(Updated March 24: matrixes of 1st edition)
Records inexplicably not previously posted. I had occasion to want to check something regarding 1558, went to my pages, only to find it not there. No there there at all. No longer overlooked, but … dissected as an object lesson in how to identify later Blue Note pressings from first/earlier pressings. LJC proudly sponsored by Specsavers.
. . .
JJ Johnson, trombone; Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Art Blakey, drums. Recorded Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, April 14, 1957, released September 1957.
While being seduced by the liquid spaciousness of post bop, the freedom-run of leaning further out, this second Rollins album for Blue Note is a good reminder of the pure craftsmanship of the masters at work.
This all-star fathers of bop convention at Hackensack sees Monk and Silver sharing the piano seat for just the one track, move over, Monk as devilish as always, perhaps more so in the presence of Horace Silver, the piano which smiles. Silver takes the second solo, something which requires some nerve, and four of the five remaining tracks.
Rollins is powerful over Monk’s eccentric “comping”, which is peppered with sudden empty spaces and unexpected turns in direction. J.J offers a “second horn” synced with Rollins in textures, harmonies and polished brass lines, all held carefully together by Blakey and Chambers.
Quite a different album from Rollins “Volume 1” which more showcases Sonny, while “Volume 2” rewards you with more ensemble playing. Should be on everyone’s shelf.
Vinyl: BNLP 1558
In the light of recent questions about unexpected combinations of Van Gelder stamps, I take this album as interesting case study in identifying Blue Note provenance. “Original Blue Note” but not the original first pressing. Sadly for me, four small details gives it away. It’s Sherlock Time, let’s go deep dive:
Cover: lovely laminated cover, blank spine, 63rd address, all good signs. Printing on the spine first appeared in Spring 1958 so blank spine may be earlier. The back cover Blue Note address changed from 47W63rd to 43W61st in early 1960, so the cover has some signs of early provenance. But it is betrayed by the incorporated company address form on the bottom of the rear slick, Blue Note Records Inc.
First killer clue. The incorporated address appears on Blue Note covers from mid 1959 onwards, two years after the release of BN 1558. The cover having 63rd address is therefore likely from a batch manufactured in 1960, as a year later, the cover address would have been 43W61st.
Labels: 47W63rd New York 23 label both sides , no INC. no ®, “original labels” Apparently drawn from labels left over from the first pressing print run.
Vinyl: deep groove only Side 2, ridge Side 1. That is the second killer clue. Non-deep groove dies first came into service at Plastylite in early 1961, four years after the first release of BN 1558. Though one-side deep groove pressings are common on Blue Note pressings , in this case it absolutely rules out any possibility of being an early pressing.
Run-out: Plastylite P, 9M (Side 1 only) , RVG stamped. Stamped RVG initials are the third killer clue. In early 1957, Van Gelder masters bore hand-etched RVG initials. RVG stamped initials first appear around Summer 1957 and feature until early 1962, when they were replaced by the full “VAN GELDER” stamp. 1st edition 1558 requires hand-etched RVG both sides. In this case the RVG stamp signals the original master has been replaced (upgraded?) by a Van Gelder re-cut.
Matrix: number suffix -2 both sides: Rudy’s 3rd cut! There have been sightings of pressings which have a hand-etch RVG one side and stamped on the other, not as yet determined whether matrix indicates first cut, 1st re-cut or second re-cut (UPDATE: see foot of post for original 1st Edition matrixes)
The stamped RVG initials, the absence of deep groove one side, together with a 1960 manufactured cover, identifies it as an original Blue Note, but a re-pressing from around 1961, four years after 1st release.
Re-cuts and their matrix suffix codes has been bothering me of late, and this A-2/B-2 combination added more fuel to the fire. There have been hundreds of auctions of 1558, selling for up to $800, and Van Gelder recuts generally pass beneath the seller’s radar. Just two or three sellers noted them, and then with little insight other than repeat what they see. BN 1558 had a tangled past!
