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Lee Morgan, trumpet; Jackie McLean, alto sax; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Herbie Hancock, piano; Larry Ridley, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 18, 1965, first released by Liberty in January 1967.
Having got the seasonal novelties out the way, Liberty kicked off 1967 with a tranche of serious Blue Note new titles. And of course The Three Sounds. I have all of them as Liberty originals, except one.
Music : Tone Poet
Recorded in 1965, this Lee Morgan album waited for release until Liberty. It has the customary spread of styles, from Cornbread, a boogaloo follow-on to Sidewinder, to sweet ballad Ceora, a swinging bossa, bluesy boppy, Most Like Lee. All provide a stage for soaring solos, but only so much groove space to go around. A worthy addition to anyone’s collection, and an excellent addition to the Tone Poet Series last year. (What I really want is Byrd In Flight!)
Morgan compositions, bar one standard. A muscular sextet with a generous sprinkling of Herbie Hancock, our man Higgins behind the drums. Finely mixed stereo set by Van Gelder, beautifully restored by Kevin Grey. This is how modern vinyl should sound, which self-proclaimed audiophile editions often don’t. TP’s are mastered from the original Van Gelder tapes, which is what matters. However it does have one contender – in my case, the original “monaural” 1967 Liberty edition. Reviewed back in 2017 here.
When I played them side by side for the rip, I find theTone Poet is sonically precise, very wide sound-stage, manicured, information-rich, lovely stereo presentation. But the 1967 monaural has fire in its belly, and punch in the face, dials running hot. Mobley out of the trap got me exited toot toot toot cascading blistering runs, his nasal wail, fabulous. It may be more coarse-grained sonically, less information-rich, the surface isn’t perfect, but it is pure bottled excitement.
I really like the presentation of the Tone Poet, but I like the excitement of the Liberty mono more. Not because it is mono, it is the visceral directness, and feels more 1965, . You may feel differently, and there is always the cost and difficulty of finding the original mono. Either is preferable to the alternative, save money and have nothing to listen to. I don’t recommend Nothing, it is by far the worst choice.
180 gram, very quiet surface like others in the series. Wide vinyl land to minimise distortion, as the tonearm approaches the centre label (did I get that right this time?)
More lively studio shots from Francis Wolff, though the sight of Lee’s cheeks blowing out, a la Dizzy, is umm… painful. The session photos bring the set to life, as it is on the vinyl. Apart from Hancock and Ridley, everyone here is gone, Jackie, Hank, Lee, and our man Higgins. But on the vinyl they live. This is art, and art never dies. Art is immortal.
I couldn’t resist one more Tone Poet, to complement my mono original Cornbread. An indulgence, but the three-M triumvirate :Morgan, Mobley, and McLean in my living room socially spaced between the speakers, for under £30, free delivery within two days courtesy of Amazon. It beats waiting in for groceries.
As usual, I like to have a look at the consumer reviews of a record, to see if I can get some insight into other listener’s point of view. Straight away there is the problem with consumer reviews.
“It is sonic fidelity, first and foremost, that defines the importance of masters”. “A master is the truest capture of a piece of recorded music,” said Adam Block, the former president of Legacy Recordings, Sony Music Entertainment’s catalog arm. “Sonically, masters can be stunning in their capturing of an event in time. Every copy thereafter is a sonic step away.”
This is not an academic point. The recording industry is a business of copies; often as not, it’s a business of copies of copies of copies. A Spotify listener who clicks on a favorite old song may hear a file in a compressed audio format called Ogg Vorbis. That file was probably created by converting an MP3, which may have been ripped years earlier from a CD, which itself may have been created from a suboptimal “safety copy” of the LP master — or even from a dubbed duplicate of that dubbed duplicate. Audiophiles complain that the digital era, with its rampant copy-paste ethos and jumble of old and new formats, is an age of debased sound: lossy audio files created from nth-generation transfers; cheap vinyl reissues, marketed to analog-fetishists but pressed up from sludgy non-analog sources. “It’s the audio equivalent of the game of ‘Telephone,’ ” says Henry Sapoznik, a celebrated producer of historical compilation albums. “Who really would be satisfied with the sixth message in.
