Guest Column: Collecting Blue Note CDs

Mattyman has promised us a guest column about collecting Blue Note jazz CDs and here it is:

Collecting Blue Note Albums on Compact Disc
Guest Column by Mattyman, The Netherlands

First of all a big thanks to Al for giving me the opportunity to tell y’all something about collecting Blue Note releases on CD, which I’ve been avidly doing since the early nineties. Since I couldn’t think of a ‘logical line’ in my column, I decided to randomly describe a few of the things that I pay attention to before I buy a CD and to make things more clear, I have once again created a photo page that y’all can use while you read the story. The few photos that I included in this story are only meant to literally jazz up the look of the column. I will continuously refer to that photo page as well, so maybe the best way to do this is to open the page in a new window.
Here we go, folks!
The first jazz album that I ever bought was John Coltrane – Blue Train, in 1992. There was a reason why I bought it. My favorite Dutch writer (and known jazz collector, drummer and DJ), Jules Deelder, has written many long and short stories about his deep love for jazz, how he first heard it as a little boy and how mesmerized he was by the voice and trumpet playing of, as he’d find out later, Chet Baker. His endless hunts for vinyl are the most fun to read, since I had been digging like that myself for seventies funk. I wanted to know more about jazz, ’cause if Jules Deelder dug so frantically, it had to be good. I honestly had not listened to one jazz album in my entire life before 1992. So I went to my favorite record store and grabbed Blue Train, simply because

it was the only title I knew and I liked the cover. I got home and played it, many times for days on end. A whole new world of music opened up for me and I bought more. Once I finally shed my first tears while listening to “Lover Man” by Charlie Parker, I became a jazz addict. I bought and still buy material from all the known labels, but first and foremost I buy Blue Note. This is also the moment for the readers to open the photo page! Click here for the link. When flipping through the photos, my suggestion would be to do it as slide show, which offers a full screen, high quality experience. After clicking the link, look slightly to the left upper corner of the page that opens and click “slide show”, you can then go through the pics with the left and right arrows on your keyboard. It’s very handy to do that while reading along.

There are a lot of things that can make a re-release on CD collectible for me, but I’ll just describe a few things in order to keep the length of the column acceptable. The first Blue Train I bought on CD was released in 1985, nothing fancy about it. But then, in 1997, it was the fortieth anniversary of Blue Train and, presto: The Ultimate Blue Train was released. It contained two bonus tracks, an interactive part with audio and video and an intriguing story about the alternate version of “Blue Train” and its piano solo. A close-up of these notes is in the photo page. In 2003, Blue Train was re-issued for the RVG series, so of course I had to add that one to my collection as well. (This pressing contained “copy control” data, which made playback on a computer or in a car a pain in the neck and EMI later abandoned it.) And of course, with every new re-issue it was said that the audio quality improved, which was also a reason to buy the latest re-release of many other titles. The only thing that bothered me a bit was the apparently careless use of whatever Blue Train cover they had laying around; when you look at the photos you see what I mean.

