Do Blue Note's 75th Anniversary Vinyl Reissues Honor the Label's Rich History?

The first four 75th anniversary Blue Note vinyl reissues arrived the other day. The fifth, Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, has been delayed.

First the great news: United's 120g pressings are very good! They are flat, and other than the usual dimples that seem to afflict many URP records and some "striation" often seen on URP pressings, the sealed records were defect free and better yet, they were uniformly quiet.

I played through all four records with but one noise issue at the end of side two of Blue Train where a trail of dimples led to a few revolutions of "crunchy" sound. That is both excellent quality and very good news. The records look good physically too, with visible scuffing caused by lacquer, not pressing issues. Side two of Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" evidenced some "burnt biscuit" white streaks but they were in the lead out groove area and so didn't play.

While examining that record cut by Ian Sefchick (his scribe mark is a large roman numeral "I" with a smaller "s" inset) I noticed what must be Wayne Shorter's autograph in side one's lead out groove area. Sefchick started out at Capitol in maintenance, working on Ron McMaster's lathe. When this project commenced he resurrected Wally Traugott's original lathe that had been mothballed and set it up in another room.

Another thing I quickly learned was that though Blue Train's cover art is the original mono the reissue is stereo. This came about because of Blue Note's desire to use original artwork. When the label first issued the album in stereo it used the mono artwork and affixed a gold "STEREO" label to the jacket.

So how do these reissues sound? Compared to what? I compared the Liberty era "RVG" pressing of "Speak No Evil" with this one and I found the comment by MicallefK under the Bernie Grundman interview story 100% accurate, though my comparison was to an earlier "Blue Note Records Inc, New York, USA" RVG pressing.

He wrote "The new reissue didn't fare well. It lacks the dynamics and punch of the 70s LP. That old record has a lot of trumpet splat and the instruments are in your face and super dynamic, it's actually a louder mix (sic). The new LP sounded recessed, especially on Hancock's piano. The new LP sounds a little smoother, but I'd rather have the dynamics and the rough-around-the edges quality. Oddly enough, the new LP is far away from what I would call a digital presentation. It just sounds a little weak. But they didn't mess with the basic sound, it just sounds soft."

Clearly the mix isn't different, but the cut and EQ are. Still, without referencing any other pressing, "Speak No Evil" is very listenable, and not at all "digital" sounding as we used to use the curse word.

Larry Young's Unity is one of my favorite Blue Notes so I'm really glad Don Was chose it to be among the first reissues. Any young person who digs Medeski, Martin and Wood will love Unity. I've never heard an original but compared to the Music Matters double 45 this reissue is somewhat drier, less dynamic and less spacious but on its own it is well done because the files were carefully created. The double 45 has greater three-dimensionality, cymbal shimmer and organ "juiciness" but I don't think the people to whom these LPs are being marketed, will care. The sound is clean and bracing. Compared to MP3s, this is HDTV.

This reissue of Blue Train is more accurate to the original than is the Classic reissue. I compared it to an RVG pressing and Rudy panned Coltrane and Kenny Drew to the center. Both Classic's reissue and the double 45 from Analogue Productions keep the pan well to the left. So in terms of spatial accuracy to the original, the new one wins.

Sonically the Classic struck me as being too bright on top and accurately hard in the midrange, the Analogue Productions overall the most pleasing but softer than the original, and the new reissue tonally in between, but harmonically less colorful, spatially flatter and certainly drier.

Were you to do these comparisons on your system no doubt the results and your reaction to them might be different. We have no sonic standard. And while we all want "reissue truth" it's important to remember that the speakers we listen to are very different and more accurate than what Rudy Van Gelder used to monitor his cuts. For my money the new Music Matters Blue Train mono reissue is the bomb. Coltrane's sax has bite. It gets hard when he presses but you know what? So does this new one from Blue Note.

If you're a Blue Note "newbie" eighty bucks gets you all of these records and they are all worth having. The only one I didn't have was Free For All issued in 1964. The level of outrage and simmering anarchy in the music of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers here was about four years ahead of its time and given today's mostly studious and brain-heavy jazz, it will definitely rock your world!

