New Series: Blue Note Masterpieces, overlooked.
Checking to see what my copy of Blakey Jazz Messengers BN 4003 had in the run-out, I plunged into LondonJazzCollector under “Blakey”, only to come up short: I had never posted on this title. Time to make good, overlooked masterpieces from the LC shelf. And I’ve thrown in a Collector’s Corner mystery, to add a little spice.
Selection: Moanin’ (Timmons)
Lee Morgan (trumpet) Benny Golson (tenor sax) Bobby Timmons (piano) Jymie Merritt (bass) Art Blakey (drums) recorded Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, October 30, 1958
Cultural Context 1958:
Just two months before the recording of Moanin’, on September 2nd,1958, Great Britain performed a nuclear test at its far-flung territory in the Pacific Ocean, Christmas Island. One month later, on October 1st, Britain ceded the Christmas Island territory to Australia.
The UK graded the condition of the island as “VG plus”. The Aussies graded it below “Poor”, claiming the island had been incinerated to a cinder in the test, threatening to open a “not as described” claim. Britain agreed to take the island back, but postage at Australia’s expense, it’s a big island. Australia retaliated with very negative feedback. Thus started a longstanding enmity between our two nations which later spilled over onto the cricket pitch, named for now obvious reasons, The Test Match. (Warning: some of these event have been made up, though not all.)
At the end of October 1958, Rudy Van Gelder was still recording in mom ‘n’ pop’s home studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, delivering astonishing acoustics, musicians in the living room, literally. The Jazz Messengers class of ’58: Benny Golson on tenor, Lee Morgan trumpet, the changing piano seat on this occasion accommodates Bobby Timmons.
The modern jazz songbook used to consist mainly of ’30s and ’40s standards and show-tunes, but here, strong new compositions begin to dominate, with Timmons catchy “Moanin’ “, and Golson’s four memorable new tunes, including the classic Along Came Betty. Not limited to played swinging high energy tenor, Golson wrote many tunes which went on to be regarded as jazz standards, including “Killer Joe,” “Stablemates,” “Whisper Not,” “Blues March,” “Five Spot After Dark,” “Are You Real?” and “I Remember Clifford.”. His writing is powerful stuff, tunes that linger in your head long after the record is put to bed.
Everyone here is hot. Timmons offers soulful, churchy-bluesy vamps, Jymie helping out in the bass-ment, Morgan straight ahead and swinging, “blows with unflagging zest tempered with superb control” (Dr Herb Wong) and especially Benny Golson, whose tenor solos masterfully build tension: initially walking pace in measured but carefully placed steps, rising relentlessly towards the next level, where he unleashes the raucous climax – dazzling fast figures, squawks and cries, shaking with nervous energy, a player possessed. Blakey the ringmaster just beams, pushing the ensemble along.
In 1958 Van Gelder was still thinking in mono, since most home record players were equipped only for mono, which was also the format of radio airplay. Big room-filling mono, sound perfectly balanced in all elements. I mistakenly once wrote that Rudy began recording in stereo in July 1957. On reflection, he began recording to two-track tape: the stereophonic soundstage was a long way from his mind. I never felt the need to seek out this record in stereo. Anyone want to put in a kind word for the stereo, here’s your chance.
Vinyl: mixed NY/47W63 labels, ear, RVG stamp, no deep groove.
When I first started collecting I used to think peering at matrix codes was the stuff of trainspotters, but, in time, the penny dropped. So many secrets are to be found in the deadwax, it’s an excitement of discovery wholly absent from digital media.
I also started out thinking I coveted the original first pressing. Until I found through experience that it didn’t make much difference, as the use of Van Gelder original metalwork was found in many second and third pressings, which sounded just as good but without the price premium. I also discovered a lot of what was described as “original” wasn’t. So I taught myself to be a master of unoriginal pressings.
This is most likely a third pressing, mixed labels 1962-6 New York label Side 2 with legacy 47W63 with ®+INC . A label from inventory old stock suggesting early in the period, perhaps 1962. No deep groove either side. No inner sleeve present to narrow it down further.
