Friday, 1 January 2010

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 54

(42/M/London, England)


Yes I agree with you 99% of time; my point was ITSOTN felt like a special case. When Degas said don't restore ML, he was (I presume) saying he didn't want HIS memory disrupted, not pretending that ML had started out like that. And ITSOTN has burnt itself into people's memories in a certain way, so that's what it "is" for us. (I'm quite fond, in any case, of the boxy, warm AM sound – I’m with Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner sentiments on this one, to step out of our era for a moment...)

I do like Ace, etc, but with some recordings from other companies, or with gleamingly fresh stereo tapes of 50s/60s music, the balance can seem different from the mono, less punchy and direct, so I do have some reservations. I'm also a fan of early jazz and very few transfers to CD (apart from John R.T. Davies, jazzland's Little Walter DeVenne equivalent), have worked out that you lose some essential ambience if you filter too much out. I have one Ravens CD totally flattened out sonically, and lifeless; another, with a fair degree of scratches, conveys the immediacy of their presence far more (Bless You... is a lovely track).

So to sum up my views: if clean master tapes available, great (except ITSOTN!).

But care needs to be taken when cleaning up imperfect sources.

Stuff in stereo not originally conceived as such can have the effect of altering the balance of elements we recall from the mono - we hear more, but it can feel "wrong." Though I suppose no record competes with the memory ...


Sound restorer John R.T. Davies died in 2004 but left a legacy of early jazz recordings sounding as good as they could be. You can find an in-depth interview about his methods
here but what I take to be his essential point is made in my otherwise off-topic review of a Billie Holiday CD:

Like most CDs in the Jazz Greats series, transfers were made by the late John R.T. Davies, who really understood how to preserve the original sound: too many CDs of public domain (over fifty years old) recordings have the life drained out of them in an effort to obliterate the scratches; doing this, however, means that you destroy what Davies called the "air" in a recording - and in any case the listener's ear is able to tune out much of the noise anyway.

Davies worked for several companies, most notably JSP, and passed on his skills to Ted Kendall; both names are a guarantee of quality. The JSP site includes blues and some rhythm and blues, and even one CD of early doo wop (or music on the cusp of being doo wop), but be warned that remasters not specifically ascribed to one or other of those gentlemen can be variable, judging from my experience of a Billie Holiday set, and I haven't personally heard the doo wop CD.

Returning to the theme of the magic of the internet, and the connections which would not otherwise have been possible, I emailed John to say how much I'd appreciated his CD remastering of sides by Luis Russell which had been one of my first happy jazz discoveries on vinyl in Motherwell Library in the early seventies and got a charming reply almost immediately. A great man, who devoted his life to preserving great music for everybody.

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