New Release Blue Note Classic Vinyl Series – Hank Mobley’s Soul Station, in stereo. As is usual at LJC, we go under the surface into some of this recording’s vinyl history, strictly for nosey vinyl collectors.
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Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Art Blakey, drums.; recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, February 7, 1960.
Four Mobley compositions, two standards.
Track List (Wiki-links)
|2.||“This I Dig of You”||Mobley||6:25|
|3.||“If I Should Lose You“||Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin||5:08|
The rhythm section is impeccable, Blakey, Chambers, and the authority of Wynton Kelly, unmistakable rhythmic propulsion, exceptionally strong both in comping and solo. All the tracks are polished, well crafted, and relaxed.
Perhaps too relaxed? For me, it is not Hank’s strongest album, possibly an unpopular opinion but I stand by it. I prefer Hank’s slightly later titles like Roll Call, Workout, and No Room For Squares: less soft-core bop, more memorable compositions, more muscular, and a little more fire. However you can not have enough Mobley, it is all good, Hank is my man, the chocolate-malt tone, the original inflection, unpredictable twists and turns, always interesting, and occasionally, on fire. Well, definitely smokin’, as on some of his covers. I mean, who wants a non-smoking cover?
Mobley is more exposed In this quartet format, and he doesn’t stray too far from the straight and narrow. On Roll Call, Freddie Hubbard adds another brass voice and a layer of greater harmonic complexity, as do Lee Morgan/Donald Byrd on No Room For Squares, which also brings in Andrew Hill/ Herbie Hancock, more probing and percussive piano. The expanded front line demands Mobley be a little less relaxed, less laid-back. Hank plays his best when pushed.
Kevin Gray’s customary silky mastering, panoramic presentation, and Optimal have done a very clean pressing, no faults (unlike recent TP)
Van Gelder early stereo, hard panning. With a quartet, once the decision has been made to put the lead instrument, the horn, on one side, options are limited to shuffling the rhythm section around, none very satisfactory. When Blakey is just time-keeping, stuff is belting out from the centre and
right left, there is not much happening on the left right channel. Makes me want to walk up to check a cable hasn’t dropped out. (My L/R channels have somehow got cables swapped)
This session was recorded in early 1960, to two-track tape intended to improve the mono mix, and avoid duplication in tape splicing, not intended for stereo. Kevin Gray’s very wide soundstage even emphasises the primitive stereo. Initially I wasn’t keen on the presentation, but after a few plays, a shrug of resignation, it is what it is, which may be a price worth paying because the Vinyl Classic convinced me that Hank is actually in my room, next to the speaker, tootin’ away. Beer, Hank? Not while I’m workin’, LJC. Umm…something… stronger?
Two years after the sale of Blue Note, Soul Station was issued for the first time in stereo. Normal Liberty practice, copies were manufactured separately on East and West coast. There was no Van Gelder stereo master to work with but they did have Van Gelder’s original two track tape.
The Discogs entry for the first Liberty Stereo 84031 happens to be the East Coast pressing, which conveniently has “9-19-68” etched in the deadwax , which nails manufacture to later Liberty. No VAN GELDER in the deadwax, so Liberty had another engineer cut a stereo master, who likely had access to the original tapes held on the East Coast. The back cover declares “electronically re-recorded to simulate stereo”, a painfully honest claim that does not mean “fake stereo”, in this case, it means a stereo edition newly created from two track tape.
By a stroke of bad luck, I happened to have bought long ago a West Coast Liberty stereo pressing. Bert-Co printed labels, and nothing in the deadwax apart from the catalogue number, in a small precise hand (also seen before). Research Craft routinely remastered Blue Note reissues from copy tape sent from the East Coast, hence no VAN GELDER stamp, resulting in a tape generation loss, and comparatvely lacklustre delivery.
While there were separate stereo masters cut for the East and the West Coast pressings of Soul Station, only one engineer had access to the original tapes: for the East Coast pressing. Whether they used them is an unanswered question, but why would they not?
Stereo Liberty, East Coast
Keystone labels, “Electronically Re-recorded To Simulate Stereo”, back cover Artist and Title set in Bodoni (as original Blue note), runout “9-19-68” etched in the deadwax, no RVG stamp, most likely an All-Disc pressing, very possibly mastered from the original tapes.
Bert-Co labels, simply “stereo”, tracks add timings, address 1776 Broadway/ 6970 Sunset Blvd, back cover artist and title set in same sans serif font as front cover Venosa design, runout simply BNST 84031-A/-B, no other markings, most likely Research Craft remastered from copy tape, and their own pressing.
The Discogs entry for many Liberty issues/reissues is often only one or the other Coast, rarely if ever both. This overlooks the critical distinction of an edition’s mastering source, which is at the heart of the latest TP and Vinyl Classics editions, mastered from the original tapes, not weasel words like “from the original tapes” (everything is), or the meaningless “from the best available sources” (Pure Pleasure)
Pure Pleasure are a UK Twickenham, Middx -based label that claim “mastered by Roy Staff at Air Studios”, Hampstead. A studio founded by George Martin, “the fifth Beatle”, Staff is a consultant to Air Studios. Air employ half a dozen engineers, most of their projects are vintage electric rock and pop restauration (Bowie, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones, Clash, Black Sabbath) riding high on British pop history. The old electric pop stuff was never audiophile anyway. Why would you want The Clash in your living room? Nostalgia isn’t audiophile. When I went to see Deep Purple at Faifield Halls, Croydon, 1970, audiophilia was last thing on my mind – it was a beer at the bar during the drum solo.
