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
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.
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.
“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.
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”
SCIENCE! 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.
Selection: The Procrastinator (1995 Connoisseur)
Vinyl: Blue Note Connoisseur B1-33579
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
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.