A dip into Discogs fishes up an unusual case where the Discogs uploader has a grip on what they describe as a “second pressing”, even including pictures of the etchings, thank you, sir! I’m not sure we know enough yet to start numbering pressings without a lot more homework, and some understanding of how one pressing differs from another. In this case a change in labels is probably the least important thing, as old stock labels can have a long life, spanning up to decade on some records. With BN 1558 there is at least one underlying change in mastering, possibly more.
Lets see if we can do better and nail the date this alleged “2nd pressing”.
The cover address is without INC, so manufactured before mid-59.
The labels as seen below are no INC or ®, still 47W63rd, but slightly more recent address: simply 63rd NYC, not New York 23. The New York 23 address appears only on records released between late Spring and Summer of 1957, at least six months after the first release of BN 1558. To some, that would make this correctly a “second pressing” on account of the address change.
Deep groove both sides, nice, but the matrix codes are what throws a spanner in the works:
Side 1 has the same second recut suffix -A-2 and the same stamped RVG, but Side 2 has a first re-cut suffix -B-1 and RVG hand etched. This is a re-pressing which sits somewhere between the 1957 original pressing and my 1961 repressing, manufactured likely somewhere between 1958 and 1959.
Fresh labels with the 63rd NYC address were printed, despite the existence of older labels in inventory – which turn up later on my 1961 repress. A takeaway point is that old stock labels were not necessarily always used up chronologically, oldest first, before new ones were printed. An older label can turn up on a newer pressing and vice versa.
Any more for more?
A “fourth re-pressing” appears on New York USA Labels, with a A-2 B-2 matrix observed by just one or two sellers, with “RVG” stamped, so re-cuts appear to have stopped at 2 and continued repressing with same legacy metal.
BN 1558 was one of the first recordings Van Gelder made on two-track tape, stereo intended for mono, so good luck all who sail in her, not one for me. The Division of United Artists edition from around 1972 – unusually for that series – follows the stereo path too, as does the UA blue label black note, none of which are Rudy’s mastering as it looks like he never prepared a stereo master for 1558.
Blue Note Suffix codes are largely undocumented, rarely recorded, and poorly understood. Conventional wisdom says if Van Gelder wasn’t happy with the first cut, he would simply re-cut it and add an increment of one to the matrix code. However it looks like some make it to commercial release, and there were later recuts.
Is there another cutting of Side 1 before A-2? We know there is a -B-1. Is there an -A-1 or did Van Gelder need three goes at Side 1 to get it right? Is there an original master first cut with no suffixes, or did Rudy scrap his initial attempt at mastering and jump straight to A-2 / B-1? Why is there a -B-2 anyway?
If you have any variation on those identified here – particularly an actual 1957 1st Edition of 1558, it would be great if you would give us the lowdown on matrix codes and etchings. Pictures would be even better.
March 24, UPDATE! Jim R has an eye-watering collection of original Blue Notes, including two first edition copies of 1558. Here is what his camera reveals:
Well, I’ll be hornswoggled! The 1st edition of 1558 features Rudy’s first cut of Side 1: BNLP 1558-A no suffix (you can see the hand etched RVG in the corner). Side 2 is first re-cut: BNLP 1558-B-1 (also RVG hand-etched)
Van Gelder made at least two viable cuts of Side 1: -A and later A-2. He also made two viable cuts of Side 2: -B-1 and later -B-2.
First cut -B and recut A-1 were both discarded and superceded.
It has been suggested that re-mastering recordings might be for wholly innocent reasons: Rudy accidentally dropped the acetate, or spilled his coffee on it. But twice? No, what if there was a less innocent reason. Van Gelder was a perfectionist in engineering quality. This is a man who crept about his studio wearing gloves. Something in the original recording needed fixing, there was something he wasn’t happy with his original efforts to fix it, nor his first effort to fix it.
Where is the YouTube: Van Gelder discusses BNLP 1558 ? What Rudy Did, and What Rudy Did Next? No There there.
One further thought. When Liberty and later United Artists came to prepare a stereo master from the original (or copy) tapes, they would be probably unaware of what drove Rudy unusually to make three attempts at each side. Perhaps mono -A-2 and -B-2 matrixes offer us the best of What Rudy Did? Who’d be a First Pressing Fundamentalist now…