Wayne Shorter: Etcetera (1965) Blue Note Tone Poet Series (2019)

Selection 1: Penelope (Wayne Shorter) Tone Poet Series (2019)

.  .  .

Wally Trautgott re-mastered a reissue for the Capitol Connoisseur series back in 1995, which happens to be the copy on my shelf. Wally has his fans, though I am minded to recall the controversy about the Connoisseurs, that they invoked the use of digital delay lines during mastering, which effectively turned the original tape into a digital copy (CD,) which copy then became the signal source for the new master. Judge for yourself.

Selection 2: Penelope – Capitol Connoisseur (1995)

.  .  .

Interesting to compare the 1980 LT series, but I don’t have it. However a Seventies UA vs Tone Poet comparison  will appear on another  title shortly. The Connoisseur sounds a little congested to me. You might have another opinion. I suggest you play just the opening notes on the TP, then on the Connoisseur. You can hear immediately the difference in soundstage.  Instrument location is totally different.

Artists

Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock, piano; Cecil McBee, bass; Joe Chambers, drums., recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 14, 1965

Music

Shorter, 1965, at the height of his creative powers, Hancock, Chambers and McBee, post-bop with an emphasis on Shorter’s austere compositions: economical, moody, sour, misty, beautiful. Penelope is a wonderful ballad, turn down the lights, open your choice of poison, and wash away the dirt of today. Does it for me.

This recording took place in the turbulence of multiple social and political conflicts: War on Poverty (Hands Up, hand out!), the Cold War, the Space Race, the Vietnam War, the Anti-War movement, the Sexual Revolution (we can have it all) , the Women’s Movement (hey, back off, buddy!) ….(lack of) Civil Rights, the rise of counterculture, psychedelic drugs, and long hair.  Never was there a better time to be – a cultural observer, from a safe distance.  None of which impacted on the War against Dull and Boring music,spearheaded by Blue Note.

I noted in my earlier review and I will repeat it here for the benefit of new readers, why this was so special a time:

“Modern Jazz musicians came mostly from modest, unpromising even no-account backgrounds, some schooled to repay their military service. They started young, and grew their talents by hard practice.

They were tested through a ruthless process of natural selection by which only the best were pulled up on board. No-one got a place in a Miles quintet or with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, a contract with Blue Note, Prestige or Impulse  because of their family connections, because they were a celebrities son,  to make up a diversity quota, or because of their looks. The only ticket of entry was the ability to play better than their peers.

The result is music born of extraordinary highly concentrated ability: ability to create music with spontaneity, energy, that swings, that excites, that explores, that satisfies, that communicates emotions, that dazzles our listening senses.”

I stand by that statement, written several years ago, it remains my explanation why modern jazz of this period is musically so special, ages well like fine wine,  and is to be found in the grooves of Etcetera, and among many other records issued in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s.

Vinyl: Blue Note 33531 “Tone Poet” series (2019), reissue of LT 1056 (1980)

When Blue Note released their “Tone Poet” series earlier this year, a lot of people asked what I thought of them. My initial reaction was that I already had most of the TP Series albums in their original release form, or they were by artists that didn’t interest me (Ike Quebec, Stanley Turrentine, Bobbi Humphrey, sorry).

Unlike the familiar Music Matters reissues of the classic Blue Note 1500 and 4000 series, what is different about the Tone Poet Series  is the focus on recordings by Van Gelder made for Blue Note in the Sixties but not released until the Seventies, by United Artists, thanks to the diligence of Michael Cuscuna.

When a couple of titles turned up which did interest me, this Shorter album, and another by Donald Byrd (both of which I had in earlier form) it seemed a good opportunity to test the waters. The interesting question was how Tone Poet Series compare with those UA  Seventies issues. Can Joe and Kevin bring something new to the party? I think they have.


We have the luscious wide stereo stage of Music Matters productions – music beyond the speakers rather than compressed between them.

The vinyl is inky-black silence, a pleasure in itself compared with the normal daily struggle with surface noise issues

There is no original Plastylite baseline for comparison, something that troubled me with some Music Matters reissues.

You get a lovely gatefold cover with Francis Wolff black and white artist portraiture beautifully reproduced. On some titles, you get artwork of Reid Miles design quality, which never previously existed.

The price is in line with the quality of the product, and I think is great value for money. I should add it was my money – these were purchased by me, not review copies.

If it is a title that hits the spot for you, the Tone Poet Series are equivalent quality to the MM33 issues, some may think better (vinyl material) at a similar pricepoint, but for recordings which have not been issued at this level of quality before.

