Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage (1965) Blue Note

Hancock-Maiden-Voyage-cover-mono-1800-LJC

Selection: Dolphin Dance (mono)

Artists:

Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) George Coleman (tenor saxophone) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Anthony Williams (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, March 17, 1965

Music

What words can describe this  in my view  triumph of Hancock’s  ’60’s Blue Note recordings? – compelling, refreshing, luminous, liquid gold. Hancocks previous  album Empyrean Isles was an altogether darker and more edgy  quartet affair. The addition of Freddie Hubbard to what is basically Miles Quintet, including Davis’ saxophonist of the time George Coleman.

I needed reminding that the tenor is not Wayne Shorter, but George Coleman, playing probably at his best here. Shorter’s trademark downbeat tone, pungently stretching out became the perfect foil for Hancock’s modal colourings and probing chords and , but Coleman excels himself as the  perfect offset to Hubbard ‘s burnished tone in the portentous opening song lines of this visionary work.

Despite everyone’s familiarity with the iconic title track and its opening chords, it is Dolphin’s Dance which for me is the sublime  track, but they are all good.

Vinyl: Blue Note BN 4195

Mono original pressing, ear and VAN GELDER stamps

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Liner Notes (attributed to one “Nora Kelly”)

Opinions differ whether this over-wrought prose adds fittingly to a “concept album”, or is high class b.s. which wastes the opportunity for informative biographical and musical notes to complement critical listening. I guess I may have given away my position. You decide for yourself.

Hancock-Maiden-Voyage-back-cover-mono-1800-LJC

Collectors Corner

This has taken a long time – four or five years – to track down, a mono copy in (almost) excellent condition. Not that they appeared often but when they did, someone would spirit it away with an XXL bid. I lost count of the number of times I found myself second place price setter. The Tokyo Disc Union buyers are the main suspects. It nearly happened again, but for once the cards fell differently. There was only one other bidder – and from the anonymised  Ebay bidder code, u***i – I’ll give you a clue. Very competitive lady, and according to their change in score total over six months, I calculate buys a record every three days.

Hancock-maiden-Voyage-2-circles

What put off other bidders? Perhaps it was that crossed out previous owners name on the rear cover, or the seller’s redundant disclaimer that it wasn’t him that had done it, as though it mattered who.

It brings to five* my Hancock Blue Note originals (1962-5), I think the complete set, all mono:

Takin’ Off
 My Point of View
 Inventions and Dimensions
 Empyrean Isles
 Maiden Voyage

(*excluding The Prisoner, which escapes me, and  falls out of scope)

since added – The Prisoner

Taking Liberties:  Same selection, later Division of Liberty, stereo:

Dolphin Dance (stereo later Liberty)

Hancock-Maiden-Voyage-cover--stereo-Liberty-1800-LJC

Hancock-Maiden-Voyage-labels-stereo-late-liberty-1800-LJCHancock-Maiden-Voyage-back-cover-liberty-stereo-1800-LJC

Mono-Stereo Observations

I have no overall preference between mono and stereo, it all depends on the music. For several years the best copy of Maiden Voyage I could get was a stereo later Liberty, and I thought I was doing well to have that. For reasons I was unable to pin down, I felt little enthusiasm for playing it. Immediately on hearing the original mono, everything changed

As soon as  the needle drops, the mono has you solidly focussed on the music. Williams cymbal-washes rise up out of the hanging brass harmonies and percussive colourings. It is thrilling, as it should be. In contrast, the stereo immediately sends you location information. Williams is on the right, detatched from what’s happening at other points of the compass, undermining the cohesion of the ensemble. Information about room placement sits between you and the music, it doesn’t support or enhance it .

There was no doubt in my mind that the stereo didn’t engage me in the way the original mono does. It doesn’t help that  Liberty seems to  lacks the visceral punch of Plastylite. I’d have to hear the stereo original to judge it more confidently but we are in confirmation bias territory. The Liberty is not an early NY/Liberty, it is a dark blue/ yellowy later label, indicative of the Transamerica period, which often turn out a weaker presentation.

New-found enthusiasm for this pinnacle of Hancock’s Blue Note works, due to vinyl pressing and presentation. Who’d have thought it?

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69 thoughts on “Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage (1965) Blue Note

  1. Desolé de vous deranger – that’s French for sorry to disturb you, (naturally it’s ironic, said with as much sarcasm as one can muster)

    I keep reading this term EQ-ing. What is EQ-ing? How is it done? Why is it done? What results from EQ-ing? What happens if you don’t EQ something? (Shakes head in disbelief: LJC you don’t know?)

    No, I don’t know what you guys are talking about, but I’d like to.

    • I will take a shot:

      Equalization or ‘EQing’ for short simply means boosting (active eqing) or cutting (passive eqing) certain frequency bands. The simplest example of this is the old ‘tone’ knob on cheapo turntables or later ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ controls on a receiver. A more sophisticated manifestation would be a 31 band graphic eq like this one:

      There are other many other kinds of equalization as well (more generally referred to as ‘filtering’), but hopefully this is enough to get the basic concept.

      Each instrument (or voice) inhabits its own area of the audible frequency spectrum (generally considered from 20Hz to 18kHz although most people’s perception starts to drop off after 10kHz).

