Lee Morgan: The Procrastinator (1967) Blue Note/ UA vs Connoisseur – fight!

lee-morgan-the-procrastinator-jazz-classics-two-fer-cover-1920-ljcSelection: The Procrastinator (Blue Label/ Two-fer)

Artists

Sides 1 & 2 “The Procrastinator” LP: Lee Morgan (trumpet) Wayne Shorter (tenor sax) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Billy Higgins (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, July 14, 1967

Sides 3 &4 Lee Morgan (trumpet) Julian Preister (trombone) George Coleman (tenor sax) Harold Mabern (piano) Walter Booker (bass) Mickey Rocker (drums) Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 10 October 12, 1969

Music:

Surely one of Morgan’s finest sessions, insanely cheap as a two-fer, should be on everyone’s shelf, no excuses. It’s the dream team of Hancock, Shorter, Carter, Hutcherson and Higgins, and the compositions are enormously strong. It was recorded around the same time as Miles was recording Nefertiti, so those  tunes must have been going through the minds of Carter ,Hancock and Shorter as they ran with The Procrastinator, must have given their playing some edge, and rubbed off on Morgan.

The Procrastinator is swinging, bluesy, cool, adventurous and unstoppable listening, every track is a delight. It may well be Morgan’s “best album” (1,000 upticks), his compositions got more confident and original,  though the idea of “best” is an unhelpful qualifier in jazz. Like the Mona Lisa is Da Vinci’s best painting, you don’t look at any others? It’s a conversation point, not a voting booth.

The second track Party Time was my second pick, followed by all the rest. No duds, everyone deserves repeated play, repeatedly. The idea that this session had to wait to 1978 to be released is simply outrageous. The fact you can pick it up on vintage vinyl  for less than $20, for two LPs not one, is more than outrageous, it’s positively criminal. Some times the best things in life are next-to-free. Just not very often. Seize the day.

Vinyl: Blue Note BN-LA582-J2 (two-fer)

The UA two-fer is the original first pressing. Whilst many of the UA two-fer series are previously unissued material, some are reissue of very rare original Blue Note releases, or there is an alternative significant release in the Connoisseur series.

The reason for featuring this twofer is to pit it against the Capitol Connoisseur edition of The Procrastinator, and settle once and for all the relative status of these best-of-class reissues, best, apart from all the others, someone will say.

lee-morgan-the-procrastinator-jazz-classics-two-fer-labels-s1-s2-ljc

For the purpose of this post, I omit the other two sides of the two-fer, 1969 sessions which though very fine, sit a little in the shade of The Procrastinator.

Gatefold and Liner Notes

Bob Blumenthal provides the insight, the photo is credited not to Francis Wolff but one Charles Stewart, man behind the lens on some definitive Coltrane portraits, and many other album photos.

lee-morgan-the-procrastinator-jazz-classics-two-fer-gatefold-portrait-lee-1920-ljc

lee-morgan-the-procrastinator-jazz-classics-two-fer-backr-1920-ljc

lee-morgan-the-procrastinator-jazz-classics-two-fer-gatefold-text-1920-ljc

DING DING” ROUND TWO: BLUE NOTE CAPITOL  CONNOISSEUR (1995)  THE PROCRASTINATOR. Two falls, one submission or a knockout.

I’ve said some nice things in the past about the Connoisseur reissues, they are a great entry-point for anyone balking at the price of collectible originals, but they are not the only affordable option, and I have taken a few humbling hits by pitting them against alternatives.

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Capitol Connoisseur: a LJC reader commented on a previous post of a Connoisseur (Shorter’s Schizophrenia): “Capitol’s mastering suite at the time used a digital delay for their vinyl cuttings, as their tape machines no longer had preview heads. Given the state of technology in the early to mid-’90s, one can safely assume that the resolution of that digital delay was 16/44. That means the Connoisseurs possibly are digitally cut vinyl

3281475373_28cf3f1374_o-512x2401SCIENCE! To get my non-engineering head around this,  I have followed and summarised a longer Steve Hoffman Forum thread from a few years back, just to get it clear in my own mind. Indulge me, there’s nothing like explaining something to others to ratchet down your own understanding. Until now I didn’t really understand. I think I do know.

