Too much British Jazz? Time To Go Home. But is home US, or Japan?
Selection: Vienna (C.Jordan) (long! 17:10)
. . .
Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone; Hank Jones, Piano; Reggie Workman, bass; Freddie Waits, drums; recorded July 25, 1978. (7月25日1978年)* at Media Sound N.Y., USA, recording engineers, Bill Stein, Carl Beatty; cutting engineer, Ray Janos.
*Japanese translation courtesy of Hitomi Sasaki Blumberg, and Ben Lefebvre.
Recorded in 1978, one of about two dozen direct cut recordings in an audiophile series by EMI-Toshiba for the Japanese home audiophile market. Other titles in the series include a potpourri of rock, pop, latin, folk, and jazz, fun for exploring the limits of a good hi-fi system.
The main subject of attention here was not intended to be the artists performance, which is consummately professional and polished, but the potential audio quality improvement from omitting the studio tape recording stage altogether, recording directly on a blank acetate. However before we get to that, this East World record offers one welcome musical bonus.
After splurging on Clifford Jordan’s personal masterpiece Glass Bead Games (Strata East) and hungry for more, I had been trying – without success – to source an original copy of Jordan’s first Strata East album, Clifford Jordan In the World.
Recorded in Spring 1969 and released 1972, In The World is rare, expensive when found, usually only found in the US, and not without some recording issues. According to the Jazz Times review of the Mosaic’s 6-CD Clifford Jordan’s Complete Strata East Sessions (grrr! CD-only, Mosaic!)
“For all its conceptual ambition, the finished product is middling; the ensemble sounds under-rehearsed and Wynton Kelly, prominent in the mix on a badly out-of-tune piano, seems stymied by the raw material.”
Strata East’s Clifford Jordan In The World devotes 17 minutes of side one to the Jordan composition “Vienna“, which also happens to occupy 17 minutes of side one of Hello, Hank Jones. But on the East World album you have a perfectly rehearsed ensemble, the same Clifford Jordan, a relaxed Hank Jones in command of a well-tuned piano, and beautifully recorded to direct disc. Trebles all round! Now, back to the subject of direct-to-disc.
Wiki: “Technically, direct-to-disc recording is believed to result in a more accurate, less noisy recording through the elimination of up to four generations of master tapes, overdubs, and mix downs from multi-tracked masters. The method bypasses problems inherent in analog recording tape such as tape hiss” (LJC adds: or engineer’s attempts to suppress tape hiss – a solution generally worse than the problem.)
Toshiba-EMI said of their Direct-to-Disc series, that it offers:
Wide Dynamic Range
Going direct to disk means “soft” sounds are never buried under noise and distortion from tape machines. The relationship of “soft” to “loud” sounds retains its original freshness.
Far Less Distortion
Tape add phase shifts, intermodulation and transient distortion and other problems to spoil the music. The more tape machines and editing manipulation, the less music comes through the distortion.
At first, you might “miss the hiss”. Turn up the volume on any good stereo system all the way and there still isn’t any noise on the direct disk (except what might be added by your system)!
Immediate Transient Response
Audiophiles and audio engineers have different names for what music lovers call “transparency.” In technical terms it is “transient response” and on direct disks, it is so high that the original sound is reproduced without muddiness. Also, direct disks contain no phase shifts, which means every instrument and vocal has a definite location in the stereo sound field.
The maximum number of copies of every TOSHIBA/EMI direct disk is strictly limited. There’s no risk of poor quality due to mass production. These recordings are true “collector’s items” in every sense.
Pretty convincing arguments to me, but there are some major down-sides. Direct cut recording to acetate has to be one continuous take. That means no editing, over-dubbing, or re-mixing, no false starts, or overruns. It requires a group of musicians performing perfectly for twenty minutes, right first time, or start over. Some Blue Note tracks required over 20 takes “to get it right”. Of course Take 20 might not have happened in a direct-to-disc session, pressure to settle for less, artistic compromise, and arguably, it tempted the musicians to “play safe” (or alternatively to play better!)
Probably one of the few thing I agree with Steve Hoffman on – “Why put the burden of doing 20 minutes without stopping just to bypass the tape recorder? Sacrificing performance for the sake of sound? Only in the world of audiophiles!” Steve, you say “audiophile” like it’s a bad thing. It can be very pleasurable thing to hear, given the right performance. You can have both, it is not necessarily an either/or thing.
