Craft's Unobtainable Lush Life "Small Batch" One Step

This limited to 1000 copies lavishly packaged "one-step" edition of John Coltrane's Lush Life sold out shortly after it was announced. Did you miss anything? If it's a favorite, probably. I hesitated to review it, much like I don't review The Electric Recording Company's limited editions that almost immediately sell out upon release announcement, but given Craft's uneven release history (unlike that of ERC), a review seems appropriate.

First, the packaging is unique and desirable. The sturdy outer slipcase has a jewel-like finish. The embossed spine, though somewhat difficult to read unless the light is "just so" is elegant. A lavender ribbon pull-tab smoothy ("sensually" wouldn't be overstating the feel) ejects the actual "tip-on" jacket. An inner jacket fold-out features an Ashley Kahn essay that begins with a wonderful 2019 quote from the late Jimmy Heath. The Strayhorn song's title is, of course, ironic.

The album was a critical and commercial success, despite being released "out of sequence" (Kahn writes “Released in 1961, it entered the marketplace the same year My Favorite Things was on the radio and Africa Brass was in the stores”).

The fold out also includes color photos of the two original master tapes (the OJC 131 catalog number clearly visible on the box) and a selection of Rudy Van Gelder’s session notes.

I don’t have an original pressing, nor do I have the OJC or either Analogue Productions reissues cut by Kevin Gray, one at 33 1/3 and one at 45rpm, but I do have the 1997 DCC Compact Classics version. Though it says “mastered by Steve Hoffman”, we know that Steve does not cut lacquers and that many records for which he receives mastering credit were cut by Kevin Gray. This one doesn’t have Kevin’s usual initials used back then but instead has an “SR”, which I’m assuming means Stan Ricker cut it. It sounds like one of Stan’s not very good cuts: boosted mid-bass and boosted treble. In other words, not very good. So, if that’s what you have and you like this album (what’s not to like?), if you missed out here, you really did because Bernie Grundman’s mastering is honest and spectrally well-balanced, as would be the two AP’s and probably the OJCs, once available “back in the day” for less than $10.00.

The Neotech semi-transparent VR900 compound “one-step” pressing was both flawless and probably sounds as close to the original tape as you’re likely to hear—not that the recording is a “sonic spectacular” other than being pure and direct because that’s all the technology at the time supported. Other than some cymbal overload, it’s a pleasingly natural monophonic “living room” recording.

If this Lush Life is representative of Craft’s “Small Batch” output, stay tuned for what’s to come or miss out.

jazz's picture

...somehow as „with only little magic“, which is less than I’d describe my AP45 pressing.

Unfortunate that you didn’t have it for comparison...will see how the Craft sounds as soon as it arrives.

Michael Fremer's picture
would you describe your AP45 pressing? The recording is not a sonic spectacular and I don't see how it can ever be described as "magical". The recording of the cymbals is problematic. This mastering is honest and doesn't try to use additive fixes to make it what it isn't. I'm sure you'll find this pressing quieter and superior to the double 45 because of the vinyl formulation at the very least. How the spectral balance compares will be interesting to read. It's something I was unable to do.
jazz's picture

I generally like that you talk straight what you hear and don’t hype a recording which is not top notch.

I just think if e.g. this release got an 8 (I love the music)...

...the Lush life must be a 13 ;-) (if we talk about absolute sound quality and not the quality of the remaster related to the quality of the tape)

Leonthepro's picture

The comparison? Did you ever get to compare the 45 and the Craft?

Also, I very much agree that the RSD Bill Evans releases are nowhere near as good as the best of jazz recordings. Id rather buy 2 Tone Poets or an AP release.

jazz's picture

Coming from the top (11 points for the best possible recording), I’m with you, 9 is a fine rating.

The 45 to me has near perfect tonality, a strong, tight bass, great top end for the era and a really nice, full, 3 dimensional sounding sax and bass tone. It’s one of the definitely top mono recordings out of the great ones imo and for me the combination of the emotional music and the ambient sound (different than many other dryer, flatter good mono reissues of the era) has some magic.

