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<br>Black, Green, Yellow...<p>Which Color Sounds the Best?</p>

Black, Green, Yellow...

Which Color Sounds the Best?

Our Hot Stamper commentary from a recent shootout we did for the wonderful Helen Humes album Songs I Like to Sing discusses the sonic characteristics we find most commonly associated with the various Contemporary.

This Contemporary Black Label Original LP has that classic tube-mastered sound -- warmer, smoother, and sweeter than the later pressings, with more breath of life. Overall the sound is well-balanced and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is rare for a black label Contemporary, as they are usually dull and bass-heavy.
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Sku # : contemporary

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We won't buy them locally anymore unless they can be returned. I've got a box full of Contemporarys with bloated bass and no top end that I don't know what to do with!

Like most mediocre-to-bad sounding records around here, they just sit in a box taking up space. All of our time and effort goes into putting good pressings on the site and in the mailings. It's hard to get motivated to do anything with the leftovers. We paid plenty for them, so we don't want to give them away, but they don't sound good, so most of our customers won't buy them. What to do, what to do? Ebay I guess, but that's a long way down the road. It's too much fun doing listings for good records these days to want to stop now. The average record is just average, and nothing is ever going to change that!

We shot this out against a variety of later pressings. The Black Label copies have a bit of echo added to the vocals and have the attributes listed above -- warmth, sweetness, presence, and immediacy. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn't say one is necessarily better than the other; it's really more a matter of taste.

A Word About OJC Pressings

OJC versions of Contemporary Records albums can be excellent. Those tend to be the ones we say nice things about. But most of the time the pressings that were mastered and put out by Contemporary in the mid '70s on the yellow label (until they were bought by Fantasy) are superior. Again, you have to play them to know which are which.

We are also big fans of the OJCs that come with the long strips on the cover. They tend to be mastered pre-Phil De Lancie (maybe by George Horn, one of our favorite mastering engineers), and usually sound much better than the pressings that followed.

My understanding is that Bernie Grundman was cutting a lot of records for Contemporary in those days. If that's true he was doing a great job because those are some truly wonderful sounding records.

Contemporary Records was the first jazz label to record in stereo.

In the early 1950's they were using Capitol's Melrose Studio to cut all of their "Good Time Jazz" (Firehouse Five Plus Two) and "Contemporary" records. When Capitol switched over to the Tower Studio in July of 1956, Contemporary didn't follow over there. Instead they bought their own Ampex 350-2 portable tape recorder and started recording in the back storeroom of the Contemporary/Good Time Jazz offices. The two engineers, Howard Holzer and Roy DuNann, just set up their three or four microphones and let her rip, live to two track. They also had a mono machine going for the mono feed.

At that time the idea of "binaural" sound meant (to them) a very obvious left/right deal, with nothing in the middle. They actually had not heard any stereo recordings before they started recording in the medium so they just guessed that it was the correct way to do it. The reason they did a binaural recording at all was because of the open reel audiophile tape market. This had nothing to do with stereo LP's which didn't come along until 1958. Of course when stereo records were finally perfected, Contemporary found that their backlog of stereo master tapes could be utilized.

Therefore such groundbreaking works from 1956-7 such as "Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section", Sonny Rollins "Way Out West", Shelly Manne and Friends "Jazz Impressions Of MY FAIR LADY" and the great Brown/Kessel/Manne "The Poll Winners" exist in true binaural form and they sound great. I've listened to the mono master recordings of these albums and they sound a bit pinched compared to their binaural counterparts. The mono tapes had a bit of compression and EQ done to them during recording (like any major studio would) but the two-track tapes were done pretty much neutral and uncompressed. I love all of the Contemporary label stuff. I even love the FIREHOUSE FIVE PLUS TWO. Their Dixieland stuff really sounds amazing from that era."

-- Steve Hoffman

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