      As you can see, some of them overlap and some of them do not (this chart shows both the ‘fundamental’, the actual ‘note’ the instrument is playing, along with the ‘harmonics’ or the overtone series above the fundamental which give the instrument its individual unique sound). Some of them occupy narrow bands, while others can take use the entire audible spectrum.

      The chart shows the instruments’ ‘flat’ or ‘natural’ spectrum. However, when recording instruments in a real studio, engineers will often boost and/or cut the frequencies of an instrument to some degree, both to emphasize certain characteristics of the instrument and to minimize the amount of overlap with other instruments.

      This, for example, is one of the reasons RVG’s piano sounds the way it does. The piano is heavily EQ’d to ‘make room’ for other instruments (there are other reasons as well. As RVG is fond of saying when asked about his technical process: ‘nothing was simple’).

      In the context of our discussion:

      Mixing two channels or more into a single channel (mono) is, mathematically speaking, combining two (or more) wave forms into one. Any time you collapse two non-identical waves together, a certain amount of phase cancellation occurs.
      Simply put: if one wave is rising while the other is falling and you put them together, the cancel each other out.

      The idea is through both equalization and track utilization to minimize the amount of bandwidth overlap and therefore minimize the difference between what is heard when all tracks are played back separately and when they are ultimately combined into one.

      Again, to characterize this simply, you want to minimize instruments ‘fighting’ over the same bandwidth.

      Just to reiterate: I’m a layman and not an audio engineer so there may be some gaps or misconceptions in my explanation, but on the whole I think it’s fairly good basis for a simple understanding.

      • I thought perhaps a nice visual example might make some of this less abstract. Spectrograms are a visual representation of frequency distribution over time and make it easy to ‘see’ different instruments and how the overlap and fit into the frequency spectrum.

        Here’s a six second snippet of the end of the bass solo from “Spectrum” from Point of Departure by Andrew Hill:

        https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B8eJiXh0D8h2ZnFpTU5wTEVsb3c/edit

        …and here’s a spectrogram for the same snippet:

        https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B8eJiXh0D8h2c1FBcWFJUXc0XzQ/edit

        I’ve labeled the spectrogram to point out the individual instruments and a few other details. Brighter colors indicate louder signal. Musical notes (and their overtones) show up as horizontal lines while instrument attacks show up has horizontal lines.

        Since this is stereo, you can see that since the ride cymbal is panned right, it is quieter (visually darker) in the left channel while instruments in the ‘center’ show up at the same amplitude in both channels.

        You can also spot a tape splice just before the piano comes in at 5:41.3 by the way the harmonics stop suddenly instead of trailing off naturally.

        Since this is an LP, you can see things you wouldn’t see on the master tapes: high frequency noise, rumble, clicks and also a high frequency cutoff from a low pass filter used when the record was cut.

  2. As a parting shot, I just happened to run across this detailed dissection of the challenges of cutting new mono lacquers from the Beatles multitrack session tapes. I think this does a much better job of outlining the issues I was trying to illustrate and provides some excellent historical information as well:

    “As the tape’s four tracks filled up and were mixed down to one to make room for more music, these pre-mixes were produced with mono in mind so that when all of the tracks were folded together, they would fit together like a stack of cards.”

    “Cards” here refer to the bandwidth utilized by each instrument (which can be somewhat controlled by EQing). By minimizing bandwidth usage overlap between the individual four tracks, phase cancellation is minimized when the four tracks are mixed down to one, since a frequency band used heavily on one track is used minimally on the other three.

    Also, note the explicit mention of EQ’ing employed during the cutting phase:

    “The EQ applied was based upon the original cutting engineers’ notes”

    While this process no doubt would have significant differences from what Van Gelder did, it certainly gives a detailed window into the process of creating a mono cut from a multichannel/multitrack session as well as the impact on the entire process when the end focus is creating a mono LP.

  3. Felix,

    Regarding the overall balance and mix of the music–which was done on-the-fly during the recording session–Music Matters is correct that one can more or less hear precisely what was heard upon playback during the session with a Music Matters stereo LP simply by summing the channels, and this is due to the nature of the 50/50 system. But sure, I agree, one can’t get the exact same sound as an original mono Blue Note LP by summing the channels on a MM reissue. They (including Hoffman) wouldn’t argue that either. They would argue that Van Gelder’s mastering artifacts are undesirable (I disagree). But for the purpose of our discussion, I would argue that the “meat and potatoes” of any recording is present prior to mastering, meaning the bulk of the work is done during the recording and mixing processes, while the mastering process more or less puts the finishing touches on things. I know Van Gelder went heavier with the limiting than most modern mastering engineers, but even so I still think this applies to Van Gelder. So you can get the mono mix of a Blue Note LP by summing a MM reissue, but sure, it won’t sound exactly like an original LP…I think the confusion between us was the result of your claiming that one can’t get the same “sound” by summing without explanation.

    On paper, there is a 6 db increase in the “center” i.e. mono information when a stereo mix is summed, but I have summed several original RVG stereo LPs and I’ll be damned if I can detect a difference between the two regarding the overall balance of the instruments and their relative volumes. In any event, the artificial reverb Van Gelder applied by way of the EMT plate he had was mono and center in his mixes, so the artificial reverb on a Van Gelder stereo LP would get that (marginal) 6 db bump along with the piano and the bass but nothing more. As for the room sound, yes, there will be phase cancellation when summing so the overall sound of the mix will be slightly altered. I honestly wouldn’t say the room sound changes all that much when summing, but at the very least, the difference is there on paper and open to the interpretation of each listener.