The remedy is straightforward: You go back to the master. This is one reason that rereleases of classic albums are promoted as having been painstakingly remastered from the original tapes. It’s why consumers of new technologies, like CDs in the 1980s, are eager to hear familiar music properly recaptured for the format. Right now, sound-savvy consumers (LJC sniggers) are taking the next leap forward into high-resolution audio, which can deliver streaming music of unprecedented depth and detail. But you can’t simply up-convert existing digital files to higher resolution. You have to return to the master and recapture it at a higher bit rate.
But the case for masters extends beyond arguments about bit depth and frequency ranges audible only to dogs (LJC sniggers, high-end frequencies “audible only to dogs” matter, repetition of industry bs) . It enters the realms of aesthetics and phenomenology. Simply put, the master of a recording is that recording; it is the thing itself. The master contains the record’s details in their purest form: the grain of a singer’s voice, the timbres of instruments, the ambience of the studio. It holds the ineffable essence that can only truly be apprehended when you encounter a work of art up-close and unmediated, or as up-close and unmediated as the peculiar medium of recorded sound permits. “You don’t have to be Walter Benjamin to understand that there’s a big difference between a painting and a photograph of that painting,” Zax said in his conference speech. “It’s exactly the same with sound recordings.”
The comparison to paintings is instructive. With a painting, our task as cultural stewards is to hang the thing properly, to keep it away from direct sunlight, to guard it from thieves. A painting must be maintained and preserved, but only in rare cases will a technological intervention improve our ability to see the artwork. If you were to stand before the Mona Lisa in an uncrowded gallery, you would be taking in the painting under more or less ideal circumstances. You will not get a better view.
In the case of a recording, a better view is possible. With recourse to the master, a recording’s “picture” can, potentially, be improved; the record can snap into sharper focus, its sound and meaning shining through with new clarity and brilliance. The reason is a technological time lag: For years, what people were able to record was of greater quality than what they were able to play back. “Most people don’t realize that recording technology was decades more sophisticated than playback technology,” Sapoznik says. “Today, we can decode information off original recordings that was impossible to hear at any time before.”
The process of revisiting and decoding can transfigure the most familiar music. In May 2017, a new box set of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released to mark the album’s 50th anniversary. “Sgt. Pepper’s” is one of the most famous recordings in history, but the version most listeners know is the stereo mix, which was of secondary importance to the Beatles, their producer George Martin and his engineer, Geoff Emerick. It was the mono mix that consumed the Beatles’ attention, and it is to those materials that the box set’s producer, Martin’s son Giles, returned, creating a fresh stereo mix from the mono masters. “The job was to strip back layers, to get back to that original sound and intent,” he says. “The detail we can garner from the mix compared to what they could have done 50 years ago is fantastic.”
The result is a vivid new “Sgt. Pepper’s.” In certain quarters, the album has been regarded as twee, but Giles Martin’s mix reveals a burlier rock ’n’ roll record. The box set opens new vistas on the album’s themes and adds force to its pathos. The opus “A Day in the Life” sounds more ominous than ever, a portent of late ’60s chaos, of the storm gathering on the other side of the Summer of Love. These epiphanies would not have been possible without masters. “Working without the master tapes,” Martin says, “would be like a chef having to use precooked food.”
The “Sgt. Pepper’s” masters are kept in a secure location in London. The tape boxes are marked with recording notes that helped guide Martin’s mixing decisions. The tapes themselves feature additional recordings — alternate versions, overdubs, studio chatter — that were included on the rerelease. Tens of millions of copies of “Sgt. Pepper’s” have been sold over the years; it may seem precious to place special value on the original of a record that is so well known and ubiquitous. But the masters in the London archive are unique. They have greater fidelity than any copy of “Sgt. Pepper’s” that is out in the world. They have more documentation than any version anywhere. And the masters contain more Beatles music too.
The same is surely true of many masters destroyed in the Universal fire. John Coltrane and Patsy Cline music has not vanished from the earth; right now you can use a streaming service to listen to Coltrane and Cline records whose masters burned on the backlot. But those masters still represent an irretrievable loss. When the tapes disappeared, so did the possibility of sonic revelations that could come from access to the original recordings. Information that was logged on or in the tape boxes is gone. And so are any extra recordings those masters may have contained — music that may not have been heard by anyone since it was put on tape.” [ nyt ENDS]