Howard McGhee: Dusty Blue (1960) New Land reissue (2022)


Selection: Park Avenue Petite (Golson)

.  .  .

Artists

Howard McGhee, trumpet; Bennie Green, trombone; Roland Alexander, tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams, baritone saxophone; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Walter Bolden, drums; recorded NYC, June 13, 1960

Track List

A1 Dusty Blue
A2 Sound Of Music (Rogers & Hammerstein)
A3 I Concentrate On You (Porter)
A4 Sleep Talk
A5 Park Avenue Petite (Golson)
B1 Flyin’ Colours
B2 With Malice Towards None (McIntosh)
B3 Groovin’ High (Gillespie)
B4 Cottage For Sale (Conley – Robinson)

Music

The musicians include Bennie Green (trombone), the little-known Roland Alexander (tenor sax) and Pepper Adams (baritone). Add the pianist’s pianist, Tommy Flanagan, and Ron Carter on bass, a wonderful line up, giving the arrangement a tonal richness, with McGhee’s plaintive lyrical trumpet floating over the top.

Many of the compositions have popular melody lines with lyrics, which McGhee coaxes from the horn, embellished with grace notes, quarter-notes, rests and vibrato. McGhee is classed as a “bop trumpeter” as opposed to “post-bop trumpeter”, but that historical distinction tells little of his strengths as a trumpet player: he excels in narrative: story-telling and mood.  

The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years . . .

Whenever skies look gray to me; and trouble begins to brew,
Whenever the Winter winds become too strong,
I concentrate on you .  .  .

A little dream castle; with every dream gone; is lonely and silent; the shades are all drawn. And my heart is heavy; as I gaze upon
A cottage for sale .  .  .

The piece-de-resistance is in my view the smoky cityscape composition, Park Avenue Petite, by Benny Golson. Golson had a flair for distinctive and memorable tunes which enriched the playbook of jazz standards with “Blues March”, “Whisper Not”, and “Killer Joe“. This talent assured him a long and fruitful career in arranging background music for ephemeral film and TV. When last I looked (Wiki) Golson is still with us, at 93. 

Bethlehem Records was founded around 1953 by Gus Wildi. They did not usually credit the recording engineer on their sessions, though the label’s major artist singer Chris Connor reveals the young Tom Dowd as her recording engineer:

The (Chris Connor) recording sessions took place on August 9th and 11th, 1954, at the Fulton Recording Studios at 80 West 40th Street. The engineer was Tom Dowd, who would go on to fame with Atlantic Records a few years later.

Dowd’s early career is largely undocumented and begins – on the record – with Atlantic, where he spent 25 years (Coltrane and others). Creed Taylor departed Bethlehem for ABC-Paramount in 1956. The same year, McGhee recorded another album for Bethlehem, Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries, engineering credited to Johnny Cue and Frank Abbey.  By late 1960, when Dusty Blue was recorded, the ownership of Bethlehem had been diluted, and by 1962, the label had faded from view. Who engineered this album remains unclear, and where.

The ownership of the Bethlehem catalogue passed through many hands over the decades, as entrepreneurs reissued the catalogue on 8-track tapes, and then on CD (Audio Visual Entertainment Inc., 1999). Finally in 2015 the Bethlehem Catalog fell into the hands of the Verse Music Group, a subsidiary of BMG (Bertelsmann Music Group) and BMG Rights Management, ostensibly a licensing operation who may or may not have custody of original tapes, copy tapes, or digital copies, or more likely, nothing at all beyond legal title. No photographic evidence of the original tape boxes has been offered, never a good sign. 

Vinyl: New Land 004 (reissue 2022)

Printed & pressed at Pallas, Germany. “Mastered from the original tape transfers

Insert: Howard McGee © Burt Goldblatt.  Lovely black and white printed portrait, though an orphan loose insert.

Collector’s Corner: The Long Journey of Sound Quality 

Kevin Gray is a modern-day Van Gelder, and the recent output from his studios is probably, maybe definitely the best quality of modern reproduction I have heard. Still, the editorial decision to go stereo hangs heavy over some recordings made on the cusp of the transition, but Gray’s work is difficult to fault. 