To conclude: If any of these really float your boat you could always try one of the audiophile quality pressings to hear what differences there are. If you get this Unity and then the Music Matters double 45 you'll get it. The differences aren't subtle. However here the pressing quality is fine, the artwork decent, the transfers good and the price right. The Blue Note 75th anniversary 100 LP vinyl reissue series definitely honors the legacy.

COMMENTS
my new username's picture

This is as good a place as any to mention this, but I'm 2 for 2 recently with pressings from United. I know, it's apropos of nothing, but thought it fair to mention since I've been a frequent complainer here. The LPs are:

1) Vince Gill's and Paul Franklin's Bakersfield -- great covers, peformed well, and a freakin' bargain from Amazon (less than $20 shipped.)

2) Carnivores' Second Impulse -- they're a local ATL band with a fun album. SPIN is still streaming it here: http://www.spin.com/articles/carnivores-second-impulse-album-stream-blac...

That said, about "saving money" by pressing at United: How is it that even smaller runs are profitable when done elsewhere? For example, Constellation had this pressed at Optimal, http://cstrecords.com/store/products/CST102-180gLP.html and look at all the extras you get with it.

For something more mainstream but still maybe on the lower-volume side, consider the Johnny Cash "lost album" Out Among the Stars ... pressed at Sterling. It sounds sterling! Easily less than $30, more like $22 or so. [Edit: sorry, cut by Ryan Smith @ Sterling. Dunno where pressed.]

Overall, and to hopefully get this back on track, YES I agree it's a little sad to even be discussing today where a record is pressed in the context of its musical or purchase value. But here we are, because of what's been allowed to happen through the years.

Michael Fremer's picture

If the Cash has a U in a circle it was plated and pressed at United but I bet it was pressed at RTI.

my new username's picture

and 180gm. Very quiet and flat. Gatefold cover, sleeve has a nice plastic liner. "Mastered by Joe Palmaccio at The Place for Mastering, Nashville"

Michael Fremer's picture

Then it's an RTI pressing. I've never seen URP use those.

Rayman's picture

Zedd- Clarity was warped, the wrong width as my record clamp slipped off,

Noisy and had that non-fill all over both sides.

Not to mention pressed from a CD. You tube sounded better.

Too bad cause a great dance album.

Fortunately Amazon Canada took it back with full refund!!

Michael Fremer's picture

Yes, I bought that one too at the behest of a young reader who wanted to know if that's what records are supposed to be like. Ugh.

What I got was what you got. In other words no one gave a shit and every copy was probably that way....

Rayman's picture

How many young people are going to turn away from vinyl because of plants like United?

Then again other more recent electronica/dance albums have been great. Like

Daft Punk,Deadmaus, Avicii so not all gloom and doom.

my new username's picture

How many young people are going to turn away from vinyl because of plants like United?

Right---let's forget about the audiophile labels for a second and just think about the cheapest new records (often cut at United) and those from (anywhere else.)

The difference in price at the retail level could be $5 or less. From my experience, it's not more than $5.

Sure, there will always be factors that influence price such as gatefolds, extra/better artwork, not to mention 180gm pressings or even the nicer liner I mentioned for the new Cash LP.

And make no mistake. A $5 difference at retail could truly be a make-or-break differentiator in the store. But geez, when you're squeezing every last cent out of the production cost, something's gotta give! At what point do the labels say, "FYI we could have easily saved you $3-$7 on the LP's cost, but we know the result wouldn't have been special. SPECIAL--why else even be in the business today, without trying for something special? (It's not as if LPs are mainstream.)

Rayman's picture

The Blue Note are at $19.95 and they are pressed well by United.

Isn't the real difference Qualiy Control at United?

IOW as Michael says some one doesn't give a .....

Photo_Utopia's picture

I'm all for these pressings, the audiophile ones are twice the price and if you're a youngster or very value driven you'll note they're (The MM editions) not twice as good.

Thanks for the mini review, choices are good, and to be able to pick between a value pressing and an audiophile one of an album; especially as they were released over 50 years ago can only be a positive thing. 

wgb113's picture

"To conclude: If any of these really float your boat you could always try one of the audiophile quality pressings to hear what differences there are."

This is the key for me Mike, as a "younger" person just getting into jazz the $12 OJC and these $20 BNs serve as the building blocks of a nice collection.  As a result I've already picked up a few audiophile pressings of albums I've liked.