When a master lacquer is cut, the engineer must do the entire LP side in one pass, without stopping. If a change was found to be required in EQ or levels at any time, one track louder than another, one instrument out of kilter,  the lacquer would have to be discarded, and start afresh. So to prepare a final master acetate successfully, the engineer needs to be able to monitor the recording being mastered for any change in levels or EQ that requires adjustment.

The cutting stylus itself cannot be used for monitoring as at that point the signal has already been cut into the lacquer before it can be played back, too late to make any changes. Monitoring has to be in advance of the cutting.

In the golden era of vinyl, fully analog mastering decks had a “preview head” mounted in the tape path, usually on the left side of the deck plate, near the supply reel. The tape path was modified with extra rollers and guides so that the tape would pass over the preview head before it got to the “normal” playback head for cutting.

Around the time of the Connoisseur series, in the mid-1990s, vinyl was a niche product, and many studios had dismantled their analog facilities to make way for digital CD production.  Rather than recreate a full analogue cutting system for small volumes of vinyl, studios opted instead for the less costly solution of incorporating a digital delay line into their mastering processes. Everything else was digital, it was the future, why not? A delay for monitoring could be easily inserted in the signal path before it reached the cutting head, through a customisable digital delay line.

A record mastered in one of these setups is the product of an analog tape signal (two cheers, original tapes!!) converted to a digital signal (in order to delay and monitor it). That digital signal then became the signal source for the mastering lathe cutting head, which  converted it back to analog in cutting the acetate, and thence onward to vinyl.

Got it! Irrespective of any artefacts introduced during re-mastering, the original tape information was digitized, effectively converted to CD , I guess with attendant sampling rate and frequency cut-offs,  before converting it back into vinyl format.

It may have been sourced from the original tapes, but the devil is in the detail, it is a digital transfer. That is not a good outcome, if true,  that’s Fake Analog. We don’t need to get into the “which is better, CD or vinyl?” here, I already know the answer to that one.

If I have misrepresented the engineering processes above, happy to be corrected, it’s from a SH Forum source anyway, these guys claim to know, some are engineers, I know nothing, I’m an aggregator, synthesiser and interpreter of information. Call  me out if you can.

Lee-Morgan-The-Procrastinator-cv-1920-LJC

Selection: The Procrastinator (1995 Connoisseur)

Vinyl: Blue Note Connoisseur B1-33579

Lee-Morgan-The-Procrastinator-lbs-1920-LJC

Lee-Morgan-The-Procrastinator-bk-1920-LJC

Collector’s Corner

Poking around for other copies of The Procrastinator, I did have a chuckle at the asking price of this copy of a Connoisseur edition of The Procrastinator, on Amazon. Asking £150, I Photoshop ye not. Well, it is an “Audiophile Pressing” (no legal definition of that term) and a “Limited Edition” more provable but less relevant

lee-morgan-the-procrastinator-connoisseur-amazon-150-gbp

Judge-LJCJudge LJC says:

I’ve got them both, I’ve listened to them both on The Big System. Well, the Connoisseur’s a nice cover, no doubt about that,  certainly nicer than the two-fer. There the niceness ends.

To my ears, the Connoisseur suffers flabby booming bass, which is woolly and spreads problems to the upper frequencies. It’s “bottoxed”. Sorry Wally (Trautgott) Capitol mastering engineer

Hutcherson sounds like he’s playing on milk bottles, there is excessive sibilance  on the drum kit, splashy cymbals, and the fruity rasp of Shorter’s tenor is softened, lacking detail. That’s what I wrote down in my listening notes, that’s what I hear.

These are often common symptoms of poorly controlled bass, which eats up more than its share of available processing bandwidth and starves the presentation of other elements. I know that’s not proper engineering science, that’s LJC-bollox, just my working hypothesis. Even if my explanation is completely wrong, it doesn’t change what I hear, what I hear remains what I hear.

However possibly you hear something different, or you like what you hear more than I do. There’s room for more than one opinion.

