Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-81595
The current availability on vinyl of many classic albums from Blue Note Records pleases jazz fans like me, but it can be a little confusing to shop for them. About a year ago, when I looked online for a LP of Somethin’ Else, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s 1958 recording for the label, I had a choice of pressings. I’d intended to buy the reissue that was part of Blue Note’s 75th anniversary celebration, but instead bought a 2008 pressing mastered by Ron McMaster (Blue Note 7 46338 1).
The mistake was mine -- I should have read more carefully. I also should have focused on audiophile pressings of what is one of my favorite recordings. There are currently two available, both in stereo. One is a 45rpm, two-disc set from Analogue Productions, the other a single 33rpm LP from Music Matters, which specializes in Blue Note reissues. Kevin Grey handled the mastering for both, but Ron Rambach helped with the Music Matters release.
I love Cannonball, and whether this was actually his own session or Miles Davis’s, who also appears on it (Adderley was then a member of Davis’s first great quintet), it’s a highly enjoyable record that stands up to repeated listens. I first bought it in 1987, on CD (Blue Note CDP 7 46998 2), and my copy was made in Japan -- it was one of the first CDs I bought. I also have a high-resolution version (mono, 24-bit/96kHz FLAC, Blue Note 509997 21962 50), which I bought just a few months ago. I decided to pick up the Music Matters pressing because I wanted an audiophile LP of this great music in a single-disc, 33rpm format.
My 30-year-old CD, also probably mastered by McMaster, sounded surprisingly good when I compared it with the other versions I own. McMaster’s LP sounds better, more “analog” (although some feel that it is not an all-analog production), with more space around the instruments and more body. Alan Yoshida’s hi-rez remastering is the most realistic sounding of the three, with a cleaner presentation and more vivid images of the instruments in a specific space.
As soon as I played the Music Matters pressing, however, I knew why I’d wanted a definitive vinyl pressing of this music. It’s better than the other three copies I own in every way, and opens a portal through which I can enter that 1958 studio and share the space with the musicians. Adderley and Davis were supported by the Hank Jones Trio for this album, and Hank Jones’s piano in “Love for Sale” has a bigger, more enveloping sound, every chord more fully fleshed out. Art Blakey’s drums are more solid and deep, and each note of Sam Jones’s bass is full-bodied and excitingly rhythmic. Adderley and Davis are farther out into the room, each of their notes is cleanly articulated, and it’s easier to hear their breathing techniques and the timbral characteristics of Cannonball’s alto sax and Miles’s trumpet.
Throughout the LP, small things pull me further into moments of inspiration. Davis’s subtle use of dynamics to pace his solo in “Autumn Leaves” is so much easier to hear, as is the texture of Adderley’s alto. Blakey’s cymbal taps are more emphatic throughout the album, and ring out longer. The reverb around the instruments is immediate and striking. The soundstage is deeper and wider, and the sound of each instrument is carved out so well I can hear every detail. Jones’s comping behind the players is more defined than in the other three copies I have, yet still behind and in support of them.
There have been other audiophile pressings of Somethin’ Else, including mono and stereo pressings from Classic Records. I haven’t heard Analogue Productions’ 45rpm edition, also mastered by Grey, along with Steve Hoffman; I can speak only for this Music Matters LP, beautifully pressed by RTI on absolutely quiet, 180gm vinyl. It lets me close my eyes and be transported into the studio with the musicians, hearing the notes as they ring against the walls. The bass hits me in the chest, the notes and the overtones emerging from inside the instrument to fill the room. I’ve listened to and loved Somethin’ Else for the more than 30 years I’ve owned a copy of it. But until now, I’d never really heard it.
. . . Joseph Taylor