I produced this thought-piece (hat tip Reid Miles design) to help get clear in my mind the reissue process. 

Every step is important. If it is a great artist performance, captured with the best recording tools and techniques at the time, mixed artistically right, then the original master tape is the best source you can get. It is still possible to mess up getting that sound onto disc, down to the skills of the acetate cutting engineer – lathe controls, playing time vs groove-width and separation, groove depth, limiting, compression and bass extension. Pressing plant operations are also important – virgin or near-virgin vinyl, adequate weight vinylite biscuit (140-gram plus), bone-dry labels, good fill, stamper wear not exceeded, quality control. Finally, the equipment on which you play the vinyl obviously has a role in the quality of sound. Your ears, and your mileage, may vary.

Two things make the least contribution to audio quality: being licensed and being pressed on 180-gram vinyl. The biggest contribution is the skill of the original recording engineer, and the mastering/cutting engineer (who may be one and the same). 

The mastering/cutting engineer is constrained by the sonic quality of the source material. Original tapes that have survived may require careful restoration, such as oven-baking to remove moisture. If the original tapes are lost or unavailable, the next best available source may be a copy tape – safety/back up copy, or studio archive copy; digital file of some format or other, or last resort – a needle-drop. 

The mystery is the insertion of the word “transfer”, which means an intermediate copy. The Hoffmen have been exasperated by the opacity of the description ever since the New Land Gerry Mulligan Night Lights reissue.

Q: How do you know it’s not AAA?      A: If it was, I wouldn’t assume it, mentioning tape “Transfers”. But I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

What’s “the original transfer”, oxymoron: “an original copy”?

Chad Kassem (Acoustic Sounds): “some labels use the term “From the original master tapes” deceptively. “The question is, ‘Was the original master tape used to cut a lacquer or to produce a digital file?’” he says. “If the vinyl record was cut using a digital file, then it is deceptive to market a record claiming it was sourced from the original master tapes. They skirt the line by saying this, as sometimes they transfer from an analog master to a digital file.

When did the “original transfers” occur?

A timeline visualization of ownership and technology changes is often helpful in focusing attention on the crucial dates. Bethlehem’s catalogue  changed hands many times through to the mid 70s, far too early to be suspects in the loss of original tapes. The first digital editions appeared quite late in the development of the compact disc format – not until 1999, when a “Bethlehem Archive CD Series” was issued, and Japan went into overdrive. This is the most likely point at which the first digital transfers would have occurred.  Earlier would have been no use but here was the commercial incentive to digitise. 

LJC speculates: The involvement of Verse Music and BMG look unrelated to technology changes, and more related purely to licensing business arrangements. There is no evidence of the existence or use of original tapes beyond 1999. There is no credible chain of custody beyond mastering for CD. PCM-related digital technology was music industry standard format, there was no business reason to preserve tapes once they had been transferred  to a permanent digital archive. The purity of information held in the analog tapes was lost forever, the transfer quality forever frozen in the technology of 1999. That’s my take.

Shoot Out

For all its imperfections, I prefer an evidence-based comparison, rather than the “sounds great to me” sample of one. The benchmark is the Bethlehem original, supplemented by vintage Parlophone mono, released around the same time. Thanks to LJC reader Freejazz we have an original Bethlehem comparator, though the rip is made on different equipment, so that’s an unknown variable. Particular thanks to New Land, for bravely supplying me with a review copy. 

This time, you tell me what you hear.

A.  Bethlehem BCP 6055 original 1960 mono

.  .  .

(Courtesy of FreeJazz)

B. UK Parlophone  PMC 1181 (E.M.I. Records) circa 1961, mono 

.  .  .

C. New Land Reissue (2022) stereo

.  .  ..  .  .

 Listener’s verdict:  The most obvious difference is the application of a judicious measure of reverb during mastering of the original copies which is missing from the modern reissue.

Reverb is crucial in adding “atmosphere” and natural ambience to a studio recording. The giant EMT 140 reverb, introduced in 1957, consisted of a metal plate suspended by springs, inside a 4x8ft case. Sound passed through the plate causing it to vibrate, adding large room ambience to the whole recording, which is picked up by a transducer microphone. The effect was usually post-production, applied during mastering, and not present on the original tape recording, or in this case, not present on the digital transfer. One of the strongest arguments for “original vinyl”!

