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
Selection 1: Pyramid (Silver) – original Blue Note, mono edition
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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.
Contrast the width of the vinyl land/ runout between the original Blue Note Side 1 (top) and the Toshiba-EMI Side 1 (bottom). Further Exploration of the art of vinyl mastering, in Collector’s Corner.
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)
Awfully great RVG “investigation”, hats off to you. Thanks for the link, much appreciated. “Erudite” makes me feel rather middle-aged, sipping 15 year-old Red Breast pot still whisky, lighting a Van Maurik cigar near the fire-place, flipping the page of a ragged old Downbeat magazine, which… damn, sounds very much like yours truly except for the fire place. Plenty of fire on the hot grooves of Blue Note. Salut, Flophouse François.
To be honest, I like “hot” pressings, regardless of who put them out. If there are issues with the recording/playback process, I try to correct them in my mind and do the next playback in my own head, up to my preferred standard. Sometimes, if the recording is too perfect, I get bored.
Came to think that during this 1958 recording I think Rudy was still using two different Reel To Reel recording decks . So two different master tapes in that case and a potential for different sound. Later in 1959 or so he used only one machine and did a fold down on the fly for mono cuts.
I have 4 or 5 orig blue note pressings. I used to lust after them until I heard the sound. would agree the midrange is boosted quite a bit; almost bordering on too much. The other key consideration is the vinyl used was not the greatest. As a means to judge the originals, the Japanese pressings from Toshiba-EMI or King Records, on the titles that are available, I ;usually the Music Matters or Acoustic Sounds 45 RPM releases, for comparisons. would think these sound closer to the original tape than any of the early and late US releases.
Yes I would agree that the MM probably sounds closer to the master tape. But one thing we must not forget is that RVG was the whole chain from recording to cut laquer. So when Rudy recorded – he had already the cutting in mind. So in a way the recorded tape is only half of what he delivered.
Sorry going to have to pipe up here. MM doesn’t sound like the master tape at all, that sounds far more like the released masters.
It’s worth remembering that the audiophile releases are the first ones that don’t sound similar to originals, all other mastering engineers have produced an approximation of the RVG / Alfred Lion sound.
And secondly – and I think this is an important point – Rudy didn’t produce these records, Alfred Lion did. Blue Note originals sound very different from Prestige originals (and also from Impulse) and the reason is that Albert wanted the records to sound a different way from Bob Weinstock did (or Bob Thiele)
MM, Tone Poets etc sound very good, but they are masters to give an audiophile experience – stereo, better distinguishing of each instrument – and to do that they apply a hell of a lot of mastering.
Dean, I’m sorry I don’t understand what you are aiming at? What do you mean with that “the master tape sounds more like the released masters”? You mean like the release records – the OG’s ? That they sound more like the master tapes?
If that is what you mean I don’t really agree since Rudy made adjustments when he cut the laquer:
1.Cut low bass
2. Increase Mid Bass
3. Cut highest treble
4. Push the midrange somewhat.
Rudy used “compression” in the sense that he cut the records hot i.e. as loud as he could especially mono cuts. Making the sound loud and Exciting and seemingly Dynamic.
That is an alteration of what is on the Master Tape. Right?
I’m not saying it’s better or anthing – I’m just saying that it’s an alteration that Rudy (and possibly Alfred) wanted to make the finished product as exciting as possible. And they succeded IMO.
I’m saying that Rudy engineered the tapes to fit how the record would end up, and a flat transfer of a Blue Note tape is far closer to the sound of an original record than recent audiophile masters.
I think Rudy’s mastering notes were deliberately put out there to suggest that he fiddled with the masters a lot when he cut the record and to suggest that what MM does is somehow purer.
All mastering engineers will have notes like Rudy’s, that is the point of mastering.
For comparison it would be good to see Rudy’s mastering notes for say a Prestige session or an Impulse session to see what he does then.
It was stated that his mastering for Blue Note was done to compensate for the state of hi-fis at the time, but it seems to me just as likely that it was done because Alfred wanted then to sound hot.
Yes you are quite right! And you seem very knowledgable too. It would be very interesting to see what mastering notes there is on other Labels that Rudy recorded. FYI Rudy is not really my go to hero recording guy – for the classic jazz I would go towards DunAnn or with more recent Bruce Swedien. It would also be interesting to sit beside Kevin Gray and see if he used any equalization or compression when he cuts the Tone Poet series….who knows we might be surprised 😉
One interesting thing about RVG is how he seems to fall from grace when he recorded for Cti and the sound changed so much to many listeners. What really happened here. Or how he promoted digital as a superior medium for recording etc etc.
