Art Blakey: A Night in Tunisia (1957) mono test pressing vs commercial release “stereo”

 Shoot out with a twist. What was intended to be a two-way shoot out – test press vs  commercial release and mono vs stereo, quickly unravelled when the stereo turned out not to be quite what it said on the cover. However there was a happy ending.

Art-Blakey-A-Night-in-Tunisia-cover-RCA-Victor-mono-1800-LJC

Contestant One: A Night in Tunisia Decca UK mono test pressing (320kbps mp3)

Artists:

Bill Hardman (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto saxophone) Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone) Sam Dockery (piano) Spanky DeBrest (bass) Art Blakey (drums) recorded NYC, April 8, 1957

Music: Time to dig out my cribsheet of The Jazz Messengers changing roster of musicians:

Art Blakey Jazz Messengers line-ups

This record showcases the 1956/7 line up, which briefly offered the triple brass delight of Bill Hardman, Jackie McLean and Johnny Griffin. Everybody gets to solo and they swing at high-speed, more Red Bull Messengers compared with later more melodic-rhythmic Messengers.

Usually the power behind the Messengers, this recording for RCA  finds Blakey opening Night in Tunisia with an extended drum solo, something that might in some circumstances be thought artistically risky – like the stadium rock concerts where the drummer builds a crescendo over fifteen minutes while the rest of the band heads for the bar, joined by most of the audience. Drum solos are not everyone’s cup of tea, but in this case, Blakey absolutely rocks, he held me riveted to the sofa for the ride.

I don’t think overdubbed, being 1957, everything  in one take ( Sound engineers are welcome to disillusion me) The last picture of Blakey I saw suggests he has the same number of limbs as everyone else, but it sounds like more – each performing different meters, counterpoint, cowbells accents, paradiddles, whatever, Blakey hits everything in sight, in an express train ride in rhythm. Or perhaps, this is just a showcase for what was faithfully captured on the tape, which Decca transferred to fresh metal.

Vinyl: US RCA Victor Vik LAX 1115,  first UK issue as RD 7555, test pressing factory sample.

My first test pressing! I have never had a vintage UK or US test pressing before – white label promo’s yes, DJ /radio station audition copy yes, one Japanese test, but not a real Decca New Malden “factory sample”.  Mounted on the turntable with trepidation. I know the theory well enough: with none of the progressive groove deformation caused by thousands of pressing repetitions, a test pressing, the first off the stamper, should produce the finest  sound image possible. That’s the theory, but what does it sound like in practice? How does one know this test pressing actually passed the test? Only one way to find out: play it. So, on it went.

I know the album well through my RCA “Living Stereo” copy, also a UK Decca pressing. I always thought that sounded a bit too bright, compressed and splashy, as result  it was rarely played. Hearing it here for the first time in razor-sharp mono was a revelation.

You can compare the two yourself from a rip of the same track, and form your own conclusions. However my observations are based on A:B full analog system listening. Even though both rips are near-maximum 320kbps resolution MP3 taken from the big system, it is digital through usb, PC sound card and speakers. A great deal is lost in translation, in this case, a lot of the important stuff, but the alternative is… well, you get to hear nothing.

Art-Blakey-A-Night-in-Tunisia-labels--RCA-Victor-mono-Decca-Test-Pressing-labels-1800-LJC

Art-Blakey-A-Night-in-Tunisia-back-cover-RCA-Victor-mono-1800-LJC

Shoot Out:

Art-Blakey-A-Night-in-Tunisia-cover-RCA-Victor-Stereo--1800-LJC

Contestant Two:: A Night in Tunisia “stereo” commercial release 320kbps mp3


Vinyl: UK RCA Victor SF 7555  Decca pressing of an RCA “Living Stereo” recording,

UK 1st issue of US rechanneled stereo reissue from 1963 of the 1958 original mono Vik LX 1115.  Some of you may notice I am having difficulty in writing that sentence: it’s not easy to arrange the words right.