I find the two-fer flows, is more open and spacious, uncongested, a much more satisfying listening experience. The rhythm and timing are dynamic. It’s up there with the best two-fers like Booker Ervin’s Back From The Gig, Jackie McLean’s Jacknife and Hipnosis. It’s got physical presence in the room. And all the more annoying that I spent three times as much on the Connoisseur than I did on the two-fer, so much for confirmation bias. (I’ve noticed ’60s pop-psychology hasn’t worn as well as ’60s music)

Having laboured the point about digital line delays in the production of the Connoisseur, it must be noted that the samples here are MP3 digital rips through a digital/analog USB converter and PC soundcard, and may not represent how the records compare on the Big Boy under normal room listening conditions –  which is what my observations are based on. It is also not necessarily an across the board criticism of Connoisseurs, some of which I have found quite satisfactory in their own right, though they rarely go the full ten rounds against original Blue Note. Not that anything else does either, it’s all relative.

This and some other comparisons recently have forced me to rethink my original assessment of United Artists Blue Note Blue Label vinyl. Initially I thought the black note editions were superior to the white note editions, but that looks increasingly like  a case of connecting the wrong dots: there is no quality relationship.  Though blue labels still don’t come up to the mark of those increasingly rare and impossibly expensive Blue Note originals, or even Liberty early pressings, they are a lot stronger than I originally gave them credit for, especially where you can source a Van Gelder metal derivative. Whilst there are some dud two-fers, and some dud Blue Labels,  they often punch above their weight compared with heavily hyped modern “audiophile” and stand up to Japanese reissues, which can sometimes be a bit soft.

The two Procrastinator samples side by side for easy comparison (headphones recommended)

 

Selection: The Procrastinator (1978 Blue Label/ United Artists Two-fer)

 

Selection: The Procrastinator (1995 Connoisseur)

:

The floor is yours. (Well it’s mine actually, but you can borrow some if you like) Hear any differences? Got any preferences? Go ahead, speak your mind.

 

 

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30 thoughts on “Lee Morgan: The Procrastinator (1967) Blue Note/ UA vs Connoisseur – fight!

  1. The biggest differences I’m hearing:

    The UA is more compressed (evidenced by the way you can hear the reverberations of the ride cymbal in the left channel more on the UA copy; the UA is louder too, that doesn’t always imply more compression but here they certainly are related); Connoisseur is less compressed and thus more dynamic sounding
    As a result of compression choices, signal-to-noise ratio on the UA is higher (it’s easier to hear surface noise on the Connoisseur)
    Connoisseur has more low end/sub bass
    As a result of EQ and compression choices, I find the top end on the Connoisseur to be gentler and more pleasing

    Interestingly, the UA copy sounds mastered “in the spirit of Van Gelder” despite not being mastered by him. I suspect that the more extreme opinions favoring the UA copy here are partially informed by the simple fact that the UA is louder in the side-by-side comparison. I’m not a fan of the bass on the Connoisseur; records mastered at a lower volume are also a pet peeve of mine, which is probably why I slightly prefer the UA. Neither is “ideal” sounding to me though and I might be happiest with a Connoisseur CD of this album.

    • For some reason your site doesn’t like hyphens; every time I use them it does the exact opposite and mushes everything together…? The above:

      The UA is more compressed (evidenced by the way you can hear the reverberations of the ride cymbal in the left channel more on the UA copy; the UA is louder too, that doesn’t always imply more compression but here they certainly are related); Connoisseur is less compressed and thus more dynamic sounding

      As a result of compression choices, signal-to-noise ratio on the UA is higher (it’s easier to hear surface noise on the Connoisseur)

      Connoisseur has more low end/sub bass

      As a result of EQ and compression choices, I find the top end on the Connoisseur to be gentler and more pleasing

  2. If I remember correctly, it was I who left that comment you quoted.

    Great write-up and synthesis. Let me add something to it. The preview head is there not only for hearing the music in advance for changes in EQ etc., but also because you need to adjust the groove width in advance. You see, LPs can only hold up so much music because the groove width is adjusted on-the-fly by the cutting lathe. This it what they call “variable pitch”. Quiet parts with little bass take up less space, loud parts with big bass take up more space. This can be adjusted by hand or by computerised means (even for records cut in the ’60s).

