Harold Vick: Don’t Look Back (1974) Strata East (Re 2018)

Selection: Lucille

.  .  .

Artists

Harold Vick, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; Virgil Jones, trumpet, flugelhorn (A1-A3); Kiane Zawadi, euphonium ( A1-A3); Joe Bonner, electric piano, piano, percussion, tuba; George Davis, guitar, flute (A1-B1); Sam Jones, bass (A1-B2); Billy Hart. drums, percussion (A1-B2); Jimmy Hopps – percussion ( B1;) recorded at Minot Sound Studios, White Plains, NY, November 1974.

Track List

A1 – Don’t Look Back (6:04)
A2 – Melody for Bu (7:22)
A3 – Senor Zamora (5:40)
B1 – Stop and Cop (6:38)
B2 – Lucille (9:20)
B3 – Prayer (1:05)

Music

Vick is among the more mainstream artists who recorded for Strata East, with a leaning towards soul jazz, found on another Strata East title with Shirley Scott, the excellent One For Me. (Harold Vick’s  “Keep On Moving on”)

Somewhere between Boogaloo and Cosmic Conciousness is Mainstream and this is reassuringly it. Vick was a funky, bluesy tenor who paired well with heroes of the Hammond –  Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Johnny Hammond and Big John Patton. He led just one title  for Blue Note, 4138 Steppin’ Out, in 1963, compared to around a dozen soul jazz sessionswith McDuff, for Prestige.  His tenor style is a dancing partner of the soul jazz organ: muscular, solid, playing inside the groove not out, absent tortured self-expression, but setting out his own engaging lyrical path and a tenor voice tinged with vibrato – not unlike another Strata East saxman, Clifford Jordan.The line-up is electro-acoustic – acoustic brass and woodwind, the piano is both electric and acoustic. The drums, accents and cymbal-sibilance are spread  across the width of the soundstage. The recording engineers were on the case, and the remastering engineer is on the same wavelength. Dynamic and tonal range is full, which is ultimately I guess what today  “audiophile” means, and not optimised for earbuds.

Vinyl: Pure Pleasure 2018 reissue of 1974 Strata East SES 7431

In Pure Pleasure’s own words about the label: “Sourcing the best available masters to work from, then over to spending stunning days with the experts at Mastering.  Air Studios with Ray Staff. Graheme Durham at the Exchange, Shaun McGhee at Abbey Road. Ron McMaster at Capital mastering in Hollywood, Kevin Grey at Coherant Audio.”

Harry’s Place

Harry M has the photos.

Harold Vick, Montreux 1975, with Shirley Scott Trio

Sam Jones, Copenhagen 1969, with Oscar Peterson Trio

Collector’s Corner

Tale of Two Labels: auction max –  Blue Note $700 left, Strata East $300 right

The Don’t Look Back recording session was held after Vick’s recovery from a heart attack in only his late 30’s. Another finally claimed him in 1987, too soon, at age 51.

This  “Musician’s Departure Timetable” prompted my comment in a record store, that “most of the people I listen to are dead”.  Whilst anatomically correct, the proprietor was a little taken aback at my clumsy expression. They were definitely all alive during the recordings. What I meant to say was I don’t listen to many living artists, That doesn’t sound much better, but in no small measure because they mostly put out their work on CD and download. And only occasionally, on vinyl.

Modern Vinyl Manufacture, UK

One living artist I have bought recently on vinyl was talented Manchester trumpet player Matthew Halsall, sort of lounge Miles Davis, a bit acoustic wallpaper, but nice acoustic wallpaper. Two double LPs, sealed, first time out of the sleeve, the pressings were filthy, grooves choked with dust. All four LPs in the same shocking Dusty Groove indeed. Under diffuse roomlight, unnoticeable, under LED, send for the vinyl police. If you don’t have an LED spot, get one now, it is an education.

The ten year old recordings had been remastered for a tenth anniversary reissue, sounded digitally sourced, missing much of the upper register – another engineer who had read those frequencies can not be heard. Was the original recorded source analogue?  The vinyl  output  is mostly midband and boosted bass, engineered for Millenials, smells digital. Each record had a code for digital download. I thought, why bother? I think that’s what I’m already listening to.

A friend bought another of Matthew’s albums, and immediately had to send it back as one side had  seriously faulty pressing. Is there no quality control in these plants? Perhaps the guys producing this are not themselves vinyl-philes.. It is vinyl,  and vinyl is cool, but ultimately just another format, according to preference. So the digital file source gets put on vinyl. You don’t know what you don’t know.

