Jazz at the Pawnshop - what's the big deal?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by 4_everyman, Dec 29, 2003.

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  1. 4_everyman

    4_everyman The Sexual Intellectual Thread Starter

    Today i posted a response to the thread started by Claus about our favorite audiophile labels. (Nice idea, Claus!)

    The label i mentioned, First Impression Music, sells a multichannel SACD pressing of "Jazz at the Pawnshop". Some people are of the opinion that this album is quite remarkable. I've never heard it. What's so special about this thing? Is it an essential? The description on the First Impression Music site says: "This album, recorded in 1976, has been regarded as 'The Best Jazz Recording of the Century'"! That's high praise.

    I'm not eager to spend $60 for a two-CD set of this thing knowing nothing about it, but i would like to hear the opinions of those who've heard this record. Oh, if $60 is too much, they do have an XRCD pressing for $50.
    driverdrummer likes this.
  2. Boff1

    Boff1 Forum Resident

    I have this on vinyl somewhere, I think.
    Well, I would not pay $60 for this one, maybe 30. The music is not very interesting IMO. Good recording tough.

    Here's something:


    When recording engineer Gert Palmcrantz was loading his car with equipment outside Europa Film Studios on December 6th, 1976, it was only to make one of many recordings. No one knew then that it was to become a cult recording among audiophiles and one of the most appreciated jazz recordings ever made.

    Palmcrantz put the equipment in the car and drove off to Stampen, the jazz club in Old Town of Stockholm. It was far from the first time he recorded at Stampen. The club, named after a pawn-brokers' shop which used to be in that block, opened in 1968. That same year, Gert was there to make a recording of, amongst others, the clarinettist Ove Lind, the vibraphonist Lars Erstrand and the drummer Egil Johansen. He was subsequently to meet the latter two again at Stampen's small stage, together with saxophonist Arne Domnérus, pianist Bengt Hallberg and bass-player Georg Riedel. Palmcrantz knew them well from before.

    It wasn't particularly cold and there was no snow, despite it being the beginning of December. Palmcrantz arrived in good time in order to get everything ready before the band started to play at around nine that evening.

    All those who have visited Stampen know that the ceiling is about four metres high and that the venue houses around 80 people. The stage was placed in the right-hand corner seen from the entrance, and so small that it only just carries a grand piano and a small band. Palmcrantz rigged the main microphone pair facing the stage, about two metres above the floor. These microphones were Neumann U47 cardioids, spaced 15-20 cm and inclined at an angle of 110-135 degrees.

    This ORTF stereo technique - named after the French radio which introduced this simplified dummy head technique at the beginning of the sixties - was, according to Palmcrantz, the best method for optimal stereo effect and spatiality.

    - Real stereo effect can only be achieved by placing the microphones in a similar way to the disposition of the ears.

    Such a pair stood in front of the stage at Stampen and another pair was placed to the right of the stage, facing the audience in order to recreate the right "live" feeling. Some auxiliary supporting microphones were also necessary. One microphone was placed next to the grand piano standing on the right-hand side of the platform with its lid open, and Palmcrantz hung two cardioid Neumann KM56s over the drums on the left side of the stage. The bass, standing in the middle, and connected to a little combo amplifier on a chair, was supported by a Neumann M49, also in omnidirectional mode. The microphone was placed in such a way that it caught sound both from the instrument and from the amplifier's loudspeaker. The electric amplification of the acoustic bass is particularly noticeable in the song In a Mellow Tone, where there is a slight distortion.

    Once the microphones were set out, all that was needed was to connect them all up. In those days there were no multi-cables, so Gert Palmcrantz had to lead all the eight cables from the stage, past the bar and through the kitchen to a little nook between a refrigerator and a pile of beer-crates where he had built his makeshift studio: a Studer mixer, two Dolby A 361 noise reduction units and two Nagra IV recorders which he used alternately since the seven-inch reels only lasted for 15 minutes at 38 cm/second. He rose the U47 microphones slightly in the treble. The audition was made through two old Ampex monitor loudspeakers with built-in amplifiers.

    Gert Palmcrantz has described how it sounded when he later listened through the first test reel:

    "Following a few test tones there is a trial run of an almost empty room. The clattering of chairs and tables and clinking glass emerge in almost three dimensional stereo. I have just rigged my faithful U47s above the stage and put a test reel on the tape recorder. I mutter something about a broken wire to the piano mike on the right, swearing as my finger is caught in the mike stand by the drums, and I order a beer in advance.

    Then there is a commotion at the other end and I recognize Egil Johansen's contagious laughter as he and Arne Domnérus come bursting in, kidding each other amiably as they approach the stage. Various ceremonies take place and Arne quips at me. "Well, here we go again. So, nothing escapes you - thank God! Ha-ha-ha!" A hubbub ensues. The audience has arrived in high spirits. On stage you can hear Bengt Hallberg running his fingers over the keys, Egil Johansen tightening the skins and Georg Riedel plucking the bass. The smell of smoked sausage and foaming beer, blending with that of the more familiar scent of sour wine corks and detergent, lingers over the sound image. "Dompan" (Arne Domnérus) kicks off Over the Rainbow and the audience simmers down to an approving murmur."