Anyway the best possible recordings compared to that are easily 2 points above that.

Where I have a problem is, that imo your ratings downwards are partly not in relation.

The Lugoff an 8, the Coltrane/Ballads and Mofi Porgy/Bess and, the ONE Step Monk a 10.

If I had to rate those mentioned and use numbers from 1-11, I’d give the Evans/Lugoff a 5 (as you did absolutely legitimately imo for Evans/Undercurrent), the Porgy/Bess an 8-9, the Ballads and Lush life a 9, the ONE step Monk a 10, Ma Vlast an 11. The Evans/Ronnie Scott’s, which you didn’t review yet would get a 2, if at all.

I would even go with your 10 for the Coltrane Ballads vs. 9 for the Lush Life. But if differences are seen so granular, the Lugoff by no means can be an 8 (must be lower). For whatever reason they put it on 45 RPM I don’t know. Nice music certainly.

jazz's picture name it when it sounds less than top range in your perception.

The problem is imo, that a range from 1-11 for audiophile releases makes no sense if due to the general quality of the recordings at the end most are rated between 8-10. Then you could also use a scale from 1 to 4. That’s why folks count your 9 as quite “bad” already. There are hardly any lower.

kimi imacman's picture

Well I consider that review a tad lukewarm to be honest, especially after the hyperbole of the launch announcement of a short while back;

“ AnalogPlanet will post a full review next week. However, here’s a preview: when Donald Byrd enters on the title track, be prepared to lose your @#&%*.”

I’m very much looking forward to receiving my copy and will compare it to my Transatlantic U.K. pressing which sounds great.

Michael Fremer's picture
That trumpet solo is "lose your s..t" worthy but overall this is not a recording worthy of breathless hyperbole. I wrote that it's as close to hearing the actual tape as you're likely to get so I'm not sure what exactly you were expecting....
GreenMonster2420's picture

After teasing "be prepared to lose your ****", this is the review? The only thing reviewed here is the packaging. There is more information on the sound of the DCC than the upcoming one step. Is there an actual review planned for the future?

Michael Fremer's picture
That's all he wrote. If it was still available for purchase he'd write more but at this point, what's the point?
kimi imacman's picture

Why the third person? You ask what I was expecting? To be honest, with your hyperbole over the trumpet, some of your usual gushing. Don’t get me wrong, I love your enthusiasm so was surprised it ended like a damp squib.
Maybe that’s the way it is. My 1967 pressing has much to admire. John’s horn on the opener is spectacularly present, dare I say demo quality, I often used it in Audio Note demos in my store so maybe this pressing has lost some of that or the tape has, I don’t know. As you don’t have anything to compare it to we’ll have to wait.

AnalogJ's picture

Michael, when you wrote about how we were going to lose our "$&#%!" (or was it "#@&$!") when we heard so-and-so come in, the record was still available to be purchased. And saying that in a teaser was, well, a real tease.

It'd sort of be like saying "If you didn't watch the Tampa Bay Bucs game on Sunday, you should have seen Tom Brady!". Then, when we saw a replay, we would have seen a mixed game from Brady. And then you respond to those of us pointing out his overall mediocre game by saying "I was only saying to see Brady. I wasn't saying he was great." Your statement intimated that the whole album would be great.

"Man, wait until you hear this album. This one entrance is AMAZING!...The rest of the record is so-so. I'll write with more details at a later date." THAT might have been a bit better approach.

It's not that we don't love your site or your writing in general (Some of us might, some of might not - but that's not what's relevant right now.), it's just that many of us hang on your every thought. We often don't have the chance to verify an album for ourselves before purchasing, so we take your posts with great weight. What you don't want to do is waste that, as burdensome as they may seem at the moment.

audiotom's picture

That is a short sided outlook
Michael - don’t you work for Stereophile and review turntables, arms and cartridges that mere mortals will never hear let alone own? You do a great job enlightening us on those

You have the opportunity to review the kick off release of a One Step program from a major new audiophile series and you spend all your time talking about an inferior earlier lp release and the fact that you don’t have one of the recent audiophile recordings to compare it to.