    QUOTE: “When summing L and R channels together, there will always be a certain amount of phase cancellation which occurs between the two channels. This is the reason why RVG would have most likely utilized different EQ’ing when cutting the mono and stereo master lacquers. This is one of the most important reasons it’s critical to create a dedicated mono mix and not just fold down the stereo master and the reason why most studios continued to pay engineers to due so long after the advent of stereo.”

    Regarding the last sentence, I disagree, here’s why: Let’s say you record something with two mics, one for left and one for right. Then let’s say you take those feeds and 1. record them straight to a two-track tape and 2. sum them and record them to a full-track tape at the same time. What will the difference be between playing back the full-track tape and summing the two-track tape? Virtually nil: when you sum the two signals for the full-track tape, before they hit the tape, a very similar phase cancellation occurs in the circuit in comparison to that which occurs when you sum the two channels of the two-track tape. Certainly the two processes are not identical, but I would argue that this is yet another minor difference that exists on paper yet would be difficult to pin down in reality. So I would argue that Van Gelder was spot on, that using two separate tape formats was indeed a luxury and by and large not a necessity.

    QUOTE: “Certainly the pre-stereo Blue Note catalog (and Prestige for that matter) have been sold and marketed with out much difficulty so the idea that there’s no market for mono jazz releases doesn’t seem particularly convincing to me. Given the insatiable demand and soaring prices for original Blue Note mono pressings, it seems clear to me that the biggest factor in the lack of Blue Note mono reissues for titles like “Maiden Voyage” is the lack of a mono master tape and the challenge of recreating the sound of the original mono LPs.”

    When mono’s the only option, that’s a completely different animal regarding marketing. Cuscuna’s point has been that once the general public has heard the stereo version of a recording–when it exists–they will simply think a mono version is “inferior”. I do, however, think you are correct that no one is reissuing the later Blue Note stuff in mono because there’s no mono master tape, but I also think that these reissue teams are misunderstanding the issue. But hey, that’s a big part of the charm of original monos and what makes them special!

    • One quick addendum: Regarding the paragraph above that compares summing the channels of a two-track tape with recording directly to full-track, I eluded to the fact that there is virtually NO difference between the two, and in the process I failed to reiterate the fact that there will be a 6 db bump for the “center” information when summing the two channels of the two-track tape. Now, whether or not that volume change would be dramatic or even noticeable would be open to interpretation, but that would definitely be the only difference between the two methods that would potentially be significant enough to detect while listening. So, what Van Gelder may have done at some point in time was mix in mono but keep the center instruments (piano and bass) a liiiiiittle more out front than he would have in the past so they wouldn’t get as buried in the stereo master. This certainly also seems like as good a reason as any for major labels to have dedicated teams to record to both tape formats.

      • My apologies to everyone for continued unearthing, flogging etc.etc…

        Rich, may I quote what you said about phase cancellation:
        “Let’s say you record something with two mics, one for left and one for right. Then let’s say you take those feeds and 1. record them straight to a two-track tape and 2. sum them and record them to a full-track tape at the same time. What will the difference be between playing back the full-track tape and summing the two-track tape? Virtually nil.”

        I would expect the same thing to be true for volume. Does it really matter at which point the two signals are summed up? Where should your 6 db difference come from? Am I missing something?

        • Good point. The short answer is that the relative volumes of the instruments changes. The long answer is this: if two teams are recording and mixing separately to full-track and two-track tape respectively, each team can set the volume for the center information based on how the music is intended to be played back. There may not be a big difference in how this is done in the end but it’s possible that the two-track team might give the center information a bit of a boost in comparison to the voltage (volume) level of the center with the full-track tape. In the 50/50 system, you’re going to set the volume level for the center info based on whatever mix you’re listening to (or, if you’re listening to both, you might try to find a happy balance between the two mixes).

          To be honest, I don’t understand it perfectly, but the layman’s explanation is when you sum two waveforms, the information that isn’t in both channels comes in at the same voltage, but the information that is the same in both channels will be more or less doubled. So the center info will appear to be louder than it was when listening in stereo. I know this explanation isn’t perfect and there’s questions that arise from it, I just don’t have the answers. I have tried a couple times to sort it out online with no luck. Maybe someday I’ll meet an old school engineer who can explain it better. At one point in my correspondence with Kevin Gray though, he did confirm this phenomenon.

          I’ve personally tried switching between the stereo presentation of original RVG LPs (not MM reissues) and summing the channels into mono and I honestly have a hard time hearing a difference in the relative balance of the instruments. So while in theory a 6 db bump should be quite noticeable, I have a hard time hearing it when using the mono switch on my amplifier. Maybe there’s something I’m missing…

          • OK – let’s put it this way: If you’ve got just two mics, no leakage, nobody tampering with center information – then it doesn’t matter where you put the two channels together, right?

            • The short answer: It depends on how the signals are being monitored. The long answer: If we’re imagining RVG either 1. summing the signals from his board to record to a full-track machine or 2. recording to two-track then summing during mastering, we need to take into consideration how he was hearing the music when he set the levels. If he is listening in mono the entire time for both scenarios, then yes, there will be virtually no difference in what is heard in the end, and this is the very point that needs to be made for everyone who prefers stereo LPs that are a product of the 50/50 system simply because the albums weren’t recorded to full-track tape.

