Nutmegging This Up

Hunting vintage jazz vinyl records in the Nutmeg State

Horace Silver Quintet – Doin’ the Thing At the Village Gate (1961)

Horace Silver, piano

with Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor saxophone), Gene Taylor (bass), and Roy Brooks (drums)

Recorded live at the Village Gate, Greenwich Village, New York City

As far as I can tell, this is not a first pressing, because this record was put out the year before the “NEW YORK USA” labels came into use.

Some of the first jazz albums I really dug into when I was in high school, Horace Silver’s A Song for My Father (1964, BNLP-4185) and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ A Night at Birdland Vol. 1 (1954, BNLP-1521), were ones that I found to be particularly exciting.  It didn’t necessarily hit me at first that the excitement factor came from Silver’s compositions, which were thoroughly creative front to back.  Anyone can write a head that just seems to exist in order to get in and out of the solos, but at a time when a lot of musicians were mining Tin Pan Alley instead of writing their own material, Silver’s pen was the most attractive aspect of his records.  Add to that the fact that Silver is amongst the most prolific of Blue Note’s musicians who released albums as leaders, and you’re talking about a really special musician with a lot of amazing compositional material.

Although those two CDs made up a large part of my initial exposure to Silver, his albums make up a respectable portion of my small collection of Blue Note originals, and spending time with them has really opened my eyes to his genius.  This particular LP is a home run for me.  One entire side of bluesy compositions (including “Filthy McNasty” which I had heard big band arrangements of but did not own the album with the original version), backed with classy hard bop (“Kiss Me Right”) and one of my favorite Silver compositions, “The Gringo.”  This version of Silver’s quintet had been together for around 2 years, which is clear on the record: the band is a tight unit, Blue Mitchell’s concentrated trumpet blast cooled off by the warm gust of Junior Cook’s tenor saxophone.  I especially like Roy Brooks’s playing on this LP – his playing is coloful behind each soloist and his solo on “The Gringo” is fluid without the jaunty muscle that perhaps Art Blakey would have brought to it (not a dig on AB, but isn’t it the truth?).

My copy of this LP was used but not abused – the second tune on each side sounds stellar, but the first handful of minutes has a little bit of crackle and sizzle underneath the music.  No big POPs though.  It’s another one of those trade off’s, where some of the most noteworthy music comes at the beginning of the side…which is also where the record is most susceptible to damage, dirt, etc.  But it’s worth it – hearing this music on vinyl really preserves the energy that makes Silver’s compositions come to life.  I’ve got friends and acquaintances, some who have probably spent more time with vinyl records because they are older, who don’t really “get” the magic of records compared to CDs or digital…all I can say is you really don’t understand it until you hear it and feel it.

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6 comments on “Horace Silver Quintet – Doin’ the Thing At the Village Gate (1961)

  1. felixstrange
    November 9, 2012

    Thanks for another great post!

    For a long time, I only knew Horace Silver as the composer of “Song for My Father”, and not being that interested in Latin music, I never really investigated further.

    It wasn’t until I heard “Doin’ the Thing” one morning on KMHD here in Portland that I realized there was a great deal more to Mr. Silva’s music than I was aware of. Soon after, I was able to get a copy of the LP and hear it the music the way Alfred Lion intended for it to be heard.

    Wow! What an electrifying sound on this record. I recently had a conversation in which a friend was complaining about the inherently poor sound quality of live recordings. My counterargument was to throw on “Filthy McNasty”. In my book, this is one of the highlights of the 60s Blue Note catalog. When people ask me why I go to all the trouble and hassle of owning and maintaining 50+ year old LPs, this is one of those magic records I reach for.

    Of course, I am also one of those twisted people who prefers the stereo releases to the monos (at least for the titles where the mono is a fold-down of the stereo).

    Since first discovering the wide range of Horace Silver’s music through Doin’ the Thing, I have since grown to appreciate the wide range of his contributions to jazz music all the way back to his early Prestige dates with Miles Davis.

    When people characterize jazz as esoteric and dour, I can’t help but think of the levity of Horace Silver’s music and his casually hip entreaty to the audience of the Village Gate to “help us find the groove by patting your feet, or popping your fingers, or clapping your hands, or shaking your heads . . . or shaking whatever else you want to shake.”

    • pgiampi1
      November 10, 2012

      I feel that my copy of this LP sounds good but a little thin and brittle on the higher end…the only other live Blue Note LP I have is Art Blakey/Jazz Messengers at Cafe Bohemia Vol. 2 (a real live Lexington!) so it doesn’t provide a great point for comparison, but honestly my stereo equipment is probably to blame. I use a cheap Pyle Pro preamp into a Panasonic Shelf system…my turntable is a Technics SL 1700 with an AT Precept PC440 cartridge that has a needle on it that I just purchased a month ago…so I think my turntable is picking up better information than my stereo is putting out. I hope to upgrade in December…I’m curious what equipment you use and what kind of quality you feel you get out of your monos vs. your stereos.