I welcome this series.

Bill

Sean Zloch's picture

As an older person getting into jazz (I'm 40), the LPs are a great introduction. I thought  that the ones I picked up sounded fine. A little flat, and not as 3D as the Music Matters LPs I have, but they are tastefully EQ'd and pressed on quiet vinyl. They make for a nice, enjoyable listen.

Sean Zloch's picture

I'm confused about Out To Lunch being delayed. I got my copy last week from Amazon. Maybe they sold out of the first batch that they printed up.

Michael Fremer's picture

Don't know. I got the four in a box with a note saying "Out to Lunch" was delayed and would be shipped ASAP.

daveming80's picture

When I was a teenager, we couldn't wait for Friday (payday) to come.  Because then we could take five dollars + change and head straight to the record store to buy a new record.  And then go to somebody's house and have a listening session.  We weren't paying too much attention to the sonics:  we were having way too much fun for that!

Besides, the Blue Note sound is not an "audiophile" sound, as far as I'm concerned.  IMHO, Rudy did a great job with horns and drums, but sometimes the bass was weak and the piano was boxy.  But who really cares?  The music itself is WAY above that!

So, even if these new Blue Notes are not the last word in sonics, they are just perfect for that Friday night teenager . . .  The music is getting on the turntable.  Hooray for that!

MicallefK's picture

...for quoting me. I am honored. Geesh. 

For some reason all the new Blue Note reissues sound louder than my 70s Liberty reissues.  I compared the two different Speak No Evils on my smaller system and same results. But I agree, if you haven't heard previous early era 70s reissues, these new BNs are fabulous. 

I thought the new Music Matters Blue Train sounded soft, but their Hank Mobley Soul Station is excellent!!

Blue Note's picture

the $10 Scorpios?  Are they twice as good, or just a bit better?  I have been trying to get as many of these issues as '70s reissues (Liberty and/or Liberty UA) and the pricing has been going up to past the $20 mark.  Also, some reissues are much harder than others to find and it can be difficult to determine quality issues when buying used (eBay) so that the possibilities that Scorpio offers with their MUCH larger reissue base has me thinking about them, but if their quality is much less than the new reissues, more considerations are in order, thanks!

MicallefK's picture

I generally prefer the 70s Liberty or UA reissues over Scorpios. Then again, original or even early reissues are not always better than current reissues. The Mono Miles LPs that were recently released (from the hands of magical engineer Mark Wilder) sound incredible; the mono Milestones Legacy reissue LP bettered my copy of the original 1958 LP. But the early Blue Note reissues, circa Liberty or even UA (not always the later blue background/Black blue note) with the "RVG" or "Van Gelder" deadwax stamp generally get my vote. And my ebay money .  

Blue Note's picture

I have been getting these BNs on Liberty and some Liberty/UA pressings, many with the RVG stamp in the dead was.  One in particular, Swing, Swang, Swingin', is just incredible sounding!   Going by Penndorf's recommendations, the 70's reissues can be a mixed bag, but at least they are affordable.  I was hoping we might get something along the line of the Classic or QRP quality, I mean, the QRP reissues of the Living Stereos is just incredible in every way, sound, packaging and quality, and at $30 a no-brainer.  So Capitol comes in with sub-par packaging, OK quality sound files, and poor pressing and wants $20?  Sound to me like a typical Capitol rip-off money grab.  I would hope that QRP would take a go at these, I would be all over them.  But with this half-ass approach, I think that I will just have to pass.  Too bad, I was looking to get most of them...

planarhead's picture

I am glad I own Plastylite originals for nearly all the albums I'm interested in. Music Matters, Analogue Productions can't touch them. The audiophile reissues just lay there, the original pressings jump out of the speakers. I don't care if that means they are "colored", give me that excitement in a tall glass!

MicallefK's picture

I have an old scratched Lou Donaldson Gravy, and in its poor state the music blasts out of the speakers, basically untouched. 

Paul Boudreau's picture

I hope I'm not being a pest with this but I wonder if it would be possible with pictures or audio files to illustrate certain things you mentioned early in your review.  I'm not necessarily suggesting that you do it but asking whether others think it would be useful and possible. 

1) "...other than the usual dimples..."  (this one is probably easy but just to check:  Are dimples convex or concave?)