Blakey-Tunisia-stereo-labels-1800-LJC-

Now, here come da judge

Judge-LJC
Err… 

umm…

Well, the cover’s in better condition…that’s something positive.

Horror of horrors! After the recent post about fake stereo, I discover my Living Stereo copy of this album isn’t true stereo. “What is Stereophonic Sound” asks the inner sleeve?

RCA-stereo-info-inner-1800-LJC

Well certainly not what is engineered here. Watching the two channels running in Audacity was a revelation. Before your very eyes you can see what the engineers have been up to (photo simulation). First off, the gain overall had been upped considerably compared with the test press, so first it had to be turned down maybe 15% to prevent clipping .

Audacity-CaptureAll the weight of Blakey’s drumming was loaded to the left channel, with a more quiet mirror image on the right channel, but clipped of lower frequencies. For most of twelve minutes the right channel simply mirrored the left channel with part of the frequencies missing.

Solos come and go all on the left channel, with no unique presence on the right channel that I could see, except the bass solo reveals the signal identical strength and shape equally on both channels, so it sounds in the centre.

Everything I had read about “fake stereo” in the post of a few weeks ago seems to be happening here, or worse. I can’t see visually for sure but I think the mirror image lags slightly to create an “echo”, or maybe some reverb has been added.

As a result, the individual notes in Griffin’s frighteningly fast solos are smeared and jumbled, likewise Jackie McLean’s blistering alto runs. The piano notes are robbed of attack and decay. The amazing syncopation and thunderous main propulsion of Art Blakey’s solo is effectively destroyed, a train-wreck.

It isn’t until you hear the mono test pressing that you know how  good this recording started life, and instructive as what happened to it next. The Man said make it living stereo, and so they did. Problem is the music died in the process.

Decca themselves may not be guilty of this hi-fi crime, but simply contracted to master and press from the “stereo” tape supplied by US RCA Victor. Originally recorded in April 1957, what level of sophistication could be expected I don’t know. Perhaps others can offer more insight.

RCA-Victor-Decca-logo

Art-Blakey-A-Night-in-Tunisia-rear-cover-RCA-Victor-Stereo--1800-LJC

Collectors Corner

My thanks to Mr T and his West London record store, for permitting me to exchange a modest amount of cash for said test pressings (There is second test pressing, but that is for another day) My motive was primarily curiosity, as I already possessed copies of both records in question. And curiosity has been satisfied. Yes, it is true. In my judgement, test pressings are the finest audio copy possible. Putting to one side the fake stereo business, you can hear a significant difference between the run of the mill commercial release and the factory sample.

The bonus was to discover what a stunning record Blakey’s Tunisia for Victor was – something hidden from view by the mutilated jumbled “stereo” version. And to rediscover this stonking early line up of the Messengers with McLean and Griffin, that was a bonus bonus.

Postscript 1:

LJC approaches 750,000 page views, in just two and a half years. Don’t you guys have anything better to do with your time?  (Like flirting with Mobley 1568-owner “Caroline“?)

Postscript 2: Origins of the RCA cover art – Vik LX 1115, first issue

The alto sax player on the first Vik release is credited to one “Ferris Benda” (Jackie McLean obviously under contractual difficulties. Interesting pseudonym, one used by Jackie on more than a few releases)

artblakeyTunisia-Vik-original-cover-1800-LJC

Ain’t Google “search by image” terrifying? Because the original cover contained 50% of the subsequent reissue artwork, Google image search was able to pinpoint the original in its search results within seconds. Extraordinary. Similarly perplexing, the thinking behind editing the image down to exclude the water-bearing women. Perhaps its oxymoronic to include a daytime scene in a “Night in Tunisia” . Personally I think its a missed opportunity to get product placement dollars from the Tunisian Tourist Board.

For reference, the Blue Note A Night in Tunisia (no relation)

4049 CVR blakeytunisia-frontcover-1600

From “The Jazz Mess” – not Reid Miles finest moment

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41 thoughts on “Art Blakey: A Night in Tunisia (1957) mono test pressing vs commercial release “stereo”

  1. I LOVE the sound of that test pressing! Runs circles around the ‘phony stereo’, which btw made me feel like my head cold from weeks ago had come back. Thanks again for the opportunity to listen like this.

