All aboard the Blue Train!

 

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Selection: Blue Train

Apologies, my copy is a little bit noisy from time to time.

Artists

Lee Morgan (t) Curtis Fuller (trb) John Coltrane (ts) Kenny Drew (p) Paul Chambers (b) Philly Joe Jones (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, September 15, 1957

Music:

This is a title every self-respecting jazz collector must own, or not rest until they do. Mine is a trifle humble, and I would love a better copy, but I settled for this for the time being. You can do better, and many of you probably have. It was Coltrane’s favourite recording of his own work, commenting from the vantage point of 1960. Are you going to argue with Coltrane? He was still firmly planted in hard bop but had already developed  an eclectic vocabulary of blues riffs, bebop lines, his sheets of sound, and changes crackling with volatile energy. Along with Giant Steps, Blue Train is a landmark.

Vinyl:

Blue Note BLP 1577 NY labels DG RVG, ear, mono,168gm vinyl – by my estimation a third pressing circa 1962.

To up the ante you need this title on 47 West 63rd labels, and for the ultimate high, I believe one side the West 63rd needs the suffix New York 23, and no “Inc” and no “R” registered trademark. And of course it should be in excellent condition. Unlike mine.

Blue-Train-labels--1800-ljc

Blue-Train-back-1800-ljc

Collectors Corner presents the BIG question: you’ve seen mine, what’s yours?

Blue Train has been reissued many times, probably more than any other title. Every owner of the Blue Note catalogue contributed a reissue. Sales in all formats is said to run into millions, which is altogether remarkable for a jazz recording, and must mean a lot of people own one or more editions. Discogs boasts 64 separate entries, though some of those are simply duplicates of other entries or missing essential information. It’s been a particular target of premium audiophile reissues boasting 180 gram or 200 gram vinyl.

Blue-Train-generic

A word about Blue Train from audiophile reissue guru Steve Hoffman, in his own forum:

Blue Train Original Hoffman Opinion

You sad “collectors”. Blue Note first issues sound pretty grim eh, Steve? This from the man whose engineering skills make those  “audiophile”  vinyl reissues which sound so lacklustre when A:B tested against originals under real-world hi-end home hifi conditions. Sorry Steve, I am going to have to disagree with you on this one.

LJC says:

Judge-LJCBlue Note originals sound pretty fantastic to me, a judgement based on listening on high-end hi-fi to many hundreds of titles, just about every pressing variation from 1956 original Lexington through to 2010 audiophile editions, and everything in between, including US, UK, French, German and Japanese editions. With a few exceptions, originals rock. It’s just unfortunate they are so rare and expensive, but that is not to belittle their audio quality.

A word to you “collectors”. I know some of you have spent a lifetime tracking down a perfect original copy of this Holy Grail record.  I reckon you may have accumulated some others along the way. Maybe you have a play-copy for day-to-day, a sealed mint original in your archive, next to the submarine docking bay of your secret island? May be you have both mono and stereo copies. Perhaps you sold the all your originals for an audiophile edition, or own up, it’s just the Evil Silver Disk or even iTunes. You are among friends here, you can tell us, we won’t be judgemental (snigger).  Or maybe you just came here in search of a free download, and are disappointed. Time to fess-up.  Show up LJC, brag and show me yours. Which edition/s of Blue Train  do you own?

Poll: Which of these editions of Blue Train do you currently own? 

Multiple answers permitted where you currently own more than one edition, including any format including vinyl, CD or download. Edition assigned according to label on vinyl, regardless of jacket; audiophile reissues by issuer. Do not include editions you no longer own. Either mono or stereo count towards the label. Complete all your answers during the one session before pressing “vote”

OK it’s not a perfect poll, but where else? Only at LJC. Come back often and see how the poll develops.

Thanks for sharing.

43 thoughts on “All aboard the Blue Train!

  1. Hey hey!

    A copy with NY 23 would be the jackpot? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one around with that…

  2. In addition to Grant Green’s Idle Moments, I recently picked up the new 33rpm Music Matters copy of Blue Train. While others in the series will be in stereo, this one is in mono. I compared it to my second pressing 47 West 63rd St. labels with Ear.