    The thing is, if you cut a record and there is a quiet bit in the music then you compress the grooves as much as you can; but if suddenly there is loud blast and heavy bass then your grooves might get so close together that they cross each other (loud bass notes cause the groove to widen), causing your cut to be faulty as there is no more continuous groove on the record. That’s why you need to adjust the groov width before that happens. This is what the preview head is for.

  3. Great album, continuing the Search Of The New Land path.

    Regarding the black note vs. white note all-blue labels :
    More often than not black notes are pressed from RVG stampers, less so on the white notes which were released few years later. From my limited experience & checking Discogs entries i suspect that black notes are cut from the same stampers as Div Of Liberty pressings while the white notes use Div Of UA stampers (often with UA matrix), although i don’t have enough examples to verify this theory. Anyway, RVG or not these are usually very decent pressings which offer great value for money.

  4. Much to my surprise, on my planar headphones the Connoisseur sounds more dimensional and musical, once you turn it up. The UA sounds stridently mechanical at all frequencies, dimensionally flatter and too in-your-face by comparison.

    Based on this I can’t help think that a strain gauge cart or really nimble sounding MC might make the 1995 pressing truly shine.

    LJC: I can’t thank you enough for your consistently great work on this blog, and it was great to get to hear two very different cuts of this easy-on-the-ear bop I love so much.

  5. Con- less transient response, instrumental timbres blend together, vibes sound muffled, less treble extension, bass is overly prominent. Dynamics may be compressed somewhat, but would have to listen through something better than a laptop and ‘phones.

    UA- better overall, space between instruments, better treble extension, vibes hang in space, cymbols shimmer, but less clarity than a pre ’66 BN pressing. Would like to hear a King pressing, as they presumably used the master tapes, without a digital preview and possible 16/44 conversion.

  6. Hello

    I recently bought the Japanese version whose title is Lee Morgan All-Star Sextet. In my opinion he is very much better than the Blue Note United Artist.

    The second LP of the Blue Note/UA is also available under this title : Lee Morgan sextet.

    This second session is not so enjoyable than the procrastinator one.

    Thanks for your article

    • Interesting. The acid test of course is the opportunity to hear for yourself the difference. No one has the resources to buy all the different copies. If I find A is better than B, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a C which sounds better than both.

      If you are able to rip the title track from The Lee Morgan All Star release, and We Transfer it to me, I will happily post it up. Might be an interesting experiment.

      • Currently, I am not able to rip my records.
        But I promise you to study the matter and try to find a solution to send to you the the Japanese version, one of these days.

        This Japanese King is quite expansive according to popsike or discogs. I was looking for one because I was not really satisfied with the quality of the UA version (as we say in french : “L’herbe est toujours plus verte à côté”).

        I ended up getting one to an ebay seller in France at an acceptable price considering the relative rarity of this record ….

        Lee Morgan’s Tom Cat which is, to my knowledge, only available in 1978’s LT version, Japanese version or digital repress, is also an exceptional piece and, as many others Blue Note sessions, incomprehensibly relegated in 1964 ….

  7. Regarding cutting head. Pre-cut signal is for monitoring, that is alerting the cutting engineer to any transient peaks or nasty bumps. It is not the final cutting signal. That is a signal split only for lacquer etching. Quite separate.

  8. Another entertaining review, LJC. Thank you. Not having heard the entire album, I’m having difficulty with “The Procrastinator”. After a first listening, it seemed odd to hear solos from both horns, the piano, and vibes within an 8 minute recording. So on second listening, I watched my watch. Each musician was given 55 to 60 seconds to spin out some sort of “solo”. No concept development. No climax. No resolution. Just blow for less than 60 seconds, job done. I can see Rudy in the control room with his stopwatch, anxiously tapping his foot. Might be wrong, but it doesn’t seem like a typical Blue Note format. More like a Blue Note advertisement.