  2. Andy, none of the VIK’s releases were stereo, true or otherwise, and I am skeptical that British offshoot of RCA would have mastered them in this format even if, perchance, the session tapes were available as multitrack at the time of British release. Although the parent US label (RCA Victor) was perfectly capable of producing them at a time (having started making three-track recording as early as 1953), it seems that the powers that be at RCA decided that their new subsidiary (which started as “X” label before changing it’s name around 1956/57) would record only Jazz and Blues (and a handful of R&B) titles, which they apparently didn’t feel were as commercially viable as pop titles and therefore did not merit being given a more expensive multitrack treatment.

    This particular title was reissued on RCA Victor label proper circa 1960/61 in both mono and electronically rechannelled stereo (with monos being SIGNIFICANTLY rarer), with “stereo” version prominently displaying “electronically rechannelled” banner on the front cover, something that would have prevented your disappointment had the British subsidiary of RCA received the memo earlier and followed the same disclosure guidelines as their American counterpart (in fairness, though, back in the late ’50s, not many people knew even what stereo was, let alone differentiate between true and fake stereo).

    Most – but not all – VIK titles were reissued on RCA (and, in some cases, Camden, RCA’s budget imprint) during the ’60s as electronically rechannelled releases (and with massively altered artwork), although some VIK titles never saw the light of day again in any form whatsoever.

    This was Blakey’s second (and I believe the last) recording for RCA (the first being Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers Play Lerner and Loewe, also on VIK, also released in 1957). However, this was not the end of his association with RCA: He went on to record at least four more French-only titles on RCA’s French subsidiary.

    It is possible that, for the CD release, BMG/Legacy (heirs of RCA Victor) unearthed the multitrack session tapes and remastered the program in true stereo, but from what I can determine, the Japanese version of the CD is straight mono, and they typically follow the latest available US format. The samples of the tracks uploaded on allmusic.com appear to play mono.

    http://www.allmusic.com/album/a-night-in-tunisia-1957-mw0001986964

    NEEDLESS TO SAY, THIS TITLE SHOULD NOT BE CONFUSED WITH THE IDENTICALLY TITLED 1960 BLUE NOTE RELEASE, WHICH FEATURES LEE MORGAN, WAYNE SHORTER, BOBBY TIMMONS, AND JYMMIE MERRITT.

    • Bob, thanks. (BTW a somewhat “short” comment by your standards. Whassup, cat got your tongue? 😉 ) Well spotted the Goodrich signature.

      Back to Goldmine, they claim the original Vik mono as 1958, and the RCA Victor with truncated artwork both mono and rechanneled stereo as 1963. The dates suggest RCA decided to reissue ANIT on the back of the 1960 Blue Note success of same title.

      As a result, I am perfectly happy to enjoy two Nights in Tunisia.

      • Hi Andy:

        Re: brevity. Oh, what can I say? It is hard to furnish a disjointed raving lunatic 20-page editorial. at 3:30 in the morning. For such majestic mental work one has to keep a clear and rested mind, which was in short supply this morning. I will try again soon, I promise!

        Re: 1963 year of RCA release. Goldmine is full of David Cameron, as always. The 1963 year of RCA (re)release is not even hypothetically possible, being that RCA Victor had phased out Living Stereo label (actually, not only the label, but the entire product line) at least a year prior, and, as of late 1962 switched to the “Dynagroove Stereo” labels, which they continued using until around mid-1964, give or take. I’d say the latest this could have been reissued on RCA (electronically rechannelled) Living Stereo label would have been 1962. Granted, it is possible that RCA cover itself bears the 1963 copyright date (I could not find RCA back cover in my image archive and googling it turned out to be a chore), which can be misleading because RCA cover copyright dates and actual dates of release can be discrepant for a variety of reasons.