              However, if he were to, say, monitor the session in stereo instead of mono, the point is that when he sums the channels for the mono master the center information will appear a tad but louder than it did when he was recording (and mixing). And vice versa: if he monitored in mono, when he went to create the stereo master, the center info would appear slightly lower in volume. Keep in mind that this is all on paper, and I must always add the YMMV disclaimer. 😉

              And correction: Kevin just straightened me out, it’s a 3 db boost…now it all makes a lot more sense…3 db is much less noticeable than 6 db. 🙂

              • Now I got it. It’s about the things you hear while monitoring and the level corrections you would have to make in order to make them sound “right”. My question was a purely technical one, about the measurable effects of summing up the signals in two different ways (with no one monitoring and adjusting along the way). But there’s no contradiction in the end.

              • So at this point we’ve probably strayed well outside the scope of a jazz record appreciation blog and into a fairly complex audio engineering topic, so for anybody who genuinely wants to understand the challenges of mixing/mastering a recording for both mono and stereo might want to hit the Googles for information and get their information from an audio engineering focused-site rather than armchair quarterbacks (myself included).

                Also, since RVG has mostly been very secretive about his process for creating Blue Note master tapes and LPs, there’s necessarily a lot of speculation going on.

                Here’s a short video that explains phase cancellation pretty succinctly:

                Although the context in the video is phase cancellation between two mics, which is a far simpler to describe and easier to alleviate than the issue of phase cancellation when summing multi instrument recordings during mastering, the same principle applies.

                One of the most important things to understand about phase cancellation is that in the real world (as opposed to the simple example in the video) it’s going to occur to different degrees through different bands of the frequency spectrum based on the content of the two channels and not just uniformly across the entire audible band. Because of shorter wavelengths, much less phase difference is required at high frequencies for cancellation to occur than at low frequencies

                Also, since frequencies aren’t utilized uniformly in either channel (e.g. drums occupy different bandwidth than a trumpet) more cancellation is going to occur at some bands than others.

                All of this is to say that characterizing the net effects of phase cancellation as a simple ‘volume boost’ or cut is to look at the results in very basic, and (I feel) potentially confusing way. For example, since there’s often going to be more phase cancellation in the higher frequencies, this will lessen the perceived ‘loudness’ of the overall recording even if it results in a net volume boost (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fletcher%E2%80%93Munson_curves).

                You can hear these effects for yourself by taking one of your favorite LPs and summing it to mono. If your preamp doesn’t have a mono switch, you can use two Y-connectors connected together to bridge the left and right channels. In almost every case (depending on the nature of the recording) you will hear more than just a simple change in volume.

                These uneven effects are where equalization enters the discussion since EQing can be used to compensate for this imbalance.

                While discussing how the session was monitored is interesting on its own, the original point of departure was the uniqueness of RVG’s original mono cuts and whether they can be recreated by simply summing the two tracks of the stereo master tape (or a stereo LP) together.

                The fact is that a huge part of the sound of an original Blue Note LP (beyond the master tape) is the EQing and limiting employed during mastering (in this context, cutting the final lacquer). RVG owned one of the very first Fairchild 660 limiters built by legendary engineer Rein Narma (who also built his console and customized his Neumann U47s). These units sell for tens of thousands of dollars in the modern era when they can even be found for sale.

                Hopefully this hasn’t become to long-winded and boring, but given the focus of this blog celebrating the sound of original Blue Note mono pressings and the extreme adventures (and misadventures) LJC endures to obtain them, I feel it’s important to understand what makes them so unique.

                • Now we’re talkin’, Felix!

                  I distinctly recall you referring to potential differences in EQ-ing at the mastering stage for mono and stereo and I honestly had never heard of that before, so your above post is fascinating! But in the end, who knows if Van Gelder was so particular. 😉

                  QUOTE: “All of this is to say that characterizing the net effects of phase cancellation as a simple ‘volume boost’ or cut is to look at the results in very basic, and (I feel) potentially confusing way. For example, since there’s often going to be more phase cancellation in the higher frequencies, this will lessen the perceived ‘loudness’ of the overall recording even if it results in a net volume boost.”

                  I must clarify that I was not intending to suggest that the net effects of phase cancellation result in a simple volume boost, and based on the quote above, I fear we are still not communicating as effectively as we could:

                  1. The 3 db volume boost that occurs when summing a stereo recording to mono has nothing to do with phase cancellation because the boost only happens for information i.e. frequencies present in both channels at equal volumes, i.e. “center information”.
                  2. The point I was trying to make above is this: Whether one is recording to full-track tape or recording to two-track tape and summing, the phase cancellation is the same. In other words, even when recording to full-track tape there is phase cancellation in the circuit before the signal hits the tape–it’s virtually the same cancellation that occurs between the two-track tape machine and a mono amplifier or mono limiter when summing the channels of a two-track tape and listening in mono! The only difference is that the way the signal was stored on the tape may create (minor) differences in the two methods; I can’t imagine them being very significant.