Even “mastered from the original tapes” is not in itself enough, is it is done badly or with the wrong equipment. With Kevin Gray’s latest studio output, and theoriginal Van Gelder tapes, we are now just a close distance from “perfection” though there are still occasional issues in manufacture.
About that alternative cover, Bob, can I have a word?
Alternative cover design by Forlenza Venosa Associates – Bob Venosa, a former art director at Columbia Records – based on a literal interpretation of the album title. “Soul Station” is a soulful musical journey, not a ruddy railway station. That image sandwich of a station and Hank’s face is just awful, not even of the “so bad it’s good” school. Who approved this? My Office, now. Whatd’ya mean no office now, working from home, Zoom-me?
It was not Bob Venosa’s only tangle with dual-perspective transparency sandwiches, a peculiarly 60’s design style which Venosa brought to several Liberty Blue Note albums, including Soul Station and Blue Mitchell’s Heads Up, which, unsurpringly, shows Blue with his…head, up… perched shades.
Discogs has 62 entries for Soul Station, including those low gain reissues from Japan. There are many other stereo reissues, including a shonky Capitol Manhattan. This Capitol/EMI copy I bought, innocently believing the sticker, an “AUDIOPHILE PRESSING” (1997) 180gm., allegedly “Mastered from the original analog tapes”. This is what gave “audiophile” a bad name.
Busy runout, etched “G/Re 1” (Grundman Reissue 1?) MASTERED BY CAPITOL stamp. Who knows what processes went into this “180 gram UK pressing” over 20 years ago. Even if someone in the process had access to original tapes, they can still make a dog’s breakfast of mastering it. My listening notes: “low gain, compressed, sounds weak like a CD”. Likely mastered through a digital delay line from the original tapes, then remastered in UK from copy of the digital re-master tape. Audiophile pressing my arse.
Bringing its stereo lineage up to date, Soul Station was reissued last year on SRX vinyl by Music Matters, and I would not be at all suprised if Kevin Gray’s master for that issue has just enjoyed a second lease of life The BN Vinyl Classic may be among the few true stereo vinyl well-mastered from the original tapes, the dynamic and tonal range is perfect.
Though the stereo placement can be a little off-putting, taken as a whole, at this price, Soul Station Blue Note Vinyl Classic is the definitive stereo edition..
The Original Beauty! (Sniffs cover, air of 1960, coughs )
Auctions separate the audiophiles from the collectors – the original Soul Station issue comes in well over the £1,000 mark, and seems to be the Collector’s Choice, outside of the super-rareities (BLP 1568 still topping the league table by a mile).
A peek at Popsike threw up an interesting Soul Station auction history. The top auction price for Soul Station, at over $5,000, is double the next highest but both well ahead of the pack. Moment of madness, or jiggery pokery? Take a closer look at the two auctions, both 2020, 14 June and 29 November, remarkably similar apart from the final price:
Both auctions denominated in UK Pounds Sterling, both pictured all-in-one diagonal jacket/viny/sleeve, mounted on the same posing-jig, by the same window frame/ catch light to emphasise the laminated cover, exactly same choice of wording, including double asterisks for emphasis. I don’t think there is any doubt it is the same UK seller, and the same copy of Soul Station in both auctions.
It is not unusual to see a record relisted on Ebay due to non-payment, shortly after the first auction, but in this case six months later? It’s a stretch. The other way you could have this copy to sell in November, using near identical pictures for both listings, is if you were both the seller and winner of the first auction. Jiggery-pokery?
The final auction price is set by the second highest bidder, so two oversize bids would have to be placed to lock in the final £3,679 price . This record routinely sells in top condition at $1500-$2,000. Why would a collector bid over $5,000 – double the going rate, insurance and possibly customs charges on top, and always the risk of a “problem” and return, let alone two real collectors over-reaching double the previous high. A coincidence too far?
Holy Moly, did these bidders not get the memo? It is coming out on Blue note Vinyl Classics at £20. See the top auctions:
I found just one sensible audiophile collector alternative, issued by Liberty in 1966. It is mono and pressed by All-Disc, from Van Gelder’s original master metal, RVG stamped. It is very desirable. There is just one catch.
The 1966 Liberty RVG mono edition is actually more rare than the 1960 original, I’d have it like a shot. If a Liberty RVG mono came up for auction. I wondered, would collectors recognise its merit and how much it would fetch? It is indeed rare, I found just one Ebay auction result in about the last ten years.
Despite the seller running it down -“ Liberty pressing, not deep groove, no ear, “r” “ – throwing in the RVG stamp, but hoping a ” 61st St” back cover address might bamboozle some niave punter, may be a dozen collectors could see a real trophy within their grasp, and one took it at a sensible price, a price which nevertheless probably suprised the seller.