    The overall ambiance of the MM is really quite nice. A bit more spacious than the original. The brass instruments have a similar tone which is nice to hear. The sound is definitely more dry than the original which has that vintage sound from good ol’ Van Gelder. I can definitely see on the MM copy how this probably is what the actual tape sounds like. This puts you into a studio while the original puts you into a club, if that makes sense.

    The one downside to the MM is that the cymbals are much more prominent in the mix. You’re basically right next to Philly Joe, but with a touch of simbilance. On the moments when he isn’t riding the cymbals hard it makes for a more pleasant listening experience. That’s just me though. I’m sure others won’t find it as obtrusive.

    All in all a very good reissue for what is out there today. It does not sound like the original RVG / Ear pressings, but it isn’t trying to. It just sounds different and up to you if you want to experience the music a bit differently than you have before.

  3. Stephen – Hang on to those original pressings. In many, if not most, cases, they will sound at least as good as even the very good audiophile reissues. There are some exceptions. In the mid to late ’60s, the quality of vinyl took a dive. For instance, original Columbia pressings of Miles Davis’ mid-60s quintet albums (with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, etc.) sound mediocre. But the reissues – on Mosaic LP or Sony CD – sound very good to excellent. Turns out the problem with the originals wasn’t the master tapes; it was the pressings.

    • I had the opposite experience with the single-vinyl mono Classic Records reissue, it was quite noisy. Plus I don’t really like the quality of the printing of the jackets on these. I don’t mean to be such a snob but nothing beats an “original”–if it’s affordable, of course.

  4. Bob,

    Happy 4th! Lovely post regarding the memories of the impromptu acapella trio. Blue Train is monumental. Although at this juncture I may replace A Love Supreme with Meets the Rhythm Section. :^)

    I thought the HDAD 24/192 bit (no pun intended) you discussed is very intriguing. I didn’t realize that format was around and have always wondered why they were not. While I have a hard time believing anything will replace the ambiance of LP’s, this would undoubtedly be in second place.

    I know Michael Cuscina feels digital formatting is still the wave of the future. I wonder if they would ever consider releasing the entire 1500 and 4000 series in this format? Perhaps as USB sticks and / or mini LP packages? It could also be nice to have both a mono set and a stereo set (a la The Beatles) out there in this format. I wouldn’t be surprised and it would satiate the hearts of some completists.

    If they ever do this, here’s hoping they do the playback and remastering on the proper equipment. We shall see!

    • Hi Dave:

      You are probably right. Nothing will ever replace the original (or, for that matter, early) Blue Note mono pressings of this gem. Bear in mind, though, that I have compared the HDAD with the original STEREO pressing which, however brilliant, has its flaws. In that sense, original stereos and HDADs are, I think, in every way commensurate and comparable.

      I have no idea why HDAD was abandoned, but I think the reason is the same as the abandonment of SACDs. DVD-audio and (in the recent future) Blu-Rays: Incompetence, corporate greed and ridiculously inadequate promotion and pricing. I feel very strongly that major labels do not wish to share viable audiophile formats with the general public. You know why? How else would they sell us their remastered and re-remastered and re-re-re-re-remastered product all over again, repeatedly, like we are a bunch of idiots? Why sell us a perfect recording when they can sell us a poor replica, and then constantly replace it with somewhat less poor replica? As Gordon Gekko said “Greed is good”. Alas, not for us, music lovers. It is only good for the corporate profits.

      By the way, some of the HDADs sound truly fantastic. They can only pry my copy of ‘Cool Struttin’ from my cold, dead hand. HDAD is by far the best sounding digital format of the Sonny Clark masterpiece these ears have heard.

      Happy (belated) 4th!

      • Hi Bob,

        I consider myself a realist – not a skeptic – and yet your thoughts on churning out the remasters is something I think does happen. Take the recent Beatles remasters on vinyl which are being pressed from 24 bit digital remasters due to convenience. It would not surprise me at all if in 5+ years they pull one of those “we’ve heard your requests on wanting all analog and we figured the time has come to give it to you.” I could be proven wrong, but I doubt it.