                  End of the day, I agree that original Blue Note LPs sound different than reissues. Perhaps I was unfairly marginalizing the effect mastering can have on the end product when I was talking about mastering earlier. It makes a lot of sense that Van Gelder would have had a Fairchild 660–I actually didn’t know that Rein Narma was the founder of Fairchild, is that right? I was also wondering where you learned that from, as I don’t recall ever reading about the specific make/model of limiter he had in all my research. 🙂

                  I will also agree that there indeed is a lot of speculation going on here right now between us due to Van Gelder’s secretive nature, but I wouldn’t persist with the conversation if I didn’t feel confident in my understanding of the science behind the issues. Thanks for taking part.

                  • Sherman Fairchild started Fairchild Recording Equipment Corporation in the 30s which marketed the Fairchild 660 (and the later 670 stereo version) limiters (the same Fairchild that funded Fairchild Semiconductor which brought us a little thing called the integrated circuit and later the microprocessor).

                    Rein Narma is the Estonian engineer who did most of the technical work on Les Paul’s pioneering early tape experiments including the first multitrack Ampex configuration and Narma met Fairchild while doing work for Les Paul.

                    Here’s an interview where he discusses the origin of the 660 limiter:
                    http://www.knifaudio.com/pdf/InterviewFairchild.pdf

                    “Oh yes! The first one, I think, went to Doctor Rudy Van Gelder.”

  4. Andy, your mono clip sounds phenomenal, thank you ))) I too love that dark Tony Williams ride sound. And Hubbard’s horn blasts are all in tact, no distortion…wow, what a beautiful, amazing-sounding copy…one of the best I’ve heard on here I think.

    The most important question about the later Liberty pressing is: Was it cut from a Van Gelder master disk? If so, I wouldn’t expect there to be much of a difference between your stereo Liberty and an original stereo. I think the greatest differences in sound begin when you get into the 70’s remasters that were remastered after the Van Gelder master disks were finally discarded after many years of faithful service.

    Regarding Van Gelder’s “L-C-R” stereo, I find the separation to be much more extreme in headphones; to be honest, on a home stereo system I think the stereo spread is less distracting, would you agree? But the cohesion achieved on the mono, the melding together of sonic textures, is usually unbeatable in my book 😉 Also, well said about the way the mono “engages” you more than the stereo, agreed.

    Congrats on completing your “quintet” of early Hancock Blue Notes…I didn’t realize you had all those in original mono! And if you’re gonna mention The Prisoner, you gotta mention Speak Like a Child as well!

  5. “Perhaps it was that crossed out previous owners name on the rear cover, or the seller’s redundant disclaimer that it wasn’t him that had done it, as though it mattered who.”

    LMAO–I love that you pick up on stuff like this cuz I see stuff like this on eBay ALL THE TIME. Sometimes I am dumbfounded as to how a seller got the idea in their head to become an eBay seller because their listing are so incredibly poor.

    • You’re absolutely right, Tony. The mono is a fold-down, made for those who in 1965 still didn’t own a stereo turntable (such as myself). How time flies…

      • Not to beat it to death, but there has been a great deal of confusion around this topic:

        It’s important to understand that the mono lacquers Rudy Van Gelder cut for Blue Note were not just simple fold downs (nor were the stereo lacquers simple flat transfers of the master tapes, either, for that matter); That is, you can’t just recreate the sound of a mono Blue Note LP by getting a stereo pressing and simply mixing the left and right channels together.

        This is the chief reason there have been very few Blue Note mono reissues (with the exception of recordings where there is an actual dedicated mono master tape).

        More importantly, it’s well documented that Lion and Van Gelder were largely focused on the outcome of the mono LPs during the original production process (and I say this as someone who actually prefers the stereo versions).

        See this thread for a fairly thorough discussion:

        https://londonjazzcollector.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/taking-liberties-the-poor-mans-blue-note/

        • So… a typical 1965 RVG mono would not be just a fold-down but an intricate, separate mono mix done from a multi-track master tape? Is that what you want to imply, Felix? Please explain.

            • I don’t think so, Pee Gee. What has been discussed so far has always been the stereo re-issues of two-track RVGs that were originally intended to be mono. What I am asking is whether mono releases from the mid-60s (i.e. well into the stereo era) were given any special attention in the studio, or were nothing but plain old fold-downs. I suspect the latter.

          • Eduard, no, not a “mix” done after the session was recorded, as is done in modern times. Felix was on the right track but veered off a little at one point–you can get the mono mix from summing the stereo channels on an original stereo pressing (and the MM reissues as well), but the point is that the balance of the instruments may have very well been obtained on a mono monitoring setup. The overall balance of the instruments, the amount of reverb etc. will be the same on both because Van Gelder mixed on the fly during the recording session and only recorded to two-track tape (keep in mind that doesn’t necessarily mean the album was mixed in stereo), which then was used to make both the mono AND stereo master lacquer disks. What will be different between the mono and stereo originals is the way in which compression and limiting applied during the mastering stage act on each version.

            • I’m not sure how you’ve concluded that I have “veered”, since that was the precise point I was making: Because of the differences in limiting and/or eq’ing applied between the summed L/R master tape and the cutter head during the cutting of the original mono lacquer it’s not possible to hear what a mono Blue Note pressing sounds like by tracking a down a stereo copy and simply summing L+R together (a “fold-down”), which is what was implied.

              This seems to be a consistent point of confusion with people who I imagine must be quite baffled at the extraordinary lengths people like LJC go to to obtain original mono Blue Note pressings.

