Selection: Neo (12:51) Columbia six eye
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Different selections made from previous posts on Blackhawk Sessions back in 2012 of the Fontana UK editions. With the passing of time, can do better.
Miles Davis (trumpet) Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone) Wynton Kelly (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Jimmy Cobb (drums) recorded Friday and Saturday night at The Blackhawk, San Francisco, CA, April 21-2, 1961, engineer Russ Payne, whose credits include In a Silent Way and Terry Riley’s In C.
The outstanding Miles Davis in-between-first-and-second Quintet, featuring Hank Mobley in blistering form, in a live set from San Francisco’s Blackhawk. Twenty four editions are listed in Discogs, but we are in original vinyl mode with the six-eye, and pitting it against the curator’s heaven, Mosaic vinyl box set The Complete Blackhawk Sessions..
The Blackhawk Sessions continue to hit my turntable frequently, though it tends to be in the form of the Mosiac boxset rather than the Six Eye, owing to the extended presence of Hank Mobley’s mellifluous tone ( synonyms: sweet-sounding, sweet-toned, dulcet, honeyed, mellow, soft, liquid, soothing, rich, smooth, euphonious, lyric, harmonious, tuneful, musical) All of those things in just one word. And one letter: M is for Mobley and mellifluous. And of course, for Miles. And Mosaic.
Come 1961 Mobley was no longer rushing to prove himself: he had arrived. Instead, confident, masterful, elegant finely-judged arrangements of notes swinging and flying , perfect offset to Miles squawking, stabbing, and restless probing horn. Mobley’s not everyone’s cup of tea, not driven like Coltrane, not boundary-pushing like Shorter, and not as witty but exhausting as Rollins. But he’s my cup of tea – I’ll put the kettle on.
Rich material executed with excitement, which contrasts with the more lauded Miles Mosaic, the ten- LP Plugged Nickel Session, which in terms of lifting and walking offers a big saving alternative over gym-club membership. There are whole sides on that set which have almost nothing but Miles wrestling with the horn, as though struggling to give birth, though across the ten LPs it documents the forging together of the Second great quintet, Hancock-Carter-Williams-Shorter-Miles.
Neo on Blackhawk is for me the killer track, a cool modal canvas with a merciless metronomic kick from Jimmy Cobb sitting just behind the beat, one kick two kick, one kick two kick, Wynton’s chords harmonic waves rolling in and out, Paul Chambers the powerful tidal undertow, leaving the horns like seabirds to swoop over the surface. (LJC, this metaphor is beginning to run out of control, pull yourself together).
Vinyl: CS 8470
Not just any old stereo, but Columbia stereo, six eye label, 1B/1C stampers, and ultrasonically cleaned (More on that in Collector’s Corner below.) Columbia six eye are a beautiful thing to hear. Sweet, and not cramped by frequency cut-offs, but that ethereal Columbia organic stereo presentation we have come to love since KoB.
The cover I read described as Miles casting himself in cultural pimp-aesthetic, street credibility with the jazz/ underworld hustler milieu, in the shadows, dancer Frances Taylor, Wife 1.0. before he upgraded to v.2.0 in 1968, singer Betty Mabry.
Small font alert! Liner notes sponsored by Specsavers. Photographically sharpened to be readable at full screen.
The Alternative Stereo :
Mosaic Complete Blackhawk Sessions – two nights in! You know you want to, send out for a takeaway.
Selection: Neo (12: 26) Mosaic Records
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Vinyl: Mosaic MQ6-220 six-LP box set, fifteen years out of print. An immediate sense of being more information-rich, greater clarity, just switch back to hear Columbia.
The timings on each track and the evening set sequence is the key to what Mosaic are giving you compared with the boiled-down Columbia two-volume set. Though the selection Neo is effectively the same, at around twelve and a half minutes (depending on how much applause you include), the same is not true for all tracks.
Well You Needn’t for example has been edited down to half, from 8:02 (Mosaic) to 4: 42 (Columbia) . If I were a Bell has been edited down from 12:25 (Mosaic) to 8:45 (Columbia) . Despite Columbia Volume II being billed as “Saturday Night”, the tracks Fran Dance and Oleo seem to have been borrowed from Friday Night and each lost one and a half minutes in the process.
“Well You Needn’t” The Complete vs Columbia
What’s missing in the four minutes Columbia cut from Well You needn’t? Let me guess, it’s not Miles’s solo. Hank’s? Yup. In the full session after Miles, Hanks starts to fire up, followed by Wynton Kelly in typically brisk rhythmic form. Three and a bit minutes in, Columbia edit out Hank.
Imagine, if you will, Miles sitting down with the Producer in the editing suite. “If we are to fit the tracks onto Side 1, Mr Davis, sir, I’m afraid were going to have to cut something. We could leave off the “Fran” track you suggested. After all, it’s not actually from Saturday Night. Oh, it… dedicated to your wife, I see, well, of course, Mr Davis, sir, it stays…naturally. Miles frowns, his eyes narrow. “There’s too much of other people’s solos. It’s my album, people want to hear me. Cut them, cut the other mthrfng solos, cut the horn player Mobley out, it’s me people wanna hear, me! “. This conversation is entirely made up. However it seems to be that’s how thing work nowadays, so it’s good to go.