        As for the VIK year of release 1958, they are correct (mea maxima culpa , I am self-flagellating as we speak. ouch!) . This is also noted on the original VIK cover.

        If you also include albums titled ‘A Night in Tunisia’ by Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, Art Pepper, Miles Davis or Arturo O’ Farrell, you can actually get yourself a whole week in Tunisia, free of charge. more or less. Steer clear of the casbah, though: some shady proceedings taking place there! And make sure to wear a long beard, it is rather popular in the region these days (harem optional, but you may need more than a week for this feature).

        Re: Goodrich cover. I suspect that this was RCA’s one-off deal with an obscure artists (no other RCA/VIK covers have any semblance to this one), and my google search for Goodrich+artwork produced absolutely zero hits. It is interesting that the second, truncated (RCA) version of the cover cleverly cuts out his signature, probably signifying that RCA decided not to credit (i.e., pay) him for his artwork on any subsequent reissues.

        Your theory that RCA piggybacked this release on the success of Blue Note title is rather apropos and entirely credible. I would have expected no less. 🙂

          • We accept cash, Visa, Mastercard, gold bars (ideally not the ones from Fort Knox, tend to be a little hollow), Blue Note 1568s and leggy brunettes with blue eyes, preferably in their mid-’30s. .

        • Bob, Is it too far-fetched to imagine that the illustrator might be Lloyd Goodrich, US art historian and Director of the Whitney 1958-68? True, no searches reveal any artwork by Goodrich even vaguely similar to the TUNISIA cover, but it seems he did consider a career as an artist before becoming an art historian:

          http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/goodrichl.htm

          It’s a slim chance, however. How unused we have become to the internet failing to produce the information we want…

          • Hi Alun:

            I am not sure, but this appears unlikely, because Lloyd Goodrich was more of an art historian than actual artist (I could not find any works attributable to him, except for numerous art history volumes). Also, Lloyd Goodrich would have been 65 at the time of this release, so I am not quite sure how receptive he would have been to the idea of doing a Jazz cover at this late stage in his life. But, yes, it is hypothetically possible..

            • You’re right — highly unlikely, and there are no signs of other artworks attributed to him. And according to the Dictionary of Art Historians he gave up painting in 1918…although he did work for a period in the late-20s in the steel industry and as an editor for Macmillan, which made me think, Well, perhaps he had a few bits and pieces hanging around that he found he could pick up a freelance fee on… But if that were the case then it’s likely something else would show up in searches – and nothing does.

              It would be nice to solve the puzzle though — who is Goodrich?

    • Gregory, I am sure I saw you making eyes at the size of her speakers 😉
      (I had to look up Klipsch Cornwalls, my god they are something) I also asked my friend Man-in-a-Shed what he knew of McIntosh amplification. Apparently they make hardened hi-fi buffs go weak at the knees. Who says you can’t have it all?

  3. Woe is me – more fake stereo releases? – I have a reissue of this which I listened to maybe two weeks ago. I was not impressed and did not listen to the entire album. On the back of this reissued is printed these words – – THIS IS A “NEW ORTHOPHONIC” HIGH FIDELITY RECORDING. What is orthophonic?

  4. tssss…look what success does to you!
    but as long as you bring such good soul food on the table there’s no way we’ll hang out elsewhere, except if Caroline gets her own blog of course…

  5. No doubt Blakey “has the same number of limbs as everyone else”, but on this occasion the number was obviously augmented by the limbs of his fellow players adding some extra percussion. No studio trickery, to be sure. What a pity that the honoured “living stereo” trademark fails to deliver in the case of this otherwise engaging Blakey session. In fact, there has never been a “true stereo” version of these tracks in my knowledge. The way things are, it’s a clear case of “mono is better than (fake) stereo”.

    • P.S. – LJC, I have done no research into this, but I suspect that the original “living stereo” logo was never used in connection with these recordings. The only mention of, well, something like “living stereo” seems to be on the labels of your UK Decca version, so it’s not RCA who are to blame. Their own original pressing was LPM-2654, and it was mono.

