LJC Hitchhiker’s Guide to Early Stereo continues, with further insight into the murky world of 60’s fake stereo
This time, an example of a genuine fake.
Selection: Slightly Hep pseudo stereo
Lee Morgan (trumpet) Kenny Rodgers (alto saxophone) Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone) Horace Silver (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Charlie Persip (drums), Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, December 2, 1956
Remarkable, Kenny Rodgers on alto! Oh, Rodgers, not Rogers.
Extraordinary music, and Mobley! 1541 commands trophy status, price to match – up to $2,600 . Lee Morgan 1500 series albums are among the most collectible and expensive Blue Notes, and command high prices due to scarcity. Musical quality does not affect price, only scarcity, condition, and sometimes, a Warhol cover.
An original was never going to be on my turntable so looking for alternatives was obligatory. I innocently bought a stereo Liberty. Here’s the full story, as it unravelled.
At the time I bought this I was only dimly aware of the cut-off point between full track mono and van Gelder’s transition to two-track recording. I was not wise to Ebay seller’s misleading description of “stereo”, not pseudo stereo, a trap for the unwary. My head was full of preferences between mono and stereo, not “stereo did not exist” at the time of this recording. I didn’t do my homework, Cohen hadn’t published his Guide. My fault, caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware.” You’ve never made that mistake, have you?
The Japanese reissues are all mono – King Records GXK 8134(M) 1977-80 Blue Note Masterpiece Selection 150 series , and two Toshiba-EMI reissues: Feb-1984 and Dec-1990, and no doubt more than a few modern reissues. Still, making mistakes is ok, mistakes can be a stepping stone to more informed decisions later, they are a great teacher.
Reflecting on the high cost of the original Morgan, there are other ways to think about price. Some time ago I encountered the concept of cost-per-play. Actually, it wasn’t about records at all, it was about clothing and cost-per-wear, but it applies just as well. A tie worn once a week is much worse value than a belt at the same price worn every day. The cost-per-wear is sevenfold different. I confess I have some records I hardly ever play, others I play a lot. If I had this record I would play it a lot. Just saying.
“An above-average hard bop set“, according to All Music. That’s it? Above average?
Morgan at the age of 18, his second outing as leader, this album’s strength is its good helping of Benny Golson compositions and arranging. Golson penned strong melodic themes, many quickly becoming classics, typified by Slightly Hep and Whisper Not. As a tenor player Golson is probably my favourite of Art Blakey Jazz Messengers players after Mobley, who was
the best above average.
The ensemble work offers a three brass line-up full of textures, that give your speakers and your ears a good work out. The tunes have lasting quality, and this is a recording you will want to play again and again (much to the chagrin of Ebay sellers that love the “seems barely played” motif). That’s only for records which are below average.
Morgan here is credited with just coming out of the shadows of his hero Clifford Brown, though I don’t have enough Brownie to offer any insight. Morgan had incredible fluidity, darting melodic explorations of the theme with a peppery turn of phrase, triplets and finer filigree mixed on an exuberant melodic canvas. It is one of history’s great moments of regret, you wish that night his partner Helen had not been such a good shot .
The big question: is it acceptable listening? Well, yes, sort of. Effectively its a mono recording, with mono presentation, except the lead instrumentalist is pumped up a bit on the left channel in the left speaker, a bit like RVG primitive stereo. Engineering buffs with bigger ears can probably detect more jiggery-pokery. It would better have been left alone, but it’s not so awful.
Of the modern reissues, Classic Records seems to hit the right spot:
Classic’s “ALL TUBE PURE MONO” pressed onto 200 gram QUIEX Super Vinyl Profile. Jackets are authentic “tip-on” and laminated (front only) as were the originals – and the labels have the desirable “deep groove”.
A modern reissue with ” desirable deep groove” (looks away in embarrassment). Still, I would be prepared to give it a go, though I have never seen one. I would guess the modern reissue buffs have a few things to say about this title, but I hazard a guess no-one has tried to produce a modern fake stereo.
It is Liberty fake stereo, and like other stereo conversion projects, the run-out is anonymous. No one wants to own up, nothing “personal”, just the catalogue number. The royal blue/paper-white label looks like the handiwork of original Blue Note printers, Keystone Printed Specialties. I’d say, in the absence of any flared trousers, 1967
A careless purchase a few years back, Cohen’s Guide didn’t exist at that time. 1541 is a dozen titles before van Gelders first stereo release, 1554. Recorded in full track mono, no two-track tape exists – the “stereo” comes only from Liberty engineer’s trickery.You can not rely on sellers to warn you: stereo or pseudo stereo, Ebay sellers will choose to describe it to their own advantage.
Cohen’s Blue Note guide spells out which titles were released in mono, stereo, or pseudo stereo, here. However, be warned, some very early van Gelder may be true stereo, but the mix is just horrible. More on that in a future post, car-crash stereo, I picked up one recently that’s a hummer, err, humdinger, stereo from hell. Some records you should want in mono, not because you prefer mono, but because the stereo is just plain awful (though not fake).