        May have to check out that copy of Cool Struttin. I was sick and tired of waiting for a well priced 2nd or 3rd pressing vinyl copy so I grabbed the stereo Audio Wave XRCD. It’s nice, but a bit bright. I did find though that when I hit the mono switch on my pre-amp it softened up the sound quite a bit.

  5. Mine is New York USA, stereo, with RVG Stereo stamp but no Plastylite ‘ear’, so it’s a Liberty. The other pressing is a DMM and I want to say it’s French, but I’m not at home right now. I have three versions on CD but not the HDAD and SACD pressings that Bob mentions, although his descriptions make me curious to at least hear them sometimes.

    One slightly off-topic thought that pops up however: suppose that we all had the opportunity to sit down for a listening session of the actual, original, real master tape of Blue Train (or any other classic gem for that matter). Would we still have debates on the audio quality? After all, we’d be listening to the master tape, so you’d think that there’d be no debate on the stereo image, top- or bottom end or channel separation, etc etc. Right?

    • Well, probably not quite as free from debate for this title with two master tapes for Blue Train, mono and stereo, as this was before Rudy was recording to one tape. Would be nice though!

  6. Hey Andy,
    I have got the classic records 4×45 edition on clear vinyl, just one sided…
    Maybe it is a bit of a waste of the good material, but that’s the only album I got in this series. Some originals just slipped away under my hands but I would love to own a 2nd or third press of this gem, not to speak of a first! Has anyone compared this version to an original or an AP version?
    Regards from cologne,
    Ben

    • Don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news but I’ve heard this head-to-head with the 45rpm AP version and the AP won hands down. The AP sounds like a Van Gelder Blue Note with great resolution and cohesive sound stage while the BG mastered Classic Records 45rpm sounds very “modern” with an overall brighter/harder tonal balance. The Clarity version is very collectable and my personal recommendation for pure musical enjoyment would be to take the money from selling the Classic and getting a clean mono second pressing, less expensive than the first pressing yet pressed from the same stampers.

  7. I’m not sure what mine is — probably one of the French unmentionables that Bob D says are best kept ‘entre nous’. Oddly, it isn’t a record I play very much — haven’t played it for years, in fact. Perhaps I need to revisit. For a long time I have tended to take Cook and Morton’s view that it is a record with an inflated reputation… Maybe I’m wrong to; maybe they were wrong to ever promulgate such a heresy in the first place… THis was probably amongst the first jazz records I ever bought. That opening unison intro to the title track still makes me shiver with anticipation and feel about seventeen…

    • I haven’t felt seventeen for more than four decades, Alun. All that would happen in that event is my trousers would fall down. But yes, that intro is indeed thrilling, there’s few like it.

      • From memory (distant memory), LJC, most of my most vivid seventeen-year old moments began with my trousers falling down.

        • Oh THOSE moments, Alun. As often as not, they were a hazy memory the following morning.

          As useful as Cook and Morton are in their tremendous overview of everything, for a view at the time this little tome is invaluable.

          As it was published around 1967, it is blind to what followed. It is written from a 1967 hothouse perspective.

    • Alun
      Always had a few problems with Cook’s opinions, most notably his dismissal of Dexter’s Blue Note recordings in his Blue Note book.

      • Dean, I agree: opinions — especially those of others — shouldn’t be clung to unquestioningly, but as I have no adherence to any other ‘revealed truth’, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on Record (I know it’s”on CD” but I still think of it as “on Record”) has become the closest thing I have to a Bible. If not for its opinions then for its intelligence, the quality of its writing, and its scrupulous attention to detail. We shall not see another such endeavour…

    • Mine is the DMM which I bought when I was 17 (yes… it was a very good year) back in the 1980s – that’s all you could get then, apart from the more expensive Japanese pressings. And I have never played it much – I think that says something about the dull, lifeless quality of the vinyl more than anything though.
      I always preferred Giant Steps – the reissue I bought around the same time being of superior quality.