    No soundcheck or balance test were actually made. Once the quartet had started playing, Palmcrantz quickly had to set the levels as precisely as possible. After two tunes he had managed to achieve the right balance.

    Gert Palmcrantz taped one song after the other, alternating recorders towards the end of each quarter of an hour so that he could join the tunes that were played in-between tapes. It is interesting to note how accomplished the musicians are, since everything could be recorded in one go without any cuts. There is one exception, however: at the end of one of his drum solos, Egil Johansen happened to miss a beat and messed up his entry slightly. Gert Palmcrantz cut that bar out and those who want to can amuse themselves by trying to find this almost imperceptible cut.

    Otherwise, Gert Palmcrantz let the music flow freely and hardly touched the dials at all - no gain riding, simply small adjustments were made for solos or when the applause from the audience became too loud. The result was about two and a half hours worth of taped music every night.

    The second night, the band was joined by vibraphonist Lars Erstrand.

    - He arrived earlier than the others to have time to set up his instrument, remembers Palmcrantz.

    Lars Erstrand was testing his vibraphone only to find that one of the fans was squeaking. Palmcrantz had to go and find a bottle of cooking oil in the kitchen for Erstrand to lubricate the spindle.

    Then the rest of the band arrived and the recording could begin, practically with the same arrangement of microphones as the previous evening. The difference was that the stage was a little more crowded this time, as can be heard in comparison. Lars Erstrand popped in to the control room to check the sound of the vibraphone.

    After the recording, the original tapes were edited to a double LP by Gert Palmcrantz in collaboration with the musicians and the producer Jacob Boëthius. The sound quality of this record soon won the reputation of being remarkably fine, much to the surprise of Palmcrantz and the musicians who thought their earlier recordings were just as good. Something, however, must have been just right these evenings, and one mustn't forget that skilful, imaginative, sensitive and inspirated musicians are absolute requirements for a recording to rise from "good" to "excellent". Palmcrantz' microphone technique transmits Bengt Hallberg's subtle touch, Arne Domnérus' characteristic tone and Egil Johansen's distinctive drumming - and all instrumentalists are presented in a sound image that is both intimate and airy.

    On really good equipment you can hear people eating, the clinking of cutlery against the plates or conversations round the small circular tables. Here and there, among the chink of glasses and the rattling of the till, you can clearly hear the musicians talking, difficult to understand for listeners who don't speak Swedish. "What's the tempo?" someone asks before Limehouse Blues, followed by the comment "The first tempo; normal tempo", demonstrated by foot-tapping. After I'm confessin', a jolly man in the audience exclaims "Hey! That was a good old song!". Sometimes you can hear other music in the background - that of another jazz band playing in the basement below, the so called Gamlingen (Oldie). There are undoubtedly many details to be discovered here!

    Stefan Nävermyr

    Translation: Isabel Thomson
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  3. Claus

    Claus Senior Member

    The music is not everyone's taste... easy listening jazz, but the sound is awesome! One of the best live recordings I've ever heard.

    The 2 CD edition is available as HDCD, SACD and XRCD pressing.
  4. Gardo

    Gardo Senior Member

    I've got a very early Proprius 2-CD set of this music, and while the jazz isn't pushing the outside of any musical envelopes, it's played well and with real spirit, and the sound is very fine indeed. One of the most 3D redbook stereo recordings I own.
    Crimson jon likes this.
  5. Agreed, I've got the single disc Prophone 'proprius' PRCD 7778 "redbook" and the FIM SACD M 034 two disc set.

    This is one of those captivating sessions where the recording puts you "right there".

    Well worth getting.
    Gardo likes this.
  6. Roland Stone

    Roland Stone Offending Member

    How many freakin' versions of this on redbook are there?
  7. Gardo

    Gardo Senior Member

    Is there a big difference between the redbook and the SACD? Is the latter one of those revelatory SACDs, or is the difference incremental?
  8. At first I thought there wasn't that much improvement. This was due to a few reasons. First, the output levels seem to be a bit lower on the SACD and I had just moved into a condo townhouse (which thankfully I'm moving out of in a couple of weeks and into my own detached home) and I couldn't play music at the levels that I was used to. After cranking it though I find that this SACD lives up to the format with more detail and again...that musicality that I find SACD has over redbook.

    IMHO it's worth the difference and, if you really like the disc go for it 'cause over time its going to add up to a lot more enjoyable listening.
  9. James Glennon

    James Glennon Senior Member

    Dublin, Ireland

    When Jazz at the Pawnshop came out on vinyl in the 1970s, it was a favourite at all the hi-fi shows and hi-fi dealers showrooms. It wasn't that the music was great but the recording made everybody's systems sound good (if you know what i mean).