It raises the interesting question whether modern reissue producers have actually heard their rival, the original vinyl? Given the insurmountable difficulty of acquiring original vinyl, let alone feeling any need to, in the timescale and budget of commercial production, it’s a counsel of perfection, which I suspect never happens.  That thankless task is left to a few vinyl crazies. . .

UPDATE: LJC reader cuyahogabirdie has information that the source of this New Land/Kevin Gray recording is a DSD file – Direct Stream Digital. First I have heard of this, but I have no reason to doubt it, thank you.  I’m not familiar with digital formats or their merits, so I summarise this explanation of DSD from What HiFi:

What is DSD audio?
Back in the mid-1990s, DSD was conceived as a way of archiving old analogue recordings. It was designed to be a simpler, more space-efficient way of storing digital music data than PCM. Importantly, DSD was also designed to be easy to convert to PCM files with sampling rates based on multiples of 44.1kHz.
DSD uses a single bit of information, and all this information tells us is whether the current sample of the analogue waveform is higher or lower than in the previous one. Compared with the over 65,000 different values 16-bit PCM has, the two values (0 if the new sample if the signal is lower or 1 if it’s higher) of DSD appear mighty limiting.
That resolution shortfall is made up by the very high sampling rate of over 2.8 million times a second – that’s 64 times the speed of CD. DSD fans claim the format is as close to analogue as digital gets.
There are issues with DSD. It’s not very practical to manipulate a DSD recording. All the things that are required post-recording such as equalisation, editing, dynamic range control and adding reverb usually involve the DSD stream being converted to PCM to do the processing and then switched back.
When it comes to measurement, DSD also has issues with high levels of noise compared with PCM. Clever processing techniques allow the engineers to shift the noise above our hearing and optimise the performance and dynamic range in the audible region. The high-frequency noise is generally filtered out.

DSD is around the same as 24-bit/88.2kHz PCM.

I can’t offer any insight into the quality of a DSM from this explanation. Sampling a substandard unit of information 2.8m times a second gives you a very very detailed picture of a substandard unit of information, but maybe I am not understanding it right.  Being the digital format that is “closest to analog” does not tell you how far short it falls of analog.  The second-placed horse in a race may be a nose, or three furlongs behind the winner. Being “best of a bad bunch” is not much of a recommendation. Most vinyl-audiophiles can hear a difference between analog from original tapes (AAA) and digital sources immediately. 

On the face of it, the original tapes (or a copy of them) must have been available at least in the 1990s, the time in which many original recordings were being remastered for CD. Is this the moment in time this DSD original transfer was created? With digital technology in the ascendant, and perceived by the industry to be “superior”, had original tapes served their purpose, and no longer needed to be preserved?  Still so many unanswered questions.  Anyone able to offer more insights, please throw them in.

Kudos to New Land for bringing this great recording to vinyl. The original Bethlehem edition sounds better to my ears, but remains impossibly out of reach, certainly in excellent condition, or at an affordable price. The music of Dusty Blue is terrific, the performance impeccable, and it would be shame to be without it. Could be a good interim copystep until you come across that elusive Bethlehem original in mint condition in a thrift shop box, for a few bucks. 

LATE NEWS UPDATE:

Pharoah Sanders (RIP) passed away yesterday 24 September 2022. One by one, the remaining giants fall, an awful inevitability.  Celebrate that at least, their music will live forever, as long as we have ears to hear. 

 

LJC

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32 thoughts on “Howard McGhee: Dusty Blue (1960) New Land reissue (2022)

  1. Hi, I love the presence and dynamics of your needle drop recordings, can you please tell me what your set up is? The cartridge, turntable, phono and recording device. I present a Jazz radio show in Melbourne Australia and my recordings don’t sound as good as yours! My radio station only has digital so i can only record my vinyl to use it on the show.

    Thanks for your time Harry

    Like

    • Hi Harry

      The final output rip posted on my website consists of an ordinary 320kbps MP3 file, which is the maximum resolution and format that the WordPress embedded player supports. The rip signal source is the tape-out phono sockets on the pre-amp of my domestic hi-fi, passed to a Citronic AC1-USB Audio Capture Device connected to a laptop running Audacity software, which performs the rip.