        • All opinions are OK, but I’m going to venture an answer.

          Is a written op-ed “wrong” because it fits on one side of A4? If the editor requires 1,000 words, that is a discipline to fit what you have to say in a contained format. I don’t find it makes anything formulaic. It is a discipline that forces you to condense and focus on the essentials.

          Defined space does not lessen the beauty of its performance, it enables the loose-tight creation of performance by great musicians within a necessarily limited window of space overall.

          An LP has 20 minutes per side, a sextet has three songs per side, and three soloists, you get some space, perhaps 59 seconds. How they use it is the beauty of the thing. That’s how I see it.

          • Well said, LJC. A further technical observation would be that the song form is 32 bars long but the melody is played twice at the beginning , first time through with a straight eighth note feel , second time swung. This is reversed when the melody is played at the end after solos. Every soloist gets one time ( one chorus = 32 bars) through the song form. I’ve always loved how all the soloists make incredible concise statements in one chorus on this tune. Plus as always, Billy Higgins swinging like nobody’s business.

  9. Its AMAZING that you can hear within 2 seconds that the Capitol pressing is inferior….The UA pressing is decent, not phenomenal though. I have the Music Matters 45rpm of this and it sounds pretty damn good and quiet.

  10. The photographer of this session is the under appreciated Chuck Stewart, he was a great human being and shot more covers than Carter has pills. He passed on January of this year.To me he ranks right up there with all the greats. If he is not on your alltime great list , just check out Trane’s Love Supreme album. Thanks for all and keep swinging…..Art

  11. I just revisited this LP after reading this thorough comparison. I am wondering if the session was called the ‘Procrastinator’ because Lion and Wolff probably wanted to delay releasing it until they weren’t associated with the company anymore. They probably realized it was embarrasing ‘schlock bop’ the second this group started playing. A truly conventional and uninteresting lp, especially considering the same core players (Hancock, Morgan, and Shorter) recorded such a cerebral and excellent record in ‘Search for the New Land’ earlier. This is just uninnovative pop. The only thing I appreciate about this session is that the liner notes read that Carter, Hancock, and Shorter recorded Miles Davis’ ‘Nefertiti’ the same week. Which led me to play that lp. NOW that is good, challenging post bop. I feel like those three players probably had to water down their playing when they walked into BN that week after having to play with Miles. Poor Bobby Hutcherson too. Even in the stronger UA copy, he sounds like he’s just there to get his check.

  12. Hello LJC.
    After discovering your site a few months ago, I decided to read all your posts consecutively. I have just finished. It was a fun trip. The most enjoyable thing was to re-discover all the great music you write about. Some of those pieces I hadn’t listened to in many years. It was a real kick to put them on the TT again.
    I also find your label guides phenomenal. It is important work and I’m glad you did it. Now we have an extensive English language guide, where previously the information was only available in Japanese.
    It was also fun to watch your knowledge grow, your rig improve, and your taste evolve. There are those that would argue that there is no absolute when it comes to taste (does that mean there is no bad taste?) but lately, you have consistently featured first-rate recordings including some 70s and 80s pieces that would be overlooked on other collector sites.
    I was also struck by some artists from the golden age that aren’t featured. People like Clifford Brown, Ike Quebec, Dizzy Gillespie (especially the Big Band from ’56 with Lee Morgan) or Hank Crawford. Just saying…
    Lastly, my copy of The Procrastinator is the MM 45. I traded in the 2fer after acquiring it but it took a while to get the 2nd disc. That was Sextet on Japanese King ((GXF 3024). I would love to send you a picture of the cover and back liner but I don’t know how.

  13. Even over the ‘net and your mp3s, there is no doubt that the LP version blows doors on the Conno-sewer version. The United Artists LP seems to have life, breadth and jumps out at you. The C-sewer sounds dull and flat by comparison.

  14. I keep meaning to get a copy of this but just never seem to get round to it!
    Probably one of those records would never get round to playing tho !
    Hopefully I get round to reading your article later tho …

    Keep up the good work love your website and information & enthusiasm.
    Cheers from New Zealand

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