    • The Penguin Guide to Jazz Records mentions its “inflated” status, though it also mentions that at one point Coltrane revered it as his favorite recording of his, which is interesting. And yes, the intro is powerful 🙂

  8. Andy, I forgot to mention one thing. I am not sure this is of much relevance on a strictly vinyl blog, but there is another, MUCH more superior digital format out there you failed to mention: Classic Records’ 24/192 HDAD (DVD AUDIO); I believe the catalog number is HDAD 2010, although the product – strangely – does not have a bar code. For my money, this is the ultimate digital format, beating both of my SACDs by a comfortable margin (disclosure: I am a total SACD fetishist, except for Mobile Fidelity’s SACDs, which leave me utterly unimpressed). The analog “oomph” is all there, and the channel separation is to just die for. I will make a cardinal audio sin and state that (gasp!) HDAD it is in every manner imaginable compatible to the original (stereo) pressing, minus the surface noise.

    There are few other Blue Note titles on 24/192 HDAD’s: Mobley’s Roll Call (sadly, that one escaped me), Kenny Drew’s ‘Undercurrent’. Sonny Clark’s ‘Cool Struttin’, Cannonball Adderley’s ‘Somethin’ Else’ and Lou Donaldson’s ‘Takes Off’. Each and every one of these is a sonic marvel and highly recommended.

    For more information, visit:

    http://store.acousticsounds.com/d/14911/John_Coltrane-Blue_Train-HDAD_2496_24192

    • HDAD – The Evil Silver Disk just got less…Evil? Reminds me of the Liberal church newsletter headline “The Devil: is he really all bad?”

      I might even have to give it a try, in the interests of balance.

      • This isn’t the BBC. We don’t come here for balance, LJC — we come for wild assertions and vigorous opinions 🙂

      • Well, what can I say, Andy…the history of the Western Civilization over the past 20 centuries (give or take) is a history of desperate attempts to prove that either the horned guy with the pitchfork and forked tongue does not exist or is not as bad as previously thought (or both ?). But if he is the character who brought us HDADs and SACDs, I am willing to give his mastering a chance :-).

  9. HI Andy:

    Thank you for a truly wonderful post. It was about time Blue Train was highlighted on LJC (no criticism implied).

    My commenting on the merits of Coltrane masterpiece would be like a freshman art student commenting on Sistine Chapel, so I am going to skip the narcissistic displays (at least on this occasion 🙂 Suffice to say that it is, it was and forever will be, along with Kind of Blue and Love Supreme one of the the Holy Trinity of Modern Jazz. It is a nearly flawless work: deeply spiritual, emotional to the core, loving, emphatic and inspired, technically impeccable, plus an incredible team work from start to finish (gods of serendipity must have had a field day when this was recorded). One would have to be a total anal-retentive meauron to find issues with this session (or recording) . Van Gelder reached absolute apex of his art on this one. This – plus a few sessions by Dexter Gordon, Ike Quebec, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver and Lou Donaldson – is what Rudy Van Gelder is all about. To understand what RVG represents, start RIGHT HERE. And – please! – ignore the “grim” warnings from envious RVG wannabes..

    Perhaps the best way to illustrate the depth of the meaning and significance of Blue Train is to describe a scene I witnessed at a local flea market about five years ago: three African-Americans (all in their mid-to-late ’60s) vocally recreated the ENTIRE side 1 of the album (to my great surprise, they did not appear to have met before – it seemed like a totally spur-of-the moment thing). They (one mimicking Coltrane, one mimicking Morgan, and the third “playing” the rhythm section, occasionally switching to Fuller solos ) sang, mumbled, ooh-ed, aah-ed, doo-ed, wop-ed, oomph-ed, boppity-bopped and banged their way through the entire first side of the album (Blue Train and Moment’s Notice) from start to finish, not skipping a beat and not missing a single note. If memory serves, they also did ‘Lazy Bird’, but I was so flummoxed by their performance that I probably wouldn’t have noticed even if they’d suddenly switched to Hava Nagila.

    To say that I was speechless would be the understatement of the millennium. The only thing I regret is not having a recording device on hand.

