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More OJC Magic: Masterpieces from Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck

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Although they might have been one of the last concerns to significantly ramp up their release schedules when the vinyl renaissance hit its stride, Concord has been making up for lost time with several series now part of their Craft imprimatur. At the end of 2023, they announced a new audiophile reissue series titled after the legendary catalog started by Fantasy in 1983. These new Original Jazz Classics (OJC) start with everything that was loved about the original series while setting the bar set higher in terms of quality.

With new remastering provided by Kevin Gray and 180 gram vinyl pressed at Recording Technology Inc., the new OJCs are housed in heavyweight tip-on jackets and contain an "obi strip" (strip of paper wrapped around a book, CD, or album) that recalls the ones used on Japanese issues. As was the case with previous titles reviewed here, the vinyl is absolutely flat and dead quiet, which when combined with the stellar sound engineering, makes these titles some of the best jazz reissues on the jazz market.

Bill Evans
Sunday at the Village Vanguard
Craft Recordings
1961

Having already received the OJC treatment via Waltz for Debby (Riverside), another set of recordings from pianists Bill Evans' June 1961 performances at the Village Vanguard gets a marvelous update. As noted with the previous set, the sound is as good as this material has ever sounded and there have been more than just a few recent audiophile editions. The weighty tone and stereo spread that fills the space between the speakers on the opening "Gloria's Step" puts you squarely at a little table in front of the stage. All that's missing is a fine glass of wine and possibly a cigar.

Evans delivers a particularly poignant reading of "My Man's Gone Now," his use of space and gentle delivery making plenty of room to hear the rivets sizzling on Paul Motian's ride cymbal and the strings slapping against the neck of Scott LaFaro's bass. Possibly the best performance of the set, "Solar" is a textbook example of the simpatico relationship that existed between La Faro and Evans, the pair weaving their lines together in a manner where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Motian is a joy to hear throughout as well, his interplay and interjections taking him beyond the standard role of drummer as merely a timekeeper.

Dave Brubeck
Jazz at Oberlin
Craft Recordings
1953

Even if the music was not as prodigious as it is, the album Jazz at Oberlin would be considered an iconic gem in terms of capturing a live jazz concert in all its glory. Throughout the five-song program, the college crowd gathered to see Dave Brubeck's quartet including Paul Desmond can be heard spontaneously erupting into applause at any given moment. Recorded inside Finney Chapel on the campus of Oberlin College in 1953, the west coast Fantasy label scored somewhat of a coup in terms of catching the first sparks of Brubeck's budding career and with excellent sound to boot.

There's definitely a hint at Brubeck's early preference for classical music on the opening "The Way You Look Tonight." The interaction between the pianist and Desmond hints at Baroque counterpoint, even as the altoist seems to have Stravinsky on his mind. Although Brubeck takes a leisurely stroll through the opening melody of "How High the Moon," as Desmond steps up to the microphone, the tempo doubles for what will prove to be an intense solo statement.

Arguably one of the most clever takes on Juan Tizol's "Perdido," Brubeck and Desmond speak the familiar melody in a manner marked by short spurts of notes delivered slightly behind the beat. More counterpoint in their serpentine style makes this one of the highlights of the set. The closing "Stardust" eschews its romantic leanings when Brubeck develops a phrase in his solo marked by chunky, block chords and a squirrelly line that he then hands off to Desmond.

Throughout the proceedings, bassist Ron Crotty and drummer Lloyd Davis offer unobtrusive support and prove to be rock solid during some of the particularly brisk tempos. Neither musician gets much chance to step into the solo spotlight, yet this is not surprising for the time period. At the end of the day, this show was all about exposing a young audience to the joys of jazz and in that regard it was clearly a case of mission accomplished.

Associated equipment used for evaluation

VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Soundsmith Aida Mk II cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Arcam SDS 50 SACD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner
Solidsteel S3 Series audio rack

Tracks and Personnel

Sunday at the Village Vanguard

Tracks: Gloria's Step; My Man's Gone Now; Solar; Alice in Wonderland; All of You; Jade Visions.

Personnel: Bill Evans: piano; Scott LaFaro: bass; Paul Motian: drums.

Jazz at Oberlin

Tracks: The Way You Look Tonight; How High the Moon; These Foolish Things; Perdido; Stardust.

Personnel: Dave Brubeck: piano; Paul Desmond: alto saxophone; Ron Crotty: bass; Lloyd Davis: drums.

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