      Nothing special in the Audacity, standard settings stereo MP3 320kbps output, no denoising or click removal processes, which can mess-up the upper frequencies. A few clicks are snipped manually if they are intrusive.

      What it sounds like is of course a due to all the preceding processing, which is far from ordinary. The source, starting with the vinyl:

      Moving Coil cartridge: Dynavector TKR (elliptical stylus) Tonearm: SME 5 Turntable: Avid Acutus Reference – belts changed every two years Valve phono amp pre-amp and power amp – all valve custom-built with high-end user specified components eg Black Gates, PS Vane Mk2 valves, Furutech sockets; All interconnects high-end multi-strand, rhodium-plated fuses, multiple power-conditioning units, balanced mains power supply, dedicated hifi mains circuit

      Fair amount of Voodoo in the power supply and maintenance processes like demagnetising the cart moving coils every two months.

      Everything is analogue except the final rip, which is of course digital. A picture worth a (few thousand) words

      Hope that helps

      Best Andrew LJC

      Sent from Mailhttps://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=550986 for Windows

      Like

  2. I haven’t heard the ‘Dusty Blue’ reissue, but I can give my two penny-worth on the New Land issue of Mulligan’s ‘Night Lights’. Several people on the Hoffman site seem to have blind faith that Kevin Gray worked from the original analogue master tapes and one innocent (or gullible) soul goes so far as to posit that the key phrase should be read as ‘Mastered from the original analogue tape, transfers by Kevin Gray.’ To be precise, the sleeve notes state ‘Remastering by Kevin Gray’ and two lines later ‘Mastered from original analogue tape transfers’ . So this must surely be interpreted as either analogue copy tapes or digital transfers, not original analogue master tapes. As to the quality of the sound, I compared the 1972 Japanese Fontana issue to the New Land issue. The latter is noticeably less well defined, lacking lively tops. Both are in stereo, but to quote a more discerning contributor from the same forum: “I found an earlier Japanese pressing that sounds much better. It’s a 1972 pressing that has a generally brighter and more open soundstage with a more tight bass”. Respect due, Kevin Gray has done some great work, but remastering depends very much on the source material. The market for supposed audiophile quality vinyl represses, and special or limited editions is now massive, and not all record companies/labels are as scrupulous as they could or should be when it comes to sourcing product, as long as there’s money to be made. As the expression goes, ‘you can polish a turd, but in the end, its still a turd’. Record buyers need to understand that promotional sales spiel like ‘remastered’ and/or ‘180gm vinyl’ (audiophile or otherwise) mean very little on their own. Perhaps you, LJC, might revisit and update your 2012 post on Gerry Mulligan’s ‘Night Lights’ to offer a forensic comparison of the original UK issue with Gray’s new master.

    Like

    • Hi I don’t have the New Land edition, and my Mulligan copy is the UK Philips release (remastered from copy tape) so I can’t easily do a shoot out.

      What I have done is another “thought-graphic” which sets out the historical timeline of the Dusty Blue recording, which suggests when the “original transfer” will likely have been made

      Bethlehem’s catalogue  changed hands many times through to the mid 70s, far too early to be suspects in the loss of original tapes. The first digital editions appeared quite late in the development of the compact disc format – not until 1999, when a “Bethlehem Archive CD Series” was issued, and Japan went into overdrive. This is the most likely point at which the first digital transfers would have occurred.  Earlier would have been no use but here was the commercial incentive to digitise. 

      The involvement of Verse Music and BMG look unrelated to technology changes, and more related purely to licensing business arrangements. There is no evidence of the existence or use of original tapes beyond 1999. There is no credible chain of custody beyond mastering for CD. PCM-related digital technology was music industry standard format, there was no business reason to preserve tapes once they had been transferred  to a permanent digital archive. The purity of information held in the analog tapes was lost forever, the transfer quality frozen in the technology of 1999. “the best available…” That’s my take.

