Rare vintage jazz issued in the UK, re-issued in Japan: the Universal UCJU 9000 series

Rare UK ’60s vintage vinyl jazz, re-mastered in Japan

The giant Universal Music Group own the recordings of Capitol (including Blue Note), Decca UK, EMI (including the recent Rendell Carr Quintet reissues), Impulse, Verve, Mercury and Philips (including Fontana). The suits at Universal own it all,  apart from the Prestige and Contemporary catalogues, which are owned by the suits at Concord Music Group, following their 2004 acquisition of Fantasy, and Atlantic, which I believe remains buried in the vaults of the Warner Brothers Group.

According to Billboard, “in 2017, the Universal Music Group produced 798m. euros ($901.7m) operating income on revenues that grew to 5.67 billion euros ($6.41 billion)  Its top-grossing projects include new releases from Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, the 50th Anniversary edition of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and soundtrack release La La Land.”

Modern Jazz does not register even the briefest flicker on Universal corporate dials.

Follow me down to the crypt, Igor, we have work to do.”

Yes master!...re-master…re-animation, ooh goody!”

 << Lightening flashes. Somewhere, a door creaks… >>

Every now and then a clutch of titles escape the vaults because entrepreneurs have beaten a path to Universal’s door, and prized this precious music from their well-manicured fingertips. Gilles Petersen’s Impressed  volumes, and Gerald Short’s Rendell Carr box-set are an example of what is possible given access to original tapes, which have been well preserved, and the right engineering skills.

For a good number of  ’50s ’60s recordings now owned by Universal the only show in town has been unofficial unlicensed editions (CD-to-vinyl transfers), Scorpios and like, records in name only, and The Evil Silver Disk™. Of other modern vinyl reissue labels, there is a certain opaqueness as to sources, such as Pure Pleasure/Speaker’s Corner Records claim to be“Mastered From The Best Available Sources”, which could mean just about anything, purposefully opaque.

Between 2004 and 2009, something unusual happenedUniversal Music K.K., Tokyo, Japan, subsidiary of the giant Universal Music Group,reissued a number of extremely rare vintage jazz recordings from the ’50s and ’60s, in their UCJU 9000 series –UniversalClassics &Jazz UK. This included, uniquely, several British titles of “holy grail” status, many from the Fontana catalogue,  as well as a number of classic though less rare American titles, and some scraps from ’60s Denmark, Brazil, and other foreign parts (wrong side of the English Channel)

UCJU-9000  were “licensed”  issues, if licensed means anything, because they own the copyright, though many are out of copyright (scratches head). As well as legal rights, they physically possess many if not all actual recordings, but may not have actually used the original tapes as source, if they still exist, because of industry gas-lighting that having the best engineers re-mastering from digital sources or copy tapes is just as good (or just more convenient, they’ll never know).

The point is not whether the reissues are better. I have A:B’d many hundreds of reissues against originals. I have yet to hear one that sounds better, though exceptionally I have heard just a few that sound near-indistinguishable, in each case definitively sourced from original tapes.  In my experience, most reissues fall lamentably short.  The question is whether the UCJU  reissues are good enough, close enough to the authentic experience, and there is the trade off between  authenticity and availability. Luckily we have a shoot out for you.

But first, let’s climb on board the LJC jazz helicopter and survey the musical terrain. I’ve a hundred seats booked, you are invited. No time to lose, buckle up.

The UCJU-9000  series (2004-9) A helicopter overview.

Seven separate sub-series share the “UCJU-9000” catalogue number (links copied over from Discogs) of which  [2] and [3] offer reissues of some holy grail recordings that are not realistically available or affordable in their original release edition.

[1] “Jazz The Best” LP Collection
Jazz The Best LP Collection” / white on red logo.
UCJU-9001 to 9043 (some numbers not used). Around 40 titles, various classic artists including Parker, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Clifford Brown and many others too numerous to mention here. Mostly these are replica Impulse gatefold titles, with some Verve, Philips and others. Coltrane is well represented. Just a few examples from this series:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2] フォンタナ フィリップス幻の名盤
Fontana Firippusu Maboroshi-no Meiban / en: “Fontana Philips Phantom Masterpieces” / Brown on yellow logo. UCJU-9044 to 9057. Including the essential ’60s Fontana albums of Tubby Hayes, Zoot and Sims and Ronnie Ross, pictured below. The Zoot Sims “Cookin'” album is condensed version of two LPs recorded live at London’s Ronnie Scotts Club.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[3] ヨーロッパジャズ 最後の秘宝
Youroppa Jazu – Saigo-no Hihou /  “European Jazz – The Ultimate Hidden Treasures” / green on yellow logo. UCJU-9058 to 9062. Just four titles including the monster rarity, Paul Gonsalves Boom-Jackie-Boom-Chick, and a Danish jazz monster, Pedro Biker Evergreens in Danish Design (Sahib Shihab!). Hidden Treasures indeed!

