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Alan Kiger, trumpet; Dave Baker, trombone; Dave Young, tenor sax; George Russell, piano; Chuck Israels, bass; Joe Hunt, drums; recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York, October 18, 1960 recording engineer Ray Fowler, cover design Ken Deardoff.
Between 1960 and 1962, George Russell formed a sextet around his piano with five of his students at the Lenox School of Jazz, Massachusetts. The Sextet yielded the six albums below, two for Decca and four for Riverside.
A drummer turned pianist, turned band-leader, composer and arranger, turned educator, turned music theorist, Russell was instrumental in narrowing the gap between free-blowing jazz and written chamber jazz. He helped lay the foundations for the modal revolution and post-bop, which liberated musicians from the straight-jacket of Broadway show-tunes and the iron grip of chord progressions, though thankfully not everyone wanted liberating. There was still plenty of mileage left in those older forms, with their blues and soul foundations, snappy boogaloo beats and Latin influences.
In Russell’s 2009 obituary John Fordham puts his finger on Russell’s distinctive qualities: “ a pianist whose chord voicings still sound strikingly fresh, he had a way of accenting, like Thelonious Monk, that was totally unpredictable“. Russell’s balancing act was always to manage the discipline of composed structure, group-managed improvisation and individual expression.
LJC says: sometimes Russell works brilliantly, some times he’s just hard work.
The title calls the shots: stratus, a cloud at an intermediate altitude of 2 to 3 miles height, sets the cerebral stage; phunk, funk, but not quite as you know it: layered rhythmic construction, outer-galactic vibes, twisted bop memes, and somewhere briefly, a melody.
Vinyl: RLP 341 deep groove US Riverside mono.
In the early days, Riverside titles were pressed at Abbey Mfg. NJ. and Research Craft LA. However, presumably under pressure to cut costs, third party pressings began to appear, including oddities like Keel, Hauppage, and unidentified plants. Major independents liked to advertise their presence in the runout (Bestway, Presswell, PRC, Pitman), but not this one – no distinguishing marks, no stamps, no engineer initials, nothing but a pin-etched catalogue number.
Time to own up: the cover images for this post were Photo-shopped. The actual condition of the cover when purchased was as below. Delighted to find an affordable US original pressing here in the UK. I have always said I don’t care about cover imperfections, it is the vinyl that matters. Mind you, it is pretty horrid.
Pressing Matters: Vinyl Detectives On The Loose
The Interdisc company was set up in 1959 by Californian record distribution specialist Jack Lewerke, to provide European distribution for US labels that didn’t have the necessary licensing agreements. Those labels included Riverside, Contemporary and Fantasy, though not Blue Note.
Interdisc opened offices in Lugano, Switzerland, a perfect location on the southern shore of Lake Garda, home of splendid Verdicchio white wines (Trebbiano di Lugana), and an office in London under General Manager Alan Bates (who later founded the Black Lion record label.)
Interdisc organised licensing, vinyl pressing, label and cover print, and commercial distribution. This included the first European release of Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and Cannonball Adderley Riverside titles, for many, an affordable alternative to imported US records.
In the UK, France and Holland, pictured, records were manufactured for Interdisc by a local pressing plants, and for the rest of Europe, in Italy (see Postscript)
Interdisc was active between 1959 and 1963, when it closed down, and within a few years, Riverside itself closed, many of its artists moving to major labels with their own distribution networks. The distribution niche for Interdisc came to an end, but left us with a treasure trove of vinyl from this golden era.
Interdisc editions are the most common copies in circulation in Europe. With a few exceptions they used the same artwork and liner notes as the US release, and are identifed by the small footer on the back cover, shown below. UK Interdisc editions were pressed initially by Decca, then later by Philips, an important distinction to return to.
LJC reader Ankur from California noticed certain similarities between UK Riverside Interdisc pressings and US Riverside pressings. Whilst a number of my UK Riverside Interdisc pressings have a Decca matrix , a number have hand etched catalogue numbers, bottom left, similar to the US Riverside pressing of Stratusphunk. Until now I thought these were merely anonymous thirty party UK pressing, but I thought wrong.
These are both UK Interdisc Decca pressings, the same large pudding-basin pressing die of the time. The record on the right has the characteristic Decca machine drilled matrix, numbering convention A-2/ B-1. On the left, what can only be an impression from US original Riverside metal..
Before jumping to conclusions, the only Olympic sport at which I excel, another UK Riverside Interdisc was pulled off the shelf, RLP 12-311 Adderley in San Francisco. Ankur matched up these two Riverside editions, a dead ringer.
It revealed the same US pattern in the run-out, a pin-etched catalogue number, in the same hand as the US metal. In each case, R L P is written with a small letter L. More Riverside records down from the shelf, mostly Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley titles, revealed more with a US metal source. It seems Decca used original US metal for a good number of Interdisc pressings. A revelation.
Ankur also spotted an etched code, E|T or E/T, which I conclude is a UK Purchase Tax code. UK Purchase Tax codes consisted of two letters, one letter code, forward slash, T for Tax. The first letter code changed each time the rate of tax on records changed. These codes were usually stamped around the spindle hole or printed somewhere on the label, though some are not found anywhere
Record manufacturers kept track of the tax rate at the point of manufacture by stamping the record with a code, which helpfully dates the approximate year of manufacture. Only faintly visible in room light: UK Purchase tax code “E/T” which applied from Apr 8th 1959 until Aug 1st 1960, the time this record was manufactured.