An eye-opener, UK modern vinyl manufacture is in a sorry state.The vinyl revival contains a large quantity of  poorly manufactured plastic quality. Audiophile quality manufacturing  seems the monopoly of Germany – Optimal who press BN 80’s, and  Pallas, who press Jazzman. Perhaps it’s the customers fault, unwilling to pay for a properly manufactured  product. You get what you pay for, though sometimes not even that.

With a few notable exceptions, engineering skills also seem to have been have been lost. The exceptions include Kevin Gray, who I am now convinced is the living reincarnation of Rudy Van Gelder.  In the UK, Caspar Sutton-Jones at Gearbox, Ray Staff at Air Studios for Pure Pleasure, Colin Young (CY Audio) for Jazzman and Pete Hutchison and his mastering engineers  for Electric Recording Company (ERC), £350 a pop, sold out before I finished typing his name. That’s what I call provenance, Hutchison apparantly flew between LA and London with the Bill Evans Village Vangard  tape in his personal custody.

In the  tiny sector of truly audiophile vinyl (stands  up to originals, or acceptably close) , I now include Pure Pleasure, ERC, Blue Note Vinyl Classics 80, Tone Poets, and Music Matters Jazz SRX. There is gold out there, take no-one’s word for it, trust just your own ears. And well, maybe trust mine. However there is still a lot to be said for “originals”, though deep pockets are  required.

POSTSCRIPT

Hey! Look what I just found! Pure Pleasure are proud sponsors of…

ENDS JUNE 4, 2021

https://sonicly.com/Projects/Experience/661/1695

  Impressive line-up  he said, checking the Musician’s Departure Timetable, yup, they all with us so far, few days to go.  Billy Parker’s still  got a good head of hair.  The hair is all in the genes.  Buster’s looking good, but no grey,  how old is the photo, Buster? Sorry Lenny, the hat is a giveaway, what you would conceal, you reveal.

Strictly ticket only streaming event.

There is probably also a super-level participation ticket, where you can jam with the band on Zoom  Personally I’ll spend on another Strata East reissue… pure pleasure, more lasting 

LJC

14 thoughts on “Harold Vick: Don’t Look Back (1974) Strata East (Re 2018)

  1. Andrew,

    Disagree with the Ray Staff/PP designation. Would add speakers corner, KG reissues their ATCO & ATLANTIC & COLUMBIA MASTERWORKS from ORIGINAL TAPE (see Michael Fremer article on analog planet).

    Also, I think you have to note add RKS @ STERLING and BG @ BG Mastering to that list, and possibly Chris Bellman.

    As far as best plants in the world right now, I’d say they are in the US: QRP & RTI. Pallas’ QC has fallen way of from 10-15 years ago. Have several discs of theirs with STITCHING artefacts from that group…should never happen, like surgery on the wrong leg. Optimal is very good, but as you stated, their BN80 pressings just don’t sound as good as RTI tone Poet.

    Also, as you may know, I’m a long time ERC customer and agree completely with your estimation of their esteem…but they don’t press at PALLAS OR OPTIMAL! Reason for it, I think so….and I don’t think it’s penny pinching.

    • Ray Staff/PP -I was a long-time sceptic from a distance, issues with undeclared sources, “best available sources” bs, but bought a couple for the first time recently, and was unexpectedly impressed. Fresh lively and dimensional. Maybe they were the only ones like that, a sample of two out of many hundreds.

      There is no way Air/Staff/PP have access to original tapes. They must be doing something with high-resolution digital files 24-bit/192kHz cut to vinyl, but with results much better than the CD-on-vinyl rubbish we have been served over the last decade. May be not up to ERC/KG standard, but welcome material on my TT.

      These are very important developments here, but no journalist coverage, other than Fremer. Welcome insight from anyone.

        • Useful information, thanks for the links. Notice some very careful wording among these by-lines: “Ray (Staff) cuts all the recordings whose master tapes are located in London”. A great number of Pure Pleasure issues will not have master tapes in London. So how does that work?

          There seem to be recent developments in audiophile cutting that differ from what some of these labels were producing a few years back. Speaker’s Corner was never rated in the past but now put up a convincing story.

          Some of the reader comments are quite contradictory – sounds great vs. worst I’ve ever heard. Audio quality is very subjective, depends on so many variables, opinions are not necessarily a good guide to how things sound.

          MMJ/KG, often include a picture of the original tape box, with RVG hand-notes, tracks and dates, so you know they had actual custody of the original tapes to cut from. Seems a simple thing, you wonder why others don’t provide photographic evidence of their sources. If it is cut from the original tapes, show me them.

          • You and I both know RR well. There is no question he only ever pressed from the original masters. The Golden Eight, for example, took him years to get that out of Germany. His musical and professional integrity are beyond reproach.

