obviously not the first (red wax mono ) issue but an early reissue ?
    Do you have information about this pressing ? Year of release etc. ?
    Thanks Jan

    • Hi Jan:

      I assume you are NOT talking about Authentic pressing [AUL-207] of this title (almost certainly circa 1966 give or take a year), which most definitely isn’t a “real thing” in any serious sense of the word – although Authentic was a Dootone budget subsidiary and although one could make a case that Authentic was merely an offshoot of Dooto. There is not even a hope that this session was originally recorded in multichannel format (we are talking mid-1950s here — even RCA’s classical program was still in its stereo diapers at the time), so “stereophonic” on your label or the cover (if not a misnomer outright) could only denote an electronically rechannelled recording. This is a dead giveaway of the pressing’s generation and age (keep reading).

      I am aware of only two certifiably authentic mid-50s Dooto pressings of this title, both on red label, one on red vinyl, the other on black, both rather valuable and highly coveted. Dooto/Dootone had a number of subsequent labels (yellow, brown/multicolor) after the red label was phased out, and if Dexter Gordon’s album exists on any of those intermediary Dooto(ne) labels – which I do not believe is the case, but I may be wrong – each one of them would be more valuable than the budget pressing on Authentic label.

      Technically, the yellow Dooto(ne) label COULD be an authentic Dooto product, but here’s the problem:. According to the Both Sides Now Dooto discography page:

      http://www.bsnpubs.com/la/dootone/dootone.html

      the yellow label was in use circa 1958-60 which directly contradicts the format (electronic stereo). Namely, I am not aware of even a SINGLE electronically rechannelled stereo title manufactured by ANY record label BEFORE 1962, and virtually all of them were produced after 1963.Even the electronically rechannelled pressings of the pre-1960 titles (such as, for example, James Brown’s early albums on King) were issued in the fake stereo incarnation only years after the mono versions.

      My best guess is that after the Dooto had shut down the Authentic subsidiary (1967 or so), they reverted to pressing the original Dooto titles on the mother label (Dooto), but this could only have been done between 1968 and 1970 or so. In any event, the “stereo” pressing you have is extremely unlikely to appreciate in value.

      Having said this, I must add: believe it or not, even the Authentic mono copies are becoming scarce. I have recently seen a local NYC store sell it for $100.00, which I thought was mildly ridiculous, but what do I know about pricing records 🙂 ?

      Finally, some labels (like Specialty, Vee Jay, etc) routinely mislabeled their vinyl, so it is possible that your (Authentic? Dooto?) yellow label pressing actually plays mono. You may want to give it an extra spin to see if you can detect any channel separation. My guess is that the separation will be purely artificial, with only extremes of the frequency range separated between the channels, but not the actual instruments themselves.

      All the best —

      BD

      • Adding to the off-topic: I have one of those Dexter Hot and Cool yellow DG label LPs as well and wondered what the deal was with it–thanks for the the info Bob.

        • Hi Tim:

          I am afraid I don’t have much to add to what I have already noted; however, according to Jan’s updated info, his disc does play electronic stereo, which could easily help us pinpoint its birth date to somewhere between 1966 and 1970 — a fairly late pressing by any measure (pay no mind to the deep groove — some labels were producing deep grooved pressings well into the 1970s). If I had to describe what you guys have, I would say: a relatively late LEGITIMATE electronically rechannelled reissue. I am betting against the theory that these are bootlegs. Certainly, counterfeiters “smart” enough to bootleg a little-known Jazz title with practically no commercial appeal which could not possibly have sold more than 1,000 copies nationally must have been seriously retarded :-). But then, if Dooto found good enough a market rationale to reissue it, why not the bootleggers?

  17. Hi Andrew:

    A few marginal noted (yes, I will be brief – for my standards 🙂 this time).

    I am not sure where the information that Liberty/Blue Note was using RCA pressing facilities during 1966-1970 is coming from. I am a wee bit skeptical about this. First of all, by 1966, RCA was beginning to “outsource” their pressings to facilities not necessarily owned by the label, a practice which almost all major pressing plant-owning labels started adopting at around the same time (Capitol. Decca, Columbia, etc,), and in some cases – as absurdly this may sound to a casual collector – the decision on which pressing plant to use was left to the (gasp!) DISTRIBUTOR, not the actual recording label; so it would be exceedingly difficult to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a certain BN pressing was RCA-made or not. Secondly, virtually ALL RCA pressings (those of their own titles) through 1969 (and some well into 1970) have deep grooves (although a definition of RCA deep groove and Blue Note iconoclast’s definition of the deep groove may be significantly different); One would expect that, if BN were using RCA as a pressing vendor, their pressings would likewise have a deep groove on all BN/Liberty titles, which DEFINITELY isn’t the case (in fact, virtually none have deep grooves, and even those that do have it on one side only, which is totally counterintuitive for RCA). Finally, an empirical argument: RCA pressings even VISUALLY look different from any other labels’. It would be difficult for me to describe the difference, being that this requires some lengthy record-collecting experience (a moment of fake modesty here), but RCA’s pressings through 1968 are UNIFORMLY glossier, heavier and with more evenly textured grooves than any other label’s. My fairly categorical argument is that BN was using Capitol-owned or Capitol-affiliated pressing facilities for virtually all of their Liberty titles. The only exception I would allow here would be the promo-only monos (quite a few of which exist), which may or may not have been pressed by other vendors, most likely Columbia’s (my best guess). In addition, virtually all RCA pressings through 1969 have machine-stamped matrix; on the contrary, precious few of the BN’s 1966-1970 pressings do.

    Regarding the Van Gelder mastering on Liberty pressings: I am no expert on this, and won’t pretend to be one (Fred Cohen’s BN volume may shed some more light on this), but I am fairly confident stating that the lapse in RVG’s relationship with BN was never contractual or legal, but simply TECHNICAL and mostly on title-by-title basis (this applies to a number of different labels — Impulse, Verve, Savoy, etc). . My best guess is that he simply did not want to be associated with mastering of the titles he never recorded HIMSELF (most of the Blue Note’s West Coast sessions, such as two Blue Mitchell’s titles, Collision in Black and Bantu Village, or numerous releases in Impulse and Verve, such as multiple Garry McFarland or Gabor Szabo titles). IN addition, he appears to have had a major aversion to Jazz-Lite, a wattered-down poppy-sounding fluff coming from the Psychedelic-afflicted West Coast and probably wouldn’t have any of this nonsense. Likewise, he probably did not want to be associated with stereo-to-mono mixdowns found on the promo-only mono releases (1968-1969), virtually none of which bear his imprimatur..

    My personal experience is that the first and the third variant of the BN’s Liberty labels shown on your photo illustration actually sound quite decent (the second, middle one, one can be a so-so listening experience, just like you said). I actually find some of the third label variant (deep blue on heavily carbonized, glossy paper stock) rather impressive for their vintage. Yes, none of them can hold a candle to a, say, original mono pressings of Blue Trane or BN 1568 or Sentimental and Blue, but that’s simply because mono, as a format, much more faithfully captures aural Jazz aesthetics than stereo, which became a de rigeur format by the the time Liberty took over What would have happened had BN continued using Plastylite well into the late 1960s? I am guessing the same thing as with Liberty — we probably would have witnessed a gradual decay of BN’s sound, resolution and consistency to the point of their disappearance as a distinct-sounding Jazz label.

    Otherwise, I am in total agreement with just about everything else. Yes, even the Liberty(ies) sound better than Japanese Kings. There, I said it. So kill me.

    .

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