Besides the fact that on many forums I found a lot of hot fired discussions about the good or bad audio quality of certain re-issues, I focused on what I saw printed on the back of some of the Blue Note re-releases. This is best explained by looking at the reissues of, for instance, Miles Davis’ Birth Of The Cool, his Volume 1 and 2 on Blue Note and Lou Donaldson’s Lush Life. The first two re-releases that I have of Birth Of The Cool sound really awful  (even the second reissue remastered version by Mark Levinson), but that changed when the RVG edition was released. It’s funny how honest record companies get for reissues, ’cause now all of a sudden we read in the booklet that all previous reissues of Birth Of The Cool had been made from a regular LP master, while Rudy van Gelder returned to the absolute first-generation masters of each individual track. The end result is absolutely stunning and the RVG edition of Birth Of The Cool sounds just fabulous. When I later on bought Miles Davis’ Vol.1 and 2 on Blue Note, I found some startling information on the back of Vol.2: “The master tapes on all but the previous unissued selections are lost and we have spent considerable time repairing and improving the sound of the tapes with which we were left”… This basically means that the masters of Kelo, Enigma, Ray’s Idea, Tempus Fugit, CTA and I Waited For You, are gone. This is confirmed on the RVG edition of Miles Davis’ Vol. 2, where it states that only tracks 7 to 11 were mastered from original tapes. I found that stuff incredibly intriguing. What happened to those tapes? Where had they gone? Who had them? At the same time it turned out that the very first Vol.1 and 2 reissues on CD still carried the “a product of Liberty records” remark on the front cover! And there was more lost tape drama: When Lou Donaldson’s Lush Life (aka Sweet Slumber, Japan) saw it’s RVG reissue, it bluntly said on the cover that the master tape was lost and that the CD had been remastered from a test pressing! Again: intriguing stuff. A lost master: How can that happen? Anyway, when you follow my photo page, you will see the great photos in the Lush Life booklet, the track listing for the Ammons and Lewis reissue, with the info about the mastering from ‘somewhat’ damaged discs and a missing track. When we reach the Bud Powells Vol.1 and 2 reissues we read that all tracks on Vol.1 were remastered from lacquer discs.  The only thing I wonder here is if that was already the case when the 12” LPs of Bud Powell Vol. 1 and 2 were released back then. Apparently in 1949 and 1951, Bud’s material was never recorded on tape but directly on lacquers, but then again: I know now that many, many recordings were made that way in those days. Directly on a lacquer, and it had to be done in one take. Imagine how fragile these discs must have become by now. I don’t know why stuff like that intrigues me. Maybe it’s the thought of adventurous research trips through vaults and the knowledge that only a few people have access to these vaults, only to find out later that some master has mysteriously gone lost.

And while we continue flipping through my photo page, I show you previously or partially unissued sessions. There are many, but I will show a few that are truly awesome. Comin’ On by Dizzy Reece. Just look at the personnel. Truly a super CD and collectible, in my opinion. Then look at Cool Blues by Jimmy Smith: Only four cuts have been issued before. The entire live set is just fabulous and again, look at that personnel! Last but not least we see Tina Brooks’ sessions that had been shelved for decades before they saw their reissue on CD. Top-notch material with extensive booklets, photos and great stories from Michael Cuscuna. It’s information like this that should tickle every jazz lover’s curiosity, especially since we’re talking superb jazz!

After the Tina Brooks photos we move on to various kinds and some of the joys of certain reissues. Check out the Freddie Redd Shades Of Redd, the Connoisseur edition followed by the RVG edition. Bonus tracks and extra photos by Francis Wolff. Then we see a few Japanese reissues in the RVG, series which pose questions, since those RVG remasters were released and remastered much earlier than the US reissues, they always lack bonus tracks and, in my honest opinion, sound inferior to the US versions. Could it be that the Japanese have first-generation copies of the original masters and more or less ‘RVG’ those tapes themselves? It makes sense in a way, ’cause why is it that they never reissue with bonus cuts? The Japanese Bennie Green reissues on the other hand sound just fabulous and at the same time I’ve never seen a domestic reissue of the Bennie Greens to begin with. The folded up ‘back covers’ in some of those Japanese reissues are of course always a joy. Then we move on to ‘crappy’ reissue work. Kenny Dorham’s initial reissue of ‘Round About Midnight looked ugly and missed the usual Blue Note look and feel, which thankfully was restored for the RVG edition. We also had the clumsy cover use of the first domestic reissue of the Jazz Messengers. The Japanese and the later RVG edition follow the original front covers. But the first domestic reissue simply used the red cover for both volumes. Again I show you that the Japanese reissues always omit the bonus cuts. Just look at the track listings, also at the one from Paul Chambers. I know there are Japanese “Volume 3” reissues, but that is not always the case. Many Japanese fans probably buy import US pressings to get to the bonus cuts.

