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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Horace Silver Quintet: Song For My Father -- Music Matters 45 RPM Vinyl


Music Matters continues their Blue Note jazz reissue program with the release of Horace Silver's 1965 classic, Song for My Father.  Recorded with two entirely different quintets over three sessions from 1963-1964, this album became Silver's most successful--and the title track, recorded during the final session, established itself as his signature song. The opening piano riff would also become instantly recognizable to an additional generation as the opening melody of Steely Dan's, Rikki Don't Lose That Number.

The Packaging
The two slabs of 45 RPM cut vinyl arrived clean, flat, and played quietly throughout. The gatefold cover featuring a shot of Silver's father has such a beautiful gloss and such rich hues, that I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few requests are made for additional covers--as this one is undoubtedly suitable for framing. Inside the gatefold, you'll find the usual stunning collection of Francis Wolff session photography.

The Restoration
The title cut from this recording has been plagued by a speed problem on every issue of this album on LP and cd--except for the initial stereo and mono pressings. According to Joe Harley of Music Matters, the original tape was lost early on and each and every surviving copy suffers the now-familiar warbling piano sound on the first track. Already having worked wonders on titles such as Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, Harley and his partner, Ron Rambach were determined to find a solution to this warbling issue for their reissue of this classic title as well.

Though mastered and cut by the usual veteran team of Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray, Harley and Rambach specially commissioned Jamie Howarth of Boulder’s Airshow Mastering, who had invented a new audio restoration system, entitled the “Plangent Process," to work solely on the title track. And after many hours of work, they felt that he had made a major improvement. In order to accomplish this restoration, the track had to be transferred to 24/96 digital, while the remainder of the album remained all analog.

(Horace Silver, 1964)

The Sound
I pulled out my original Rudy Van Gelder-mastered Blue Note mono vinyl, and the original cd (mastered by Ron McMaster) to compare to this new 45 RPM edition. Upon playing the McMaster cd, the warbling piano is immediately apparent on the title cut--and the sonics, which come off as lacking detail and ambiance, simply aren't worth comparing to either the original mono vinyl or the Music Matters 45. And while the original mono doesn't have the speed fluctuation issue and is a very good sounding record--with an extended top end and great room ambiance, this Music Matters 45 takes a great sounding record--and as they've done with virtually every release, found a way to make it sound even better.  As for the speed issue on the title cut, it's greatly improved over the McMaster cd, and all but those who are the most sensitive to such fluctuations should hardly notice it at all on this new reissue.

As on virtually all Music Matters releases, it isn't just the dynamics, but the incredible detail that comes from the 45 RPM mastering that delights the ears--and on the title track, the surprise comes at the end when bassist Teddy Smith plays the melody one last time, and sounds so realistic that you could swear you're in Van Gelder's studio and Lyndon Johnson is still president. The record is generally marked by excellent sonics throughout, except for the final cut, Lonely Woman, which shows the limitation of the recording, with Silver's piano having a tendency to sound a bit "boxy" or distorted at times.  By the time Van Gelder recorded these sessions, he was recording directly to two track tape. And for those who have only heard the mono, Que Pasa is particularly satisfying in stereo.  Although he only makes a short appearance on this song, Joe Henderson's tone is as realistic as I have heard the saxophone sound and is a real standout on this pressing compared to the original mono vinyl.

(Horace Silver Quintet, Song For My Father--inner gatefold photos)

The Joe Henderson-penned romp, The Kicker, stays closest to the traditional hard bop formula of any of the tunes on the record and might be the most entertaining listen. Teddy Smith's strong bassline and Joe Henderson's tenor sax fill the room with a realism that simply isn't heard on the other versions of this record. Carmell Jones' blistering trumpet, Roger Humphries' percussion, and Silver's piano all stay together and this pressing allows you to turn it up as loud as you want without a hint of distortion. Jones and Henderson are the true stars of this performance and the 45 RPM format allows them to shine as they haven't on other versions of the record.

This Music Matters 45 RPM reissue has an overall weightier sound and lacks the top end boost and compression that was favored by Van Gelder. What results is a smoother tone, that is full of detail and dynamics, and an ambience created by the natural decay of notes that seem to hang in the air  before you. If you're a fan of this record, you won't find a better sounding version. And if you're not a subscriber to the Music Matters series, get this one while you can.

Highly Recommended

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Anonymous said...

I love this record, and am also blown away by the Music Matters reissue. I was glad to see you mention the piano distortion on "Lonely Woman" -- I was worried there was something wrong with my turntable. That is just a beautiful tune though.

Anonymous said...

I just recieved my copy of the Blue Note classic series pressing of this record. These were also mastered by Kevin Gray from the analog tapes. I, too, noticed the warbling piano in the first track and the piano issues on "Lonely Woman". Glad to see that it's just an issue with the master tape and not a pressing defect.

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