February 2024

Craft Recordings CR00683
Format: LP

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

In 1953, the original release of Jazz at Massey Hall on Debut Records listed Charlie Parker as “Charlie Chan.” Knowledgeable jazz fans probably knew that Parker’s common-law wife, Beverly Berg, was known as Chan Parker. They also might have recognized that the alto player pictured on the left side of the album cover was Parker, although the photo does not show his face. Parker was with another label and Debut could not release the album with his name listed on the cover.

Jazz at Massey Hall was a live recording of a show in Toronto, Canada, featuring a quintet composed of Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. The latter two musicians were co-owners of Debut Records. The Toronto chapter of the New Jazz Society (NJS) organized the concert in May 1953, and Don Brown recounts the story of how the NJS brought the five musicians together in the liner notes to the new Craft Recordings release of the album, Hot House: The Complete Jazz at Massey Hall Recordings.

Hot House

Some difficulties surrounded the concert. Powell had only recently been released from a mental hospital where he had been treated for drug and alcohol problems. In addition, ticket sales were light because the concert clashed with a heavyweight fight between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott. The audience was so small that the NJS, which had hoped to share the proceeds with the quintet, couldn’t even pay them.

Musically, the concert was a success. The concert was taped, and it was the only time the five musicians recorded as a group. In addition, it was the last time Gillespie and Parker played together. The story of how the recording got into Mingus’s hands is told by David Scharf in the liner notes for the Craft release. Scharf’s father, Alan, was a member of the NJS and was present when the quintet listened to the recordings. Mingus discovered that his bass had not been well recorded, so he grabbed the tapes and took them away with him.

Mingus dubbed in his bass lines when he returned to New York City, and Debut released Jazz at Massey Hall in December 1953. Debut also released Jazz at Massey Hall, Volume Two, a 10″ LP containing six tracks that feature Powell, Mingus, and Roach, billed as the Bud Powell Trio, in performances from the same show.

Hot House: The Complete Jazz at Massey Hall Recordings includes the tracks from the quintet and trio LP releases, plus an LP of the original quintet recording before Mingus dubbed in his bass parts. Paul Blakemore used 24-bit audio restoration to create a new master of the recordings, and the results are available as a digital download, a two-CD set, or on three LPs. I evaluated the LP set, for which Kevin Gray cut the lacquer.

I have a 1989 CD reissue of Jazz at Massey Hall that was released on Fantasy Records’ Original Jazz Classics series. The CD doesn’t list any mastering credits. The CD and the third LP in the Craft Recordings set contain the six tunes the quintet performed, with Mingus’s later overdubs.

When I switched from the CD to the new third LP, I was struck by how much more space and energy Blakemore has brought to these recordings. They were not, to be clear, models of high fidelity, but as I went back and forth between the CD and LP playback of the group’s take on Juan Tizol’s “Perdido,” I was pleased to hear that the horns sounded fuller and brighter on the new release. Roach’s ride cymbal sparkled, while on the earlier release it sounded dull and distant. His snare drum also had a stronger, more satisfying tone.

Powell’s piano was much more immediate and forceful on Blakemore’s remaster. Solo notes on “Salt Peanuts,” for example, cut deeper and sustained longer, and the chords he plays against his solo were more fully developed. Roach’s solo on that tune was much more satisfying. The bass drum was deeper-toned, and the snare and tom drums sounded more realistic and resonant. Throughout the album, Mingus’s bass has tremendous presence, but he occasionally overwhelms the horns on the CD. Blakemore’s work has tightened up the sound of the bass and lets the other instruments register more strongly.

Some of Blakemore’s work on Hot House is truly remarkable. Gillespie’s tune “Wee” sounds so reserved on the CD that you could be forgiven for thinking a blanket had been thrown over the microphone. The fault there lies with the original tape, which contains a number of sonic anomalies. On the new release, I could now hear all the instruments during the ensemble parts of “Wee,” while on the CD everything was crammed together and bland. Powell’s accompaniment on “Wee” and “Hot House,” a Tadd Dameron tune, is so far in the background on the CD that it barely registers. On the new release, Blakemore has brought it out of the murk, and the result is a richer and more satisfying whole.