2) "...where a trail of dimples led to a few revolutions of 'crunchy' sound."

3) "...with visible scuffing caused by lacquer, not pressing issues..."

4) "...some 'burnt biscuit' white streaks..."

Clearly taking revealing pix of vinyl is difficult and capturing relevant audio samples probably wouldn't be easy, either.

Michael Fremer's picture

Taking pictures is difficult. I tried with the Zed Clarity, which looks awful to the naked eye but none of it comes through in a photo no matter how I light or angle it. The dimples are concave. The white streaks might be easier. I'll see what I can do...

Paul Boudreau's picture

Thanks much.  How about "crunchy sound?"  Does that equal distortion?

Michael Fremer's picture

The music isn't distorted. There's "crunchy" noise with each revolution

missouricatman's picture

Given the interviews you conducted with relevant parties, where you mentioned your concerns about pressing quality, I have to ask if you managed somehow to obtain pressings that couldn't have been specially selected just for you. If so, then your experience with this first batch is good news, indeed.

Michael Fremer's picture

Were sealed and not selected. I don't think I've ever gotten a "special" pressing from anyone.... and yes, these first few Blue Notes are good news.

thirtycenturyman's picture

I'm really looking forward to picking up a copy of Combustication.  Pricing of originals has really gone through the roof.  I can't imagine that it would sound drastically different from the original (from way back in '98), but who knows.  

I own an original copy of End of The World Party and it sounds amazing; great pressing to boot!  I'm fairly certain it was recorded digitally so the only variable should be pressing quality.

Hopefully they won't be condensing these double vinyls onto a single record to keep them at the $20 price point.

nigthenrock's picture

So Ian Sefchick, and not Bellman and Grundman as previously reported, is now cutting these?

Lukish's picture

Michael,

I have various Blue Note reissues from the 1980s and 1990s. I searched your site and couldn't find any reviews of them. What is your opinion of where these series fit in the spectrum of pressing quality/sound?

1. Art Blakey - Moanin' ('97); Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch ('98); Dexter Gordon - Go ('97); Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage ('97); Wayne Shorter - Speak No Evil ('97); etc.

2. Connoisseur LP Series (1994) : Johnny Friffin - The Congregation; Wayne Shorter - The All Seeing Eye; etc.

3. Blue Note DMM ( 1984) : Cannonball's Somethin' Else; Coltrane's Blue Train.

All the '90s reissues I purchased new from Acoustic Sounds.

Thanks

Blue Note's picture

he really digs into the whole reissue BN thing...

Michael Fremer's picture

Key would be knowing who mastered them by examining the inner groove area....the dates are too vague for me...the DMM series wasn't well regarded but I've not heard them. DMM produces a different sound....a legitimate sound.....but a different one from lacquer  and since Blue was closely associated with having a "sound", switching to DMM produced something too different for many.

Veronica's picture

The European reissues are 180g pressings - I doubt from Pallas, maybe Optimal.

jlstrat's picture

My copy of Unity says Alan Yosida mastered it. Perhaps I missed some detail in one of Mr. F's other postings, but I wonder how the mastering chain plays out. 

Michael Fremer's picture

I know that Yoshida was in charge of some digital transfers from the master tape but he does not cut operate a lathe so where does it say on the record that it was mastered by Alan Yoshida? On the lead out groove area? I don't recall seeing it there either...

jlstrat's picture

Sorry...it's on the back cover. 

TheThing72's picture

I personally have been pleased with Blue Note's 75th series thus far. Dexter Gordon's "Our Man in Paris" and Art Blakey's "Free for All" I picked up recently play near flawlessly. They also certainly best the RVG CD remasters from a few years back. As stated by Mr. Fremer.. the Coltrane did have a bit of crunch on Lazy Bird near the end of the track.. but not too bad. The only one that has been grievous was the Ornette Coleman Trio. The pressing was pretty noisy and has quite a bit of extranious noise issue on the front of the first track. My local shop is hooking me up with a second copy to see if it will have the same problem. 

I have been a Blue Note fan for more than half of my life (42 now). I have quite a bit of respect and experience with these albums in multiple formats and hope that the quality continues with this series. I also own a good handful of the Music Matters 45rpm reissues.. and yes they are AMAZING.. but for less than $20.00 even for a self confessed audiophile like me.. the new Blue Notes sound pretty damn good. 

