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Dead Wax Cafe

Miles Davis Kind Of Blue

Classic Records Reissue of Columbia CS 8163

By Gary Markowitz

Well, Classic Records Kind Of Blue arrived on Saturday from Audiophile International USA. I want to complement them on their excellent, prompt service, and they did an outstanding job packing the album for shipping. I wanted to throw it on the table right away, but my turntable was half apart for it's annual lube job. As much as I wanted to finish it, I couldn't until Tuesday due to family commitments over the 4th of July weekend. Harry Weisfield's recipe of lithium grease and Slick 50 seems to work quite well on the TNT Series 4. On to the matters at hand.
Kind of Blue is one of my favorite albums. I'm fortunate enough to own a nice mono 6-Eye (CL 8163), as well as two stereo 6-Eyes, not particularly early pressings, but 6-Eyes nonetheless. So why would I even want a reissue copy? Classic went the extra Miles on this one by including a second disc in this set. I also haven't gotten any of the more recent Classic reissues, and I wanted to see what kind of job they did in their Columbia Jazz series.
Classic did a pretty decent job on the packaging. The album cover seems quite sturdy, with a good facsimile of the original cover art. It's packed in a loose poly jacket cover, just the kind I like. The inner sleeves are poly lined paper.

The Sound

The first thing I did was to fire up one of the stereo 6-Eyes, so I could have the image of that great album in my mind. I won't comment directly on the original, but I will use it as a basis of comparison to the reissue.
The first thing that's very evident is silent background of the Classic. After a quick cleaning on the record vac, there was no audible surface noise. I've generally found Columbia 6-Eyes less than silent, even when found in apparently unplayed condition.
The next is the tone of the instruments. They're a bit thinner, with less body than on the original. The piano doesn't have as rich an harmonic structure, and it also seems to get congested just a bit on the louder, more complex chords. Adderly's sax, especially on All Blues, has more body and seems to be a bit less brash on the original Columbia.
The Classic displays a hotter, more extended high frequency range than the original. It seems to make the cymbals a bit more prominent and extended, and gives Miles' trumpet just a bit more of a bite than the original. I'm not sure if the Classic is bright, or the original is a bit rolled off. In any event, it changes the perspective of the performance, which any listener may or may not like.
The lower bass was definitely more prominent on the Classic. This was quite enjoyable, making it a bit easier to follow Paul Chambers' bass lines as they melded into the background, and gave the bass it's proper sense of weight and power when he played more prominently. This is plainly evident in comparing the first cut, So What, on both issues. The bass is tight and well defined on the Classic, and the bass line is easy to distinguish and follow throughout the cut. It's almost as if the original is rolled off a bit below around 80 Hz. I think the Classic gets this part right, as opposed to some of the Mobile Fidelity reissues, which overdo it in the bass to the point of annoyance.
Soundstaging on the Classic is utterly pinpoint. But there's not as much of a sense of air as on the original Columbia. There's also an amazing amount of detail on the Classic, which may be due to two things, the brighter presentation of the Classic, and the utter lack of surface noise. But there was more of a sense of where the bodies were on the Columbia, along with a touch more hall ambiance. Coltrane's tenor, on Flamenco Sketches, for example, had a "presence in space", for lack of a better term, that the Classic just didn't portray.

The Second Disc

According to the liner notes, Sony engineers determined that the tape machine used at the original recording session was running about 1 1/2 percent too slow. This meant that when the tape was played back on correctly functioning equipment, it's speed was too fast. So Classic, for the first time ever, altered the speed of the tape machine used to cut the album to reflect the intended speed and pitch.
Well, hearing side one at the "corrected speed" after hearing at the wrong speed so many times is almost disconcerting. I had to listen to it twice, then go back and listen to the first disc. I think the music becomes more expressive when played back at the proper speed, and the instruments and pitch seems a bit more "right". The overall sound is of similar character to the first disc.
The gem of the album has to be the 45 rpm alternate take of Flamenco Sketches. From the first few bars, it's evident that the 45 rpm version has almost none of the drawbacks of the 33. The piano gains back the body and the proper decay that's lacking in the 33 rpm sides. When Miles' trumpet kicks in, it has a reach out and touch it quality. On Coletrane's set of scales, the full timbre of his tenor sax is evident, and the instrument has perhaps even more of a presence than on the original. Adderly's alto is also more full bodied.
The cymbals aren't as prominent as on the 33 cuts, and that tinge of brightness I heard on the standard sides is just about gone, but without any loss of extension. The bass here too is excellent, with little change from the 33 sides.

The Bottom Line

I feel the standard reissue is very good. As with any reissue, there are differences from the original. Some you'll like, some you won't. The bass is definitely an improvement on the original, as is the dead quiet surface. The upper registers is certainly different, perhaps a bit bright, but also more extended. There's less harmonic richness than in the original Columbia, but overall there are no glaring flaws.
Is this reissue a must have? Had Classic issued only disc one, I'd say it's a tough call. If you own the original and love it, you might not like the Classic presentation. If you don't yet have this recording, or own a newer Columbia reissue, I'd say get this recording. But add disc two and the whole picture changes. The corrected speed side one and the 45 RPM alternate take of Flamenco Sketches are two things you just can't get anywhere else. They make this album worth the asking price and a virtual must-have for the Miles Davis collector.
Based on what I heard on the 45 Flamenco Sketches, I can't wait for the 45 version of Dave Brubeck's Time Out to arrive.

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