      • My US Goldmine Jazz Album Price Guide lists Blakey’s RCA Victor as both LPM-2654 (M) and LSP-2654 (R) – where (R) stands for Rechanneled Stereo, both dated as released 1963. I hadn’t referred to this before, but it would seem the finger of blame points to RCA rather than Decca. Mind you, could be the only thing Goldmine get right.

        • A web search also reveals that LSP-2654 (E) – which probably stands for “electronically re-channeled” – does exist. It seems that just a few years after the introduction of stereophony, RCA may already have been misusing the term for marketing purposes.

      • Hi Ed:

        Not to beat on the dead horse (see my comment above), but RCA release is NOT the original (all RCA pressings are reissues of one generation or another). As Andy, and Dottor’ Jazz noted, the original was VIK LAX 1115 (VIK being RCA Victor’s – hence VIK – Jazz subsidiary). No stereo version, true or fake, of VIK pressing of this title, OR ANY OTHER VIK TITLE exists.

        • Thanks Bob, for providing all that information – exhaustive as usual. What I found most misleading was the “living stereo” printed on the UK labels. At least they didn’t dare to use the original “living stereo” logo on the cover.

  6. Waveforms on an LJC post, have I stumbled upon some blog dedicated to the evil silver disc???

    Just kidding. My preference is for the mono not for sale pressing and not by a small margin. What a powerful sound, and no distortion on Blakey’s kit is a nice change.

    Also love the cover of the RCA Night In Tunisia; much better than the bland Blue Note one.

      • Regret no-one credited. Postcript Update No2 shows the original Vik cover art, which was cannibalised for the second issue. Also, this is another appearance of that amazingly talented but relatively unknown alto player, Ferris Benda

        • The original VIK cover (full artwork, with the water-carrying woman) shows the signature of the artists as ‘Goodrich’ (it appears between the water woman and the tree in front of her). This is only visible on the VIK version of the cover, not on RCA’s truncated version. Unfortunately, I could not find any further information on the artist. He may have faded into oblivion forever.

  7. Postscript reply: LJC, wanna get us outa here looking for girls?
    ” I think back on the songs on those first albums I bought. The records were more important than any girl, even if the song was about a girl. The girl was gone but the song remained”.
    From Record Store Days by Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo, pg 30.

      • LJC, just read through that thread. Good for Caroline and glad to see there’s a female “record geek” out there among the ranks.

        I personally thought it sounded a lot quibbling what the discussion veered into re: the collectibility of 1568. It’s fairly obvious that a combination of demand/supply dictates the price. You don’t need to be a full time economist to know that….but anyway, I had no idea Blakey had 2 different “A Night in Tunisia” albums so have learned something new today, thanks! ;’)

        • You are never know for sure who anyone is on the internet, Caroline or “Caroline”? Or even LJC, come to that.

          What intrigues me is how someone accumulates a score on Ebay over 4000 without being a full time dealer. There are only 800 or so records in the entire Blue Note catalogue, may be 1500 allowing for stereo and mono editions, its a lot of transactions for a jazz collector and the 30 day bid history is only records. Three Blue Notes that same buyer trumped me on six weeks back, no feedback was ever posted, another dealer trait. I am sure it’s all explainable, but…I fall back on my first sentence.

          The fragrant Mrs LJC ensures the size of my bulging record collection is complained about at regular intervals, along with complaints that my speakers are too big, and are too loud. That seems to me a more natural state of affairs, but what do I know?

          • Ah, too big and too loud? and, maybe, too many records?
            I’m used to pump my music through two Magneplanar (3 Ohm) from a class A Krell 250+250 (8 Ohm). Lucky not to be deaf yet ’cause I’m moderate.

  8. Being an American collector, I am unfamiliar with this particular title – I know that it is NOT the same as the Blue Note Night in Tunisia by Blakey – was this recorded exclusively in the UK, or does it correspond to another US title?

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