At around the same time as pressing for Interdisc, Decca was being supplied with US metal by Abbey Mfg. to press Prestige recordings for the UK label Esquire. The Decca / Esquire/ Prestige connection is easily identifiable because RVG and Abbey Mfg. hallmarks appear on Esquire pressings. These are effectively Prestige “originals” without the price tag.
US Riverside metal source remains unknown to me. US pressing plants mostly have their own identifiers. (pitch Michael Caine voice) Somebody must bloody know something. The random selection of Riverside Interdisc Decca pressings pulled from Discogs includes some with original US metal, spotted by incidental reflections in the runout. No one remarked on it, looks like it is our secret.
In 1961, Interdisc moved manufacture from UK Decca to the multi-national Philips, who pressed these at their plant in New Malden, London or Baarn, Holland. Audiophile notice: without access to the original master tape, no original metal, Philips remastered from copy tape. It was standard industry practice, who would have imagined that sixty years later some “nosey old record collector with a fancy hi-fi” would call them out. You are supposed to take what you are given, The Industry knows best.
Pressing Matters: Original US Master vs Local Re-mastering
It is widely recognised that mastering from copy tape drops quality, at least one generation from the original tape, possibly more if the copy is itself taken from another copy, if not multi-generation copies. The quality of the tape source matters, but it is not the whole story, nor even the main story, but often presented as such.
This is rarely spoken about, just the province of lathe-trolls. Only the original US metal preserves the cutting decisions made on the original release. This includes the cutting engineer’s decisions on groove width and depth, which have an important impact on signal dynamics and volume, as well as obviously playing time. The wider the vinyl groove width, and depth of cut, the more bass and volume (gain) can be accommodated, but the shorter the playing time, and the closer the grooves approach the record centre, where information density per revolution decreases and distortion increases.
This topic has been been explored at LJC regarding modern audiophile reissues, and those anodyne vintage Japanese reissues, but discovering the use of original US metal for some Riverside European pressings, a close inspection of 1960’s Riverside Interdisc editions showed this issue has a longer history than I had thought.
I happened to have two copies of a Bill Evans Quintet recording, Interplay (1962, quintet featuring Freddie Hubbard and Jim Hall), one US original, below left, the other an Interdisc copy remastered in Holland by Philips, below, right. (One of the few titles where Interdisc has a different cover, stealing Bill’s picture from Portrait in Jazz, arguably more effective than Ken Deardoff’s off-topic abstraction)
Posting on these copies back in 2012, with rips, a reader noted that the Philips issue was “quieter.” Armed with new knowledge, it is not difficult to see why:
Same recording, same length of playing time, pictured at the exact same scale, significantly different size groove-area and “deadwax”.. It is not just about which tape was closest to the source, it is also about what the cutting engineer did with the tape. Philips engineers chose narrower more tightly spaced grooves, possibly cut more shallow, resulting in a quieter and less visceral pressing than the US original.
The original recording engineer of “Interplay” was Tom Nola, recording at Nola Penthouse Studio, NY. The US original grooves run virtually up to the centre label, leaving the briefest runout spiral groove. It is cut hot. Other US originals are similarly cut. Dutch Philips usually have a large run-out, as a result of narrow cut grooves..
According to engineer Glen Kolotkin (quoted on Hoffman Forum): “Went to a 2-track studio, Nola Penthouse Studio, in the Steinway Building, where we were doing big jazz sessions. Tom Nola used to record all these jazz players… We’d record the band, then we’d master it there; they had Scully lathes in the back“.
The lead-out spiral on the US pressing is indeed a Scully pre-set, as seen on many Van Gelder masters. Possibly mastered and lacquer cut at Nola Studio, after track selection, edit splices and all that business stuff, not after immediately after recording. Close, but who is the “we”? Perhaps Nola himself..
There are just a few remaining clues who mastered this hot Riverside, a mysterious circled M after the matrix code, not obviously related to the name Tom Nola.
And in the runout elsewhere another even more faintly scratched clue, the letters M M, possibly reversed (different metal stage), The circled M after the catalogue number has an emphatic first ascender, similar to the M M etching if reversed.
Discogs exhaustive and exhausting 30 page guide to common etchings lists many variants of “M”. and every other letter, but none which matches this case.
Here the trail goes cold.
The final stage of vinyl production is pressing. This US copy of Interplay (there may be more pressings at other plants) has a serrated edge, thought to be the pressing signature of Keel Mfg. Corp., Hauppage, NY. Possibly useful knowledge at some future date, but not particularly useful right now.
My thanks to Ankur of California for this interesting trip down a previously undiscovered rabbit hole, another advance for knowledge, and an opportunity to dust off my macro lens lens.
I am sure there are still a few twists and turns as yet unexplored, for another day, but with vinyl, guys, every day is an adventure.
LJC reader Dino sent me an unusual Riverside label a while back, The jacket bore the attribution “INTERDISK” but printed in England . Dino being of Italian origin, I guess, could this be the Italian Interdisc, pressed for the rest of Europe?
The term “Monophonic” is an anomaly, never used at this time. It looks like the Rights Agency under the SIDE number has been obliterated. Perhaps the Riverside label design was copied photographically from an old label (no INC.), for local printing, and unintentionally scooped up an inappropriate rights agency name, which it blocked out. It’s a puzzle.
Any sighting of Italian Interdisc? Any Riverside/ Interdisc pressing info to add? The floor is yours.
Rudolf adds sighting of a Contemporary Interdisc title; “not licensed for sale in USA.”