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A Six Pack Of Superb LP Releases From Analogue Productions, Mofi, Rhino High Fidelity, And Sam Records

02-01-2024 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 131

Dire Straits, On Every Street. Mofi (45 RPM)

Highly underrated and one of my favorite Dire Straits studio albums, On Every Street was released in 1991 on the Vertigo label in Europe and on the Warner Brothers label in the USA. "Calling Elvis," "Planet of New Orleans," and "How Long" are three tracks that belong on every Dire Straits playlist. Released six years after their triumphant Brothers In Arms album, this was the last of the Dire Straits' studio albums, as Mark Knopfler then pursued his solo career. This is also the last of the Mofi Dire Straits studio reissues on 45 RPM. It has been a long wait, but well worth it. I have to wonder if we will now have a complete box set of all six, which would make some sense as this has been a very special run on some very special music!

Now, at the very end of their musical journey, Dire Straits did have a slightly different lineup on this release. Primary musicians included Mark Knopfler on guitar and vocals, John Illsley on bass and backup vocals, Guy Fletcher on keyboards and backup vocals, and Alan Clark on keyboards. Notably missing was David Knopfler on rhythm guitar and Pick Withers on drums. Several other studio musicians made major contributions including drummer Jeff Pocaro of Toto fame. There were also several production engineering superstars involved with the project, including studio engineer Bill Schnee, mix engineers Bob Clearmountain and Neil Dorfsman, and last but not least, mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. No doubt that this all contributed to the excellent sound of this recording.

There is much discussion on the Internet for all of the Dire Straits studio albums, and the remarkable sound quality of the OGs for each. Interestingly, all the albums after Love Over Gold are said to be digitally recorded. For comparison purposes, I do have a Warner Brothers promo copy of the OG for On Every Street. Not as dynamic as my promo Love Over Gold or my promo Brothers In Arms, but still a fantastic sounding first pressing. Mastered by Krieg Wunderlich and pressed at RTI, the Mofi is a sonic superstar. Dead silent with a powerful rich presentation, the 45 RPM pressing provides much more punch with a vast and extensive soundstage that really allows the listener to be pulled into the music. Knopfler's vocals are locked in and clearly defined, a significant step up from the OG. Highly recommended and a wonderful completion of the set!

Sahib Shihab and The Danish Radio Jazz Group. Sam Records (33 RPM)

This was one of the most anticipated reissues for 2023. Released in 1965 on the Denmark label OKLP, original pressings are listed on Discogs for $4000 to $5000. Needless to say, the OG's and even the 2001 Japanese reissue are extremely difficult to find, and can be quite expensive. Fred Thomas of Sam Records (Paris, France), has provided us all with a musical treasure—dare I say the fine taste of a rare "Holy Grail." Cut by Kevin Gray and pressed on 180 gram vinyl in Marciac, France by Garcia & Company, this reissue will be a limited edition of 3000 copies.

As a baritone saxophone player, arranger and conductor, Sahib Shihab has a long and storied legacy for collaborating with some of the most iconic musicians of his time. This includes Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Pettiforn, Kenny Clarke, Francy Boland, and Quincy Jones. Recorded with well over a dozen elite Denmark studio musicians in various combinations over the nine tracks, the music on this album will grab you from the first note on.

All the compositions are Shahib originals. Many would describe this music as primarily Postbop in nature, as there is a definite sense of exploration and a modern flavor to the performance. Others would strongly argue that this music should not be pigeonholed into any one category. The arrangements will literally sweep you off your feet as the complex harmonies and syncopated rhythms exquisitely support both the melodies and featured soloists. All of this translates to a wonderful showcase of how a big band can really shine!

The album jacket is of a deluxe flipback design with an excellent reproduction of the original artwork. There is also a double insert using an original photograph by Jan Persson. As always, Sam Records has delivered a flat and very quiet vinyl pressing. I don't have the OG to compare, but the sound quality is first-rate. Not quite the transparency and dynamics of a Blue Note Tone Poet, but still very impressive and engaging. The music and performance carries the day! A true classic and highly recommended!

The Heath Brothers, Paris 76. Sam Records (33 RPM)

Another gem from Sam Records, this is a live radio recording that took place in Paris at Studio104, Maison de la Radio, in April 1976. This is the very first release of this recording and it was with the full permission and cooperation of the INA (Institut National de l'Audiovisuel). Again, like the Shahib above, everything is first class. The album jacket is of a deluxe flipback design with a double insert using an original photograph by Thierry Trombert. The vinyl was cut by Kevin Gray and pressed on 180 gram vinyl in Marciac, France by Garcia & Company. My copy was flat and very quiet. This pressing will be limited to 3000 copies.

This was also the first recording of the Heath Brothers as a group. Band members included Percy Heath on bass, Albert Heath on drums and flute, Stanley Cowell on piano and mbira, and Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, and flute. There is a bunch of fun going on here with the interplay and solos provided by each of the band members. All are magnificent musicians, and all are in high gear, but two performers really stood out for me.

Percy Heath on bass is slightly more adventurous and playful than what you might find on his Modern Jazz Quartet recordings, and Stanley Cowell on piano is a tour de force as he virtually drives the music forward. The twenty-two minute long track on side two entitled "Smilin' Billi" is particularly strong. Both musicians achieve a perfect balance with the rest of the group throughout, but both also demonstrate their amazing abilities to elevate and improvise within the framework of the composition.

The sound of this release is simply outstanding! Kevin Gray has absolutely killed this one as the musicians are truly "in the room" and performing before you. The sound stage is nicely layered and organized with excellent width and depth. Instruments are three dimensional and clearly defined as you can hear all the closely mic'd vibrato of each. For me, this recording and performance has been quite inspirational as I continue to investigate additional albums by The Heath Brothers. Bravo to Fred Thomas and Sam Records for a job well done!

