Hunting vintage jazz vinyl records in the Nutmeg State
Found at Jazz Record Center, New York, NY
I spent quite a bit of time at Fred Cohen’s wonderful shop, exploring what a record seller of this notoriety would have on hand. The most frustrating (occasionally exhilarating) thing about record hunting in Connecticut is just how few original pressings turn up. Perhaps it’s the infrequency of their appearances rather than the actual number of records you can find, but either way it never seems necessary for me to drop in on my regular haunts more than once a month or two.
This recent trip to the city was my first armed with a knowledge and desire to find and acquire original pressings that truly showcase the vivid imagery possible from vinyl records. I had been to Jazz Record Center before, but was so overwhelmed by the selection (and easily stomach sick over the idea of paying more than $10 for an older record that would never truly shine on my USB turntable) that I only ever walked out with a few random reissues and perhaps a used CD. And even though I was intimidated from having witnessed the dizzying heights reached by the finest records JRC offered up on eBay, I intended to dig until I found pieces I wanted and could afford.
While no Blue Note original pressings were to be had that day, JRC was and still is rife with nice records. This was one of them, a radio station copy of Kenny Dorham’s release from the beginning of the short tenure of Time Records. I suspect it’s a radio station copy, anyway, since there is a faded stamp on the back cover and tempo descriptions penciled in next to each tune.
I’ve always been intensely interested in the albums on this label, from the minimalistic art to the mix and match roster of artists. Reading the notes on the back of this LP gives the impression that this label is all about the musician, from the emphasis on recording quality to the seemingly nonexistent commercial angle. Jazz Contrasts plays out that way, heeding artistic license to Dorham to change moods and tempi at will. Among the highlights for me is the stunning take on Monk’s Mood. Dorham, Davis, and Kuhn each take turns handling the sweet and tangy melody without drastically altering it, letting its subtly sinew nature really sink in. I’m a bit of a Monk nut and this interpretation really pleases me. It’s not played in the way Monk might handle it, and yet it’s handled as art – a painting by Mondrian or the NYC skyline but nothing extravagant and ornate – and therefore is totally 100% Monk-esque.
There’s an interesting little note found on the back cover in regards to the way this record was recorded. The folks at Time found it necessary to explain that their records were made in stereo, with mono pressings folded down from stereo. Browse any vinyl forum and you’ll see plenty of discussion about not only which format is “better” but also whether or not engineers/labels made records in true stereo/true mono and/or both. Did you follow that? Anyhow, this record sounds nice and lively but it’s tough to compare to my only other Time album, a stereo pressing of the self titled Booker Little record. Little is a much brassier trumpet player, whereas I’ve always found Dorham to be a little obtuse in the lower register and to have a slightly squeezed sound in some of his expressive aspects of flexibility. Difference in the actual trumpet players aside, the mono sounds deeper but somewhat less live on my equipment, which is pretty consistent when compared to most of the other records in my collection.
The gentleman working at the shop, who I can only assume was Mr. Cohen, patiently answered all my questions, particularly about any LP that seemed original…expect that everything was in perfect condition. This was particularly a conundrum for me with Jazz Contemporary, since there was a copy for $5 less that had a flawless, stark white cover. Mr. Cohen confirmed my suspicion: a Japanese pressing with an identical cover. Several other records of note I found that day were in fact from Japan, and I bet they sounded nice, but at this particular juncture I was after American originals. I was happy to walk out with as nice a piece as this.
More LPs from NYC to come in future updates to NTU.