I have the king pressing of Further Explorations from 1978 in Stereo and it sounds great!
If it sounds great to you, it sounds great, that’s fine. To make the opinion more useful to collectors, one question – which other pressings have you compared the King with?
I have made several comparisons between TP and 1st/early pressings. BN80/TP pressings tend to have a wider stereo spread, with greater deep bass and treble clarity. Backgrounds can be dead silent or close. OTOH these pressings sound less dynamic (adjusted for volume) but more detailed. In my room, these pressings seem to put me further into the audience or room…..say 15-20ft away from the performers. If I were to use one word to summarize these pressings it would be relaxed.
First pressings are more dynamic (adjusted for volume), and have more visceral “drive”. Stereo spread has a narrower focus, and musicians sound more cohesive. Deep bass is low in level, and mid bass is prominent but not detailed. Treble can be loud, but you also hear rolloff. In my room, perspective seems to be 10ft or so away from the action….close to front row with much less space between you and the music. If I were to use one word to summarize these pressings it would be dynamic.
While it may sound like I prefer the original pressings, don’t be so fast to jump to conclusions. I did a comparison between Kenny Dorham Trumpetta Tocatta BN80 vs NY Ear pressings. There were parts of each I preferred. There is a bass solo by Kenny Davis deep in side one. On the first pressing, it was a bass solo, nothing remarkable. On the reissue, I could hear up and down the neck, all notes were reproduced and it seemed like the musician was front and center. You could hear movement behind and around him, and a few cymbal strikes that were prominent but did not detract. The sense of presence was very strong, even if the overall perspective was farther away.
Hard core collectors (most of us who comment on your posts ?) are intimately familiar with “the Blue Note sound”. How much of that sound is the result of RVG capturing what was played and then manipulating what he captured to fit within the limitations of the medium he was working with?
The real question is do we want a better version of what we are familiar with, or do we want a more accurate representation of what was captured on the master tape ?
Well written and I share your findings. But most jazz vinyl lovers are not familiar with OGs and the True Blue Note sound. Anyway. RVG did his thing and Joe Harley has described it quite well the adjustments Rudy made.
1.Cut low bass
2. Increase Mid Bass
3. Cut highest treble
4. Push the midrange somewhat.
Rudy used “compression” in the sense that he cut the records hot i.e. as loud as he could especially mono cuts. Making the sound loud and Exciting and seemingly Dynamic. It really jumps out of the speakers. The recordings were also quite hot and overpowering mics for Blakey etc. Well in reality he made a lot of things that are not “hifi” today. Many still love the result and I do too but I also enjoy the TP’s and the more modern cuts.
As just a vinyl enthusiast, my view of japanese vinyls, including blue note and prestige, is good sound quality and no surface noise for price but is boomy, exaggerated bass and dry, brittle high note. Sometimes, there is more constricted, veiled sound rather than original press, even liberty press or 70s press. I had owned over 300 japanese jazz vinyls but changed to original vinyls now. As you explained before, best of japanese vinyls is early Toshiba press (LNJ series, late 60s or early 70s press). Next is King press. 1980s Toshiba press is not good sound quality. I prefer 70s blue black rather than early japanese press like LNJ and King. Weight, groove width and handling of sound quality might be a little different from original recording. I used to visit Japan to buy a lot of jazz vinyls before Covid 19 pandemic. I think that japanese vinyls are best alternative to very expensive original vinyls. Recent reissue like Tone Poet, MM, AP have same limitation, IMHO.
South Korea, bbjazz.
Tone Poet explains itself on this matter:
If you are really on a budget, you’d foster these people.
But if you are digging crates, and find a ‘cheap’ mono Liberty re-issue with a van gelder stamp, that of course makes your day. LJC guiding between budget and authenticity.
Joe Harley’s comments seem to be about Blue Note records in the first place. I think Prestige RVGs sound a lot different to begin with. Much better bass.
I just said this in a post higher up. It’s incredible how people put the Blue Note sound down to RVG, when both Prestige and Impulse records recorded and mastered by RVG sound very different. These records were produced by different people and Rudy was very clear that Alfred Lion was very important in creating the unique sound of a Blue Note.
