After the Outrage: UMe's Birth of the Cool Reissue Reconsidered

After calming down following the original Birth of the Cool review I took a deep breath and listened again. What's more i realized I had two more versions of the record: a Dutch Odeon pressing (lime green Capitol label) from 1972 (5C052 80 798) with a different cover that you can pick up on Discogs for a few bucks, and a mysterious one from I believe a German label called Good Buy (Good Buy 2 F 671045) released around the same time as Classic's, which remains the best sounding available and so costs well over $100 on Discogs.

The Good Buy reissue is probably a bootleg cut from a CD—probably the 1998 reissue references in the credits here. That's what it sounds like. It's flat and bright and after a while annoying but has more life than does the new reissue. That said, the packaging on the new reissue rates an 11. It's modeled after a Music Matters reissue with an inner gatefold containing a few good Miles black and whites, one glossy on the inner gatefold and a larger striking shot of a young Miles holding his horn. The booklet's essay by music historian Ashley Kahn and some great photos in the booklet almost makes it worth the purchase despite the dreadful sound—and I don't take back a word of what I originally wrote.

In fact, what I suggest doing, is buying this, getting the Dutch pressing off of Discogs for a few dollars and substituting it for what comes with this set. It's better. By far. Interestingly the Gerry Mulligan essay appearing in this new reissue's booklet is on the back of that 1972 Dutch reissue and for all I know that's where it original appeared and that's for what Mulligan wrote it. There's also a short interesting essay by Phil Schaap from 1998, probably written for the aforementioned CD reissue from that year.

The final page credits insist that previous reissues of the studio album were mastered from "second generation sources". It continues: "This release marks the first time since 1957 the LP has been mastered from original analog session reels." I believe it!

But that just makes this an even greater disgrace. All of the producer's attention was paid to the packaging, none was paid to the sound. Here's an idea: let's have an all analog re-do done right and packaged in a plain white paper sleeve. If you already bought this, you'd have to pay some more but if you love this music, it would be well worth it.

Kahn's essay is fascinating and makes clear that these were overlooked sessions that had little impact when first released on 78s. The music was considered "oddball"—a little big band (originally labeled "Miles Davis and his Orchestra") and the great title "Birth of the Cool" was a later creation. I hope the essay makes it online because it's a fascinating and worthwhile read.

As I wrote, I'm not taking back a word of what I originally wrote. It was not an overreaction. It was the truth.

Chemguy's picture

...nor should you take anything back...a lousy effort on the record company’s part may need an excoriation. Well done.
But I won’t be talking your not-too-serious advice in the third paragraph: I’m not buying this or any inferior sounding reissue. I’ll wait for the best effort to be put forth for this important record.

mraudioguru's picture

...the title to this piece, I thought you caved Mikey, but no you didn't! Way to stand by your comments. I wouldn't have bought this anyway, but it's nice to read an honest review.

firedog's picture

Maybe it's me, but I've always thought the sound of this album was mediocre at best. I have much better sounding LPs and CDs of jazz material from this same era.
I don't know if this is an album I'd be spending the bucks on for a re-issue. Maybe smarter to spend the budget on a reissue that really sounds good.

djhurley92's picture

So how good actually is the 1972 Dutch release? Somewhere between the new reissue and the classic?

Michael Fremer's picture
I probably should post a file
PeterPani's picture

Mastered in Japan and pressed by Optimal Media. Is quite okay.

infohou's picture
onlythecrowded's picture

I was at a record swap this Saturday and happened upon a very minty '72 US release of this record. Still in the shrink and looked like it had never been played. Once I got home, I looked on the back, and in fine print the record (even with the US coding) says it was manufactured in the Netherlands.

Anyway I compared it to the 2019 repress and it's night and day difference even on my little crappy set up in my office. So significant I am not even keeping the repress and just going down to trade it for credit at a Zia Records, because they won't know how bad it is.

onlythecrowded's picture

I thought you were asking which of the 72 pressings, my bad

infohou's picture

No worries. There are at least two Japanese versions and I was hoping perterpani would reply.

Y'all take care:-)

Bob Henneberger's picture

you got spunk Michael, i bet you were givin a hard time about your last article (from the powers that be) so instead of writing a retraction you say buy the record for the cover but substitute the new record with the 74 dutch,, i love it great for vinyl,,(im not sure that will make them happy but that is what makes you who you are. Keep up the good work!

Fretless VI's picture

Mike, would you care to comment on the Times story of the destroyed masters? It's a very depressing article to read and raises lots of questions about how some of these new re-issues are being sourced.

MalachiLui's picture

Are likely stored at the Capitol Vault or the Iron Mountain facility in downtown LA, and not the backlot vault that, in 2008, caught on fire. Blue Note masters weren't affected by the fire either as they've been in the aforementioned Iron Mountain vault for a while.

DietChapstick's picture

Not sure what dutch pressing you are referring to? Link?

At any rate I listened to your short soundclips in the other post and the clip from the current reissue sounds abysmal. I may just pick up a copy of the late 90s CD pressing.

uniqueusername's picture

I have this US complete pressing from 1972, with a Mulligan sleeve note essay dated 1971 where he ends with:

I'm pleased that all the material is finally being released on one set. And without electronic “stereo."

You can read the Gerry Mulligan sleeve notes from that release here.

beatcomber's picture

"This release marks the first time since 1957 the LP has been mastered from original analog session reels." Wait a second... these sessions are from the late '40s. I know that analog tape had been invented by then, but it wasn't commonly used yet, right? Wouldn't the session masters be metal parts?

volunteer's picture

No pressing information other than DMM. It has Alice Arnold and Gerry Mulligan notes. I wasn't expecting much but came away quite pleased with the sound.

xtcfan80's picture

I have a nice sounding UK mono pressing I believe comes from the 80s..... nice listen

Kent T's picture

Ampex introduced the first succesful tape machine to American broadcasting and recording studios in 1949. This machine was the Model 200, later became the 200A, then the 300 in short time. Radio networks, beginning with ABC, and larger network affiliate stations and recording studios had Ampex tape machines and the then new Scotch 112 RR, followed by Scotch 111 tape formulas. I suspect WOR Studios in New York City, where Birth Of The Cool was still recording to lacquer discs, likely 33 1/3 RPM transcriptions, where the Capitol 78 RPM and 45 RPM singles were issued from. I wish there was tape sourced originals, but suspect not, but also would love to be proven wrong. Any perspectives from Michael Fremer, or more knowledgable sources?