    So, yes. It’s been a long, long time since Blue Train ceased being merely a Jazz album. It has long since crossed over into American folk art in the truest sense of the phrase. The album transcends the historic and genre limitations and morphs into a whole another quality. There is something almost Nietzschean, almost transcending the positive and breaking through to eternal.

    On to the recording itself. I personally make no distinction between the second mono pressing (63rd) and third pressing (deep grooved NYC). They appear to be totally identical to me. In fact, the third may even sound marginally better, possibly due to slightly better vinyl used.. I never held in my hands a true first mono pressing (NY 23) – and I do not know anyone who did – but I am exceedingly skeptical that it differs much from the second (or third) pressing. Stereo version is an intriguing animal, with vivid yet balanced channel separation and clarity, but I would always opt for mono on this one (in the interest of full disclosure, I have two versions of the SACD – the 2004 and 2010 version – which I keep when I wish to hear stereo; I prefer the earlier job); I also have a decent third pressing mono LP which does the job for me, mono-wise. More than the quality of sound itself, I love the cover, which I often find myself meditating to. The photo of the young Coltrane reminds me of the medieval Dahomey tribal masks – inscrutable, abstract, thoughtful, spiritual, extremely ancient and totally modern all at the same time. One can practically have conversations with that Coltrane photo (no, no, I did not attempt to).

    You criticism of Steve Hoffman is absolutely a propos. Sorry Steve, when it comes to Blue Note in general (and Blue Train in particular) your judgment is pathetically, almost brutally WRONG. So atrociously wrong, in fact, that it borders on acoustic terrorism.

    Beyond the third mono pressing (NY, DG), things start getting a wee bit mushy. Liberty (RVG) pressing is still listenable, but Liberty (no RVG) isn’t , and sounds just plain dull and dynamically challenged. DMM pressings are to be avoided at any cost. Japanese pressings (at least in my humble judgment) are minimally bearable, although lacking extreme top and extreme bottom, but, in the interest of full disclosure, I only had a chance to play Japanese early ’70s pressing, not the original. I am not even sure I know how Japanese originals look like.

    As a gesture of deference and respect for French folks, I will gracefully withhold my opinion of the French pressings. Let’s just say that, thankfully, some things can (and should) remain entre nous :-).

    One final note to the collectors: I do not believe I have EVER seen any of the first three mono pressings in anything even remotely resembling NM condition (I am beginning to think that they all left the pressing plant slightly to moderately scratched 🙂 . Take heart, though — these late ’50s Blue Note pressings were REMARKABLY resistant to wear and tear, even abusive one — practically every copy I ever held in my hands played at least one, sometimes two tiers above it’s visual grade. If you find a promising VG+ copy, snatch it, FAST. Unless the first owner was using a plow to play his records, you will not be disappointed.

  10. I have a similar pressing as yours. NY and DG one side; 47 west 63 no DG on the other. “R” on both sides and curiously three dots after BN-LP-1577-A… same for side B. Do the dots mean anything? hard to say. I have a few Blue Notes with only one or two dots. Other than the different label on side B mine is exactly like yours in all respects. Glad to know I’m on par with some of your beautiful collection! I thought you would have a 63 rd in scratchless condition.

  11. Of my two 63rd streets, one has the “R” and the Inc and the other does not. Unfortunately, no 23 in my collection.

  12. Just recently grabbed a W 63rd St 2nd pressing, but it didn’t come in time before I left for vacation. Alas. It’s sitting there at the post office taunting me from afar. Can’t wait to hear it in all its glory soon. Came from the original owner who bought it decades ago and only played it a handful of times – so I was told.

    One thing that’s stuck out to me on this record besides Coltrane is Lee Morgan. His solo on Blue Train is one of the finest I’ve ever heard from him. Headshakingly good.

  13. Hey LJC, the Music Matters version should be the Analogue Productions version. There is no MM version unfortunately…

  14. I prefer to go for Jap issues, King or Toshiba, but it has to come from a Jap dealer or owner. One of the main reasons is that when the ebay guy in Tokyo says its mint, it is flawless. I have this on CD but will get one on the black stuff soon.

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