Collector’s Corner

As if you were not spoiled for choice, all but one track, Toy Tune, appear on a 1979 Japanese issue mischeviously titled “The Collector”  (not LondonJazzCollector) reviewed back in 2016

I had this title and had not connected the two until preparing this post, lack attention to detail, feet of clay, LJC! I don’t have encyclopaedic knowledge. But fortunately I have accumulated sufficent alternative issues to make informed comparisons. I need to check this out, but I suspect the King Reissue will be soft and lacking tonal and dynamic range compared with the TP.  We will have to see what happens. I am happy with whatever happens.

Great thing about record collecting, you have no idea what my happen next. Exciting!

If anyone has experiences of the TP Series they would like to share, floor is yours.

LJC

 

 

 

 

26 thoughts on “Wayne Shorter: Etcetera (1965) Blue Note Tone Poet Series (2019)

  1. Did the comparison; back and forth back and forth. c95 almost sounds like mono in comparison, but seems to more dynamic (or compressed ?). It is easier to follow the bassline in the c95 pressing. TP sounds more real, with a wider and much deeper soundstage. Instruments sound more lifelike, with space around them. Timbre, tone, overtone all sound better. Bass does not seem as deep. TP has greater clarity. c95 sounds veiled in comparison, but OK if one has not heard the TP pressing.

    • Thank you for comparative observations, really interesting take. I think comparison is the key to understanding what is happening when we listen to different editions of what is nominally the same recording. You build a vocabulary of differences, an insight into what you are hearing. Without that, you have just one dimension, I liked it, sounded great to me, or not, nothing of any use to anyone outside yourself. There are some really terrific reissues now being produced, among a sea of third rate stuff over recent years that has been claiming to be terrific, but isn’t.

  2. I’ve tried two of the Tone Poets (Tina Brooks and Grant Green, both for a Sonny Clark fix if nothing else) and two of the 80th Anniversary pressings (Kenny Dorham and Herbie Hancock). Strikes me that Blue Note basically took a lesson from Music Matters folks and went high-quality pressing and premium packaging for TP and the Analogue Productions route (upper-mid quality pressing and packaging) for the 80th. Smart move on their part.

    As far as sound quality, I have been extremely impressed with the Tone Poet copies. Unfortunately, I don’t have alternative pressings to compare them with. But I can say that the 80th Anniversary pressings of Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas is heads and shoulders above the 1973 UA pressing I had previously. Not even close. The 70s pressing is so comparatively bright that it’s a cheese grater on the ears after the first half of a side. The 80th pressing is also less compressed. Both the Dorham and Hancock’s Inventions & Dimensions have rhythm sections that sound full and detailed – as a comment above noted, the drums and bass seem to be a point of pride on these mixes.

    Looking forward to the Jackie McLean title coming up next year. I wish they would do Mode For Joe again – the 75th anniversary pressing of that title was almost universally panned.

  3. Just for the record, the Steve Hoffman Music Blog has a long thread on the Tone Poet Series, which now stretches to … 309 pages.

    https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/tone-poet-jazz-reissue-series.795822/

    Seems this series has a lot of people punching their keyboards, everyone’s got something to say. Could be useful to anyone dipping their toe in, lots of other people’s experiences and opinions. Apart from collecting records, I collect wise old sayings. About other people’s experiences: The best way to learn to shave is on someone else’s beard.

    Thank you all for the comments, only another 308 pages to go to overtake Hoffman!
    LJC

    • I started the thread and regret it ever since. Discussions have become very unpleasant with members complaining about speed issues for approx. 75 pages. Joe Harley, the producer, decided to stay out this thread for good as did I. Funny, he did so a few years back on the MM thread but probably felt to give this forum another chance for the new series. But being confronted with self-proclaimed experts, who present a variety of graphs that supposedly prove that all TP have speed related issues and didn’t reconsider even after Kevin Gray insisted that his mastering gear is calibrated (or else all of this many masterings would be affrected), he couldn’t get out there fast enough.

      The SHF can be a treasure trove for pressing related information, but from my long time experience they (the members) can suck the fun out of music.

      Milan

      • Hey, I’m not a self-proclaimed expert of any kind, but after listening to the Tone Poet reissue of Black Fire and the 80th-anniversary version of Inventions&Dimensions it is obvious to me that something went wrong there.

  4. I think it was about time that Blue Note finally started to take its legacy as a producer of great sounding records seriously. It speaks for the people involved they did not go the easy route and re-released some of the major classics in yet another edition (though licensing deals with the boutique labels, MM et al. might also have prevented that?) but instead went for titles that have not been served very well in the past.

