The Jazztet: at Birdhouse (1961) Argo

 

 

the-jazztet-at-birdhouse-front-1800-2-ljc

Selection: Shutterbug (JJ Johnson)

Artists

Art Farmer (trumpet) Tom McIntosh (trombone) Benny Golson (tenor saxophone) Cedar Walton (piano) Tommy Williams (bass) Albert Heath (drums) recorded at “The Birdhouse”, Chicago, IL, May 15, 1961, engineer Ron Malo.

Music

In its two year life from 1960-62, The Jazztet featured some of my favourite boppers,  Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and future avant-gardist,  Grachan Moncur III. The core membership revolved around Farmer and Golson, and though personnel changes were a regular feature, the musical formula remained the same: memorable compositions, upbeat and consistently swinging  quintet arrangements featuring strong solos from the brass front line –  quintessential 60’s modern jazz that will have been quite powerful and  thrilling to hear.

With the Jazztet you knew what you are going to get, and they delivered it in spades. But around their mainstream oasis, jazz was sprouting The New Thing, Ornette, the Modal Revolution, the Iconoclasts and Individualists, and not a few mouldy figs. Their initial contract was with Chicago-based Argo, not New York based Blue Note, despite Golson’s Art Blakey connections,  and maybe they did not get the artistic push needed from Argo. Chess, steeped in R&B and the blues, was may be the wrong parentage.  Moving to Mercury didn’t help, and after a couple more titles, The Jazztet went their separate ways, leaving behind six fine albums, of which I count four in my collection, including two original Argo, one also a DJLP promo.

Cover:

The Jazztet Birdland cover is a thing of beauty –  thick card, with still sharp corners, a great shot of Farmer and Golson toned to  create jazz club atmosphere,  laminated, dimpled and glossy, like nothing made today, a thing of beauty to hold.

Vinyl: DJLP-688 Review Copy of Argo LP 688, cream label  DG 139gm vinyl.

According to Discogs, the engineer was a Ron Malo, credited with recording Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf for Chess, and sought  out to record some early Rolling Stones and Yardbirds songs in the legendary Chess studios in 1964/5. May be to some he’s a rock and roll genius but on the strength of this recording, Rudy Van Gelder he is not. Despite great musicians and great playing, this live set deserved better recording. My two other Argo’s sound great, this one is lacking the front row  presence I would expect in a club setting.

The-JazzTet-At-Birdhouse-labels-1800-LJC

The runout is a riot of numbers codes and symbols. But what’s thatI see at the 2 o’clock position? It may look like a Plastylite ear viewed from a distance, may be that was the intention, but it’s not the Plastylite ear we all know and love. A side by side comparison, thanks to the wonders of Photoshop.:

“What’s this “ear” then?”

Is-it-is-it-not-Plastylite

The etching on the Argo is definitely not the symbol of the Plastylite Corporation, 333 North Drive, North Plainfield  New Jersey. The Plastylite ear is a “cursive P” and the Argo pressing etching/ stamp is a similar character. Possibly another plant. If you recognise it, the LJC hotline is open and awaiting your calls.

Connoisseurs of covers might want to look away at this point.

Review copy!! DJ!!!  Scene: busy radio station, Chicago 1961, probably located on the 51st floor with breathtaking views over the windy city by night – no time for niceties, playlist  item J51, gotta be able to read it in the dark.

Chicago-Nightscape

“Coming up now on WDCB  90.9, Chicago’s finest jazz  for night owls, the new swinger from bop-masters The Jazztet, Benny Golson and Art Farmer, Live at Chicago’s Birdhouse. But first, a word from our sponsor… (next wax Charlie,  toss me freakin’ J51)…”

 

the-jazztet-at-birdhouse-rear-cover-1800-2-ljc

Sometimes there is a downside to DJ promo copies.

Collectors Corner

This Jazztet Argo was plundered from a North London record store on an occasional raiding sortie across The River that divides North and South London. The natives wailed:  Carry off our women! Burn out homes! Just leave us our records! To no avail: record collectors have no mercy, it’s the spoils of war.

This Jazztette Birdland was interesting because I already owned a dispiriting reissue copy, on the Cadet label, and I had expectations of something better. I didn’t know much when I bought it (so no change there then LJC).

My reissue Cadet  cover was a disaster, and at last I know why. Left, how it should look, right, the reissue cover I got on Ebay. Get the printers in, my office, now. No biscuits.

The Jazztette-reissue-cover-disaster

Something very bad happened at the printers. As you can see from the small residual highlights, it started out as the original cover.

I also learned a little about Cadet. Original Argo are few and far between, more commonly found is Argo’s successor Chess label Cadet – which is also more often found as a lightweight more modern reissue label,  without any indication of its later provenance. Tread carefully.There’s “proper” Cadet, the successor label to Argo within the Chess family (left below), and there’s something called “Cadet, a division of  All Platinum Record Group”, a New Jersey specialists in soul and R&B, based of all places in Englewood (say hi to Rudy!)

Two-faces-of-Cadet-1800-LJC

All Platinum purchased Chess Records in 1975 after Chess fell into bankruptcy, and themselves fell into financial difficulties, selling the Chess master recordings to MCA in the mid Eighties. Somewhere along the line All Platinum reissued the Jazztet at Birdland recording, and probably most of the others.

Auditioning the All Platinum stereo edition against the Argo DJ copy revealed the familiar dodgy recording job by Ron Malo, only by this time in stereo, on 103 gram vinyl.

ljc-lightbulb-fastshow22[1]There’s a useful  lesson here. The holy grail in pressing quality – the test pressing, review copy, promo, first off the press, first pressing, early cutting, is all very well but none of it can make up for  poor selection or placement of microphones, sloppy monitoring, poor mixing choices, a sub-standard recording job. However, it is entirely possible to make a bad recording sound still worse, which All Platinum managed to do.