The first three or so minutes the Columbia is the same. (There were some clicks early on which I tried to declick, not altogether successfully, but it soon settles down). Check how artfully Columbia airbrushed Hank out of the piece and seamlessly moved from Miles on to Wynton’s solo.
Well You needn’t – Columbia Saturday Night (4:42)
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For fun, here’s the whole thing, get the missing half of the session:
Well You needn’t – Mosaic Complete Blackhawk Session (8: 02)
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Another five LP’s to add to this one! No pictures please – see my agent. Six LPs in chronologically sequence – without redundancy of repeats. The best way to hear it is to start listening on Friday night to the Friday night session, repeat Saturday night with just the Saturday night session. Voila, recreate the whole experience of April 1961 at The Blackhawk.
(The actual true chronologic reproduction of the two nights includes some redundancy of same tunes played on both nights, too hair-shirt for me, is to be found on a four cd set reissue in 2003. That’s not how you listen to recordings of this quality)
You will notice the band is a little stiff at the outset, needs to limber up, and soon they begin to swing, then they are hot. Come the final set four, on Saturday night, they have had enough, speeding up, anxious to finish the set and get themselves home back to New York. It’s just like real life only better: no queue for the bar, no-one shooting up in the toilet, and no getting mugged waiting for the night bus home. That’s convenience I can live with.
The idea for this post came from a couple of A:B critical listening sessions in which a number of copies of the Blackhawk Sessions were pooled and thrown onto the turntable – mono six-eye stereo six-eye,UK Fontana, to see what happens. As always, comparative listening is so educational, throws up unexpected insights.
First the hoary old mono or stereo question – which is a better listening experience, mono or stereo? A buddy has the mono six-eye, I have the stereo six-eye, both originals from 1961, common engineering, so head to head. Columbia stereo had a sublime soundstage as expected, but the mono integrated the players better and focussed on the music rather than the position of the players, This ended up a distraction from the music because instrument position invites greater attention.
The mono had just one small failing to my ear. It is a live recording in which audience appreciation is part of the live ambience. Mono places all of the audience in the centre of the stage too. C’mon guys, how do you fit 200 people on the centre of the stage without it collapsing? The ambience is the audience being all around and you being there too. It’s a small thing but the ambience is part of the pleasure of this recording.
When it comes to the stereo, Columbia and Mosaic seem to have a different vision. Playing the same track from the same date but the handiwork of two different mixing engineers was a type of “horizontal-tasting” I’d not anticipated, but here it came up naturally. Mosaic’s Ron McMaster vs Mr Payne. I’m not sure how well Neo illustrates it but in another A:B it was standout. Columbia stereo was very artfully “centred”, still stereo but positioned within the speakers, musicians separate but close. Perhaps they loaded tracks onto both channels with different weights.
The Mosaic is more a panoramic very wide soundstage with lots of air and space between the musicians. As is often the case with more modern stereo, the soundstage seemingly extends beyond the speakers either side. It is a matter of preference, but on balance I preferred the Columbia approach, though nothing wrong with Mosaic, sounds just as immersive and after a while your ear settles in. Who but a fool would have two copies of the same thing and play to compare?
I have yet to find a Mosaic box set in less than perfect condition. I suspect the first couple of LPs get the most wear, and the last couple of LPs, very little. Sets have been produced since the mid eighties and cross over into the rise of the CD and the culture of convenience and portability over quality (Fight! Fight!).
Anyone with any insights into Mosaic box sets, welcome to share. Anyone wanting to diss Hank Mobley – Organissimo seems to have form, why not take it there?. Anyone interested in ultrasonic record cleaning, I’m busy cleaning records right now, I’m sorry, you will have to wait, full report to follow, I hope with an LJC first – video.
Here’s a couple of vinyl Mosaic boxsets on my wants list. Mmmhm..Mobley…
And here’s a little baby that just came off my wants list…an Audiodesk Pro ultrasonic cleaning machine. The Audiodesk is less than half the cost of the current alternative Klaudio, though still nevertheless a significant investment in cleaner records. Would you benefit from cleaner records?
Bear in mind the need for record cleaning is still controversial in some parts of the vinyl-spinning community. Take for example this quote (from albeit a fairly old Discogs thread, but you read the same sentiment today):
The words “I think” may be an exaggeration, however it is a state of mind so nicely summed up in that wonderful poster for Guinness back in 1973:
Are You Experienced?
“I’ve never tried it because I don’t like it” – the triumph of unfounded opinion over experience – is an insight that won ad agency J Walter Thompson the Design Council Best Poster of the Year award. Unfortunately, I’ve tried Guinness numerous times and still don’t like it. I’ve also just tried ultrasonic cleaning, and I really do like it, very much. I don’t “think”, I “know”, there is a difference between those two words. The Audiodesk Pro costs a fair amount of money, but whether it’s a “waste of money” depends on what value you put on your listening experience. In my case, it’s great value for money, for djfrankiebones, maybe less so.
