Sunday, April 29, 2012

Audiophile Audition Vinyl Reviews

B.B. King – Singin’ The Blues – Crown Records (1957)/ Pure Pleasure Records vinyl

The early career of the King Of Blues is captured on audiophile vinyl.

Published on April 26, 2012

B.B. King – Singin’ The Blues – Crown Records (1957)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2011) CLP 5020 180-gram audiophile mono vinyl ****1/2:

(B.B. King – guitar, vocals; Red Callender – bass; Maxwell Davis – tenor saxophone; Jewel L. Grant – alto saxophone; Billy Hadnot – bass; Ralph Hamilton – bass; Lorenzo holden – alto saxophone’ Willard Mc Daniel – piano; Jack McVea – tenor saxophone; Bumps Meyers – tenor saxophone; Jake “Vernon” Porter – trumpet; Jesse Price – drums; Jesse Sailes – drums; Maurice Simon – tenor saxophone; Floyd Turnham – alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Charles Waller – tenor saxophone)

It is difficult to fathom the breadth of B.B. King’s legacy. Widely considered to be one of the most influential guitarists of all time, he is the embodiment of the blues connection to modern music. In the forties, he began his recording career with none other than future Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. His legend is steeped in historical and anecdotal contexts.  (As a dance hall was burning, King rushed back into the blaze to rescue his beloved guitar, which he then named Lucille after the woman who inspired the incident.). During the 1950s he became a fixture on the R&B circuit with a succession of hits including “Everyday I Have The Blues”, “Sweet Little Angel” “3 O’clock Blues”, You Know I Love You” and “Woke Up This Morning”.

King became a legitimate crossover success with the release of “The Thrill Is Gone” (off his 1969 album, Completely Well. The single charted on both the pop and R&B charts. That year he opened for the Rolling Stones, and everyone became familiar with King. He was an icon to the rock and roll establishment, recording with U2 (Rattle and Hum) and Eric Clapton (Riding With The King). He has recorded and performed with the finest of jazz, blues, folk and world musicians. Not surprisingly, he was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame (1980) and The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (1987). At eighty-six years of age…he still performs!

Singin’ The Blues, originally released (on Crown records) in 1957 is a compilation of King’s early rhythm and blues career. More than a retrospective, it is a glimpse into the golden age of this unique hybrid genre. The opening track, “Please Love Me” introduces the jagged guitar and high pitched vocals that define blues. The relation to jump music is evident on “You Upset Me Baby”. Reminiscent of Louis Jordan or Ray Charles, the musical flow swings, and is augmented by a saucy tenor saxophone run. King’s signature fluid string-bending solos established a template for most guitar players over the next twenty years. There are plenty of horns on the arrangements. “Woke Up This Morning” has a latin or calypso groove. The horn chorus could be from a piece by Ellington or Basie.

There are slower vamps like “3 O’clock Blues” which manifests a mournful New Orleans vibe. The sole cover, Memphis Slim’s “Everyday I Have The Blues,” is gritty with a barrelhouse piano and nasty guitar licks. This is jukebox music…concise and dynamic. “Blind Love” is indicative of the urban context of the music. Again King delivers a blistering solo.  It is easy to see the emergence of an important musical figure.

As with many blues artists, there is a mysterious, shared writing credit (Most likely, this is attributable to label executives angling for royalties). Pure Pleasure Records has maintained the grainy tone of the original mono recordings. But King’s passionate singing and vibrato-laced guitar work is preserved. Singin’ The Blues is more than an album…it is an historical document!

 Side One: Please Love Me; You Upset Me Baby; Every Day I Have The Blues; Bad Luck; 3 O’Clock Blues; Blind Love
 Side Two: Woke Up This Morning; You Know I Love You; Sweet Little Angel; Ten Long Years; Did You Ever Love A Woman; Crying Won’t Help You

–Robbie Gerson


The Sound of Jazz – Soundtrack from 1957 CBS-TV Special – [TrackList follows] Columbia/ Pure Pleasure Records vinyl

The stereo soundtrack version of the most perfect hour of jazz ever carried on national TV.

