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Badly mastered but mostly tolerable sound quality of mostly good, harmless old music
on 23 February 2014
A) About the sound quality:
1) This set is not for the audiophile-oriented, as you've probably guessed. The production resonates with the obvious fact that the whole collection of 8 LP:s-in-CD:s is mastered from vinyls, not the original Blue Note master tapes. Strangely, it is with two recordings from 1957 only that things are much more annoying.
2) The disc2, second LP, 'A Date with Jimmy Smith, vol. 1', has probably the most unpleasant sound quality I've ever heard on a CD - 1930's Djangos are a novelty compared to this one! The shortcomings of the master LP shine through as over-emphasized high ends, the distortion of the most powerful symbal strokes - and in general there is an audible feeling of ultra-cheap production values. That disc-half is purely worthless.
3) On the contrasting side, especially 'At the Club Baby Grand, vols. 1 & 2' are like rather enjoyable oldie recordings on CD! The sound is pleasant to the ear, and not sounding unnatural.
B) About the music:
1) You get a fairly good picture of Jimmy Smith through the music of these eight LP:s. Unlike e.g. '8 Classic Albums / Oscar Peterson', this box includes many recordings, that truly _are_ considered classics. Jimmy plays more or less great throughout, but on the aforementioned terrible LP-reportation his playing truly can't be enjoyed. A high point of this collection to me could be the track 'Willow Weep for Me', which is so atmospheric and gives way to the thought that possibly Jimmy Smith's playing could've been at its best in his more rare, slower tempos.
2) The guitarists Thornel Schwartz (1956) and Eddie McFadden (1957) play very good comping, but their solos are not that good, though decent. Especially the occasional patchiness is annoying, but tolerable.
3) The drummers play 'from the straight bag' throughout. No surprises, except that Art Blakey is not just as good as he's used to be.
1) If you want the real thing, don't buy this box, but the Blue Note releases of the true classics of this lot instead. The most important would possibly be 'A New Sound, A New Star, vols. 1&2' [both included in Blue Note 2*CD 'New Sound...a New Star - at the Organ']. Or then - you could wait for the new Blue Note releases. In either case, you would get a more aesthetic package and definitely a tape-mastered sound.
2) If you want just a Jimmy Smith collection, and that's it, with no high expectations of aural authenticity, buy this one. The playing is decent to great and - considering the price - the shortcomings forgivable for a less serious listener.