Last but not least I show you a release that uses the extended playing time of the CD very well. Look at the Japanese pressing of Kenny Burrell’s Introducing. They release the album as an exact replica of the LP from back then. The domestic reissue, however, puts all three first Kenny Burrell sessions, from which certain tracks were only released in Japan, on one double CD!  The pictures say enough. The other thing that happens, is that sometimes the early reissues from the nineties put the tracks of original sessions in the exact order in which they were recorded, which I prefer. This happened with Hank Mobley’s No Room For Squares, The Turnaround and Straight No Filter. But then, when the RVG reissues appear, they scramble all the tracks again as they were listed on the original vinyls back in the days. Just follow the photos; again it’s all a reason for me to buy the reissues and consider them collectable. The last few photos show a promo copy of Dizzy Reece’s Blues In Trinity and the beautiful RVG reissue cover of Mobley’s Another Workout next to the incredibly ugly Another Workout cover from the nineties reissue. The very last snapshots show you the rest of my Blue Note CDs.

I hope you all enjoyed my column. As said I just wanted to share a few things with you that make collecting CDs fun for me.  — Mattyman

24 comments

  • mattyman: ook voor een verstokte vinyl verzamelaar als ik, is je bijdrage heel interessant. Ik heb er veel van geleerd, vooral over die verdwenen matrijzen. Bedankt!

  • Yeah..what he said! May I add that it’s a real pleasure to hear a voice that conveys the joy of discovering great music-regardless as to how it’s transfered-that jumps off the page. For someone that’s been listening for a relatively short period,you’ve quite the collection. What other labels do you look for? Have you heard any BN classics on lp,on a good system-say,with MARTEN speakers? Lastly,have you checked out Peter Beets,who resides/plays in your neck of the woods? It is a small world,after all…

  • Nice article Mattyman. Tell me, do you prefer the Japanese presses to the RVGs? Or is it on a case by case basis?

  • Thanks for the article! I’m a vinyl only guy but enjoyed reading this very much. I always find jazz & music collecting interesting regardless of the medium.

  • Great stuff Mattyman. Like the use of Picasa – its always good to see stuff “in the flesh”

    I’ve often wondered whether there are differences in sound quality between Japanese RVG CDs and US/European RVG CDs. I thought they were all just the same digitally, but seems they may have different origins. Do you have same titles on both Jap and US , to comment on?

    (Al, more like this please!)

  • Hello Guys, thanks for all the great comments so far. And for those of you who were wondering what Rudolf said in Dutch in the first response, it’s basically about the fact that even a die hard vinyl collector like him thought it was interesting, including the bit of the lost masters. So again: thanks for all the great comments. As for the quality of Japanese CD Blue Note releases versus US/EURO versions: I have quite a collection as we’ve all seen in the pictures and honestly folks: some Japanese CD reissues, no matter how they describe it and no matter how “RVG” they try to make them: some Jap. versions sound plain horrible compared the their US counterparts. I will give you a list of comparisons that I have made over the years, but please bear with me for now, as I’m out of the country for work and I won’t be able to write a lot any time soon. Last but not least to London Calling: at first I also thought that the Jap reissues -digitally- were exactly the same as the US/EURO pressings. Well, they are not. At home I have a Technics “reference master” series set of equipment and if you compare certain -not ALL- Jap pressings to their US/EURO counterparts, it is simply shocking to hear the bad quality of the Jap pressings. But again, it’s not ALL Japanese reissues. When I’m back in the Netherlands again, I’ll send the list to Al, maybe he’ll publish it again. Last but not least: if someone amongst the older cats here can shed some light on the lost masters/remastering from lacquers issues, then please share it with us 😉
    Mattyman, The Netherlands

  • And don’t forget folks: while you read, make sure to use open the photo page on the side, so that you can click through all the photos while I blabber on: http://picasaweb.google.com/manmatty/BNCDguestcolumn?authkey=Gv1sRgCMqioeui88rJDQ#
    I know it’s a long piece of text, but please make sure to read it all, maybe there are a few answers that only the older cats here can give 🙂
    Mattyman

  • Ceedee: I buy everything Blue Note on CD whenever I can lay hands on it. Even on CD there are already many out of print titles. When it comes to other labels, you name ’em and I buy them. But with other labels than Blue Note, I first listen to them before I fork out the money. Blue Notes? I buy them no matter what 😉
    Mattyman

  • Thanks for the column mattyman, It is really interesting to hear about collecting jazz from the CD stance. Blue Note seems to offer an endless supply of top notch jazz. I love finding some of the more oddball sessions. You should check out Solomon Ilori BN 4136 if you haven’t already heard it, its a real gem.

