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Studio Version (Ursula, from Black Marigolds/ Gilles Petersen compilation)
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Don Rendell, tenor, soprano saxophone; Ian Carr, trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Garrick, Piano; Trevor Tomkins, drums, Dave Green/ Tony Reeves, bass. Recorded live at University College Student Union Hall, London, December 12, 1966, private recording by one “George Foster”, remastered in 2010 by Michael King at Reel Recordings, Canada, from the original analogue tape.
Reel Recordings, a now defunct Canadian label run by Michael King and his wife Miki Dandy, from 2007 to 2013.They seem to have a specialty in remastering British vintage amateur recordings. Here left, their esoteric collection of British jazz acts in the 60s. Familiar cover design? The cover of Live at the Union is quite lovely atmospheric black and white.
Another “lost private recording”, issued around ten years ago, which captured a live gig in the very early years of the Don Rendell, Ian Carr, and Michael Garrick Quintet. I have struggled to like this album since I bought it recently.
I have the highest respect for the musicians, and their EMI Lansdowne sessions are superb recordings of wonderful music. But this is a lost session that probably should have stayed lost. The side Trane ‘s Mood bears no relation to ‘Trane – just word association. The side “Webster’s Mood” is an excruciatingly pedestrian 12-bar blues, with far too long piano section which could have been bettered by any blues pianist. It gives me no pleasure to say, but it is self-indulgent and badly recorded, everything about it is poor, it was never intended for critical exposure.
The merchandising shouts audiophile deceptions: “glorious mono!”, “live atmosphere!”, audiophile technical processes in manufacture, 180 gram vinyl, proceeds to charity, all of it “hype”. This is about the fourth recent “lost album” I have the misfortune to acquire, and it has taught me a few lessons, perhaps somewhat late in the day, which I will share.
Only two things matter with a vinyl record: artistic performance integrity, and engineering quality. I think of those stories of Van Gelder driving out night before to set up Cafe Bohemia or The Jazz Corner Of The World, marvelous recordings. If it doesn’t tick both these boxes, it should not see the light of day. This “lost tape discovery” fashion has become a distraction to well produced proper music.
Vinyl: Stamford Audio STAMLP 1006 double 180g LP in deluxe gatefold sleeve.
I had to dig deeper to separate the real stuff from the smoke ‘n’ mirrors. (Dons Sherlock deerstalker, lights pipe)
The original Union session tape was apparently remastered using a high-tech process of “glass mastering”. For the uninitiated (which included me), this is technology developed for the digital reproduction of CD and Blue Ray discs. Instead of the traditional vinyl master cut onto metal-based acetate, a coated disc of glass forms the base for the master disc. The music/information from the source is engraved on this glass master with minimal risk of atmospheric contaminants present, because the process takes place in a “Class 100 clean room” – a standard in which there are fewer than “100 particles (0.5 microns or more) per cubic foot of air”. This compares to a typical office environment of a 500,000 particles or more per cubic foot. And that is since they kicked the smokers out into the “fresh air”, so they can mix their nicotine with car exhaust.
Metal stampers can then be pressed from this exceptionally clean glass master, to press vinyl in the usual way. This standard of cleanliness may be a requirement of totally accurate transfer of digital 0 and 1 data in blue ray discs. For analogue vinyl, who knows if it is relevant. It certainly can’t do anything which improves the original recording.
That limitation is the audio quality of the original tape. This is down to three unspecified fixed mics plugged into a domestic-speed tape recorder located in the Student Union hall. “3 &3/4 inches per second!” That is simply the normal speed of a domestic tape recording machine, not the professional standard of half inch tape running 15 or 30 inches per second.
The use of three mics sounds promising (no mention of type of mic) but I suspect the reason for it being a mono recording as late as 1966 is not in pursuit of “glorious mono” but a consequence of necessity, because there was no mixing facility to control the input of each mic in either real time or post production. The mics were fixed position and gain throughout, and merged together, because it was never capable or intended to remix the final product.
Sometimes Garrick’s piano is too loud, and Don Rendell’s sax too distant, and the end result is fairly lo-fi presentation of an amateur recording, nothing of audiophile quality, despite the hype: specialist glass mastering, from the original amateur tapes to 180 gram vinyl. An aside, I paid a premium for a sealed copy, which ultimately is of no account, given the quality of the source. Lot of lessons learned!
I don’t know who the recorder of the session “George Foster” was, perhaps a friend of the band, as the tape ended up in the possession of Michael Garrick. I think not a professional recording engineer, who knows? If you do, please contribute.
When I was at University in those days, the guys in Stage Admin regularly recorded each Saturday night gig at the union, placing microphones under the stage. Sunday morning was a hive of activity copying the tapes for friends of Stage Admin. At one time I had a copy tape of Pink Floyd performing Piper at The Gates Of Dawn. Lo-Fi indeed, but we didn’t care, we were young, it was our time.
Is There A Future for Lost Recordings? Van Gelder vintage recordings reissued in all-analogue processes, spine-tingling. I figure there must be still more unissued material in the Blue Note vaults. Hundreds of recording sessions, Van Gelder at the dials, condenser mics strategically placed, this is where I would be panning for gold. Deep mine the Blue Note vaults for unissued recordings.
Note: regrettably, new posts will be somewhat infrequent in the immediate future. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, but In the meantime, there remains a back catalogue of 900 previous posts, something for everyone. Comments always open.
LJC – October 6, 2020