    Of course there might have been a reason some of these sessions were left on the shelves at the time. But I find that a record like Donald Byrd’s “Chant” with a very young Herbie Hancock, Pepper Adams and Doug Watkins, though it may have some parts that do not schwing enough, still has more good material than a lot of jazz that has been released since then (they knew how to say what must be said in less than 18 minutes a side. As soon as the CD made the five minute drum solo a standard part of proceedings things started to get unfocused (regarding studio session that is, drumming away in concert is a whole different beast). Perhaps we should also see these as documents of historical interest that are fascinating parts of a musician’s development. As such they might not be up there with the best of their recorded output but still are integral parts that help us to understand their evolution. If you are so inclined to work your way into an artist’s work. Of course shelf space is scarce and in case you’d rather concentrate on the really flawless ones these will not be your first pick.

    That being said, I had the opportunity to play the King editions of the Shorter (in its “Collector” guise) and Tina Brook’s “Minor Moove” against the Tone Poet series ones and can not say that the Tone Poet editions improved greatly on the Kings (at least on my deck, and that is all that I can talk about here). Still, with the Japanese King editions of the rarer titles these days being more expensive than the Tone Poets ones it is a great way to buy those titles you do not already have. (A minor quibble is that as beautiful as the gate-fold covers and extra session photos are these editions take up a bloody amount of space! I could put three Kind ones where one Tone Poet goes. And I have too little space already. 🙂

    In case anyone is listening who has a say: for 2020 we really need Andrew Hill’s “Dance with Death” and “Passing Ships” as Tone Poets! And there are other sessions that have never seen a release on vinyl yet. And I guess others might have other session they would like to see. Perhaps you can do a poll and then they will surely listen when the LondonJazzCollector website is having its say (hint, hint)?

    • Personally, I would love to see Tone Poet editions of:

      • Smokestack (I know there’s a BN80 of this coming next year, but even so…)
      • Andrew!!!
      • Pax
      • Change
      • Compulsion
      • Grassroots

      And the Hill + string quartet tracks from ONE FOR ONE.

      Passing Ships would be nice but I think that’s one of those BlueNotes that falls into the “shelved for good reasons” category — the ensemble playing is pretty ragged here and there.

  5. people should put there money where their mouth is. I will trade you any MM or TP pressing for an original. ALL DAY!!!!

  6. I haven’t been able to compare pressings like some of you above, but the TP issue gave me a chance to enjoy the tunes for the first time and the DRUMS just sound fantastic; I think it’s one of the best-recorded drums I’ve heard from Blue Note. It helps when the man behind the traps is a winner like Joe Chambers!

  7. I have a few of the TP releases and I do enjoy them. The Shorter and Andrew Hill releases are my favorites thus far. I have to express my disappointment with the Tina Brooks release. I’m not sure if it’s my copy, but the high-end sounds “fuzzy” to me. The cymbals sound distorted and have a hissing sound that disappears on the one ballet track. Has anyone else experienced this? Could it just be my copy?

  8. Hi LJC,

    fantastic post, as always. Thank you for the great photos.

    I have sone thoughts concerning the TP series I’d like to share.

    First, the choice of music: while “Etc.” By Shorter, the Chick Corea and the Sam Rivers title (and others) are absolutely great, some titles can’t hide their musical flaws. Tina Brooks’ “Minor Move”, the Donald Byrd title and some of the Turrentine’s/Donaldson and what not have been shelved or never re-released for a good reason. They are so much weaker than the best efforts by the respective artists.

    The covers: while the gatefolds are great and of high quality (as are the photos on the inside), I think that on too many occasions they did a mediocre job at trying to imitate/mimic Reid Miles’ design and vision. The Byrd title looks downright cheap, I would have much preferred the japanese cover from the 70’s/80’s. Not that those were great, but they don’t look as artificial (in my humble opinion of course).

    Also, while not being a mono purist, I don’t get why recordings from 1958 (as the Brooks) are presented in stereo, when it is so obvious that the seperation tears the soundstage apart and leaves a hole in the middle with bass and piano playing almost in a different room than the rest of the group. RVG in stereo before 1960 is a no-no in my book (but that’s a minor issue since I can always push the mono button).

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like this series and hope it will go on for several years, but since LJC asked how we feel about this series, I thought it’d be appropriate to share my criticism here.

    All the best,
    Milan

    • Very thoughtful points, Milan, thank you. I think a lot of us have issues with MM always opting for a stereo edition where the Van Gelder two track was clearly intended for a mono master. And you are quite right – some of these recordings were left on the shelf for a reason. I still think the TP Series offers a tactical upgrade path for a small range of recordings where we are looking for a better copy of a particular title we already have.

  9. Suggest you investigate the BN80 series also. AAA from tape to pressing. This is largely a reissue series, but I (and others ?) would be interested in your opinions regarding comparisons to original pressings. I have dipped my toe in, and so far I am impressed with BN80 series pressings. Price is less than a Liberty pressing of comparable condition, and some sound better.