Boom-Jackie-Boom-Chick album coverEvergreens In Danish Design album coverHere And Now And Sounding Good! album cover

 

 

 

 

 

[4] 名盤 LP 100選
Meiban LP Hyakusen / en: “100 Selected LP Masterpieces” / yellow/white on black logo. UCJU-9064 to 9083. This series includes a lot of ’60s iconic pop and rock, a mixed bag – Eric Clapton, The Police, Rolling Stones, T-Rex, and just a dozen or so jazz already issued in an earlier sub-series. There’s a hundred of them. I expect that is why it is called the LP 100.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[5] 須永辰緒の夜ジャズ アナログ復刻5+1
Sunaga Tatsuo-no Yoru Jazu Anarogu Fukkoku 5+1 / en: “Tatsuo Sunaga‘s Jazz Allnighters – Analogue Reissues 5+1” / black/red on white logo. UCJU-9084 to 9089. Six  titles including Yusef Lateef, the obscure  Steffan Aberleen Quintet and  a Brazilian cult ’60s outfit Meirelles e Os Copa 5 – Swedish and Brazilian, OMG this stuff goes deep. Who knew?

 

 

 

 

[6] 須永辰緒の夜ジャズ アナログ復刻 no.2 世界を巡る
Sunaga Tatsuo-no Yoru Jazu Anarogu Fukkoku no.2 Sekai-wo Meguru / en: “Tatsuo Sunaga‘s Jazz Allnighters – Analogue Reissues No.2 – Around The World” / black/red+blue on white logo. UCJU-9090 to 9094. Paul Gonsalves Deram title, more cult Brazilian Meirelles, but what is this thing with Danish presenter/crooner Pedro Biker?  Who he?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[7] 英国ジャズ 幻の名盤LP復刻
Eikoku Jazu Maboroshi-no Meiban LP Fukkoku / en: “British Jazz – Phantom Masterpieces LP Reissues” / British flag logo. UCJU-9096 & 9098. Lastly, just two titles including  the moderately obscure Colin Bates Trio (me neither) and a jazz reinterpretation of Beatles hits by the London Jazz Four. Ugh!  Imagine, no John Lennon (Mark Chapman, solo, .38 caliber).

 

 

 

 

According to Discogs contributors, these Japanese reissues are themselves rare, having been pressed most around 800 copies. They will still  set you back a tidy sum according to title, still in two figures, unlike their original counterparts, which are often in three figure territory, some even heading towards four.

Over the years, during every day collecting, I acquired a handful of records from the UCJU series without realising what they were, without any recognition beyond “oh, it’s got an obi” , and without any understanding that there was even a “series”,  or who issued them. Then, just recently, the penny dropped, with the help of  Discogs, who have helpfully connected the dots.

Head-to-Head Shoot-Out: original Fontana (1961)  vs, UCJU (2006)

How do they stand up to each other? Let’s proceed to a shoot-out. The subject is British tenor hero, Tubby Hayes, recording a session in New York with Roland Kirk for the British Fontana label,  The rips are here for you to decide, original Fontana versus Universal OCJU.  I’ll tell you at the end what I think, but first it’s your call. Listen.

  1. Tubby Hayes Return Visit –  UK Fontana original 1961

.  .  .

2. Tubby Hayes Return Visit –  Universal UCJU series, Japan 2006

.  .  .  .

The same audio components, merely difference in source,  each within the same limitations of MP3 at 320kb (the highest quality WordPress support) and the limitation of PC or phone processors and speakers. These factors are limiting, but at least a level playing field. My verdict is based on listening on a full audio system, that really shows the difference.

LJC Verdict: all rise, here comes the judge.

I have no knowledge of the source used in preparing these reissues. Maybe they got the Fontana original tapes, perhaps sent an engineer to London, maybe they got a flat transfer copy tape, maybe a high resolution digital file, maybe they dug up the original musicians and reanimated them to play live in a studio.

If they thought sources mattered they would say what they were. Silence suggests they don’t. But, in the end, only results matters, not means.

Here’s what I think:

First, check out Tubby, who takes the second solo, starting at around 3:00 into the track after Moody.  James Moody is proficient,  very good, but Tubby has acrobatic prowess, propulsive drive, and a need for speed with perfect articulation,  great! We can beat you at your own game guys, go Tubby Go!

1. Original 1961 Fontana original: fresh, exciting, sense of presence, musicians in the room, it has a natural acoustic  tonal and dynamic range, draws you in to listen. I can even smell Tubby’s socks, which he omitted to change after the flight to New York.