I’m a little over passionate about this at the moment, as I recently inherited a couple of hundred Prestige records mainly from the 60s, and spent the last two months listening to them (I know its a tough life)
True Dean, the Prestiges and blue note have a slightly different sound. Rudy himself admits that he was experimenting with the sound for some labels and playing it more safe with others….But to say that AL created the Blue Note sound is not correct IMO. Sure he had an opinion what he liked and said ok to, but it was old Rudy that built the equipment, placed the mikes, turned the dials, applied the ecco and changed the tone curve and also cut the laquer. So I would give Rudy much more credit for that.
Anders if you don’t want to take my word, take Rudy’s – if you have any of the 1980s Blue Note reissues with the printed inner I think he says exactly that in a quote in those notes.
I’m taking nothing away from Rudy who I think is the greatest jazz recording and mastering engineer. But his role is as a someone hired to do a job, with Blue Note he created the sound that the label wanted, and by all accounts Lion was a very hands on producer.
In all the discussions that I have seen in recent years regarding Blue Note from audiophile circles the role of the producer seems to be completely ignored, which is to ignore one of the most important people in the creation of the sound of the record.
Yes interesting I read an 80’s inner bag stating that it is really Alfred Lion’s “sound”. Quite right. on the other hand there was also the earlier history that Alfred also, before he met Rudy, had listened to some of his work and asked his engineer to get that sound als the engineer reportedly answered that Alfred would have to go to the guy that recorded that sound originally i.e. Rudy. So it was a match even before Alfred could tailor Rudy I guess.
Andrew, this is the best blog ever and I stop by every day to learn something new but I am still missing a post of Mobley’s Soul Station. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge and your posts have been a superb help when collecting jazz records.
When it comes to Japanese blue notes I stick with the King pressings, much better than any of the toshiba, not even close…
Your critique of the Japanese pressing is one I have their pressings in general. Very analytical or polite to use another descriptor but lacking the umph one gets from the originals. They have always worked as place holders or review copies to see if they warrant the higher cost of originals.
I’ve never compared the deadwax between Japanese copies and OGs but not surprised based on the science of cutting them.
I am not sure how to interpret your “analytical or polite’ surmission. I’ve often read that attributed to stereo equipment, and found this description of anything audio-related vague and at times lacking any kind of substance. No offence to you of course.
Can you explain what you meant?
Your Toshiba pressing is indeed from 1984. The Toshibas from the 1990s have small “BN” catalog number printed under the main catalog number on the labels. It appears that when Toshiba reissued this in 1994 they did it in mono.
I’ll go one step further, LJC. I think your hypothesis is not only correct, but almost follows from common sense now that I read it. Well argued.
I have the Tone Poet of this title. I’ve found that Tone Poets, for the most part, fill out the mids and bass that may have been sucked out of later pressings – in other words, they add the rhythm back. I’ve used the Tone Poets and parallel BN 80/ Classic series to replace many (tho not quite all) of the Japanese and UA Blue Notes in my collection. The Tone Poet Further Explorations kicked a non-Gelder West Coast Liberty to the curb.
Having said that, there have been no titles released in either of the two new series that have yet allowed me to do a direct compare/contrast with any earlier pressings I have. That should change once Songs Of My Father comes out earlier this year – I have a first pressing stereo and very early Liberty mono of that title, so can get a sense of how things stand.
Apparently the Tone Poet is stereo (81589 on sleeve). Too bad, why don’t they reissue it in its original format?
Because Joe Harley & Ron at Music Matters firmly believe the stereo issues are preferable as per the MM website. Personally I think it depends on the recording and instrument positions within each recording as to which is best; I don’t necessarily believe mono is always better or visa versa.
I agree absolutely mono/stereo preference depends on which works best for each recording. I love a good stereo soundstage, it is not about mono being “better”, but it is very difficult to listen to a Van Gelder 1957-58 two track tape intended for mono, offfered as “stereo”, when it is not how Rudy intended to use it.
Dear LJC, I’ve read your ‘onto something’ hypothesis with great interest! That is the main message here 😉 And I take away lessons like “risk of overcutting neighbouring grooves”. ..Now I’ll let ‘the floor’ to the more technically acquainted followers of your site.
Albin ‘roadjazz‘ Hunia, NL