Initially I had this listed as without the 9M, but on closer examination, 9M is just visible at 2 o’clock position on Side 1, a very shallow pin etch, very easy to miss. No sign of 9M on Side 2, which is of itself interesting: mastering involved one acetate of 9M supplier origin, the other side of which must have come from a different batch without the mysterious Blue Note client code.
Side 1 matrix is A-1, indicating Rudy didn’t like his first acetate cut, and chose to recut it. Could the recut of Side 1 be linked to the presence of 9M only on that one side, pulling a spare acetate from an older batch, somewhere in the back of a cupboard in Hackensack (next to the cookie jar)?
Etchings close up:
Collector’s Corner: calling Inspector Vinyl.
His copy had all the hallmarks of an early pressing – RVG stamp, 47W63rd labels (with ©+INC), deep groove both sides, even a 9M, and a hefty 190 gram vinyl weight.
There is no question it is pressed from Van Gelder metal, but crucially, the expected Plastylite “P” is missing. Instead, on one side, a stamp resembling the letter “K”, (right) almost certainly a pressing plant identifier. Do you know this stamp? You must tell.
All the usual indications of later Liberty reissue are absent: deep groove dies had disappeared by the time Liberty came on the scene, and vinyl weight had slimmed down to around 140 – 150 grams. No indications of overseas manufacture. – no royalty collection agency or import duty stamps. This is not a Liberty pressing, or an overseas pressing. It is something else. But what?
Let’s rule out one obvious possibility – that Plastylite “forgot” to apply the ear in the factory. The only time I have seen the ear missing was on one side where the run-out was so small there was a risk of applying the ear to the grooves. And that leaves no explanation for the stylised “K” stamp.
A more likely explanation is that some time in 1961, when I think this record was pressed (labels ©+INC), there was a capacity issue. Either Blue Note urgently needed more copies, sales were good, or possibly some Plastylite plant presses were out of action. Exceptionally, Blue Note provided metal, labels and jackets to another pressing plant to press an extra batch.
We know something similar happened with BLP 1595, Something Else, where a copy surfaced (in Russia, of all places) which had all the right hallmarks but also lacked the ear. In that case, circumstantial evidence pointed to manufacture by Plastylite rival plant, Abbey Manufacturing (identical pressing die ring Side 2 to those found on Prestige pressings around that time) .
It may not be a coincidence that BN 1599 and BN 4003 are adjacent catalogue numbers, though the date of each pressing is unknown, so it is not possible to link more closely, but certainly tempting.
I was also tempted to hand this investigation over to the FBI, as there is a potential Russian connection, though admittedly somewhat remote. However we need answers that are trustworthy and provided quickly, so probably not the right people to ask.
Four Learning Points
2. You can’t be certain of anything.
3. Some of what you think you know is wrong.
4. I’ve forgotten the fourth point.
If you have a better theory, lets hear it, preferably with some evidence to back it up. On the other hand, wild speculation and conspiracy theories seem to be all the rage right now , so don’t feel you have to limit yourself to the facts. Most important, does the “K” stamp ring any bells for anyone? That is the biggest loose end, but there may be other things you can shed light on (bearing in mind lessons 2 and 3 above)
My thanks to Dino for sharing his “earless” mystery LP.
Postscript October 17, 2017 : 4003 cover colour variations
Tireless record collecting sleuth Shaft has spotted variation in the colours of this cover. A quick look through a few hundred or so covers in auctions confirms that in the course of many additional pressing runs, and printing of additional jackets, a spectrum of colour drift is found, from pale orange type and yellow cast (left two columns below) through to bright red type (right two columns below) .
Auction photos were as is usual, taken under a variety of light sources of different colour temperature, and with varying degrees of over and under exposure, all of which affect colour fidelity.
The odd inner sleeve captured with the auction photo confirms this record went through multiple pressings from 1960 right through to 1966 (“27 Years of” Inner). Numerically, I’d guess 75% found are broadly of the orange tint, and maybe 25% of the red tint. In between there some with very strongly saturated orange type.
The bottom left picture is from a Bob Djukic auction ( cover positioning clips top left and below) and his photography is generally spot on. But so is mine, so the variation are from colour printing differences, not photography differences.
Like I said. You never stop learning.