John Coltrane • Blue Train

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBLP-1577
Single LP
1957/2014

Music

Sound

Cannonball Adderley • Somethin' Else

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-81595
Single LP
1958/2014

Music

Sound

by John Crossett | March 22, 2014

fter spending seven years reissuing some of the most renowned Blue Note jazz titles on 45rpm LPs, with arguably the best sonics ever, Music Matters decided to revisit a dozen titles, most of which they didn’t get to initially, and reissue them as 33rpm LPs. They give these single records the same deluxe treatment as their double-record 45rpm sets. However, each of these titles has been reissued several times, both in analog and digital formats, raising the question as to why you should consider buying yet another copy.

Well, here are some answers. First, there is the music itself: all of it indisputably classic jazz. Both Blue Train and Something' Else were one-offs; neither John Coltrane nor Cannonball Adderley was ever under contract with Blue Note. In Coltrane’s case, he was fulfilling a promise made to Alfred Lion that he’d record an album for him. In Adderley’s case, Miles Davis, his employer at the time, urged Lion to let Adderley record as a leader for the label. The results speak for themselves. These are two of the finest sessions Blue Note ever captured. Both Coltrane and Adderley (plus Davis on Adderley’s album) were in top form. Both had superb rhythm sections: Coltrane had pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer "Philly" Joe Jones, along with trombonist Curtis Fuller and trumpeter Lee Morgan assisting on the front line, while Adderley had Hank Jones on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and the great Art Blakey on drums. On star power alone, these two LPs belong in any jazz library.

Then there is the care that has gone into these new versions. You'll first notice the gleaming covers; you won’t find nicer ones anywhere -- and that includes mint originals, if you can afford them. Blue Train looks sharp and authentic, right down to the green spine matching Coltrane’s name on the front. As with Music Matters' 45rpm releases, these covers are gatefolds, the inside area reserved for unpublished session photos that only add to the total package.

But the real reason to buy these albums is if they represent a significant upgrade in sonic terms. Ron Rambach feels that in many ways these 33s are even better than his 45s, thanks to a better understanding of what he and Joe Harley wanted to accomplish in the remastering process, as well as better equipment used this time around. Blue Train is also reissued in mono rather than in the usual stereo. I only have stereo versions of it -- the Classic Records 33 and Acoustic Sounds 45s -- so comparisons are a bit of apples vs. oranges. As good as the Classic Records reissue is, the Music Matters LP is clearly better. The front-line instruments have a fuller, more realistic sound and the rhythm section, especially the bass, is tighter and more articulate. And while you do lose a sense of space that stereo gives, you gain more truthful tone and timbre. Stacked up against the Acoustic Sounds 45s it’s much closer. The 45rpm LPs have space to spare, both overall and around the instruments, but the hard left/right of those early Rudy Van Gelder stereo efforts does detract a bit. With the Music Matters, it feels as if you’re in the studio, whereas the Acoustic Sounds, with that extreme left/right stereo spread, makes disbelief a bit harder to suspend. Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to be without either, thanks to one being in stereo and the other mono.

I have two different stereo copies of Somethin' Else for comparison. The first is the 1997 Capitol Records reissue and the second is a two-song Classic Records 45. There is no comparison between the Capitol and the Music Matters. If the Capitol is the only vinyl copy you own, the Music Matters will seem like a whole new album, letting you hear far deeper into the recording. It will sound like someone took a blanket (or three) off your speakers. Up against the 45, it's again closer, but to my ears the Music Matters wins again. The Classic 45 is softer, Davis's trumpet sounding a tad muffled and losing some of its sharp, brassy quality. Jones's bass is not as clearly a part of the ensemble on the 45. On the Music Matters LP, the dynamics are improved, with Adderley’s alto sax and Davis’s trumpet practically leaping from the speakers.

Granted, I don’t have originals (as is the case for most of us not named Trump), but given the advancements in remastering technology, I’d venture to say these Music Matters LPs come closer to the master tapes than even the originals, because they are not limited by the equipment, both for mastering and playback. So here we find the final and best reason to consider re-buying these albums: the Music Matters LPs just plain sound better, bringing you closer to the master tapes, giving you a greater feeling of being in the same space as the musicians.

If you love this music, as I do, you don't need much of a reason to purchase these title again, but in this case you get your money's worth and then some. While I'm sure there will be more attempts to reissue these LPs, I doubt any of them will improve upon what's been done here.

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