Byrdbop's picture

I recently bought a US UA copy of Joe Henderson's Mode For Joe. Mastered by Bernie Grundman according to back of sleeve - his initials are etched into the run-off. I had high hopes. I take out the vinyl from the paper inner and it looks like it's been sitting on a dusty shelf in a hardware store for 40 yrs - a lot worse condition than my 60's Liberty copies. Great! I give it a thorough clean and drop the needle into the (crackly) groove. I don't like crackly vinyl, it doesn't make it more authentic and it isn't how decent vinyl should sound. Hipsters and TV producers may think otherwise but a new noisy Lp is just a shoddy product. I have a lot of Blue Note Lp's. I have original press Plasylite mono Blue Notes, original UA RVG Stereo's, I have RVG etched Liberty/UA reissues, Pathe Marconi non DMM's, French and US DMM's, Top Ten/Connoisseur and Blue Notes from the 1977 UK reissues. The 75th vinyl cut of this Lp is the worst sounding Blue Note I now own by a LONG WAY! I cannot listen to it for more than a couple of minutes. Harsh, shrill, thin, one dimensional, incorrectly mixed, weird fake sounding reverb on sax which is panned right with reverb to the left. Half as loud as a UA RVG press and Pathe Marconi I played prior to listening to it and with no sense of soundstage and depth. Also no warmth at all. This is not how Blue Note Lp's should sound. Even the loathsome DMM Lp's have a more balanced sound. Perhaps this particular recording is problematic but the RVG CD edition of this sounds SO much better it's laughable. I will not be buying any more of this edition.

Michael Fremer's picture
Pressed at United. That is the biggest problem. That accounts for the noise but also, plating is absolutely critical and I don't think they have a clue. You should send an email to Jay Millar at United. Jay.m@urpressing.com
jpvisual's picture

Seriously, I can only take so many Late 50'S Bop reissues from AP. There is SO much great hard-bop and soul jazz from the mid 60's to the early 70's, why doesn't Chad change it up and reissue some of these fantastic soul jazz records?

Chad, you're forgetting:

Big John Patton, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Brother Jack McDuff, Grant Green, Reuben Wilson, Rhoda Scott, Candido, Hank Marr, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Mcgriff, man I could go on forever.

AP, you're the best reissue label out there, please include some of these great soul jazz records in your catalog. Thanks!

shawnwes's picture

today is Record Store Day and I scored 3 of the re-issues:
Hank Mobley: The Turaround
John Coltrane: Blue Coltrane
Sonny Clark: Leapin' and Lopin

All 3 are flawless pressings. The Coltrane is 180g with a free mp3 download. For the $21-23 CAD I paid w/o a discount I'm not complaining. I plan on getting as many of this series as I can just to have the music.

shawnwes's picture

The Blue Coltrane lp I purchased on RSD came with a download coupon for the album MP3 via the website BACKTOBLUEVINYL.COM. It code doesn't work - error message says "that's not a code we recognize". I sent a message via the site's "having trouble widget" explaining the problem. The widget states they'll respond within 24 hours. 4 days later still no response so I send a follow up to the first request for help. A day later still no response. I'm quite disappointed with the lack of service from the Blue Note 75th Anniversary mp3 download site. Anyone experienced similar problems with it?

shawnwes's picture

that should be Blue Train, not Blue Coltrane.

meltedmedia's picture

I recently purchased this album from Music Direct, along with Cannonball Adderlry- Somethin Else, and Wayne Shorter - Speak No Evil. I immediately noticed when I put the needle to the Coltrane album, at the very beginning there seems to be a recurrent thump sound, as well as there is a faint hint of sound of the music playing before the track actually begins. Has anyone noticed this before? Is there an oddity in the remastering? I sent the copy back to Music Direct and they sent me back another.....and I have the same problem. I brought the disc to a local retailer who put it up on their player, and they are hearing the same. Should this be happening?

Rea's picture

Ordered myself about 17 titles as a gift for Christmas or whatever. Most were SO noisy, its not even funny.. So initiated a return... I an't believe Don Was is disrespecting this analog so much... Sad reissue off some of the greatest records of all time...

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