New kid on the block: Cavitation
Ultrasonic cleaning utilises a process called “cavitation” – in which high-frequency sound waves create cavitation bubbles in a liquid bath of water and surfactant. The cavitation bubbles produce a force that cleans vinyl in a powerful but minimally abrasive way, penetrating deep down into the grooves. Removable contaminants include dust, dirt, oil, grease, fungus, residual mould release, and whatever is the source of those white specks that lodge themselves into the groove.
Comparative listening tests confirms to my ears that it produces significantly superior results to conventional vacuum/ alcohol cleaning.
If you want to watch a record being cleaned ultrasonically (beats watching paint dry, just not much), here shot in 1080p HD with sound at LJC Studios in London, I have uploaded it to YouTube.
Audiodesk Pro Ultrasonic record cleaning machine full basic cycle is six minutes. Hear your vinyl in the cleanest condition currently possible, the only harm it can do is to your piggy bank.
The original Audiodesk ultrasonic cleaner was launched around five years ago simply as a cavitation machine, at nearly twice the price , where the Klaudio still languishes. The “Pro” has had five years of development, adding improvements to the cleaning cycle. As befits a product at this price, great attention has been paid to build quality. All operational parts such as filters, rollers and wiper blades are user-replaceable.
The tank is filled with 4.5 litres of purified water and a small bottle of surfactant (proprietary Audiodesk liquid, £12 a pop), which is good to clean 100-150 records, before emptying out and refilling. (One selling point of the Klaudio is not requiring surfactant. Hyuge saving.)
The six minute cleaning cycle (extendable in minute increments up to ten, if desired) starts with the water in the bottom reservoir being pumped up into the upper chamber, where the vinyl gets about five rotations in the bath with the vinyl surface agitated between two pairs of fluffy rollers. This is followed by five rotations applying ultrasonic cavitation – blasting the grooves with powerful jets of cavitation bubbles – then to finish, slow rotation with an air dryer. Vinyl emerges static free and dry, ready to play.
The machine can be co-located in a domestic environment next to the record collection or hifi, no liquid splashing on carpets, and sufficiently quiet in use not to disturb others in the house. Forget any thought of wholesale cleaning your collection, a thought which filled me with dread. It is operationally practical enough to be part of a listening “workflow”: select record from shelf – pop it in the cleaner – then straight onto the turntable to play (not forgetting to increment the count of records cleaned by one, and a pencilled note”date cleaned” on corner of paper inner sleeve).
A:B Testing: before and after ultrasonic cleaning
Because of the danger of confirmation bias, A:B testing was conducted with an objective listening buddy who has no investment in the machine, and no problem with challenging any existing opinion. He’s a bugger like that.
An afternoon was spent play-testing a variety of records – some never before cleaned, some twice cleaned with vacuum/alcohol cleaner, records known to have lots of surface noise, brand new vinyl, 20 year-old vinyl, sixty year old vinyl, every permutation we could think of.
First off, every record sounded much improved after six minutes ultrasonic cleaning.
Not only the expected reduction in surface noise, but a completely unexpected audible improvement in sound quality – lowered bass floor, more articulate mid-band and detail in highest frequencies.
I was also surprised by a further reduction in background crackle, which I assumed was persistent
There is no doubt ultrasonic cleaning does something that convention alcohol/ vacuuming cleaning does not do. It may be due to superior penetration to the very bottom of the groove, more effective removal of residual mould release, or just that more aggressive cavitation shifts matter alcohol/vacuuming doesn’t. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt The Audiodesk Pro ultrasonic offers superior cleaning performance and a significant increase in operational convenience.
A place in your hi-fi system
An ultrasonic cleaner is not just “a record cleaning machine”, it is a hifi component, just as important as your amp or cartridge. If you think of spending £2k on an improved amplifier, high-end cables, or indeed on one rare record, you begin to see the Ultrasonic cleaner in proper perspective.
LJC says: This is an unsolicited testimonial, no inducements offered or received, and the Audiodesk Pro Ultrasonic is my own full price purchase. It is, I believe, an essential lifestyle accessory for a collector of vintage vinyl who has had most if not all his basic needs in life met, and is able to justify spoiling themselves with this beautiful piece of German engineering. Even if they have spelled “System” wrong. And Gläss with an umlaut.
LondonJazzCollector fashion notes: the disembodied arm at the beginning of the video, pressing the start button and engaging the record to click into the traction mechanism, is sporting a Rohan technical performance Stratum polo in vapour stripe. The material is 95% polyester, 5% elastane, light, packable, extremely versatile, quick-drying, and pairs effortlessly with tasks where you need to look cool, like record cleaning.
Look out for more fashion tips for record collectors, what ‘s cool to wear when crate-digging, as LJC expands the LJC franchise into the online social media sector including forthcoming blogs “What’s LJC Wearing Today” and “What’s In LJC’s Fridge”, as well as LJC T-shirts, mugs and coasters.