UPDATED December 16, 2020: Harry M photo added foot of post – Art Farmer (1970) Horace Silver (1968).
Head to Head: Blue Note original, Toshiba Japan reissue. Japanese reissues are cheaper and more readily available, but are they worth it? Fresh new rips made the same day, same equipment, to help judge, you decide. But as you might expect, LJC takes a closer look at what is going on, delve into the mystery of mastering
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Selection 2: Pyramid – Toshiba Japan reissue, Stereo
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Art Farmer, trumpet; Clifford Jordan, tenor sax; Horace Silver, piano; Teddy Kotick, bass; Louis Hayes, drums; recorded Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, N.J., January 13, 1958.
The selection showcases a Hackenack recording by Van Gelder, featuring Art Farmer trumpet and Clifford Jordan tenor saxophone. As was custom in the late 50’s tracks are short. Billboard award only two stars out of four, the reviewer feeling Silver was constrained in the recording session. Always interesting to step back and see how events looked at the time. My take? Silver swings just fine.
The chemistry of Art Farmer and Clifford Jordan is a real asset to this session. Farmer is not often heard on Blue note, here on loan from ABC Paramount, and at Hackensack Van Gelder has captured his rich and sensitive tone. Jordan plays in a very mainstream tenor voice, rather nice, not yet the slightly “paper-and-comb” tone which evolved over the following a decade, the Clifford Jordan heard on Strata East in the early 70s. Here Clifford is still the old Blowing In From Chicago Jordan. His phrasing is tight, imaginative, and interesting.
The Farmer/Jordan line up was short-lived, as the following year Silver formed the more enduring front-line of Junior Cook and Blue Mitchell. Different careers, different trajectories.
Fellow jazz-blogger Flophouse Magazine contributed his own more erudite review of Further Explorations back in 2014. I agree with him, no need to repeat it here, save typing.
It’s a shoot out, there will be casualties, only to be expected.
- Original mono – 47W63rd, P, no INC. / ®, RVG, 9M.
The original Blue Note was released in May 1958, Billboard New Jazz Releases May 19, 1958. Original issue should be 47W63rd label no INC or R, deep groove both sides, ear and RVG stamp, no address on back cover. Further copies were pressed by Blue Note more or less continuously. Discogs show the addition of INC and ® to the 47W63rd label on one side (2), then on both sides (3), then the NY address (4) through to Division of Liberty, with both East Coast (5) and West Coast (7) printed labels, and finally the Division of United Artists classic undocumented replica edition (8)
Toshiba reissued this title first in November 1984, and again in December 1994, possibly also at other times. I can’t tell which this copy is, the obi and insert were missing on secondhand purchase, but from its condition and jacket quality I guess 1984.
Never intended for stereo, Van Gelder did not even prepare a stereo master. All repressings were mono up until Liberty issued the first stereo edition (7). An unwise format decision in my view, but one copied by Toshiba-EMI in the Capitol-driven Blue Note relaunch in the early ’80s.
Tone Poet edition gatefold – a Tone Poet edition was released in September 2020. LP not reviewed, but gatefold included here to whet the appetite. Got to love those Wolff studio portraits, life in black and white.
LJC Verdict: Hearing the recording in stereo is not an especially good experience, but not withstanding the stereo, Toshiba have drained the life out of Further Explorations. Soft, lacking punch, lacking sonic detail, the presentation is such that this listener rapidly lost interest in the music. However there is a happy ending of sorts.
I subsequently I picked up an original mono copy in an Ebay auction, for not much at all, mainly because the condition was talked down. Writing on cover, the usual idiot copying Horace Silver’s signature. Horace did it on one title so everyone then had a master to copy.. A low bid, surprisingly, hit the spot. True, the surface is a little noisy, but nothing too intrusive, and nothing that hides the rich full sound of Silver’s slightly unusual quintet, in interesting form. It took an original pressing to bring this session to life.
It is not necessary to understand why one edition sounds better than another – just make a judgement as to which you prefer, end of story. However that’s not how I do things at LJC. I want to understand why. Why does the US original sound so much stronger than the Japanese edition? It is the same recording, tapes can be copied at 30 inches per second on 1/2″ tape with negligible loss. The quality loss from copy tape – the usual explanation – is not sufficient to account for the comparable difference in sound quality of the vinyl. It is a stretch to think Toshiba were sent a poor tape copy of 300 titles. I think the answer is to be found in the peculiar qualities of all Van Gelder Blue Note recordings. Let’s venture deeper, I don’t see many footprints on this quest, clearly a less-travelled road.
Van Gelder developed specific recording techniques – close miking instruments, souped up microphones, peak limiting, and tape saturation. The result he wanted and acheived was an unusual sense of immediacy, as every owner of originals knows, “musicians in the room”. Those techniques generated high levels. Producer Bob Porter recalls Rudy “put more level (db) on an LP than anyone else in the business“. He would overdrive the electronic circuits on his equipment to obtain a superior signal-to-noise ratio, pushing the dials to the brink of distortion, both in recording and mastering. In plain English, Rudy’s LP masters were hot, louder.
It’s my guess that Toshiba engineers rowed back the brinkmanship levels of Van Gelder’s tapes, applying more cautious limiting and compression, and not boosting levels where Van Gelder did. The result avoided distortion but, effectively, killed the excitement. And they used the same process for each title. It was a production-line conveyor belt: ten Blue Note titles to re-master every month, continuously over a three year period 1983-6, over three hundred titles in all. No space for customisation, attention to individual titles, no recuts, just repeat the agreed process, meet the deadines.
It helps to understand how mastering lathes operate. A side effect of reducing levels is that the grooves can be cut closer together during mastering. Music at lower volume permits closer spacing, reduced “pitch” (space between grooves) , because quieter means less risk of overcutting neighbouring grooves with loud squiggles. Because the playing time remains the same, narrower grooves will occupy less of the vinyl surface, leaving a larger runout area at the end of play.
Comparison of the two runouts seems to confirm this hypothesis. Not only is the Japanese runout wider than the Van Gelder runout (Side 1 noticeably, Side 2 admittedly less so), the Japanese has a wider lead-in groove.Toshiba’s music grooves occupy a smaller vinyl footprint, because of their lower levels. Turning up the volume helps but does not fully restore what has been lost.
Taken on their own,Toshiba-EMI pressings are fairly acceptable, but mostly do not fare well in direct comparison with US originals. I think this is part of the reason why originals are so sought after by Japanese collectors rather than the more readily available Japanese editions. They know, even if they don’t know why.
LJC Readers: Answer Back
If anyone has any professional insight into Toshiba-EMI engineering practice, that would be helpful. I’m not an engineer, I think I’m onto something, but I’m just guessing. Also, if any readers have the recent Tone Poet edition of 1589, how has that worked out for you?
Comments welcome, the floor is yours. Well, it’s mine actually, but pull up a sustainable bean-bag, pour yourself an ethical cup of coffee, and spread out, let’s hear you.
UPDATED: Harry M has more photos – Art Farmer (Montreux 1970) , Horace Silver (Jazz Expo 1968)