      I have been going back and forth on whether it’s better for me to be pursuing the mono LPs. I like that deep sound, although again I don’t think my equipment is really doing it justice, but the damage that I mentioned in a previous post and that you touched upon in the comments can just be so heartbreaking. Yet mono LPs can seem to pop up a bit more often online than stereo. If I see something I want and I feel I can afford it, I don’t really think twice of it being mono, but I have to say I really enjoy the stereo Blue Note Stereo pressings that I have (no Riversides yet)…although now that I think of it I have some Blue Note stereos with some damage on them too…OW. My head hurts.

      I forgot about HS playing on some of Miles’s records. I have Blue Haze and really need to pull it out soon.

  2. felixstrange
    November 14, 2012

    Sounds like you’ve got a pretty nice a setup. I didn’t know about the Precept, but I looked it up and it seems like a nice AT MM cartridge with a Shibata stylus (although it sounds like you’ve replaced the stock stylus).

    I started out with an AT15SS which was a pretty similar, earlier AT cartridge. The only real difference is that the AT15SS had a beryllium cantilever. A very, very nice sounding cartridge. I still have an AT OC-9 ML II moving coil cartridge.

    Same goes for the Technics 1700, especially if it’s the mark II with quartz locking:
    http://www.vinylengine.com/library/technics/sl-1700.shtml

    But yeah, I think you’re on the right track with regard the preamp and the shelf system not doing much justice to your other equipment. It sounds like you’ve got some really wonderful (and rare) records to listen to and you would really get a lot an improved system.

    The way I see it, the cheapest way to go is read up on vintage stuff and keep an eye on Craigslist. There are usually some folks selling (and trading) high-quality used stuff on the cheap. The trick is to educate yourself about which brands made the quality stuff. Sites like audiokarma.org are great resources for this approach.

    You might, for example, look for a nice 70s amp (like a Marantz, Kenwood or Sansui) and find a decent pair of 3-way speakers (e.g. JBL, Infinity, ADS) and get yourself a $100 preamp (there are lots of very good ones in that price range) and you should have something you can really enjoy.

    If you can find a store that carries this kind of stuff retail (and even better, services it) you also have the added advantage of being to try stuff out and find out what you like.

    Of course, you can get crazier and crazier from there. You can get into the world of tubes, for example. You can also step into the “audiophile” world where equipment gets very expensive very quickly. I guess my take is that you should be very skeptical and/or experienced and knowledgable before you start spending big money, especially with speakers.

    Myself, I have a tube preamp, 50 watt tube amp (EL34s) and a pair of ADS 730 speakers which I’m mostly happy with. I grew up listening to a Fisher

    As for Mono vs. Stereo, I seem to be in the minority, at least in the Jazz world (I also listen to Classical LPs where mono does not get a lot of love). My rule is that if the master tape is in stereo, then I will try to get the stereo LP. All Blue Note titles after “Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers” were recorded in stereo only, so the mono LPs after BLP 4003 were created from a fold-down of the stereo master tape.

    For me, I guess I just feel like I’m hearing more with the stereo presentation. I can hear the drums separated from the piano separated from the horn as opposed to hearing them all blended together. That being said, I do enjoy listening to mono as well. It’s a bit of a case-by-case basis for me, but I usually go for stereo when I can.

    I think that the mono purists will argue that RVG and Alfred Lion mixed and monitored the sessions in mono in the control room (even though they were recording in stereo) and that therefore the mono mixes are a better representation of what they were striving to create.

    Anyway let me know how the search for new equipment goes and keep up the great posts! I’d love to hear about that Blue Haze LP. I’m especially fond of Miles’ Prestige stuff.

    • pgiampi1
      November 22, 2012

      I was thinking of going with new equipment, just because I would be frustrated to pick something second hand that would eventually need repairing. I like the idea of having a warranty. I was thinking of a Harman Kardon receiver and Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 speakers. It’s very much entry level stuff but I will only have around $600 to chuck at it after my birthday in a few weeks and Xmas.

      Sometime I feel content with my stereo for what it is, but my main goal is to make my older LPs (specifically my mono ones) sound better. My current hypothesis is that my current receiver is pretty weak, and my preamp is lame, so when I have to turn about pretty loud to get enough sound, any extra rumble or especially that static on loud notes is heightened. I have some LPs that have not a single pop, but do have that damage/static in spots we’ve talked about. I’ve tried summing the channels with cheap RadioShack cables, and while that diminishes the noise, it makes the record sound not nearly as good. I’m thinking I could start with the new receiver and speaker, and maybe there’s a preamp out there, vintage or new, that could help me. OR a lot people at Vinyl Engine talk about wiring an additional cartridge specifically for mono…I could get myself an additional Technics headshell with cartridge wired for mono (or a mono cartridge if I can afford it) to swap out for those records. Any thoughts on ALL of that?

  3. felixstrange
    November 26, 2012

    I think you are dead on about your receiver, preamp and speakers. Your record player setup is very high quality, so I think you will see an amazing improvement with even a slight upgrade to those components.

    As for the $600 price range to replace them all: in my estimate it’s doable, but tricky. In my opinion, you will get considerably more value for your money if you spend it on high-quality used equipment rather than entry-level new equipment.

