Kenny Burrell: Midnight Blue
Analogue Productions CBNJ 84123 SA
Ray Barretto (conga)
Kenny Burrell (guitar)
Billy Gene English (drums)
Major Holley (bass)
Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax)
One of the best-sounding Blue Notes. True to its title, the music and groove of this album is for late nights and low lights. Thick, smoky, humid – a killer you gotta own.
Alfred Lion considered this his favorite production and well he should have. Without piano, Burrell, Stanley Turrentine and company get a clean open sound and a deep groove on such now classic compositions as the title tune and "Chitlins Con Carne," which has become a blues band staple.
Originally released in 1963.
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Review by Mark Werlin - July 3, 2022
Rather than a review, some comments about the SACD in comparison to two other high resolution reissues.
This AP SACD and the Blue Note 24/192 download appear to be sourced from the same tape, but the approach to mastering the two releases was quite different. Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray's mastering of the AP SACD aims to recreate the original-era analogue sound without the compromises and limitations required to cut LP lacquers. If you listen in headphones, or turn it up on your loudspeakers, you'll hear all the details. But depending on your expectations and the quality of your audio system, it might sound "dark" or "recessed." The AP SACD is now out of print, and the price of a copy may be out of reach to jazz lovers on a budget. However, there are two alternatives in high resolution.
Blue Note's 24/192 download version is worth purchasing, with caveats. In an A/B comparison to the AP SACD, the download sounds a few dB louder, brighter in the highs, and deeper in the lows. On the second track, "Mule", Major Holley's bass will kick your woofers across the room. Did the engineer of the 24/192 download boost the low end, or did Hoffman and Gray reduce it? Perhaps this is what the original tape sounds like.
I had the opportunity to listen to the HDTT DSD256 download of "Midnight Blue". It was sourced from a 15ips 1/2 track tape, as stated on the HDTT web page for the album. I've read in discussion threads that HDTT uses safety copies for their transfers; they do not license original master tapes. So before doing a comparison I knew that the sources were different. What immediately struck me is that on "Mule" the standup bass sounds very similar to the AP SACD, that is, not as deep (or boosted) as on the 24/192 download, that the highs were more forward than on the SACD, and that the stereo panorama was narrower than the SACD and 24/192 versions. Was the HDTT source intentionally panned narrower on this tune during the transfer to DSD256, or is this how the safety tape sounds? On the other tracks, Kenny Burrell’s guitar is hard left. I'll send an inquiry to HDTT and update these comments if I learn more.
All three versions of the album provide listening pleasure -- it's an audiophile and musical classic. I was pleasantly surprised that my preference for original master sourcing did not interfere with my enjoyment of the HDTT DSD256 release. HDTT's Bob Witrak has made an effort to obtain high-quality 15ips safety copy tapes of excellent jazz albums, some of which have never been released in hi-res or on SACD.
After listening to "Midnight Blue", I purchased one of HDTT's DSD256 releases sourced from a 15ips tape, Gerry Mulligan's "What Is There To Say?", a piano-less quartet album produced by Teo Macero at Columbia Studios in December 1958 and January 1959. The album has an interesting (probably three channel recording) mix: baritone sax hard left, drums center, trumpet and bass hard right.
Why wasn't this album reissued on SACD by Sony, or preferably, by Mobile Fidelity? Has the tape disappeared? ORG issued a 45 RPM LP set, mastered from the original tapes by Bernie Grundman, so at that time (2011) the original tapes were extant. Sony released a remix/remaster by Vic Anesini in the US and Japan, on CD only. For DSD listeners, I can recommend the HDTT download, without reservation. For the price of the DSD256, users can also download the other resolutions.
The other SACD release of “Midnight Blue”, which I have not heard, Universal (Japan) UCGQ-9014, is also OOP. Alex, an HRAudio site user, wrote:
"channels are reversed at the SHM-SACD (guitar from the left channel)"
How did that happen? All three of the versions discussed in this review have guitar left, drums right, bass center.
Copyright © 2022 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net
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Comment by Michael Sv - June 29, 2017 (1 of 3)
Great recording! The sound is clean and pure. A must have for your SACD collection. One of my favorites. One of those albums where every single song shines.
I must add... on #2 track "Mule" bass is very unique to SACD sound and is only listenable and intriguing to the ears on this SACD, and I presume vinyl, on CD layer and streaming the bass is too "fat" and overbearing. Here it's just a bliss like it's not even a struggle. The rise and decay of bass is evident and sound is completely like Night and Day to a CD recording.
Comment by Brian VanPelt - June 30, 2022 (2 of 3)
While I love this SACD, there is a better option available. If you are familiar with High Definition Tape Transfers (HDTT), then you know they offer very high level DSD downloads. In the case of this particular album, you can download this album in DSD 256 for $26. It beats trying to find the SACD somewhere - discogs seems to sell them for around $70 or so.
Anyway, the download from HDTT is more detailed than this SACD. It sounds like the SACD tried to cut down on tape hiss, and in so doing smoothed off the high frequencies. I do like the sound of the SACD, but the 256 DSD download is just more open, the highs are there (and so is some tape hiss). I'd rather have full frequency extension than muffled sound.
Most likely the reason Analogue Productions seemed to remove the highest frequencies is because there are times when the tape distorts in the original recording. This SACD eliminates that distortion. On the other hand, the distortion is very tiny, so I prefer the HDTT treatment.
Comment by Postercowboy - August 3, 2022 (3 of 3)
I have both the Japanese UCGQ-9014 SHM-SACD in mostly stereo and the Platinum SHM-CD in mono, which is also oop. CD Obi states 2012 192 kHz/ 24 bit. It‘s harder to tell on the mono recording, but the guitar here is also clearly on the left, bass center, drums on the right.
The CD seems to offer a bit more treble and also the bass is more pleasant to my ears. In direct comparison, the SACD sounds a bit muffled and lifeless. I also prefer the tighter monaural presentation over the fairly extreme wide-panning of the stereo version.
Don‘t get me wrong, both albums sound great, and the differences are fairly minimal, but in direct comparison, and to my ears, the Platinum CD just sounds a tad better in every aspect.
Truth be told, in my home 9 out of 10 times the CD gets played, while the SACD is more of a collector‘s item.