Some weeks ago, I reviewed BLP 4092 The Golden Eight (Toshiba 1991 re). In an unexpected turn of events, I find myself reviewing it again. But this time no jokes about lederhosen: the more serious business of modern audiophile reissues. I previously declared myself impressed by a Music Matters MM33 edition of one of my most sought after Blue Notes (never secured), 4059 Kenny Drew Undercurrent. Question is, can they pull it off again? Let’s see. Kenny Clarke Francy Boland, The Golden Eight, Music Matters 33:
Dusko Gojkovic (trumpet) Raymond Droz (alto horn) Christian Kellens (baritone horn) Derek Humble (alto saxophone) Karl Drevo (tenor saxophone) Francy Boland (piano) Jimmy Woode (bass) Kenny Clarke (drums) recorded Cologne, West Germany, May 18 & 19, 1961, engineer Wolfgang Hirschmann.
Selection Gloria, theme from the MGM 60’s film Butterfield 8, in which Elizabeth Taylor plays a “tramp” Gloria Wandrous – (a “homewrecker” tramp, not the fishing-in-dustbins variety) The choice of her character name suggests a too long L.A. lunch, but it won Taylor her first Oscar. For context, the Wiki tells you everything that happens in the film, but not once tells what it was about. I mean, Godzilla was a homewrecker too. Wiki also omits any reference to the music score in the footnotes.
Gloria is a beautiful poignant ballad, exquisitely rendered by Austrian tenor Karl Drevo. Wistful and haunting refrain, pure liquid tenor, breathy, Hawkins-like vibrato and tremulous sustain, absolutely gorgeous, makes you fall in love with the music (and possibly the young Ms Taylor, were she not such a tramp)
All the tracks have tight-knit ensemble mobility. Swinging, brassy melodies, big, full-on but never over-heated, and many contrasting solo voices to keep it crackling with interest. Playing this through got me reaching for my other somewhat neglected Clark-Boland albums on the shelf. This stripped-down forerunner of the CB Big Band is a great half-way house between Mingus-sized portions and Ellingtonia hardcore Big Band. Recommended listening.
Vinyl: BST 84092 – Music Matters 33 Edition (2015) – 183 gm vinyl.
This is big music, firing on all cylinders, and Music Matters take no prisoners, delivering all the raw excitement of Clarke-Boland octet (and Hirshmann’s recording) in spades. The soundstage is correspondingly big, so much so, one wonders whether original mono was the right vehicle for music of this size. My only comparator is the 1991 Toshiba stereo, also a promo/ factory sample as it happens, and that offers a pleasant but thinner, more compressed dynamic range compared to the MM.
I have been critical in the past of some modern audiophile vinyl for “botox” presentation, boosted bass, pimped and polished, face-painted with hype. Music Matters 33 seem to me to have pulled off a remarkable breakthrough. Not necessarily sounding like original Blue Note, but sounding very good and satisfying in their own right, a mix for the 21st Century, and less shoe-leather wear than the 2x45s
In the presentation here, instruments are caught in the spotlight with precision, very three-dimensional and sounding like real instruments. Drevo’s warm earthy tenor oozes life, Kenny Clarke’s brushwork is snappy and his cymbals sizzle, Boland’s banging piano has all the attack and decay and jangling resonance of a real piano. The kick drum here gives a solid rhythmic underpinning almost entirely missing from the Toshiba reissue.
I think what we are hearing is the amount of information MM have managed to pack into the groove, especially at the top end, with a very expansive dynamic and tonal range, all shades between black and white, loud and quiet. All on very quiet vinyl.
A word of caution – whilst there is no doubt that music matters, which it does, so does what you play it on. In auditioning this copy, I played it on three different real world systems, including two very different high-end systems and one period vintage one, all with a lot of tubes involved. Getting all that information out of the grooves requires a very fast responding system which can cope with the amount of detail thrown at it. On the vintage system it sounded warm and pleasant. It required a more fiercely analytical system to truly bring it to life. If hi-fi didn’t matter, we wouldn’t be spending thousands on it, would we?
MM’s usual premium packaging, but this bar-raising gatefold in colour, redefining “musicians in the room” as “you, in the studio”. Spine-tingling.
Crisp black and white, with full-screen readability. You can check for yourself this review isn’t a rehash of the liner notes. It isn’t.
LJC is an independent opinion source, no commercial interest, none before, none now. Hopefully you find this review helpful in making music choices. I say hopefully because I have a couple more in the pipeline.
I have strayed from my “original” mission if only because I find it sometimes an impossible goal. Prices are beyond affordable. There seem to be some collectors and not a few dealers treating Blue Note as an investment medium.
I’ve no problem with Capitalism, it drives the search for better value alternatives, and MM33’s are certainly now in my opinion a genuine better value alternative, especially for hard-to-find titles. The alternatives previously didn’t cut the mustard musically, but I think there is now a genuine realistic choice.
I still love the sound of Blue Note originals. The stereo is shonky in the early days, but everything has an organic warmth, the packaging has yellowed a little with age, laminate un-reproduceable, corners are no longer sharp, and the sound has a character of its own, though the music is of the same original passion, timeless. Mono can be the best presentation. Down to you the consumer. You are still king.