Compare The Vinyl: “Philly” Twist (Dorham) first recorded by Van Gelder 1961 for BNST 84063 Kenny Dorham Whistlestop .
No original pressing on this one, sadly, but unpack the Magnum, P.I. Hawaiian shirt and fix on moustache, it’s ’80s night at LJC! Presented here, compare what Rudy did with Philly Twist in 1983 for Uptown. Philly Twist, with reissues from France 1984 and Japan, on the cusp, 1990, all (semi) vintage vinyl, bonus: ’80s cloudless blue skies and ultra-bright smiles!
Selection 1: Philly Twist – Toshiba-EMI Japan, 1990
Kenny Dorham (trumpet) Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone) Kenny Drew (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, January 15, 1961
Dorham compositions are well-rounded and memorable. The highlight for me, aside from the distinctive phrasing and glittering tone of Dorham’s trumpet, is the presence of Hank Mobley’s malted tenor and no less, the bubbling comping of Kenny Drew steering things along, while Chambers and Philly Joe stoke the engine room. This is bop with firmness of purpose and belief in itself from 1961, a sense that was not to last.
Blue Note Vinyl from Japan
In late 1983, Toshiba-EMI replaced King Records as the EMI Blue Note release partner for Japan, and over the following decade and a half Toshiba issued over 600 Blue Note releases, in two waves – the first 1983-5 and then a second in 1989 through to the mid ’90s. Just a few titles were issued in the intervening years, and further releases continue to the present day, though mostly in the form of “fake vinyl” ie digital transfers.
Two hundred of the most desirable Blue Note titles were reissued in the first wave, and many went on to have second reissue in the later wave, so some Toshiba reissues may be an early Toshiba pressing or a later Toshiba pressing. Others titles, like Dorham’s Whistle Stop were reissued just the once, and only in Stereo, in this case in the second wave in 1990.
Though I have never been able to compare early and late Toshiba for same title directly, my impression is that earlier Toshiba are the “good stuff”, and later pressings are increasingly over the years infiltrated by digital processes. Some might assume that to be a good thing, I wouldn’t be one of them.
Selection 2: Philly Twist – Pathe-Marconi, France, re-edition1984
Selection 2: Philly Twist Pathe-Marconi, France 1984
Reminder:: Philly Twist – Toshiba-EMI Japan, 1990
Blue Note Vinyl from France
Clearly, in the early ’80s orders went out from EMI on high to exploit the Blue Note assets sitting in the vaults under EMI ownership, nearly four years after their acquisition. That is “exploit” in a good way, creating something people want and will happily pay money for, thereby create wealth, as opposed to wealth reduction – sitting on their ass(ets). The reissue vehicle for Europe was the French EMI subsidiary Pathe Marconi, mirroring the Japanese initiative through Toshiba EMI and the belated ’80s Capitol Manhattan US programme.
No-one has documented the Pathe Marconi schedules as have our friends in Tokyo for the King and Toshiba years, bless Japan, but most Blue Note titles can be found relatively inexpensively with decent facsimile artwork on French reissues. In some cases (BN 1542 Rollins Vol 1 case in point) comparing Liberty and Division of United Artists reissues, Pathe Marconi are the best of the bunch. In my experience the quality of French reissues is unpredictable and variable, some very good, some not so good. Time may come this information is useful to you.
Around 1986 the French reissues were ensnared in new technology, the German/Decca Teldec Direct Metal Mastering process (DMM) , a good theory with poor results, I can’t recommend vinyl DMM, though the pre-DMM is often quite acceptable, if not up to the standard of fully vintage vinyl – hey, you are not paying for original quality. We are below the salt here.
The Pathe-Marconi reissues were, I have to assume, remastered by French house engineers from copy tapes despatched from the US, much the same as did Japanese engineers at Toshiba. I assume they did the best they could with what they had. The interesting thing here is Japanese engineering vs French engineering from the same source copy tape. If there is a difference, break out the flags. If they are the same and very good, great. But if they are the same and both not very good, the finger of suspicion points to the quality of the tape EMI/Blue Note sent to both of them.
Here’s one poster’s take on French EMI, and another on the Connoisseur ’90s editions, on an interesting Hoffman forum thread:
” I really like that album (New and Old Gospel) and only have the French EMI reissue from the 80s, which all sound a bit flat and lifeless compared to what we are spoiled with now…(MM)”
“I have that same LP pressing (Connoisseur)… and I think your description “fairly good” hits it right on the head. It’s certainly inoffensive, in terms of EQ and having a reasonably quiet surface, but it’s really lacking in dynamics – the music just sort of sits there, lifeless, very little analog magic.