Published on April 27, 2012

The Sound of Jazz – Soundtrack from 1957 CBS-TV Special – [TrackList follows] Columbia/ Pure Pleasure Records 180gr. audiophile mono vinyl CL 1098 *****:

(Henry “Red” Allen All-Stars, Billie Holiday with the Mal Waldron All-Stars, Mal Waldron solo, Jimmy Giuffre, Pee Wee Russell, Count Basie All-Stars with Jimmy Rushing)

In early December of 1957 the most perfect hour of jazz ever on TV was telecast. Four days before that, all the musicians (except Gerry Mulligan, who reneged because he wasn’t paid extra for it) assembled in Columbia’s 30th Street studios in NYC to record, in early stereo, the same selections that would be featured on the live TV show four days later. It was such an excellent hour of jazz TV because CBS had the good sense to leave everything to two jazz experts: Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff. They decided from the start to concentrate on the music and forget about the usual TV show trimmings. Everyone dressed casually, the cameras, mikes, lights and wires were visible. Media critic John Crosby was the relaxed host, who only introduced the hour and gave credits at the end of it. The way Billie looks at Lester Young during closeups in her tune is priceless; within two years both were gone. (The DVD is available; get it!)

I wish I could be more positive about this audiophile LP.  A number of times in the past I had identified and complained about CD reissues (mostly on the Fantasy label) which were only released in mono and yet I owned perfectly fine actual stereo LPs of the same material. This one is the reverse—there is a fine Columbia/Legacy stereo CD reissue of The Sound of Jazz. Not only does it add an eight-minute double-length alternate take of “Wild Man Blues,” but it is also burned as a CD-R, which if done right can sometimes be superior fidelity to a pressed CD. Audiophile vinyl reissue labels request the best possible master from whomever they are licensing the material from, and both Pure Pleasure and myself deduce that Sony Music must have found some damage—dropouts, for example—on the original stereo tapes. (But that seems strange because Sony Music has supposedly archived all their analog masters to DSD—that’s what they invented it for in the first place—and surely the stereo version of the best hour of jazz on TV ever would be one of the first things to be so preserved.)

Anyway, what I had to compare was this mono audiophile vinyl with the Columbia/Legacy stereo CD. Switching back and forth, the vinyl sounds a bit rolled off in the treble compared to the more distant-sounding but more harsh and somewhat metallic stereo CD. Mal Waldron’s solo piano on “Nervous” (misidentified at Wikipedia as Thelonious Monk—though he does sound a lot like Monk here) actually sounds better on the mono vinyl. More natural and placed at dead center of the soundstage of course. The stereo CD suffers from the too-wide-piano mike pickup which so many piano recordings suffer from. (And the first few years of jazz stereo recordings generally suffer from this “hole-in-the-middle” miking.)

However, on nearly everything else the early stereo adds a tremendous impact and boost to the sonics—especially of the Allen and Basie Bands. Hearing the brass on one side answer the winds on the other is a kick. Even on intimate tracks such as the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, it is a pleasure to hear the guitar on the left, doublebass in the center and Jimmy’s clarinet on the right—rather than all coming out of the center speaker in mono. Both vocals with the bands’ backing—by Billie and by Rushing—are a delight and probably the highlights of the hour. Considering not only stereo but the price difference, the CD reissue gets my vote here. Both formats reprint the original liner notes by Eric Larrabee, which originally appeared in Harper’s Magazine.

 Wild Man Blues; Rosetta – Red Allen, Fine and Mellow – Billy Holiday with Waldron All-Stars, Blues – Giuffre & Russell, I Left My Baby – Jimmy Rushing with Basie All-Stars, The Train and the River – Giuffre Trio, Nervous – Mal Waldron, Dickie’s Dream – Basie All-Stars

—John Sunier


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Special thanks to John at for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

AUDIOPHILE AUDITION focuses on recordings of interest to audiophiles and collectors, with an accent on surround sound for music, and on all hi-res disc formats.  Over 100 SACD, DVD Video/Audio and standard CD reviews are published during each month, and our archives go back to January 2001.