Oh - it’s unobainium
Hence review the packaging
Don’t really talk about the sound or quality of the pressing
Those of us who cherish that recording - are not given a copy - most of us were not fast enough to purchase With or without a glowing review we might perhaps search it out on the second hand market where guess what - that $100 record has increase 3 times in price.

It is a complete shame that a large percentage of these Craft LPs will end up in the hands of flippers
I do appreciate you calling our attention to this.
Much like the One Step Santana Abraxas - we came into the game too late
But will be on our toes if it’s worthy next time

Bill_Evans's picture

I remember reading somewhere that people actually read more reviews for something they’ve bought vs something they’re considering buying as a means to justify their purchase and reduce cognitive dissonance. It just gives you warm feelings to have something you own (or have bought and will soon receive) get praised. Not sure if that’s true universally, but it is for me, shallow as I might be!

Michael, I think people are disappointed with the brevity and lack of elaboration in the review because everyone cares about the music, how well Craft has done on their first One Step release, and can’t necessarily spend the $$ required to compare it against other audiophile options.

Reviewers like you who do have easier access or an extensive library of alternative releases help fill a knowledge gap, as well as providing a more objective review from someone who’s heard a lot more than the average music collector - and you never know how much to trust online reviews from random online people who are often rationalizing their expensive purchase. Reading advance reviews also helps ease the “pangs” of anticipation.

Since you don’t have alternatives besides the DCC, I suppose there’s not much more you can do. But if you do manage to get your hands on an original OJC, AP, or first pressing, I hope you’ll revisit the review and elaborate on how they compare.

While 1000 is indeed not a lot, the next issue will likely be larger in quantity, yet still sell out almost immediately, such is the nature of limited releases, whether they be RSD, Mofi Supervinyl, or One Steps. And the $100 price point also seems fairly standard these days, unlike the ERC truly boutique (and overpriced IMO) offerings.

So, even as a premium offering, this is still in the sweet spot for the enthusiast, and I hope that the fact that something sells out won’t be a reason you choose not to review something or take a “what’s the point?” stance on going forward.

Thanks for all your efforts sir!

jazz's picture

For those interested my short comparison of the last two tracks.

Lush life:

The AP has a richer and more spherical/3D sax tone as well as a more prominent, softer (but still well controlled and vibrant) bass.

The Craft has a leaner sax tone and bass with the EQ focussing more on drums and piano. In less well bass controlled setups the Craft may sound tighter and more controlled than the AP, in my setup the AP sounds just right, too. The Craft clearly separates the drums and piano from the sax better front/back and sounds more transparent while the AP in comparison images everything more as a mixture of instruments.

Cymbal sound of both is quite comparable here.

I hear a rhapsody:

The AP sounds better balanced with its richer tone and little stronger bass here. Cymbal sound has better resolution compared to the Craft, which has a tape dropout in the cymbals (the AP has not) and a generally slightly tape-wear-like distorted cymbal sound in comparison.

My final thoughts:

I'd prefer the CRAFT on probably several tracks due to its more transparent front/back soundstaging and immediacy, but it's obvious, that although the ONE STEP process or Grundman's meanwhile improved mastering chain (compared to Kevin Gray's old and meanwhile also upgraded one) seems to enable a "technically" better sound quality, the tape suffered and makes the AP clearly superior on other tracks with a tonality, bass groove and sax tone I'd generally prefer a bit to the Craft's.

So I'd switch between the two. On the tracks without tape wear I'd enjoy the Craft's obviously better transparency while on the others the AP's better tape quality, top end resolution, sax tone and bass focus.

Owners of the AP who missed the Craft don't have to cry, they have a gorgeous release, too and an at least equally essential one imo.

Leonthepro's picture

No one has mentioned tape drop outs so far I think, great to know how they compare!