Some things you can’t make better, but you can make worse. It’s a bitch. That’s LJC’s Thought for Today

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18 thoughts on “The Jazztet: at Birdhouse (1961) Argo

  1. Been listening to Golson all day at work and had to come here. Still haven’t been able to get a copy of this one but the sample sounds fantastic – big Jazztet fan, and you’re right, Golson and the Jazztet get undervalued big time. I never thought of the Blue Note angle, but again, agreed. Had those LPs been released on BN, they’d be 5-10 times as pricey. I have a couple nice original Argo LPs and while they have plenty tread on the tires, they still sound fantastic – still pack a lot of punch. The Black & White reissued covers are so sad I usually can’t bring myself to buy them, even if they’re dirt cheap. Just no respect for the artist or the listener at all. Those pink labeled reissues usually sound pretty thin, but if the price is right (and the cover is you know, in color), usually worth grabbing for a spin.

    PS:
    An Argo to look for:

    Al Grey – “Snap Your Fingers” (1962).

    Fantastic set, studio cuts with the elusive Dave Burns and Billy Mitchell on side one — and on side 2, three Live cuts from a ’62 Birdland show with Grey and Mitchell, AND a very young Donald Byrd, Bobby Hutcherson and Herbie Hancock – all on the same stage(!) Usually very cheap online. Great stuff, highly recommended.

    https://www.discogs.com/Al-Grey-Featuring-Billy-Mitchell-Snap-Your-Fingers/release/4680846

    • Red and Blue – Fire and Ice. Art cliché or not it works beautifully, took extra time to get the picture right, we are not talkin’ ebay snaps, we are talkin’ work of art.

      I feel like a poll coming on: best jazz album covers ever. The field is so wide, so many potential candidates, its not like a pick-list I can invent. Maybe people would just post in their five personal favourites.

      I can work with that.

  2. Yes, avoid the black-and-white cover reissues. They are DREADFUL. The covers are beyond embarrassing: literally a poor photocopy of a poor photocopy of a poor photocopy.

  3. Wonderful record. Always nice to get a review copy. Of the many reasons Chicago is a great place to live, the fairly regular availability of Argo pressings is up there (for me, anyway!) The studios records sound terrific. Some of the live recordings do as well (the many Ahmad Jamal trio shows), although some are not up to par (like the Al Grey – Billy Mitchell mentioned above). However, I think, on the whole, Argos are hugely underrated.

    The Jazztet records are great. Nearly all of the James Moody records are also fantastic, with “Cookin’ the Blues” (756) topping the heap. “Max” by Max Roach (623) is superior hard bop with a great band (and a super cover). “Red Rodney Returns” (643) is a serious burner. “Art” by Art Farmer (678) is a lovely quartet record, with Art in sparkling form. “Breakthrough” by Gene Shaw (707) is wonderful. The two Baby Face Willette records are nice groovers. And many others. Plus some good local Chicago talent from the time (John Young, King Fleming). And, of course, in a non-jazz vein, the famous (and difficult to find) Etta James classics.

    Lots of great stuff there, and well-recorded (often at Ter-Mar in Chicago or at Van Gelder’s studio) on properly pressed vinyl and with nicely designed jackets. Also, the first few – 602-605 – were pressed on extremely heavy vinyl with a flat edge and the quickly-discarded – but wonderful – argonaut ship label. Example here: http://vinylbeat.com/cgi-bin/labelfocus.cgi?label=ARGO Fun stuff. When you see a good-looking Argo, snap it up!

    • I recently purchased a relatively beat up copy of this LP (although the cover is AMAZING) that is also a review copy. Mine is very heavy and has a flat edge. Has a nice sound even with all the crackle. It’s a nice companion to my original stereo copy!

    • Gene Shaw’s Breakthrough really is a fine album. Also of note is the first Richard Evans lp, Eldee Young’s solo lp, Desert Winds by Illinois Jacquet (rvg) and Barefoot Sunday Blue by Ramsey Lewis (rvg).

  4. Great post. That cover is insanely good. Pressing quality aside (sounds ok to me), that song suggests an album full of tasty brass-heavy arrangements. Am i right? Reminds me of that dream team on Art Blakey’s Mosaic record.Thanks for catching me up on the Jazztet.

  5. Thanks for this. Argo on this evidence clearly didn’t put too much effort into live recordings Al Grey/ Billy Mitchell – Live at MOMA is similarly nasty sounding recording despite very nice pressing quality ( on the original I’ve got at least )

    Argo’s legacy is further debased by many 80s reissues being very cheap Italian pressings —– avoid unless desperate. Original Argo’s with your grey label invariably sound excellent as do some of the Canadian pressings I’ve come across. As you correctly point out great pressings are pretty pointless if the recording is duff to start with. So I suppose Argo is the opposite of Riverside which had good recordings but lousy pressings !

  6. Great review. My favorite Jazztet album is Big City Sounds, however i still struggle to find a good sounding copy as both the original stereo & mono Argo pressings sound like the music is coming out of a transistor, no low end or high end in sight – poor mastering on the vinyl front i assume as i had a listen to the CD & it sounds great. Any copies lurking around at LJC headquarters ? Still wondering if all copies are that bad…

    • I have a white label mono promo of that LP and it sounds great. Not the very best-sounding Argo pressing I have, but pretty good.

      • Thanks Joe, guess it’s the equivalent of the silver label mono pressing. Had it in the past but replaced it with the blue label stereo, should try the mono again.

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