  • hate,but use digital;do love Mattyman’s enthusiasm.it’s a splendid beginning.
    get on and,when u’ll be older,u’ll remember this beginning.
    I remember when I was young I renounced to everything but music.No cinema,no disco,no restaurants.all I had went into music.I’m glad with this,and I would’t change my mind now.

  • Hello Max, I just found the Solomon Ilori on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/African-High-Life-Solomon-Ilori/dp/B000FILWE0

    I dig the comments from the other Amazon buyers on this one, so I can’t wait to get it, thanks 😉

    And dottorjazz, the fact that I spent my money wisely over the years paid off for me just like it did for you, ’cause I now, too, have a collection of priceless great music. I do go out every now and then, though 😉

    Mattyman

  • Interesting column, thanks Mattyman. Do you know about the current ‘audiophile’ BN reissues like Audiowave (Elusive Disc)XRCDs and Analog Productions (Acoustic Sounds) hybrid SACDs?

  • @Ipinion, these release are different remastering and have a different sound and feel from the Blue Note as well as from each other. I’ve grabbed them all as they came out and much prefer them from there Blue Note cd counterparts. The XRCDs are very neutral and lack what some would call the sizzle of the RVG blue notes. When they first started releasing the RVG Blue Notes the first thing I noticed that I disliked was the harshness and sizzle of cymbals and all the top end. The XRCDs don’t have this, seem more detailed, and have a little more bottom end. The XRCDs are less compressed than the cds(or the vinyl for that matter) which depending on your tastes is a good thing. I would recommend checking out cool struttin’, my favorite of all the albums released so far. The analog production SACDs seem to me to be a very different take on Blue Notes. The have the same detail, even more low end, but the stereo presentation is very different from any blue note re-issue I have seen so far. Like Mattyman, I have a lot of different digital versions of Blue Train(7 I think). This one is the most different from all the previous ones. It has the least “Blue Note Warmth” that is characteristic of the Blue Note Sound. It also creates a nice stereo presentation that is atypical of all the other digital versions. Honestly, I would say that these are Blue Notes for people who love the music but didn’t care for the sound(not true of the XRCDs). I’m not in this camp. I enjoy the SACDs but like most people prefer the Blue Note sound.
    I would definately recommend the XRCDs, especially Cool Struttin and Soul Station. I believe these are for people who love the Blue Note sound but would like the digital to be less compressed and have a more bottom heavy frequency presentation and a cleaner top end with a higher level of detail. The SACDs are for people who would like to hear a different presentation of a Blue Note Session. I like them when compared to the RVG cds but don’t love them. I love the XRCDs, almost as much as the originals(but not quite, I’m not putting Soul Station first pressing on ebay anytime soon).

  • Thanks Mike for the detailed break down. The XRCDs do look very pretty and I have been tempted to pick some up. From what you are saying they are true to the BN sound as well. Interesting. I will pick up Soul Station and Cool Struttin (at some point)

    I have a bunch of BN CDs some RVG some McMaster older ones, some Japanese. I like the sound on some, but not all, for the reasons you described.

    I only have a couple of RVG originals (but on Impulse LP), so I am not familiar with the true BN originals sound which I know most regard to be better. I have a few Liberty/UA RVG re-issues which are good.

