Thursday, 5 November 2009

High End 45 RPM Vinyl: Joe Harriott Shoots it Out with Gil Melle

A few days ago I wrote about the superb new Joe Harriott LP on Darrel Sheinman's Gearbox label. Actually, when I say new I should clarify that the music was recorded (quite beautifully recorded) in 1962. And when I say LP I should stipulate that it's perhaps more accurately described as an EP, with two tracks on each side and a concise playing time. It was this shorter playing time that enabled Darrel to put the music on 45rpm vinyl. More revolutions per minute are a good thing, opening the door to superior sound quality, and Gearbox isn't the first label to see the possibilities of combining high fidelity 45rpm twelve inch vinyl and great jazz. The renowned Blue Note catalogue is also releasing selected classic titles on 45. Because these albums were of course originally 33rpm releases, with concommitantly longer playing times, the Blue Notes have to be issued as double discs to accomodate their music. My first thought when I heard about this project was why on earth I'd want to sacrifice the convenience of having all that great jazz on one disc. A lazy fellow like me doesn't want to rise from his comfortable modernist sofa and stroll across his space age pad to his turntable to change the record any more often than absolutely necessary. But my second thought was, I wonder what those 45rpm transfers sound like; I bet they sound really good. And my third thought was holy shit, they've released Gil Melle's Patterns in Jazz. Now is not the time to expound on the irreplaceable and fascinating Gil Melle. Suffice to say that his smoothly avant garde, swinging West Coast jazz has earned my highest regard. So with the turntable set to 45 and being too lazy to change it back to 33, it was now an ideal time to compare the Gearbox Harriott and the Blue Note Melle. This is a particularly apt comparison because Darrel, the mastermind at Gearbox, is an admirer of the legendary label: "I collect original Blue Notes and have tried to recreate some of that feeling," he confides. And note that cool Harriott album cover, with its clean and elegant graphics evoking the classic Blue Note iconography. It's also an interesting comparison to make becase both albums are in magnificent mono, and both beautifully recorded, the Melle by the revered Rudy Van Gelder at his famed (and quirky) studio in his house in Hackensack, New Jersey. The Harriott was recorded by some as yet unsung heroes of the BBC sound department in the Maida Vale studio, London. Musically both are outstanding pieces of work, and both sound great. To me the high frequencies on the Harriott sound a lot cleaner, a kind of 'silvery' sound whereas the Melle has a sort of a 'bronze' glow, if I may wax synaesthetic for a moment. There is something about the simplicity and purity of the Van Gelder recording. The timing is superb. Gil Melle's music has a hip sophisticated jollity and great richness to the baritone sax, which projects a kind of warm West Coast weirdness. The Melle possesses a mellow warmth and a sort of softer openness, as opposed to the sharply precise sense of space and air on the Harriott. However, in terms of the vinyl quality there is no competition. The Blue Note Melle, on my copy, has some low level ticking noise. Faint, very infrequent, but it's there. Whereas the Gearbox Harriott seems almost bottomlessly clear and clean. The musicians on the Melle are Eddie Bert on trombone, Joe Cinderella on guitar (Melle employed interesting guitarists — Tal Farlow, Joe Mecca and Cinderella), Oscar Pettiford on bass, Ed Thigpen on drums and Gil Melle on baritone sax. The 45rpm reissue was remastered by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech. The personnel on the Harriott are Shake Keane, flugelhorn and trumpet, Pat Smythe on piano, Coleridge Goode on bass, Bobby Orr on drums and Joe Harriott alto saxophone. It was remastered on valve equipment by Jeremy Cooper at Soundtrap.

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