1958 Recording of Jazz Standards Makes a Good Impression 55 Years Later
Format: 24-bit/96kHz FLAC (download)
In the early days of stereo, it was not uncommon for a manufacturer of blank tape to produce a few commercially recorded reel-to-reel tapes or vinyl LPs under their own label. Such was the case with Soundcraft, which had enough success with its Dixieland Jamfest in Stereo that it decided to follow up with a two-track reel-to-reel tape of Sweet Moods of Jazz in Stereo.
The company that is bringing out this old gem for modern listeners to enjoy is High Definition Tape Transfers. Though it has now started using LPs, it primarily employs commercially released reel-to-reel tapes as masters for its releases. Most of its titles are available as discs (CD or DVD) and a variety of downloads, but Sweet Moods of Jazz in Stereo is available only as a download. This is a glimpse of the near future, I think, as downloads are ever becoming the preferred mode for listening to music.
Though saxophonist Coleman Hawkins leads the list, it's really trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen whom you hear first in most of the songs. Either his wonderfully raspy low tones or clarion-clear high ones will remind you immediately of Louis Armstrong, and it's no wonder, as Allen claimed to be the first trumpet player to fully incorporate Armstrong's innovations in his playing. His leads are mellow in the sizzling sense. The fire is often caught by Hawkins's sax or Marty Napoleon's piano, and there are a couple of searing clarinet solos from Earl Warren, but the playing of all the others might seem a bit sedate given Allen's leads.
The rhythm section keeps things moving, especially Chubby Jackson's bass, and the steady drumming of George Wettling keeps things on an even keel. Taken all together, the sextet makes sweet music, just as the album's title promises. The songs are all standards: "Stormy Weather," "Mean to Me," "Lonesome Road," "Sleepy Time Gal," "Summertime," "All of Me," and "Tea for Two."
Stereo was still new and a big deal in 1958 when this album was recorded; it even figures prominently in the title. So it's no surprise that Sweet Moods of Jazz in Stereo takes full advantage of the then-new technology. Allen's trumpet is in the right channel, Hawkins and Wettling are in the left, and the piano floats around the middle. It doesn't sound as if the mix was made up of mono tracks from each instrument, though, but like there really might have been just two microphones with the players being pretty widely separated. It's a dry yet very accurate sound that lets you hear way into the instrumentation. The only instrument that really suffers is Napoleon’s piano, which seems a bit weak when compared to the others.
The HDTT download rate I chose was 24-bit/96kHz. It seems like overkill for a recording so old that CD quality could comfortably reproduce every element, but using higher sampling rates no doubt produces more sales, since so many listeners still seem to believe that higher rates can work some sort of magic to make older recordings suddenly turn into high resolution. If it wasn't high resolution on the master, it won't be on delivery. That all said, HDTT's transfer is clean and clear with no tape dropouts and a reduction of hiss to nonexistence.
Sweet Moods of Jazz in Stereo presents some of the greatest jazz players of a bygone era, recorded in sound that still stands the test today. It's well worth your investigation.
Be sure to listen to: "Mean to Me" starts with bass in the right channel, then, beginning almost imperceptibly, drums, brushes and hi-hat cymbal in the left, followed by piano in the right. It's a great piece of transparent recording from the dawn of the stereo era that still stands up today.
. . . Rad Bennett