April 2008

Lou Donaldson with the Three Sounds - LD+3
Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-84012
Format: LP
Originally released: 1959
Reissue released: 2008

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Dexter Gordon - Dexter Calling
Blue Note/Acoustic Sounds AP-84083
Format: LP
Originally released: 1961
Reissue released: 2008

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

by John Crossett

Here are LPs by two of Blue Note’s more prolific saxophonists – alto man Lou Donaldson and tenor star Dexter Gordon. Both were at the top of their game when they recorded these albums. Both recorded in a quartet setting, Donaldson with the Three Sounds -- Gene Harris, Andy Simpkins and Bill Dowdy -- and Gordon with Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. Both recordings are prime examples of the swinging hard bop favored by Blue Note founder Alfred Lion. On both, the saxophone sound streams out from the left channel, with the rhythm section anchored in the right -- though it does spread a bit into the middle as well. You can hear so very clearly Gordon’s muscular tenor filling the room and Donaldson’s very reedy alto beaming at you, and the clearly defined size of both instruments.

The Music Matters LPs -- a pair of beautifully pressed 45s -- take that great Blue Note sound and ratchets it up a notch or two, while the Acoustic Sounds 45s seem to spit-shine the master tape with the technological advances engineers enjoy today. Which are better? I give the nod to the Music Matters LPs, as they offer a greater sense of space along with more organic wholeness to go with the clean, clear sound. The Acoustic Sounds LPs are very fine, as long as you like the original Blue Note sound but with a cleaner signature. They seem to spotlight the individual instruments a bit more too, almost as if the musicians were recorded in sound booths. (They weren’t, of course.) And when you toss in the packaging, well, it’s no contest: Music Matters gives you a product that makes you happy you spent the $50 entry fee (if that’s possible).

What’s interesting is that Steve Hoffman, who is handling the mastering of both reissue series, claims he’s doing nothing different. All I can say is that there is definitely a sonic difference that is easily heard, at least between these two releases. But no matter which you choose, 45rpm playback makes the music come alive in ways 33 1/3 never could.