Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Sunday, April 12, 2009

John Coltrane: Giant Steps 45 RPM 180 gram Rhino vinyl

Giant Steps Pictures, Images and Photos

With the flurry of audiophile jazz titles being released these days, it isn't often that a big occasion is made of a 45 RPM jazz release. That distinction is reserved for truly groundbreaking titles such as this one. Giant Steps was originally released in 1960, and is known for introducing the world to John Coltrane's legendary sheets of sound. This version, mastered from the original analog master tapes by Bernie Grundman, for the first time in the 45 RPM format, is likely to become legendary--and may very well become the definitive stereo version of the recording.

While I do not have an original lime green label stereo copy to compare, I listened to the remastered Rhino cd, original Atlantic cd as well as the recent Rhino 180 gram reissue mastered by Kevin Gray in preparation for this review. In writing this review, I did the great majority of my comparisons with the Gray-mastered Rhino reissue.

While Giant Steps is not known as the best recording, one immediately notices upon listening to this reissue that the 45 RPM format can yield impressive results over 33 RPM, with greater dynamics, faster transients, and more detail immediately coming to the fore. The improved attack and accuracy of the cymbals and realism of the piano are also immediately revealed.

I had never previously been satisfied with the piano sound on this record. While not always perfect, it sounds more realistic on the 45 RPM version than it ever has before, losing the boxy sound of the 33 RPM version-- the piano on Countdown will have you looking up from your chair expecting to see a piano in the far left corner of your living room. Coltrane's tenor also sounds more three-dimensional, and has more character--and while the more upbeat numbers shine via increased dynamics and faster transients, the emotion and complexity coming from him on the slower, more tender numbers such as Naima, is also further revealed.

Soundstaging has been improved, with the instruments extending well out behind and to the sides of the speakers. Admittedly, I had previoulsly thought the Gray-mastered Rhino reissue was pretty good. However, compared to this new 45 RPM mastering, it comes off a bit flat and uninspiring.

This deluxe package comes in a solid cardboard slipcase replica of the original master tape box. The two 180 gram discs arrived flat and clean and are housed in RTI's poly inner sleeves and held by a gatefold cover made of heavy card stock. Inside the gatefold cover is a full-size black and white photo of Coltrane. Rounding out the package are inserts containing a replica of Downbeat's original album review and a sheet containing color photos of the labels that also indicates which number of the 2,500 copies pressed you have received.

It is hard to tell how much of the improvements in this record are due to the 45 RPM format and how much is due to differences in mastering style between Kevin Gray and Bernie Grundman. Based upon his work with Steve Hoffman on the Music Matters and Analogue Productions 45 RPM jazz series, I suspect Mr. Gray could do very well with this title as well. That said, there are differences in their mastering styles and some--especially those with particularly bright systems, might find that they prefer Gray's overall mellower style of mastering over what some would consider to be a brighter style favored by Mr. Grundman. Even if your preference lies on the mellower side, you would be hard pressed to ignore the increased dynamics, faster transients, and more accurate reproduction of the piano, in particular.

Listening to this 45 RPM edition of Giant Steps gives me a similar feeling to listening to my Kind of Blue 45 RPM set. It brings me closer to the performers than I have ever been--and it makes me want to buy a second copy. This set is limited to 2,500 copies. Get yours while you can. This is one of Mr. Grundman's finest efforts since the KOB 45 RPM set.

Very Highly Recommended


Beto said...

Hi there - I just found this blog of yours thru a mention on Twitter. It is nice to see there are other people out there that enjoy vinyl so much as me and are willing to guide others to see what's worth buying over there - definitely helpful on these times of tight money. For me, this Coltrane release is one worth every penny. Thanks and best of luck with this blog.

Emilio Madrigal said...

Great site. I just got my copy of Giant Steps and I am as satisfied as you. Very highly recommended indeed. Keep the reviews coming, highly appreciated.

Monkey C. Monkey Do Voodoo said...

Man, close to Sixty dollars at amazon. I think the corporations are trying to make up for the lost revenue in CD's with outrageous prices on vinyl. Damn- too expensive for me. I will have to live with the first re-issue. Great blog by the way. It is nice to see some mutual love for vinyl.

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