Tag Archives: super deluxe Edition

Why Do You Need Alex Winter’s Frank Zappa Documentary Soundtrack On Vinyl?

I struggled a bit getting started on this third part in my review series on the vinyl edition of Alex Winter’s new Frank Zappa documentary soundtrack. You see, by this point in time I’ve already explored most of the key points about what makes this collection great in two prior reviews which I encourage you to read if you missed them (click here for the CD and here for the stream).  

With the odd music distribution patterns during these strange times we presently live in, many albums roll out in staggered release schedules. The vinyl often trails far behind due to manufacturing and shipping delays. So I felt somewhat obligated to follow through for those of you following this thread-like, multi-part series.

The investment of money in a five disc deluxe box set like the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is significant but not outrageous all things considered.  Still, you have to be something of a fairly serious Zappa fan to really want this collection on vinyl. For the hardcore fan it is a no brainer because here you’ll have the best sounding versions of a lot of the rare tracks that are only available on this set at present. 

From an audiophile perspective, all the good things we have come to expect from these archival releases by Universal Music and The Frank Zappa Estate have fallen right in line: the pressings are excellent, well centered, dead quiet and pressed on thick dark 180-gram vinyl. The mastering is top notch and for the most part the sound is remarkably consistent even when making the jump from early live recordings to full on studio production swagger.  It all works very well on vinyl. 

Some of my favorites still include the stunning solo version of “Black Page #1” performed by Ruth Underwood on the piano which sounds amazing on LP.  And as I pointed out in my earlier reviews, its not exactly the same version that is in the film so that makes having this on vinyl extra special in many ways.

It is also wonderful to hear the legendary jam (the name of which unfortunately I can’t write out here) from the Fillmore East with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971 in the original Zappa edit. Previously this was only available on the 1992 compact disc Playground Psychotics. This is a significantly different version than you will hear on the parallel release (first issued in 1972) by Lennon and Ono called Sometime In New York City which edits out the vocal-call-and-response between Flo & Eddie and Yoko Ono.  I prefer the Zappa version of the track here as it feels suddenly somehow more complete and no doubt truer to what happened on stage that night. 

If you’re a relatively new Zappa fan, the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack boxed set may well be a good first deep toe in the waters if you don’t really know where to start beyond, say, Freak Out, Hot Rats and Joe’s Garage.  

In that regard, the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack gives you a pretty great retrospective of often overlooked album tracks as well as a number of rarities you won’t find elsewhere on vinyl.   And of course there is the poignant companion soundtrack music here which stands on its own right (discussed at some length in the prior CD review)

The physical packaging itself is also quite wonderful featuring the great behind-the-scenes photos of Zappa and a full size full color booklet which is much more satisfying than the CD package. There is also a neat message from Frank awaiting you printed around the inner lip of the box lid. Kudos to the team working on the design of this set for creating such a classy package to compliment and round out what is all around a very classy film project. 

If you missed the film, you can of course buy it on Blu-ray Disc and it is now streaming on Hulu if you have a subscription to that (click here) in addition to many other services (click here). This wonderful documentary goes a long way to put Zappa’s life and work into proper big picture perspective for the ages.  An important film, it is great starting point for those new to Zappa’s music. And yet, at the same time, it is a heart-tugging, tear-inducing memoir for longtime fans to cherish.  

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

The Story Of Herbie Hancock, Vinyl Me Please Boxed Set, Part 1: The Blue Notes

Before I get into the reviews of this fine eight-album (11 discs!) super deluxe boxed set from the good folks at Vinyl Me, Please (VMP) — The Story Of Herbie Hancock, curated by the artist himself! — I thought it might be wise to address some concerns that quite a number of vinyl fans have directed towards me when I’ve previously discussed these fancy collections. Notably, there seems to be a perception that VMP sets are very expensive. On the surface, I might have agreed, but I decided to do a little informal research on the Interwebs, searching for comparable “near mint,” new or sealed original editions where possible to see how the numbers added up.  

And you know what? The Story Of Herbie Hancock set came out about the same and depending on which editions you bought, probably cheaper — remember that some of the albums in the set (The Piano, Live Under The Sky) were only released in Japan at the time so you’d need to add in the costs of shipping from overseas in those instances. 