Although they say “mastered from the original analog source” I don’t know if that means an all-analog chain, or that they used a digital master made from the original tapes (rather than higher gen copies) – to my ears it sounds more like the latter.”
Good to know similar conversations are going on in other quarters. Means we are in the same ballpark.
Selection 3: Philly Twist Don Sickler – Music of Kenny Dorham – Uptown Records 1983 – RVG
Don Sickler (trumpet) Jimmy Heath (tenor) Cedar Walton (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Englewood Cliffs ,November 12, 1983 by Rudy van Gelder, mastered by RVG.
The arrangement is more refined and a fairly different Van Gelder presentation, much more polished and balanced, though one needs to push the volume up a little, it is slightly lacking punch – modern vinyl is often more quiet than early pressings, for reasons others probably know.
My take is that, on this occasion, the French reissue is more articulate and lively than the Japanese reissue, which is a little woolly and less informative. You can make up your own mind. Both are fairly acceptable alternatives, though they are both lacking the excitement I know the original will have. But that is not on the cards.
I love the Uptown dynamics, even if Mobley is missing.
That’s the thing with compromise, it’s always on the one hand, but on the other… Whatever the outcome, I have enjoyed rediscovering Kenny Dorham, and Joe Henderson, more of which is to come. That is an outcome more important than audiophile-chest-beating. It’s great music, however you reach it.
I was in a record store earlier in the week when a young man in a hurry was asking after the Blue Note 75 edition of the Sonny Clark most wanted title, Cool Struttin’.
Manager: Sorry, it’s on order but we don’t have a copy right now.
Young Man: It costs thousands as an original, incredible prices
(Overhearing, and trying to be helpful, I point him to the second-hand section)
LJC: There a nice Japanese copy there. King Records.
YM: I’ve seen it, it’s very expensive – thirty quid. Why are they so dear?
LJC: Well, That’s not an unreasonable price, it’s the going rate. It’s vintage, early ’80s and they are very nice.
YM: Too expensive, and I want the Blue Note 75, I believe they are from the original tapes, and less than twenty quid.
The store manager and I exchanged a pained expression.
Manager: Digital transfer more likely. If they were sourced directly from the original tapes don’t you think they might say so? Anyone else would…
LJC: Everything is sourced from the original tapes, “originally” – but at some point…
Clearly not ready for this conversation, the young man huffed, and left the shop.
With Blue Note original pressings increasingly rare and unaffordable, collectors have to consider a compromise, though exactly how much of a compromise is often an unknown quantity, and what you should expect to pay not always well understood. Here at LJC we do a lot of comparative listening and have built up a general Rule of Thumb about what we think of the audio quality of vintage alternatives. These are a general guide, there are often situations in which actual comparison surprises, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
The good news is that if you have only the one copy of a recording you may never know how it compares with an original, and often it’s a very acceptable listen. Ignorance is bliss Some hi-fi are very forgiving of quality variation, others are ruthlessly revealing. Same goes for listeners. I’m at the revealing end.
The bad news is that for the most part original Blue Notes have a fire and forcefulness that defies comparison: they simply sound much much better than anything that followed. Once you have heard it, there is no way back…
I reckon US Blue Note original for Whistle Stop (47 West 63rd label mono, top copy) would set you back up to at least $500. (It’s Mobley’s presence drives the price, I think) If an original is not an option, what’s the alternative? Option 2 around $50-75 (if you can find one), Option 3 at $45 and Option 4 at maybe $20. Samples with this post are Options 3 and 4.
This order of preference is my take, you may well have your own ideas, bring different experiences to bear. Works for me most of the time, fails around 10%.
If you are a jazz / vintage vinyl fan, start anywhere you can, at the bottom if necessary, upgrade a step at a time. Leapfrog a grade if the opportunity arises, or shoot straight for the top. I don’t go lower, and a personal aside, I don’t go “modern audiophile” other than very exceptionally, and even then only latest Music Matters or OOP Mosaic, not by preference. The Evil Silver Disc™ is the place of last resort, where nothing exists on vinyl or you have abandoned hope.
Keep those turntables turning.
There are other options, including late ’80s/ ’90s, “Finest in Jazz Since 1939”, Blue Note 75, and probably many others, without first hand experience, I can’t offer any opinion.