Contemporary Records / Craft Recordings / Acoustic Sounds CR00594
Bassist Leroy Vinnegar was born in Indianapolis and moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s, where he appeared on albums by nearly every jazz musician who passed through LA or was based there. He played on sessions with Stan Getz, Benny Carter, Kenny Dorham, and many others. He was the bassist on popular trio sessions with Shelly Manne and André Previn, including My Fair Lady (1956), a Contemporary Records release that was one of the label’s biggest sellers. He played on another big seller, Swiss Movement, a 1969 live collaboration between Les McCann and Eddie Harris.
Vinnegar led a few sessions during his career; the first was a 1958 release for Contemporary Records, Leroy Walks! The title refers to his defining walking-bass style, and the songs on the session are thematically tied to the concept of walking. The sextet session featured Vinnegar with Gerald Wilson on trumpet, Teddy Edwards on tenor sax, Victor Feldman on vibes, Carl Perkins on piano, and Tony Bazley on drums.
Leroy Walks! has been reissued on vinyl as part of the Contemporary Records / Acoustic Sounds series, which is released through Craft Recordings. The stereo recording has been remastered by Bernie Grundman from the analog tapes, and the vinyl is manufactured at Quality Record Pressings. The covers in the reissue series are heavyweight cardboard with tipped-on artwork.
I have a 1989 release of Leroy Walks! on CD, which Joe Tarantino remastered when Contemporary’s catalog was with Fantasy Records. Tarantino’s mastering for the CD was very good, presenting the music cleanly on a wide soundstage. However, on Grundman’s new vinyl cut, I heard a firmer, more assertive bottom end from the bass on Vinnegar’s “Walk On.” Compared to the CD, the LP gave a more focused picture of Vinnegar’s attack. Bazley’s hi-hat accents and ride cymbal had more tonal fullness on the new LP, but more shimmer on the CD.
When the horns and vibes enter in the left channel, I heard better separation between the instruments on the LP. Perkins’s piano in the right channel had more presence as well. On the vinyl cut, Edwards’s solo sounded fuller and more fleshed out, but it was grittier on the CD. Feldman’s vibes were more robust on the new LP but had plenty of presence on the CD. When I focused on Wilson’s Harmon-muted trumpet, I heard more texture from the vinyl, but more zip on the CD.
Vinnegar’s bass on “Walkin’” sounded bolder on the LP than on the earlier CD, and Perkins’s piano had more presence and harmonic richness. He and Feldman play the intro in tandem, and their instruments were more forward and resonant on the new LP. Wilson’s trumpet solo came across with more confidence, especially during fast-paced passages where the notes were stated more firmly. Vinnegar’s solo hit the speakers harder on the new LP, and I could hear small details—such as the strings vibrating on the neck—more clearly.
“Would You Like to Take a Walk” is the only ballad on the album. The horns sit out on the tune, which features Feldman and Perkins, with Vinnegar also getting solo time. The tremolo effect on the vibes sounded more pronounced on the new vinyl reissue, and each note during Feldman’s solo rang out more clearly and seemed to sustain longer. Perkins’s piano chords were more fleshed out, and Bazley’s brush and cymbal work sounded more solid. On the other hand, I could hear the brushwork echoing lightly in Tarantino’s CD master, and that effect was less audible on the LP.
On the new LP, Vinnegar’s bass had a much stronger, more encompassing sound, while it was snappier on the CD. Bass solos had an almost visceral impact on the LP, which also presented a better sense of the dimensions of the instrument and the way the notes emanated from its large, woody body. While the LP’s stronger low-frequency foundation has brought a slightly darker tone to the recording, it has made the music sound more cohesive; for example, on the ensemble opening of “Walkin’ by the River.” On the other hand, during Edwards’s solo on that track on the CD, I could hear the intervals Feldman and Wilson were playing behind him in support a little more clearly.
In short, I found things to like on both masters, although I suspect Grundman’s remaster is closer in character to the original LP. I have a number of Contemporary Records LPs, and Roy DuNann, the label’s recording and mastering engineer, didn’t shy away from bass. Tarantino’s CD mastering served the music well, but Grundman’s mastering gives the new LP more energy.
My copy of the LP arrived quiet, flat, and centered, as I’ve come to expect from Quality Record Pressings. The color reproduction on the front cover looked fine to me, but I don’t have an original to compare. The LP was enclosed in a good-quality antistatic sleeve.
Leroy Walks! is an excellent late-1950s session, with strong performances throughout. It’s a pleasure to hear Wilson on trumpet. He is best known for his big-band recordings for Pacific Jazz and for a long career as an innovative arranger, but his playing here is very good indeed. Pianist Carl Perkins deserves to be more widely known, and surely would have been if he hadn’t died less than a year after these sessions. Edwards and Feldman are inventive and exciting throughout the recording, and Bazley’s work here is so good I’m surprised he didn’t show up on more recordings.
It’s Leroy Vinnegar’s session though, and he holds things together with taste and ease. He is mostly content to let the other players shine, but his own solos are original and captivating, yet deceptively simple. He wouldn’t lead another session for six years; 1963’s Leroy Walks Again!! is another Contemporary Records release that features both Edwards and Feldman, and seems to me to be a good choice for a future reissue.
. . . Joseph Taylor