    • I don’t have any original BN pressings and so can’t comment on a comparison between BN80s and originals. However, I do have some Music Matters, a few Tone Poets and some BN80s. I find Music matters and Tone Poets pretty much on a par — perhaps in some of those I have heard, the Tone Poets may even have the edge? The Chick Corea NOW HE SINGS, NOW HE SOBS sounds very fine indeed; Henderson’s STATE OF THE TENOR is a genuinely eye- (or ear?) opening record.

      By comparison BN80s sound a little thinner and certainly the few that I have seem to be cut on the quiet side. Even so, I think they represent decent value.

  10. I’ve bought a few of the the tone poet releases and all of them so far have been excellent pressings. I have one music matters which I bought second hand and unfortunately it has quite a few scratches – can only assume the original owner was a bit careless with handling.

    The BN 80 series is lower price than the tone poet releases and without the deluxe packaging.

    There will be another round of tone poet releases in 2020 as the 2019 releases have been such a success.

    For folks who can’t afford the pricey blue note originals, ie me, the tone poet releases are a great alternative.

  11. I have 2 TP and 2 MM and I am more impressed with the TP´s than the MM´s. The MM is nothing near the RVG pressed BN´s. TP is at least the half of the price than MM´s at least here in Europe. So in my book TP is the clear winner…

    • …for me it is really very strange that you have MM before liberty pressings in your guide to audio quality. Maybe I heard the wrong MM´S? I am usually very impressed with my liberty pressings.

      • I suspect it varies from title to title, and probably on the day of the week! I’m pitching a general impression based on just the titles I have. I’m more circumspect about Liberty nowadays, as between those with Van Gelder metal origin and those without – remastered from copy tape on the West Coast.

        • Sure there is a lot of variations depending on title. Worst thing is when you expect a pressing to sound great and they are just flat and dull. Best thing is when it is the opposite. But I guess low expectations is always a good thing. Thanks again for a truly amazing blog. Have a nice weekend all!!

  12. Don’t sell your copy of The Collector even if it sounds worse! The track “The Collector” does NOT appear on Etcetera–conversely, Etcetera contains “Toy Tune” which is not on the Collector. I have both, and have had all the versions of Etcetera. My opinion is that the Tone Poet sounds better then all of them. And frankly, all the Tone Poet/Music Matters lps sound better than my originals (no, I don’t work for them). On my system, it’s quite easy to tell that RVG compressed much more of the tape to accomodate the spottier turntables that existed in the USA at the time. The Tone Poet/Music Matters issues of these recordings are mastered on a much more dynamic range (lower bass in particular) and you can hear the difference. The Andrew Hill records are the most clear examples of this.

    • There may be a perverse relationship between the mastering and the playback medium, and certainly not one I understand. On a revealing analytical home audio system (cough, mine) the TP sounds very good and better than the Connoisseur. However, listening to their MP3 rips, on my mobile phone, via earbuds, the Connoisseur is a little louder and more immediate. The spaciousness of the TP soundstage doesn’t make it through the chain of connections, software, devices and in-ear speakers. Could be any number of confounding reasons, including the MP3 conversion, but it sounds to me that equipment quality influences sound quality, and that one record may play more “successfully” on different equipment than another. Thank goodness I don’t need to know why.

      I should add that comparisons can be very revealing as to which sounds “better”, however in the real world we often have just the one copy, and that sounds good enough for us, and we never know what we are missing. So we don’t miss it. However I have got used to listening to original pressings, which gives me a sort of “baseline” in my head how things can and ought to sound. As a result, I’m not very tolerant of weaknesses in transfers, or bottoxed finishes.

      • I think 🤔 you people are too picky! If I have a BN pressing from the 60s and it’s worth $300.00 that’s what record collecting is all about to me!

      • LJC, your comments pinpoint the differences between clean analogue, played back on a high end system, and digital. A HE system, optimized for vinyl, will retrieve that last smidgen of air and space around musicians, that sharp leading edge of a transient, the wisp of harmonic overtones from brass instruments that get lost during down resolution to various forms of digital. Yes the equipment can be must as much of a rabbit hole as the pursuit of classic pressings. But the rewards are synergistic and worth the effort. Taken together, one enhances the other. Better equipment allows one to hear more of what was captured, and analogue makes the job so much easier. Back to the subject: I have picked up several TP and BN80 pressings; all for less than $30 US. I know of no other way to acquire such high quality pressings at such attractive prices. These series are real competition for Japanese and Liberty pressings priced at much higher levels. The later may have more collector value (and will likely appreciate in value) but the former have considerable sonic merit.

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