2. Universal Japan 2006:  Bass is a little soft, upper frequencies muted. Overall, a synthetic, rather sterile transfer, veiled and at one remove from musicians in the room. Unfortunately, it sounds typical of many Japanese reissues from this period.

I recall acquiring this Universal copy some years ago, rarely played it, somehow it seemed unexciting, couldn’t put my finger on why, but that is the difference. When I mount the Fontana on the turntable, suddenly the arms on the wall-clock start to spin in reverse, faster and faster until it is 1961. Tubby is in awe, our plucky little Brit standing next to Roland Kirk and all the greats. The band is a little stiff, insufficiently rehearsed, and the atmosphere is competitive. Tubby has to showcase his skills, which he does outstandingly, though unfortunately also having to prove his multi-instrumental prowess with vibraphone.   Jimmy Gloomy (James Moody) sounds pedestrian in comparison, no wonder he is Gloomy. Kirk is unflustered, professional, master of the universe, which may not be the same as ours.

You can participate in the session, because “you are there” in the New York studio, a Fontana visitor pass around your neck. There is that  difference. For me, the Japanese reissue of this title is lacklustre. It deserves to have been better, could have been better, but someone settled for less. On the positive side, original Fontana is near impossible to find and fiercely expensive if you do. Universal Japan around a tenth of the price, and found more readily

Other titles in the series may fare better, but an A:B of another Tubby Fontana title (“Down In The Village”) vs UCJU  yielded similar results. The Gonsalves Boom Jackie UCJU title offers a much more muscular presentation, though I have no comparator, always sounds great. A few crumbs to go with, you have to make your own choices.

There are a few titles where I would be happy to have the UCJU because it is impossible to source an original that is affordable, and this is great music. Of the more obscure artists, Steffan Aberleen Quintet and  Meirelles e Os Copa 5, are of cult status. But who were the Jacobs Brothers? The Diamond Five? The Colin Bates Trio? Perhaps obscure for a reason. We need to unlock more secrets from the Universal vaults.

If you can add anything to this story, have experiences of the UCJU Series or comments on the Shoot-Out, or indeed anything remotely relevant, the floor is yours.

LJC

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “Rare vintage jazz issued in the UK, re-issued in Japan: the Universal UCJU 9000 series

  1. Hi there – I was recently in Japan and was able to pick up a bunch of these pretty reasonably, between 20-40USD, mostly in the 30ish range, all near mint with obi, etc…In my brief listening session so far I would say the sound quality is pretty variable – a few of them really sing, the Gonsalves title above, Hummingbird is maybe 1 step down, the Jacobs Brothers (who knew)…still going through the rest, but I would say these are now on the radar as the Discogs pricing is definitely moving up and up…needless to say these are (in typical Japanese fashion) beautiful objects that get you pretty close to the original…especially when the original first pressings are now unobtainable..Good work LJC, although I see a run on Boom Jackie, happening very soon…

  2. Had the Japanese Yusef Lateef LP few years ago – despite the promising “Analogue Reissues” title it was sounding pretty lackluster. I could tell the music is great but something about the presentation was definitely dull & unexciting. Replaced with a slightly beaten up original pressing which sounds MUCH much better – at last the music is presented as it should. Great album.

  3. I am curious if anyone can shed light on the mastering process of re-issues vs. originals. I know Lester Koenig’s son mentioned in an interview (which I believe LJC posted a link to) that OJC did not use a plate reverb machine when they remastered the Contemporary catalog and thus the recordings seemed drier and lacked air. I notice original pressings have more presence in the treble region and a “sheen” to the sound which I guess is the same thing as “air” or presence. Is it a deterioration of high frequency information on the original master tape, a different mastering chain, or are both factors? Was adding reverb was a standard practice in the 50’s and 60’s across labels, and did that at least partially account for the very different sound from modern reissues? Intriguing post LJC, thanks.

    • We know Van Gelder took delivery of a 600lb EMT plate, probably the EMT 140, which was first Plate launched by the German acoustic engineering company Elektromesstecknik in 1957.

      Prior to the Plate, which offered engineers considerable artistic control and flexibility, reverb was effected by hard-walled reverberation chambers, sort of bath-tub echo. Columbia’s 30th St Studio had I believe such a basement reverb chamber, heard on Kind of Blue (1959), in which a return signal from the chamber was added to the left and right channels in the mix.

      The “air” in the Blue Note sound was according to opinion I have read a combination of factors: close-miking of instruments with condenser based mikes, high-ceiling acoustic reflections at Englewood Cliffs modelled on Columbia’s “church”, a large acoustic recording space, and the judicious application of reverb to the final mix.

      There is also the consideration of all-analogue recording and mastering processes, not cutting off frequency extremes, harmonics, and transients, nor rolling off the top-end in the name of supressing “tape hiss”. However I am not an engineer, so I am guessing here.