              “The overall balance of the instruments, the amount of reverb etc. will be the same on both”

              This is not strictly true. When summing L and R channels together, there will always be a certain amount of phase cancellation which occurs between the two channels. This is the reason why RVG would have most likely utilized different EQ’ing when cutting the mono and stereo master lacquers. This is one of the most important reasons it’s critical to create a dedicated mono mix and not just fold down the stereo master and the reason why most studios continued to pay engineers to due so long after the advent of stereo.

              As for mono reissues, they have certainly been done. Again, the only ones I am aware of have been for releases where there was a dedicated mono master tape such as HDTracks’s recent release of “Somethin’ Else” (BLP 1595). Certainly the pre-stereo Blue Note catalog (and Prestige for that matter) have been sold and marketed with out much difficulty so the idea that there’s no market for mono jazz releases doesn’t seem particularly convincing to me.

              Given the insatiable demand and soaring prices for original Blue Note mono pressings, it seems clear to me that the biggest factor in the lack of Blue Note mono reissues for titles like “Maiden Voyage” is the lack of a mono master tape and the challenge of recreating the sound of the original mono LPs.

              Horse excavated, re-flogged, and summarily incinerated. Good riddance.

        • Let me quote Richard Connerton (DG Mono) from the thread you mentioned:

          “…When he (RVG) says “monitoring in mono continued for a few years”, how long does he mean? 1962-3? 1968? Also, does he mean monitoring 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.”

          I think RVG’s attention to the stereo mix must have started very early, long before he recorded such stuff as Jimmy Smith with Oliver Nelson’s Orchestra (Englewood Cliffs, January 1965). Honestly, listening to that record (in STEREO, what else!) I find it absurd to believe that RVG might have monitored the whole thing in mono. I am certain it was the stereo version that was “made with Van Gelder’s utmost care and attention”, and that the mono version was a fold-down. Same thing applies for “Maiden Voyage”.

          • Eduard I personally don’t see any reason why Lion and Van Gelder would have cared to “switch back and forth” between the mono and stereo mixes while recording. The placement of the instruments was always the same in the stereo mixes after 1959 (again, see my article). To me this suggests that Lion and Van Gelder always had a “set it and forget it” attitude about stereo because balance-wise they were going to achieve a very similar result in comparison to the mono without even having to listen to the stereo.

            Your opinion on the topic reminds me of Steve Hoffman’s, that “there’s no way he got such a great balance and spread on the stereo tape without monitoring in stereo” and I wholeheartedly disagree with that. I have A/B’ed numerous mono and stereo original Van Gelder masters and the difference between the relative balance (volume) of the instruments between each version is virtually nonexistent to my ears.

            • Rich, thank you for taking so much trouble replying to my recent contributions which may have led to some (slight) misunderstanding. I was quoting the 1965 Verve LP because I think basically RVG must have been in a position to do full-scale, HQ stereo monitoring and mixing by that time. Or else, how could he dare to put a big band plus hammond organ in his studio and produce a fantastic stereo mix while monitoring in mono? So I assume you are NOT talking about his work for Verve and Impulse, but ONLY about his Blue Note recordings. BTW, “Blues and the Abstract Truth” was done as early as 1961 (!), with a group nearly the size of a big band, and a stereo balance that IMHO can only be obtained while monitoring in stereo.

              Whether or not “Maiden Voyage” sounds better in mono is really a matter of taste. I am generally hesitant to listen to mid-60s RVG jazz in mono when at the same time an “authorized” stereo version is available.

              • Correct: my research suggests that Van Gelder had different methods with the other labels. In fact, the evidence suggests that he actually continued to run both full-track and two-track tape simultaneously for Impulse through the 60’s (which may have been due to the fact that the imprint was backed by a major, ABC, with deeper pockets). If I had to guess though, I’d think that both Creed Taylor and Bob Thiele more or less would have fallen in line with Van Gelder and what he was doing with Blue Note, as they seem to have been the real trendsetters. But who knows: maybe they preferred stereo.

                However, as I said above, creating a balance in mono vs. stereo doesn’t really seem like it would cause a significant shift in the balance of the instruments. As for what Hoffman would probably call the “beautifully even lateral balance within the stereo spread impossible to achieve without monitoring in stereo”, I would simply reply that it is totally possible. And I’m certain that even on those 1965 recordings his board still only had three “panning” positions for each channel (left, center, and right).

                And of course! Preference for mono or stereo boils down to personal preference. But in the case of the clips LJC posted, I think it’s hard to deny that his particular original mono LP sounds stunning.

        • For the record, the reason why most Blue Note reissues are done in stereo is because of any combination of the following:

          1. The people involved don’t understand Van Gelder’s method, as most people don’t,

          2. For a long time, “mono” was a backward, caveman word to the modern listener, so it was feared that doing a reissue in mono was marketing suicide (according to Michael Cuscuna). It wasn’t until quite recently (perhaps largely due to the The Beatles’ mono box set) that the term “mono” started to become fashionable, in which case, for instance, we then saw the Miles Davis mono box set released thereafter,

          3. A lot of reissue projects are spearheaded by “audiophiles” who seems to stereotypically prefer the stereo versions of jazz LPs to the mono versions.

