Selection: Shutterbug (JJ Johnson)
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.
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.
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 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?”
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.
“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)…”
Sometimes there is a downside to DJ promo copies.
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.
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!)
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.
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