      There is some suggestion that Rudy had some sort of reverb facility at Hackensack as early as 1957 but I haven’t found any substantiating detail. I expect a 600lb EMT plate might go through the living room floor.

      The problem with reissues seems to me the loss of fidelity working with second generation copy tape, or some sort of digital source, the prevalence of solid-state technology, possibly low-resolution digital in the production chain, and engineers focussed on download and portable device performance characteristics.

      I am not an engineer, but I do listen closely to what engineers do, free from any taint of professional jealousy. Engineers out there welcome to trample on my explanation.

  4. I agree, the reissues are the only way in for most of us po’ folk who can’t outbid anyone. The reissue you posted wasn’t as good as the original vinyl, but I could say the same about most of my so-called collection. Either way, I enjoyed the music quite a bit and will seek this out somehow. Thanks for bring it to light!

  5. What about the Alan Bates factor? He presided over quite a number of Dutch/UK Fontana and Polydor recordings in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I was under the impression that he took all of that material and is holding/licensing it (or keeping it hostage) via DA Music. Wondering if Universal owns copies of these masters or not.

  6. The Jacobs Brothers are Pim Jacobs- piano and Ruud Jacobs- bass.The first was married to singer Rita Reys.They made many successful records together.Both are not alive
    anymore.Ruud Jacobs is still alive and performing.
    The Diamond Five was a well known and popular Dutch modern jazz quintet from the late 50’s and 60’s.Harry Verbeke- tenor sax,Cees Smal- tp/ tb,Cees Slinger- piano,Jacques Schols- bass and John Engels- drums.Only the drummer is still alive and active.”Brilliant!”was their most famous record on Dutch Fontana.,It was reissued in Japan.

    Kees de Kat

  7. Colin Bates ‘Brew’ is priceless for the hipster tea party cover art alone – a nice mainstream trio album and sounds good in the original UK Fontana.

  8. Thank you for yet another informative and enjoyable posting.

    I am fortunate to be the proud owner of original pressings of five out of the 16 records in the four by four grid pictured at the top of the posting (the four Tubbys and the Ronnie Ross). Coincidentally, my choice of late night listening yesterday was Down in the Village so I do feel I know the characteristics of these Fontana pressings pretty well and that the experience is fresh in my memory. The piece of the jigsaw I’m missing is that I don’t currently own any of the Japanese re-issues as a comparison. The way you describe the immediacy, naturalness and dynamic range of the originals certainly matches my experience of them. Fontana (and Argo, Columbia Lansdowne and Mercury for that matter) did great service to our 1960s British jazz musicians. For the Japanese re-issues, the nearest reference points I have are King/Toshiba Blue Note re-issues. There’s nothing especially wrong with them but the are tame and polite by comparison.

    Re-issues serve a vital purpose. Some of us are lucky to come across original pressings in the wild that are well-preserved and even luckier to be able to afford to buy them. But many music lovers will never encounter that happy combination of circumstances. How are they to be given the opportunity to discover, enjoy and enthuse about this wonderful music? The only route open to them is via re-issues. Sometimes the mere fact that a re-issue makes the music available and (relatively) affordable trumps concerns about the provenance and quality of the mastering, pressing and packaging. Yes, I wish that every re-issue was as beautifully done as the recent Rendell-Carr Quintet box set but I’d far rather a sub-optimal re-issue than no re-issue at all. And if we support existing re-issues we might just encourage commercial conditions in which further, even better re-issues become available.

    • Well said, Martin. My first entre into much of this music was through re-issues, so they most certainly open the door for many of us. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh on them. My UCJU cost me around £25 maybe eight years ago, the Fontana £120 around five years ago from Intoxica before it closed.

      • Re-issues were my way in too. Some 35 or so years ago!

        I don’t think you’re too harsh on re-issues. I think part of the service you provide is an honest comparison of originals and various re-issues. I like it when you do your “What’s the alternative” sections in postings. So much so that I make modest attempts to do something similar in my own humble blog postings. Keep up the excellent work!

  9. I have the Tubby Hayes ‘Late Spot At Scott’s’ UCJU vinyl. Didn’t cost me a fortune ( I think about £40). An original is way out of my price range so I thought this might be the next best thing. Have to be honest and say it sounds ok to me, but of course I haven’t got an original to compare.

  10. Thanks for the overview. A previous post, the Cleopatras Needle sent me off listening to the youtube clips of the others I didn’t know in the Fontana Philips series & European treasures. Some attractive stuff, but it’s safe to say the Uk & Italy were at the forefront of modern jazz outside the US still back then, having heard bits of the others. Maybe it’s a language thing, and of course that Geraldo’s Navy idea. I’d like them all anyway I think unless I stumble upon originals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s