    • Guys: see my response to Andy below, and read my article already! 😉

      https://londonjazzcollector.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/guest-post-how-they-heard-it-blue-note-records-and-the-transition-from-mono-to-stereo/

      I would reeeally reeeally love it if everyone stopped using the term “fold-down” to describe Van Gelder’s mono masters from Blue Note’s classic era, and I’m certain Rudy himself would love it if you stopped using the term too, because it undermines the care and attention that went into the mono mixes of the recordings, and further, it’s quite possible that all the “fold-down” people have the facts a$$ backwards: though it seems stereo was the focus on these later sessions simply because they were recorded to two-track tape only, up to a certain unknown point in time it was the exact opposite. To be specific, the strongest indicator that the mono mix was still given attention and perhaps preference even in the mid-60’s is in the section of my article titled, “What Can Be Learned from The RVG Editions”, where it is explained that both Lion and Van Gelder always preferred mono so long as there were no pan pots on mixing consoles–a feature that wouldn’t be available until the early 70’s.

  6. I have placed EBay bids on several mono offerings of Maiden Voyage in the past year or so, and bidding got so outrageous I eventually gave up. I have settled for a Analogue Production stereo 45 rpm copy and couldn’t be happier. At least that’s what I am going to keep telling myself until I seek up on an unsuspecting auction for a vintage mono copy in at least V+ condition. The 45 rpm sounds great btw, and I am wondering whether a vintage mono copy can sound any better???. I think someone in this blog already said, vintage original mono pressings are maybe in some cases tantamount to bragging rights.

    • I gotta mono… I gotta mono…nahnananahna…

      For what its worth, yesterday I picked up an original BLP 1589 Horace Silver Further Explorations, 47 West 63rd labels, vinyl described as “a few marks but plays really well”. Enough to put off the premium collectors. The “marks” were in fact feelable scratches. RIP the English language. Nevertheless the sound quality is so beautiful I can tolerate it, and the original laminated cover near reduces me to tears. Soundwise, the original mono wipes the floor with my previous Japanese stereo reissue, despite the occasional surface noise.

      Personally, I think it is worth taking a punt on lower grade condition. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

    • Cal, the original mono does sweep the floor with the Analogue 45. Much more space, clarity and engagement. The AP 45 sounds great, but in comparison to the original feels like its covered with a blanket.

      I have a mediocre but playable copy of the Mono, but with a Mono needle its just fine. On the stereo it gets tough. These old Mono records are much more durable than the later stereo’s. And with a Mono needle, most are still great and pretty quiet (whilst very loud).

    • It’s also worth mentioning that I hear the faintest tape degradation at the very beginning of “Maiden Voyage” on all versions post-the very first Ron McMasters mid-80’s digital remastering for CD. In this sense, this album is a good example of a title that is a must-own in a vintage copy (though I fail to have one myself 😉

  7. This is an interesting comparison and a classic recording to boot. My understanding is that the original mono release would have been sourced from a fold-down of Van Gelder’s stereo recording. I compared the mono rip here to my RVG CD copy which is far better delineated than the Liberty stereo rip (although that isn’t too bad to my ears, only a little worn).
    I have to admit the mono has a way of representing the music more simply and transparently. The stereo has a soft spread; the mono is harder sounding (perhaps with more reverb) but is more energising somehow. I prefer my Sony Legacy KOB mono vinyl to all my other copies for the same reason, even if it is a digitally created fold-down.
    I think it does come down to personal preference and budget.
    Would I swap my CD for this? Of course!

    • Watch your use of the phrase “fold-down”, which to me unfairly suggests that the mono version would have been haphazardly created after the album was recorded and mixed in stereo. For all we know, Lion and Van Gelder were still mixing on-the-fly in mono in ’65. A lot of people look to the tape that the session was recorded to as an indicator of “precedence”, but the more important variable, I think, is how the session was monitored when it was being recorded and mixed, and unfortunately, this type of “precedence” is difficult to determine in the Englewood Cliffs era because we don’t know when he and Lion would have stopped monitoring in mono (if they ever even did stop).

  8. I think mention ought to be made of the exquisite cover photograph and, yes, that particular shade of green used as background colour for the masthead, no pun intended. Definitely one of the classic covers and as distinctive as the sublime music.

  9. Interesting perspective on the mono experience vs. the stereo experience.

    As someone coming from the classical record perspective, which is heavily biased towards stereo, I find it interesting to hear your perceptions as someone coming from the jazz record perspective, which is mostly biased towards mono.

    On the whole, I have to admit I enjoy stereo more most of the time. I like to hear the instruments coming from distinct locations. To me, it creates the location that the musicians are in the room with you (when done properly).

    That being said, I feel that the stereo mix of ‘Maiden Voyage’ is not the best example of Blue Note stereo sound. To my ears, it seems that Van Gelder and Alfred Lion modified the standard “Hard Left/Center/Hard Right” stereo panning at some point in 1965 (“Speak No Evil” is panned the same way). The later stereo panning is less effective in my opinion.

    As for pressing quality, I perceive less of a era-to-era difference than a pressing-to-pressing difference. Personally, I have good examples of very high quality pressings from Plastylite all the way in to late seventies UA pressings (and bad examples of each as well). That being said, Plastylite pressings have a well-deserved reputation for superior quality. Even so, pressing quality can never add to the sonic quality of a master, only take away.

    Groove wear is also a highly significant factor in sound quality as well, although often far more elusive to determine than checking labels and runouts. For example: for an NYC-era release, would you rather have a heavily played Plastylite pressing or an almost unplayed Liberty-era Research Craft pressing?