Television, Marquee Moon. Rhino High Fidelity Series (33 RPM)

Television is known as one of the premier new wave bands from the 1970s via their celebrated residency at the famous CBGB club in lower Manhattan. Released on the Electra label in 1976, the album Marquee Moon is considered their crown jewel, and also one of the most important and influential albums from that era. Band members included Tom Verlaine on guitar and vocals, Richard Lloyd on guitar, Fred Smith on bass, and Bill Ficca on drums. Andy Johns was the primary recording engineer and the original release was mastered by Greg Calbi and Lee Hulko (three of the best ever at their craft). Interestingly, in terms of record sales, the album did quite well in Europe, but not so well in the USA.

For my money, the interaction and exchanges provided by the two guitarists are the keys to the distinctive sound of this group, though Tom Verlaine's unique vocal style is also quite compelling. The music itself does not follow traditional rock structure and chords, with a very creative and almost poetic series of melodies and story lines—more jazz influenced than rock. The band members themselves have been known to describe their music as "complex and impressionistic."

I have some history with this album. It has been on my want list for years, though I have never been able to find a clean sounding original copy. Over time, I purchased two original pressings that easily graded out at near mint visually, but the noisy vinyl and the fundamentally bright and thin sound of the original recording made them both difficult to enjoy. I have not heard the more recent 2015 Chris Bellman cut from Rhino, but this new pressing from the Rhino High Fidelity Series and cut by Kevin Gray is a big step forward in sound quality!

One might wonder what was intended by the artists and the original engineering team, but now we have so much more clarity and warmth. The top end has been tamed, and the midrange and bass are the real deal. We finally have the punch and the muscularity that this music really deserves! Lastly, the quality of the 180 gram vinyl and the gatefold jacket are both top notch. Pressed at Optimal and limited and numbered at 5000, the Rhino High Fidelity Series continues to set new standards for these reissues!

Ornette Coleman, Change Of The Century. Rhino High Fidelity Series, (33 RPM)

Change Of The Century was a complete surprise to me. I have The Shape Of Jazz To Come, also by Ornette Coleman, which is considered one of the ten most important jazz releases of all time. A true staple of the "Free Jazz" movement, it has grown on me over the years, but it has taken me some time to appreciate and enjoy this genre. Now I am definitely hooked! You will find Pharoah Sanders, Sam Rivers, Cecil Taylor, and many more spinning on my turntable these days.

I am also not a big fan of the recording and sound quality of most Jazz releases during those Atlantic years, but recording engineer Bones Howe did a fine job here. I found Change Of The Century much more accessible than I would I have guessed, and the sound is also outstanding! I can now understand why this album is often ranked in the top five of Coleman's discography, and for several critics and polls, it is their number one favorite!

Change of the Century is Ornette Coleman's fourth album, and was released in 1960 on the Atlantic label. Band members included Ornette Coleman on alto saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. Critics at the time frequently commented how the quartet was finally gaining confidence and defining their own identify with this release. Charlie Haden in particular seems to be on a roll, displaying considerable talent so early in his career. The creativity on each track is still quite complex and jam packed with energetic surges and peaks, but again, I quickly settled in and greatly enjoyed the performances!

I do not have an original or reissue to compare to, but Kevin Gray has displayed his considerable skills once again (his work never gets old for my taste). The definition and air around each instrument and performer is sometimes almost startling! There is a tangibility and inner detail that leaves all the band members virtually floating in a three dimensional space. As with Marquee Moon above, the vinyl was extremely flat and quiet. The heavyweight gatefold jacket and overall production quality is about as good as it gets at this price point, and compares well with even more expensive box sets. Pressed at Optimal, the total will be limited and numbered at 5000. Highly recommended!

Dr. John, In The Right Place. Atlantic 75 Audiophile Series/Analogue Productions (45 RPM)

Released in 1973 on the ATCO label, In The Right Place might just be the highlight of the Atlantic 75 Audiophile Series for me so far. I was familiar with the two biggest hits "Right Place, Wrong Time" and "Such A Night," but mostly from radio airplay only. One of my audio buddies brought his original pressing over for a comparison, and before I opened the seal on this new reissue. We started with the OG and I was transfixed. The entire album provided such incredible music and the sound quality was fabulous. Next, we put on the new reissue, and I was very impressed by the considerable improvements (see my comments below). My goodness, why did I wait so long to experience this album!

As a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of fame, Dr. John's career spanned six decades as a songwriter, composer, producer, and performer. Born and raised in New Orleans, his unique combination of music offers much from several genres including Creole, funk, soul, rock, and rhythm & blues. All of these styles can be found here on this album. He was also in high demand as a session musician, playing with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, and the legendary Professor Longhair.

On this album, his back up band was The Meters. For those of you who follow my reviews, you would know that The Meters are one of my most favorite bands! In my humble opinion, when it comes to funk and soul, they are truly one of the gold standards to judge all contenders. When you add in the original arrangements provided by the great Allen Toussaint, you have something exceptional if not historic. The back up singers and horn arrangements on occasion steal the show, but it is Dr. John who is still the star as he truly takes the music to another level with his style and charisma!

Ryan K. Smith has done a terrific job mastering this 45 RPM recording. As stated earlier, he has taken an excellent recording and made it even more outstanding! Drums, horns, and backup singers seem to explode out of an expansive soundstage. The unique vocal style and suburb piano skills of Dr. John come through loud and clear. That gravelly voice is now so full of texture and emotion and excitement! Pressed at QRP and presented in a high quality tip-on style tri-fold outer sleeve, this is the way that most would want an audiophile reissue to be presented. Another big winner from Chad Kassem and Analogue Productions!