      Like

      • The Naxos Bethlehem reissue series from 2013, before Jazz got popular again, is nicely done if not exceptional, I have a feeling the cutting engineer answered some questions about the sources on the Steve Hoffman forum, but can’t remember what he said. As for the Mulligan I have a UK and a Japanese so no interest in the New Land, but a shame they don’t seem to have got things right.

        Like

        • Surprisingly I found the Hoffman thread, the cutting engineer for Mingus and Gordon joins in, but doesn’t actually say anything useful about sources so false alarm.

          Like

    • Nice piece of revisionist reading there…. the context of the SHF discussion is obviously speculation about sources, because the language used by NewLand is vague and unclear. I made no suggestion how the language “should” be interpreted, simply laying out the options of what adding “transfers” to the lexicon of hype stickers might mean. As it was the first title in a new series, with no clarification or context from the label, speculation is the game we played.

      Like

  3. Up until now, it seems the only affordable alternative to an OG was the Affinity pressing from the ‘80s. Does anybody know how that one sounds?

    Like

    • Can’t speak for this particular Affinity edition but I have over the years bought three Affinity reissues, the Curtis Amy/ Bolton Dupree monster Katanga! and a couple of VeeJay titles. They were all anaemic and lacklustre transfers, which were played only once, which was enough, if not once too often. As long as you have no comparison, Affinity sound just about “OK, ignorance is bliss. Affinity issued hundreds of jazz titles, mostly in the eighties, including Veejay and Bethlehem, but many others. They were manufactured all around Europe – UK, Spain, Portugal, Italy. They may have been licensed editions, but never came within a thousand miles of original tapes, and eighties vinyl was the dying gasp of the format. Perhaps someone who owns it can set the record straight.

      Like

  4. This is tough one for me. The diff between the original and the UK, vs the New Land reissue is obvious, and I agree with Aaron that it sounds like reverb was added to the orig/UK, but not on the New Land. Yes, like the Contemporary label….

    Hmm. I admit to liking both. I like the sort of intimate mix of the New Land, but it lacks the punch of the orig/UK. It’s two very different versions of the same thing. I also agree that as a stereo mix, it’s a bit muddled, I was surprised the stereo effect wasn’t more pronounced. Regardless, I think I will pick this up. Appreciate the compare, as always.

    Like

  5. Regarding the source being DSD, to the best of my knowledge the only label archiving to DSD in the (late), 1990s was Sony, almost everyone else was using PCM as most still do. If the tape was indeed archived to digital in the 1990s it was most likely copied to DAT tape likely at 16/44 as 16/48 caused conversion issues and 16/96 was very rare. You can produce excellent vinyl from a DAT master, most 1990s music released on vinyl used them, but obviously it’s not as good or transparent as either DSD or hi-res PCM.

    For a tape to survive into the 1990s, but not be available now, suggests it was either in a poor condition and deteriorated beyond use after being copied, was lost in a fire, storage facility, mislabelled etc., or the person with possession/ownership of the tapes isn’t the same as the person licencing the music, BMG, and the label haven’t gone the extra mile or stumped up extra money.

    The upcoming Joe Harriott “Swings High” reissue is proudly proclaiming it’s mastered from original vinyl by Gearbox, ironically much as I’m a fan of Gearbox and their analogue chain when it comes to vinyl transfers of which I have some experience I’d much prefer someone with the best software and computer rather than valves and vintage hardware.

    Like

    • Gearbox Joe Harriott Swings – due for release October 2022:

      “Remastered 12″ vinyl album – Remastered from the original Melodisc LP by Caspar Sutton Jones at Gearbox Records. Played using an Audio Note Hi-Fi system: AN TT-Two turntable with IO-1 moving-coil cartridge, S6 step-up transformer and M6 Phono preamplifier. Enhanced using an early-1960’s Decca valve equaliser, Maselec Master Series MEA-2 equaliser, MLA-2 compressor and Telefunken U73B valve limiters from 1959. Lacquers cut on a 1967 Haeco Scully lathe with Westrex RA1700 series amps, Westrex 3DIIA cutting head with Micro-Point WSH-2 sapphire cutting stylus.”

      Lost me at the “remastered from the original Melodisc LP”. Cutting through the vintage hifi showroom stuff, does this mean it is a “needle-drop”?