    In the post-Liberty purchase span of 66-79 many different pressing plants were utilized with varying degrees of quality control, some known, some still unknown (at least to those of us who are not W.B.) . Clearly brand new mothers were occasionally being plated even in the late 70s. Personally, I find it problematic to congeal all of these factors around specific labels. As much as we are obsessed with audio, in the end we are visual creatures and our minds desperately seek out visual clues to try and tell us what we will hear.

    You mention confirmation bias, and I agree: it’s incredibly hard not to succumb when comparing records from different eras. Who doesn’t get that tiny little surge of adrenaline when holding an original Blue Note pressing from 1956, feeling the heft of the heavy vinyl and the flat edges against the palms of your hand while gazing at the cursive script “767 Lexington Ave NYC”? You’ll never get that rush holding some flimsy 70s pressing with a solid blue label and the cheesy lower-case ‘b’.

    In my experience, the main issue with later pressings is the risk of sub-standard quality control of the plating process such as poor and cleaning of the mother leading to “horns” and other imperfections in the record that cause surface noise even on near mint pressings, especially when played back with a line-contact stylus.

    • Quote: “Groove wear is also a highly significant factor in sound quality as well, although often far more elusive to determine than checking labels and runouts. For example: for an NYC-era release, would you rather have a heavily played Plastylite pressing or an almost unplayed Liberty-era Research Craft pressing?”

      This is one of the most important facts about collecting vintage jazz vinyl by which the vast majority of collectors seem to lack the attention to detail to be aware of, and that the vast majority of sellers conveniently fail to acknowledge. To be clear though, this copy sounds flawless with respect to groove wear (and everything else), and the key is on Hubbard’s horn blasts.

      • I compared my own early Liberty mono copy (with NY labels) to the mono upload through headphones last night. The difference is with Hubbard’s trumpet, which sounds distorted on my copy. I suspect that it is down to groove wear as the recording sounds the same in all other respects.

  10. Hi LJC. – Though “The Prisoner”, as you say, falls out of scope (after all, the mono era had long since come to an end by 1969), it’s a highly recommendable record. Down Beat gave it a five star rating in its June 11, 1970 issue. Great orchestrations by Herbie himself, with a strong and enjoyable influence from Gil Evans. Add to this, a star-studded lineup including Joe Henderson, Johnny Coles, Jerome Richardson, Hubert Laws…

    • Yes, a terrific record – possibly one of Hancock’s best, in fact, perhaps notwithstanding Maiden Voyage. I’m also very fond of Fat Albert Rotunda, which is much better than it’s title or origins would suggest (music for Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert cartoon series). OK, perhaps it’s the kind of thing one only plays occasionally, on Friday nights, say, while putting on one’s platform soles and Afro wig, but my God it swings.

      • Love this album. Listening to it is like watching a painter create a canvas of a slightly mysterious but breathtakingly beautiful landscape.

        And, also very important: I’m glad to see that more aficionados think like me: “The Prisoner” truly is a superb album – I’d say a must have. First pressings of it (and I have one!) pop up on eBay regularly for really cheap, so LJC, don’t wait any longer. Get it, put it on and be mesmerized 🙂

  11. Interesting. I have the mono, but it is a Liberty pressing. A New York label but without the ‘ear’. I wonder how it compares?

    • I have the same pressing (1966 Liberty with NY labels but no ear), and play-compared it once to a friend’s original mono with ears; both of us thought they sounded identical (happily!).

    • Interesting indeed! You have what is probably the second most sought edition, after the original. I’d be happy with either, but its always nice to have the original, as you know what the benchmark is. I love those early NY/Liberty pressings, but I have never had the opportunity to play-test them side by side.

      • I was going to leave a similar comment a few days ago…but forgot. I too have a beautiful New York with no ears and I think it’s quite good. Your copy LJC, however, is stunning…remind me again, do you do any editing or tweaking of the sound on your LP rips? Or does your USB turntable just do a good job of quelling surface noise?

        • I was going to leave a similar comment a few days ago…but forgot. I too have a beautiful New York with no ears and I think it’s quite good. Your copy LJC, however, is stunning…remind me again, do you do any editing or tweaking of the sound on your LP rips? Or does your USB turntable just do a good job of quelling surface noise?

          • Unlike the first couple of years of LJC using a simple USB turntable, enduring constant taunts from EL (you know who you are) due to its eccentric speed, I now take a feed from my high-end home system

            You are hearing Dynavector Te Kaora Rua cart/ Avid Volvere TT/ SME 5 arm/ all 60’s vintage NOS Telefunken valves, straight into Audacity and exported at 320 kbps. It is not denoised or EQ’d or whatever else clever people do. I don’t do anything to it because I don’t know how!

        • The Dynavector TKR has a long profile stylus that digs down deeper into the groove than an elliptical stylus and picks up more signal from the lower groove wall less prone to surface defects. Or so I have been lead to believe. I’m no expert, but it does seem more tolerant of surface noise than a few friend’s kit. May also help that the phono has a summing switch for mono, which cancels some noise too. Whatever it is, the music seems to stay on top more.

          • Mono needle and cart is the solution for old records. With a GE VRii (old school, >5grammes tracking – but they can take it) or a Denon DL102 (less old school) these old mono’s are glorious

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