Speaking of Live Under The Sky, the version in this set is an exclusive:  featuring Herbie’s supergroup V.S.O.P. (Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Tony Williams), the album has been resequenced with a new song added to it at Herbie’s request.  Also, if I’m not mistaken as I have not found listings on Discogs or other popular record collectors websites, this may mark the first time the collaboration with Wayne Shorter, called 1+1, has been issued on vinyl! 

Without a doubt, the packaging on these VMP editions are far superior to the originals, printed on thick cardboard stock and laminated (similar to the Blue Note Tone Poets and Verve Acoustic Sounds editions). Headhunters looks especially beautiful in that way — the cover art pops!  Additionally, you get a lovely LP sized booklet with detailed information on each of the albums.  

All eight albums in The Story Of Herbie Hancock feature lacquers cut by the legendary Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood, CA. Takin’ Off, Maiden Voyage, Head Hunters, The Piano and Future Shock were cut AAA from analog tapes. 1+1, and River: The Joni Letters, which were recorded digitally, and Live Under the Sky — again, resequenced at Herbie’s request — come from master digital audio. The albums were plated at RTI, and pressed at GZ on black 180g vinyl.

Adding to the value for the price of admission you also get access to five exclusive podcasts including talks with Herbie himself as well as Wayne Shorter and others. You also get access to AMA (Ask Me Anything) video sessions which may include special guests.  

For these reviews, I will start with the beginning of my personal Herbie Hancock journey, his landmark mid-60s release Maiden Voyage.

While I love this album, my travelogue with Maiden Voyage hasn’t exactly been stellar from an audiophile perspective. One of my brothers had an early 70s pressing on the blue-colored Blue Note label, so that is where I first came on board the Herbie Hancock mothership.  I had a later reissue at one point that was ok but then I found a somewhat better late ‘60s pressing (Liberty Records-era but with the classic blue-and-white Blue Note label, for those of you who follow this sort of detail) which sounded pretty good. Except, it had one side that was just off-center enough to be problematic (so I always planned to upgrade again at some point). 

That said, this new edition easily surpasses my original RVG pressing. It is dead quiet and perfectly centered. The mastering is a bit quieter than my old copy so I had to turn up the amp a little bit when I switched discs, but this revealed more air and dynamics without sounding awkward. In fact, Maiden Voyage here sounds exactly how it should sound: gorgeous. Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet is fat and round. Tony Williams’ drums are crisp yet they never step on the other instruments — the cymbals decay naturally and you can almost feel the tang of the brass. Herbie’s piano sounds rich and woody (and thankfully not boxy as some RVG recordings can be). 

This version of Maiden Voyage is golden as far as I can tell. In fact, I don’t think I need to keep my original anymore, this is so much of an improvement for me. The laminated cover is also far superior to the original. A winner.  

While we’re in the land of Blue Notes, I thought it made sense to explore Mr. Hancock’s debut solo album, Takin’ Off. For this, I invested a little extra time and money as (believe it or not, I really never owned this album on vinyl – gasp, I know) and didn’t have an equal point of reference handy. So while I didn’t have $500 handy to invest in original 1962 edition (click here for that), I went out and purchased one of the new Blue Note reissues (for about $27). Ideally, these records should sound the same, but actually, the didn’t. In record-collector’s rule-of-thumb theorizing, the non-VMP edition should sound better as it was pressed in Germany. It didn’t. And the VMP packaging is markedly better (laminated, thick brown cardboard stock) than the standard edition (thin white oaktag, non-laminated). 

What gives?  

Well, first off there is Bernie Grundman’s mastering which delivers a warmer more analog feeling vibe that rings true to the aesthetic of Rudy Van Gelder’s original recordings. From the opening notes of “Watermelon Man,” the the whole vibe feels rich. The horns sound rounder, the cymbals shimmer without being harsh and the piano feels appropriately woody.  On the German pressing, everything feels awash in a bit of brightness. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds good. But this VMP edition sounds great and feels more true, like the sound I would expect from a great Blue Note release. And, again, the cover art just looks and feels like a higher quality production. 

In the next edition of my exploration The Story Of Herbie Hancock I’ll explore Headhunters and River : The Joni Letters and more… stay tuned… 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review