Gillespie and Parker benefit greatly on this new release. Solo lines unfold more logically because notes are cleanly presented. The force of Parker’s quick bursts of notes was only hinted at in the original release, and now comes through more fully. Gillespie’s high notes are burnished and cutting, and I could more easily follow the logic behind his solos. When Parker plays alongside him on “A Night in Tunisia,” he’s barely audible on the CD, but he plays an important supporting role on the new LP.

Hot House

The first LP of Hot House presents the original tape without Mingus’s overdubs. Presumably, Blakemore was able to retrieve some of Mingus’s bass from the original tape. The music has a low-frequency foundation, with individual lines occasionally coming through clearly, though they are low in the mix. The expanded reissue also restores the full opening of “Perdido,” which was truncated on the original release. That restoration is on both LPs.

The second LP in the Hot House set begins with “Drum Conversation,” a solo spot for Roach from the Massey Hall show that first appeared in 1990 on the 12-CD set Charles Mingus: The Complete Debut Recordings. The remaining tracks are trio performances featuring Powell, Mingus, and Roach. Five appeared under Powell’s name on various 10″ and 12″ LP releases over the years, while “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” saw its first release on the mammoth Mingus CD set.

I have the OJC release of the Bud Powell Trio’s Jazz at Massey Hall, Volume Two, which in its 1990 CD release included many other tracks featuring Mingus in performances with other pianists from around the same time. Phil De Lancie is the credited mastering engineer on the OJC CD release, and the sound overall is much better than it was on the 1989 OJC quintet CD. It made me wonder if De Lancie was able to use a better, first-generation tape. The original recording of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” had a lot of tape hiss, which is perhaps why it wasn’t included on the earlier releases. Blakemore did a good job of cleaning things up for this new reissue and rendering the track more listenable.

On the remaining five tracks on the second LP of the Craft set, Blakemore has added more life and vigor to Powell’s piano. In addition, Blakemore has pulled Mingus and Roach out of the depths of the original recording. Roach’s brushwork during “Embraceable You” is more audible and textured, and I could hear Mingus plucking each note during his solo on the tune. Mingus did not overdub his bass lines for the trio performances on the original release of Volume Two. I could hear them clearly on the earlier CD, but Blakemore has presented a better picture of what Mingus was playing. On the Craft LP, the new master has enhanced Mingus’s performances and given them more body.

Blakemore has also given the recording more sonic consistency. On the 1990 CD, the Massey Hall performances vary in intensity and volume, and Blakemore has ironed out many of these differences. For example, the trio performance of “Cherokee” sounded more balanced on the new LP; on the CD, the drums were too forward and the piano sounded edgy. On the new release, I could hear Roach’s bass drum work during his solo on the tune, and Powell’s piano sounded more natural—especially in the lower notes, which were more audible.

Hot House

I compared Kevin Gray’s vinyl cut of Hot House with high-resolution (24-bit/96 kHz) downloads of “Perdido” from the undubbed recording, and “All the Things You Are / 52nd Street Theme” from the bass-dubbed version. The high-resolution downloads had a slightly more pronounced treble on my system, while the vinyl was warmer overall, which let the music flow a little more easily. Both versions sounded terrific in comparison to the earlier releases.

My vinyl copy of Hot House: The Complete Jazz at Massey Hall Recordings was generally quiet, but not as silent as I’d expect from a Quality Record Pressings or Record Technology Incorporated LP. MPO in France pressed the LPs, and the slight groove noise I heard on my first play was nearly inaudible after a good cleaning.

This album is a must for jazz fans, regardless of the format. As a bonus, the vinyl release is beautifully packaged in a trifold cover with some wonderful black-and-white photos. The set comes in a very cool, clear plastic slipcase that shows the title. As I noted earlier, the original Massey Hall recording was not high fidelity, so some dropouts, changes in volume, and ground noise remain in the new release. However, the overall sound is vastly improved, and if you have earlier pressings (a friend taped a two-LP set of the shows for me, years ago) or the CDs, prepare to be impressed by how good this music now sounds.

. . . Joseph Taylor