My original plan today was to post the late 50s LP, Baubles, Bangles and Beads by the Kirby Stone Four, but I decided not to do that after I belatedly found out that the album is currently in print, available on CD.
So instead I punted and have salvaged an interesting exercise in sound comparison, between a superior LP issue of some Duke Ellington tracks vs. an inferior CD transfer of the same tracks. The LP is long out of print (though cheap copies can be had on Ebay) while the CD is still available.
Going head-to-head in this comparison are transfers of my two favorite Duke Ellington recordings: “Echoes of Harlem,” meant as a showcase piece for the band’s trumpeter Cootie Williams (thus the parenthetical title, “Cootie’s Concerto”) and “Clarinet Lament,” a work meant to highlight the clarinet work of Barney Bigard (thus the subtitle, “Barney’s Concerto.”) Both are from 1936.
Over the weekend I captured and converted these from my old Time-Life “Giants of Jazz” LP set from 1979. I then listened to the transfers of the tracks that were done for CD on the French-based “Chronological Classics” label and was surprised at how poor those CD-transfer versions sound compared to the Time-Life versions. Or I should say, I wasn’t surprised that the Time-Life versions sounded better, I was just amazed at how much better they sound than Classics’ attempt. Duke Ellington’s legacy often has suffered poor sonic treatment on CD, especially from RCA’s dreadful, denuded, screechy-trebly DDD-transfers of the early ’40s Blanton-Webster band-era material. CD issues by various labels such as ASV (despite fake stereo), Decca/MCA, and Columbia/Sony have sounded much better. But much of the 1935-1936 material wasn’t reissued on CD by a big-name label. So when “Classics” issued the mid-30s stuff on CD I was relieved and glad to get it.
BTW, I lifted the photo of this Ellington 3- LP “Giants of Jazz” set (Time-Life Records, 1979) from an Ebay seller, even though I own two copies of the set; I don’t think that I could have done a better job than the seller of pictorially illustrating the lovely packaging, that includes an ample, heavily researched, beautifully written booklet, an art print also replicated on the cover box, a special insert on the “making of” the set and three nicely pressed and expertly selected LPs.
Not having access to my LPs for many years and beholden only to the CD versions, I didn’t know how much I was missing. Now you can hear the difference for yourself. You’ll notice a much fuller, more bass-rich sound overall and greater detailing of the solo instruments in the Time-Life. Classics brightens the treble end at great expense of the bass and a nearly complete loss of ambience. Time-Life did manage to track down and use the best material in the world for their 28-artist landmark “Giants of Jazz” series, and that is apparent here. Still, there are some clicks and pops—some are on my LP and some are from the original source materials. It goes with the territory and is more than acceptable given that, in my opinion, these are two of the most beautiful performances ever recorded.
In the first few seconds, there doesn’t appear to be a great difference sonically between the opening clarinet glissando on “Clarinet Lament,” but once the rhythm and orchestra kick in the warmth and fullness of the LP compared to the dry and recessed CD is obvious. The difference is immediately striking on “Echoes of Harlem.” The Time-Life kicks Classics’ butt right out of the gate.
One problem with the Classics, too, is that in converting it to MP3 a strange “clicking anamoly appears in a few spots.
At some point soon, I hope to post the entire 3-LP Ellington set, which unfortunately never has been issued on CD, and probably never will be. It seems that I remember in promo materials that Time-Life promised to destroy the masters they made in order to enhance the set’s collectibility. I’m trying to find the promo material to verify that, but if it’s true, then it’s a real tragedy, because they achieved a sonic richness unmatched in subsequent CD reissues of this material.
Keep in mind I’m using sticks and stones tech: an old turntable and receiver hooked to computer via a crude line-out from the headphone jack—and still get better sonic results than shown on the CD.
Get the four-track sampler including a text file track listing HERE.