Music Matters Changes Speeds

by Dennis Davis | December 10, 2013

hat is there left to do when you’ve already taken the reissue market by storm, re-creating over a hundred classic Blue Note titles over the space of seven years? Music Matters not only reissued great titles but also nailed the process, with amazing mastering work and the best-looking foldout covers on the market.

I’ve been pestering Ron Rambach and Joe Harley for over a year about their plans after their 45rpm program winds up. That cat is now out of the bag, as a press release distributed today reveals. A new series starts with a dozen top titles cherry-picked from the catalog, cut at 33 1/3rpm and pressed by RTI on a single LP. Jazz fans will instantly recognize that the first twelve titles are indeed the pick of the crop -- they're desert-island Blue Notes.

BLP-1577 John Coltrane - Blue Train
BST-84154 Grant Green - Idle Moments
BST-84031 Hank Mobley - Soul Station
BST-84123 Kenny Burrell - Midnight Blue
BST-84041 Tina Brooks - True Blue
BST-84112 Dexter Gordon - Go!
BST-84140 Joe Henderson - Page One
BST-84003 Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers - Moanin'
BST-84157 Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder
BST-84059 Kenny Drew - Undercurrent
BST-81588 Sonny Clark - Cool Struttin'
BST-81595 Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else

While those twelve LPs cannot cover all of the great titles released by Blue Note, no serious argument can be made that they are anything but superlative. Indeed, not only are these dozen LPs top-tier music, but many are also among the best-sounding Blue Note LPs ever recorded. Each of these titles was previously released, some by Analogue Productions and others by Music Matters, but at 45rpm. The new 33rpm editions maintain the outstanding foldout covers that Music Matters used for its 45rpm series -- they are identical except for holding only a single LP. One significant difference is that John Coltrane’s Blue Train, previously released in stereo by Analogue Productions, is now released in mono. Joe Harley explained that he carefully listened to both the mono and stereo tapes and it was no contest -- mono was better.

Blue Note is the most renowned label in jazz history. King Records in Japan took a stab at reissuing Blue Note titles between 1977 and 1983, and for many years these beautifully pressed LPs were highly sought after as the prime reissues of this music. In late 1982, Michael Cuscuna’s Mosaic Records picked up the task of restoring Blue Note titles to vinyl splendor with limited-edition box sets, each of which included detailed booklets with session-by-session analysis, lots of Francis Wolff photographs and informative essays. Over two dozen box sets, all long out of print, were devoted to Blue Note artists. While these were fantastic news for collectors, they sold out rather quickly and began fetching high resale prices. Capitol Records mastered the Mosaic sets in-house rather than contracting out to a specialist mastering house. Classic Records, which had taken the classical records market by storm with a series of RCA Living Stereo reissues, was next in the competition to reissue the best Blue Notes. It negotiated a contract to release titles on audiophile vinyl in the late 1990s, using Bernie Grundman to master a series of titles that were controversial for their constant rebirth in different vinyl formulations, speeds and colors.

However, jazz lovers and audiophiles were not yet convinced that Blue Note had been well served. The catalog became available once again for vinyl licensing a little over seven years ago, and two labels began issuing titles. Analogue Productions released a series of titles at 45rpm and then bowed out to pursue its other very successful releases. Ron Rambach and Joe Harley, no strangers to jazz or record production, created a team composed of Cuscuna along with mastering engineers Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray and began its storied 45rpm series. Over a hundred releases on and Kevin Gray, with Rambach, has taken over the mastering completely. The mastering chain at Gray’s Cohearent Audio has continued to evolve, due in large part to Joe Harley’s supply of cables from AudioQuest.

Test pressings of the soon-to-be-available 33rpm issues confirm the claim of outstanding sound. Those music lovers who held out for single-LP versions of these great jazz titles are in for a treat. Look for them to begin shipping in early 2014.

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