Direct -to-Disc also imposes a problematic constraint on the length of compositions. Of the three tracks here, Vienna is spread over one complete side, probably why Jordan chose it. The other two songs run in one continuous sequence on the other side. The time constraint becomes the master: so to speak, the tail wags the dog, .
Ultimately, Direct Cut offered a unequal trade-off between audio quality improvement, which not everyone was motivated by, and an artistic straight-jacket, which actually sealed it’s fate. Within a few years, the music industry would chose the opposite direction of travel, by reducing audio quality, in exchange for convenience, through compact Evil Silver Disc. And with a few exceptions, it has been in a downward spiral ever since.
Vinyl: East World EWLF-98003 Soundphile Series EMI-Toshiba Direct Disk
Though recorded in US, the Soundophile series was pressed Japan. The runout shows the originating acetate stamp “mediasound” with what looks like regular Toshiba matrix stamps.
The recording has an engaging, live feel to it, with a rich and detailed presentation: Jordan’s full melancholy vibrato on the tenor, deep supple bass, rippling percussive piano, and all the complex tonalities of the drum kit thanks to strategically placed microphones. It sounds very good on a revealing vinyl/tube system, though possibly some is lost on it’s journey to pc/mp3.
AllMusic summed it up, I’ll let them have the last word, for now.
” Like all direct-to-disc recordings, this long unavailable LP is a limited edition that was in short supply and difficult to find even when it was issued. Any jazz fan fortunate enough to locate a copy decades later will enjoy the performances and marvel at the warm, very intimate sound achieved by the musicians and the engineers on that summer day in 1978.”
Our friends from Japan may see something of note on the insert. Recording date translation has been helpfully sent in by readers, many thanks.
Translation from the insert, thanks to Hitomi Sasaki Blumberg:
“Clifford Jordan came to Japan in 1963 with he Max Roach combo as tenor player. At 1969, many tenor musicians followed John Coltrane, but he played Sonny Rollins style. He is still playing “Hard Bop” style. Hank Jones is one of the great jazz trio players, and he is the best player among hard bop sessions.”
Direct Cut Technical Datasheet
I count nine microphones to capture this quartet, including four alone for the drum-kit – which is why “bootleg quality” recordings don’t cut it. The Steve Hoffman maxim doesn’t reverse – sacrifice audio quality for performance. You need both.
There seem to have been various flirtations with Direct-to-Disk over the years, Lee Ritenour’s JVC Sugar Loaf Express is somewhere on my shelf, though I doubt I could tolerate it musically today, whatever the audio quality. The other problem I have is spelling: is it Disc, or Disk?
Forty years after the East World Soundphile series, the story of Direct-to-Disc cutting resurfaced this Summer with the oddly-named British record label Chasing The Dragon, run by former BBC sound engineer Mike Valentine. “Chasing the Dragon” usually refers to smoking rather than injecting heroin, but this Dragon chaser is a specialist audiophile label, issuing principally classical music, some recorded in an acoustically-dynamic location, like Vivaldi recorded in San Vidal Church, Venice (burble-burble-wook-wook!)
Mike has been experimenting with binaural, and direct cut for the last couple of years, and demonstrated their new direct disc development at the High-end Audio Show at Ascot Racecourse, East Berkshire in October last year. Not being a classical music lover, the point of interest for me was the inclusion of one of Britain’s most well-regarded (living) jazz musicians, the trumpeter Quentin Collins. They were recorded direct to disk at Air Studios, Hampstead, a studio founded by Beatles impressario (Sir) George Martin, with good credentials.
At the audio show, we were treated to an A:B between a direct-to-disc recording and one recorded simultaneously to tape and mastered conventionally. Direct cut had a significant added freshness and immediacy. Most of the artists spinning on my turntable are long deceased, but Quentin Collin’s All-stars Quintet sounded very impressive on my first hearing. (His current album Road Warrior on vinyl is another story!)
The direct cut album” A Day In The Life” Quentin Collins Quintet, will be released early this year. I offered to review the album, hopefully soon, and you will be among the first to read all about it. More on the recording sessions in Air Studios from the Reel-to-Reel-Rambler. LJC caters for all sorts, but this is definitely one for the sound engineers.
UPDATE January 21: It is going to be a long wait for the dragon-direct – the pressing run emerged faulty – all discs were pressed with a warp, in the same position, I guess a stamper issue, and now in dispute.