  • So,Mattyman-have you heard Peter Beets as of yet? He’s based in Holland and plays a hell of a piano-I wish he would make it to the states more often! Also-though not knowing what you’re diggin’ the sounds ON-there are these speakers from a company in your part of the world. I’m told the sound is amazing…and you just might be a stones throw away from their showroom!
    http://www.marten.se/

  • Oops! Looks like Marten is based in Sweden,not exactly a “stones throw”! Here’s a better link,with some cool photos…
    http://www.6moons.com/industryfeatures/roadtourmarten/marten.html

  • Ceedee: I have seen several performances of Peter Beets on TV, so I’m familiar with the name! And about those speakers from Marten in Sweden: even here in the Netherlands we have a lot (and I do mean a lot) small family owned businesses that build super high end stereo equipment and loudspeakers. So that’ll save me a trip to Sweden, which by the way is only about 2hrs by plane.
    And to Ipinion and Mike: I know about all the ‘audiophile’ releases on the market, but to make sure I don’t spend a ton on all those releases as well, I stick to the regular releases. 😉
    Mattyman

  • Yea, you can get the regular cds for about 1/3 the price of the audiophile releases.

  • okay – feel the same way about $$$ -it all adds up in the end. Thanks.

  • Thanks a lot for letting us into your Blue Note CD collecting world. I too have a large Blue Note CD collection , I purchased my first copies back in 1988 when I lived in England; Herbie’s ‘Maiden Voyage’ and Wayne Shorter’s ‘Speak No Evil. I slowly amassed a number of titles as I embarked on my voyage of discovery through the jazz canon. Things started to get really serious for me though when I moved to Tokyo 12 years ago and was blown away by the variety of material and the ready availability of issues. I discovered the Disk Union record chain very early on and took advantage of the fact that lots of collectors dumped their CD collection for MP3 copies (probably for reasons of space).The wonderful thing about buying used CD’s over here is the excellent care people take of their possessions. Over 90 percent of my 650+ Blue Note CD’s I purchased were used copies. Hardly any have visible scratches and not a single one skips in my CD player.
    I don’t want to add anything to the sound quality debate suffice to say that I’ve never really considered there to be a ‘Blue Note’ sound. Contemporary Records in L.A. and the Candid stuff recorded at Nola Studios in New York sound easily as good and often better than the product coming out of Englewood Cliffs or Hackensack. I’m in it purely for music quality not sound quality.

    I’ve made a start at cataloging my collection over at RYM. Links below:

    http://rateyourmusic.com/list/fastskillfulinjured/blue_spirits__blue_note_on_compact_disc

    and

    http://rateyourmusic.com/list/fastskillfulinjured/24bit_by_rvg__japanese_blue_note_mini_lps

  • Well, Fastskillfulinjured, thanks for your great comment. It’s always great to share stories. Great to flip through your RateYourMusic links as well, although I always consider Japanese pressings a ‘last resort’ when a certain title is really, really hard to find as a domestic US or EU pressing. It’s because the Japanese never add the bonus cuts to their CD reissues. And I’m not talking about outtakes or false starts, no: full tracks that due to time limitations never made it to the original vinyl. Some of those bonus cuts are simply outstanding and I wouldn’t have missed those for the world. And although I agree with your statement that it’s first and foremost always about the quality of the music, I honestly have to say once again that some Japanese pressings really sound horrible. Thin, tinny and muffled to say the least. But then again, that doesn’t take away the fun of collecting those lovely silver discs 😉
    Mattyman

  • Hello, i have also a lot of BN title in many formats (vinyl-cd Usa-RVg and some jap), but about the sound quality i would you explain to use Adobe Audition software.

    Your mind will be open abot the clarity of RVG remasterd. They sound too loud because the evident compression and EQ. Best are the mr Ron McMaster of late 80’s….I can confirm the writing of Mike about XRCD…but you don’t know the King quality pressing.

    Ciao

  • I hear what you’re saying, Pierluigi. I do have a lot of the Ron McMaster pressings from the late 80s and early nineties, so I understand your comment. I like both pressings and in some cases I prefer the Ron McMaster edition over the RVG version. Blowin’ In From Chicago is one of those titles that in my opinion sounds crisper on the Connoisseur edition done my Ron McMaster 😉

  • Hey Mattyman are you still buying Cds its been awhile this is my first time on this site would love to hear from you I have about 350 jazz Cds that I would like to sell there’re old school jazz some never played. labels like Blue Note,Savoy,Decca,Polygram,Atlantic and more. So if your’re still around Please get in touch waiting to hear from you. Thanks Chuck……….

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