  2. Even though the Strata East performance is excellent Vick did record elsewhere before and after .
    He had a 3 record deal with RCA between 1966 1nd 1968 ,the best of which is” Straight Up”. He recorded as Sir Edward for Encounter records around 1972 doing R&B stuff and in 1974 the Muse release called Commitment which is a strong session. . I worry sometimes that people get hung up on the ” collectable ” labels and then miss some of the artists work overall.
    On Matthew Halsall I bought the double LP “When the world was one” a number of years back ,the sound was excellent but like yours it came with layers of dust , I still have to clean it before I play it.
    Great album though.

    .

  3. Harold Vick’s is one of the best Strata-East sessions in my opinion. It is a deep and spiritually grooving album. It reminds me a bit of the John Lewis/Ron Burton “The Waterbearers” LP from the same time period. I wonder who pressed these original Strata-East albums as they sound incredible. Dave Crawford mastered many of them, but I own 50 of them, and none has any pressing plant info. The vinyl is thick and the sound quality is fantastic, especially for a small private operation at the time. Any insight would be welcome information about this epic jazz label.

  4. I think that what you are experiencing on Matthew’s record is the collapse of the Western world or at least the vinyl world. There is such under capacity (over demand) that quality control is going out the window. I’ve had test pressings sent to me from all the major factories except Pallas in the last year and had horrendous screw ups from all of them. Optimal especially shocked me, but GZ – which vastly improved its output since the last vinyl shortage in 2014 – are also having issues again. I’ve been told that at least one factory has had a meltdown and no projects ordered now will be delivered before February next year.
    This is made worse by the fact that many indies are now surviving on the vinyl revival and are left with the choice of getting records pressed however they can, or simply shutting down. Whilst I can imagine that Universal can insist on quality control for releases I’m not sure whether Gerald at Jazzman would have that clout (And considering that the major labels are now suffering from not being able to get enough vinyl pressed would they sacrifice the extra care on Tone Poet releases for an extra run on the new Paul Weller LP or whatever?).
    As to engineering skills, there are still plenty of great mastering engineers out there, but you are right that vinyl cutting is a dieing art. At the younger edge of things Frank Merritt at the Carvery in East London is very good and Noel Summerville (who I had cutting all analogue chains in the 90s) is still doing his thing.

  5. By my count, Strata-East released 56 LPs over (roughly) a decade and there’s perhaps a wider range of styles in that relatively small number of records than people tend to realise. From this sort of soul jazz derived output by Vicks through to much more conscious, spiritual and politically charged material. The quality does vary but the intensity and interest never wavers. I’m still in the middle of a slow-moving and lengthy personal project to research original Strata-East pressings as some of the regular LJC readership already knows. So this is another opportunity for me to reach out to folks who might be willing to join in with my crowd-sourcing approach to collecting data.

    Moving on… I’m already signed up to that Strata-East 50th anniversary streaming event you’ve highlighted above and I’m looking forward to it with keen anticipation. Originally, pre-Covid, Tolliver and co were making plans for a physical in-person tour that would have included dates in Europe. However, events have overtaken that for the time being so I’m delighted that they have found some way to celebrate the anniversary. Though that delight is tinged with sadness because of Stanley Cowell’s death late last year. As part of my research I have had some limited correspondence with both Cowell and Tolliver and they were/are kind, dignified, intelligent, talented gentlemen.

    Ironically, Tolliver’s quintet was the last live gig I saw prior to the Covid era. They played a single night at Camden’s Jazz Cafe in November 2019 and were in glorious form. Band members on the night included both Buster Williams and Lenny White who will be part of the upcoming live streaming event and the all of the guys appeared to be in rude health. It’ll be great to see them team up with Cables and Harper (as well as the as-yet unknown guest appearances).

    • Martin, did you see the show at the Barbican a few years back? Tolliver, Cowell, Cecil McBee and Alvin McQueen. The first half of the show was astounding, one of the best live concerts I have ever seen, and had me fall in love with the composition ‘Effi’. The live version is better than any recorded, but that hasn’t stopped me enjoying the Max Roach, Bobby Hutcherson and Tolliver live in Tokyo versions. (and apologies, I know I was meant to send you some info from my Strata East records, I’m afraid a large part of my record collection has been in boxes since).

      • Dean I know exactly the show you mean but I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to make that one. Don’t feel bad about not getting to me yet on the Strata-Easy stuff. The last year and more of Covid life has messed with all our plans. I anticipate my project continuing for quite a while yet so you’ve got plenty of time! Great to see you’re still trying to keep business going though!

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