      My issue with a lot of Gearbox issues is the use of BBC Transcription Discs sources: they sound like listening to the radio. Which is what they were for, not an audiophile experience.

      Like

      • Yes, it’s a needle-drop and likely not as good as could be produced using software to clean it up and remove any unwanted artefacts, I guess the Audio Note gear was free or cost price as I believe Gearbox cut some records for Audio Note, so not chosen for the absolute best sound and surely a Garrard 301 would be more in keeping with their studio.

        Gearbox releases do suffer from limitations with their sources, BBC engineering being one example, but as demonstrated by their work for other labels their mastering and cutting is very sound, especially when it comes to Jazz.

        Like

        • I have the Melodisc original of this and the sound quality is awful. Joe and the band in superb form but not in anyway an audiophile experience.

          Like

        • I had the pleasure of visiting Gearbox in Kings Cross a while back and sat in on one of Darrel Sheinman’s Kissaten sessions. He has all Audio Note listening gear in situ, a big fan of Peter Qvortrup’s engineering, as I confess am I. My custom-built valve power amp circuit and transformer designs are by Andy Grove, senior Designer and R&D engineer of Audio Note. But for all its merits, I worry about a needle-drop source, especially following or friend Big X’s comments about poor audio quality of the original vinyl. A bit surprising as credited session engineer Vic Keary worked at Lansdowne, London’s finest studio of the day (though the studio is not credited) I guess we will have to wait and see.

          Like

          • Recorded in 1967, so before Chalk Farm opened and not released until 1970, I wonder if there’s any mention of the session in the Coleridge Goode book, Melodisc were a cheap label, perhaps nobody else was interested in it. My copy is near mint, but I have no recollection of the recording or pressing quality, and my amps are boxed waiting to go off for repair, though if you bother picking it up and want a needle drop to compare. Having a particular interest in Jamaican music, I like the fact that Joe covers two compositions by fellow Alpha Boy Dizzy Reece keeping it in the family, I wonder if Dizzy was visiting the UK around the time of recording.

            Like

  6. Sounds like the original master tapes didn’t have reverb on them and it was applied during mastering, like some Contemporary recordings. A little splash of plate reverb would have been nice on this New Land reissue.

    Like

  7. After listening to my copy of New Land and listening to the two takes that Andrew kindly offers us, I only come to one conclusion: I would bet my music collection that it is a cut edition of a digital file, without a doubt. And indeed friend Andrew, the absence of photos that attest to the origin of the source already tells us that something does not match. However, Kevin Gray does a good job and my copy sounds great. Let’s not forget what happened with MOFI which finally confirmed our fears and despite everything it’s a great sound. It is what there are friends…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I might add that they also claim that the original masters no longer exist but the DSD was taken from the master tape. Their transparency is deafening.

      Like

  8. That parsimonious little graphic is excellent. As clear a representation of the process as I have seen.

    The only part of the whole system which is still not intuitive to me is the lacquer cutting. I get what happens, but it feels like witchcraft.

    Like

  9. I always appreciate the comments on sound quality and whatnot, but I have to admit, these days, I just can’t get worked up over is it AAA or from the original tapes, etc. I just assume anything that isn’t explicitly stating “We used the actual tape” or showing a picture of said tape or something like that is using some other source. There’s just too many weasel words for me to assume otherwise.

    I’m much more concerned about have they made whatever they are working with into a record worth buying or not. Not saying you do this, but some people (especially the Huffmen) seem to get so twisted on the details, they loose sight of the music. I always appreciate the comparisons you allow and when I am around better than laptop speakers, I’ll judge for myself if this is worth picking up or not (though musically I have a hunch it is, even if on 8-track.)

    Like

  10. Why does New Land say “stereo” but it does not sound stereo….is this wrongly indicated on this new reissue? If indeed Mono, are the other New Land reissues in stereo or mono? Like the new Mulligan “Night Lights?

    Like

  11. A, outstanding singing quality. Lots of atmosphere and resonant interaction. Dynamic.

    B, polite version, smaller dynamics.

    C, airless, somehow constrained. Probably fares more poorly in direct comparison to A ior even B above. Hmm. That’s a shame because I love Kevin’s work and the source seemingly doesn’t do his skills justice.

    Like

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