    I realize that in this day and age ‘used’ generally equates to less reliable and outmoded to most people, but I don’t feel this is the case with Hi-Fi equipment. Most home audio technology was highly mature in the 1970s and hasn’t improved significantly since (with some notable exceptions). Also, the general consensus (from where I stand, anyway) is that the manufacturing quality of Hi-Fi gear has more or less gone down steadily since the 1970s while prices have soared (especially since the 2000s). That is: the quality of the cheap stuff has declined while the good stuff has gotten expensive.

    Also, I think that the value of warranties for new consumer electronics is usually dubious at best. I think what you really are looking for is someone to stand behind whatever you end up purchasing. You may be able to find this if you can locate a place that sells quality and/or refurbished used audio gear (that’s where I have had the best results).

    As for specifics: Harmon Kardon makes good stuff, but their focus, as with most large consumer electronics companies these days, is largely on Home Theater and casual music listeners (iPod’s etc.). It sounds like you want to use your setup mostly for listening to LPs with the goal of extremely faithful sound reproduction. The ideal amp for this kind of listening is a simple design, with as few bells and whistles as possible with the focus on high quality components (tight tolerance capacitors, point-to-point wiring etc). That’s not really HK’s thing.

    With the Wharfdale speakers, you will want to take into consideration room size as well as the volume you will be listening at. While the Diamond 10.1 speakers will probably sound very nice at low-to-medium volume in a small space, I’m not sure that’s what you’re looking to achieve.

    Now, as for the specific goal of getting your mono LPs to sound their best, that’s a tricky one. As I understand it, summing the channels with 2 Y-connectors achieves everything that soldering the poles together in the cartridge achieves, so I don’t believe that there’s much to be gained by going that route.

    There are several companies (Grado and Ortonfon come to mind) that sell dedicated ‘mono’ cartridges which do have true mono output. Some of these also feature a 1mm stylus diameter (as opposed to the normal 0.7mm) which is supposed to result in better playback for records cut before, say, 1955. I’ve only had very limited results with this myself.

    I tend to listen to mono records using my normal stereo setup for the most part. For what it’s worth, I also prefer to listen the playback of mono records in stereo most of the time, which I suppose makes me a heretic and idiot in the eyes of some. I feel like many times that a hair of clarity gets lost when merging the L and R channels. I can’t explain it, but I can’t deny that that’s what I hear.

    Also, for records that are in less than perfect condition, you end up collapsing the per-channel noise, which appears in either the L and R channel in stereo playback separate from the music in the center channel so that it then is heard in the center channel mixed in with the signal. Obviously, when listening to mono records in stereo you are also hearing any vertical stylus movement as noise as well, but in my experience this is almost always negligible (at least in the audible frequency range).

    In general, having more than one cartridge is a very good thing. The difference in playback is sometimes quite dramatic, if not easily explained. Different stylus profiles make contact different parts of the groove and tracking results can be quite different from LP to LP with various stylus. I have LPs that play back nearly silent with one line contact stylus and are almost unlistenably noisy with another.

    I try to get most of my cartridges through KAB Electro Acoustics. Whereas most vendors these days seem to not really know or care about how their products work (or don’t work, in the worst cases), Kevin Barrett is one of the most knowledgable guys out there and can explain the most esoteric details of cartridge construction in excruciating detail.

    “I have some LPs that have not a single pop, but do have that damage/static in spots we’ve talked about.”

    Believe me, I feel your pain. I have several LPs like this including a (seemingly) nice copy of “The New Miles Davis Quintet” which is basically unlistenable. As far as I understand such things, this is the result of groove wear (you can usually see it very clearly with a bright LED flashlight or a 100 watt halogen lamp). Some people in the late 50s and early 60s took very good care of their jazz LPs, carefully returning them to the rice paper liner and jacket after every play, all the while slowly murdering them with barbarically primitive record players and/or a worn or damaged styluses and we are left with the carnage.

    As far as I know, there is no cure for worn grooves. Record grooves are essentially hills and dales and in these cases, the hills have had their tops sheared off. In my experience, there is almost no way to improve playback in these cases. There are 0.5mm styluses available which are supposed to get deeper into the groove and could conceivably play back the very bottom of the groove below the wear. I have never had a chance to try one. Personally, I doubt very much it would make much difference. Groove wear is essentially irreparable damage.

    Anyway, I will stop now before I use up all the free space on your blog 🙂

    Feel free to email me anytime if you’d like any further input (email address reversed):

    moc.oohay@9saw6rebmun

    • pgiampi1
      December 16, 2012

      I ended up deciding that I don’t have the space for a more completed stereo setup right now, nor can I really afford it. The one change I will be making is to a better preamp, which I’m hoping will help get a little more out of my Technics. I’m still bugged by how persistent the extra noise can be, but right now this is what I can do about it.

      I was going to go with a model from phonopreamps.com. Their best model is still less than half the cost of some of the entry level preamps by NAD, MusicHall, etc, and considering that I may not hear a big difference until I have a different receiver and speakers, it seems silly to break the bank on a little $200 device.

      If you’re curious, the current preamp I have is a Pyle Pro. It sells for about $15 on Amazon. I’m sure any step up from that would provide SOME improvement, yeah?

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