    I don't go along with the notion that because it was a 'VINYL' all-time favourite, that it is necessarily going to 'transfer'.

    The vinyl was a 'great moment' of its time, I don't think you can repeat that in another format.

    It is much better to enjoy something that has been created in this day and age for today's medium, and it is today's 'Jazz at the Pawnshop'.

    Does that make any sense, well that's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

    Love the album though, whether it is worth $60 is another matter.
  10. sgb

    sgb Senior Member

    Baton Rouge
    Well, there were at least 5 versions on Redbook, and if you count the HDCD layer on the SACD, I count 6. I have 4 of these 6 (2, 4, 5 & 6).

    1. The 2-CD original Proprius (not generally available in North America).
    2. The 2-CD AudioSource licensed version mastered by Joe Gastwirt at the JVC center.
    3. The truncated single CD version from AudioSource.
    4. The FIM XRCD
    5. The FIM HDCD
    6. The FIM HDCD layer on the SACD

    The best of these, IMO, are 5 & 6. Winston Ma notes in the booklet for the HDCD that the XRCD (and all of the previously issued CD versions too) were biased incorrectly, as were the AudioSource vinyl reissues. The two HDCD versions don't appear to be the same, but both these and the SACD are the only ones to have the proper tape bias, and thus sound closest to the original Swedish LPs. The newest version (#6) sounds a little more open than the previous one, but are otherwise indistinguishable.

    The three FIM reissues show some evidence of tape deterioration over the past 25 years (the latest FIM was done in 2001). One example of this comes by comparing the opening moments of "Lady Be Good" (which, IMO, alone is justification for spending $60 on this set), although the original album still sounds best to me.
  11. Gardo

    Gardo Senior Member

    I've got number two in the list above, IIRC (it's at the office just now, and I'm not). Didn't know that about the tape bias--interesting. And I take it you think the HDCD redbook layer on 6 sounds better than the SACD layer? Where would the SACD layer fall in your rankings?
  12. Claus

    Claus Senior Member

    I have the FIM HDCD version and it sounds good to me... very good remastering against my original Proprius LP.
  13. sgb

    sgb Senior Member

    Baton Rouge
    Well, Gardo, the original question had to do with the number of REDBOOK versions, so I left if at that. But, iconoclast that I am, I'll take a stab at answering you as directly as I can.

    I believe that in the context of comparing the original Proprius LP to the half-speed mastered Gastwirt/Audiosource domestic analog reissue (I've had both of those too; prefered and kept the original), my inclination would be that if Proprius had done the SACD (as they have their Cantate Domino), the SACD layer would be just a touch closer to the sound of the original LP. My assumption is based upon owning Cantate Domino in both the original LP and AudioSource reissues in LP & CD formats as well as Pawnshop.
  14. crp207

    crp207 Forum Resident

    I bought this at Goodwill today for 50 cents... Looks mint all around. Just put it on.. It drop dead quiet! Very nice record. I see mint copies listed at very high prices... Will play a few times and see if I can live without...
  15. Maggie

    Maggie funky but chic

    Toronto, Canada
    It sure says something about this album that when you look it up on Wikipedia, the article credits the recording engineer two paragraphs before it even gets to the musicians.

    I have only listened to it, out of curiosity, on Spotify, of all places. The music is fun ooooooooooooooooooold-fashioned style European swing with barely any hint of bebop, let alone anything after that. It's nice. Arne Domnerus plays nicely in a very Johnny Hodges-type style. The vibraphone is kind of corny sounding, though -- it more or less sounds like elevator music on the ballads. I don't think I'd call any of the performances revelatory. It's the level of music you'll hear from local musicians in any good jazz club in a good city on a good night.

    Its reputation among "audiophiles" seems to be justified, but it's hilarious. No album captures the "system first, music second" attitude of many folks of that stripe better than this one, in the jazz arena anyway. I never encounter any reference to this album in any non-audiophile contexts.
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  16. pdenny

    pdenny 20-Year SHTV Participation Trophy Recipient

    Hawthorne CA
    Yeah, it's pretty snoozy. Sounds great, less filling!
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  17. RelayerNJ

    RelayerNJ Forum Resident

    Whippany, NJ
    Been listening to some of this on youtube. I kinda like it. No, it's not earth shattering jazz, but I'm not always in the mood for Coltrane-heavy stuff. It's got a cool, chill vibe of some semi-pro guys just jamming at a club.
    driverdrummer likes this.
  18. Motoman

    Motoman New Member

    I just heard this album for the first time . . . (I guess I'm a late bloomer, LOL!). I've got a remastered version in 24 bit/192Khz, and I have to say that it is truly a very fine audiophile recording that shows off a good audio system. Is the actual musicianship amazing? No, but it's good and a very enjoyable listen. But if you want to test your system or use it as a benchmark to compare components and how well they reproduce soundstage and small details in a live small club setting, this is definitely a great choice. I use the XRCD of Patricia Barber's Companion album as well, but this is also a fine and fun choice.
    Gardo likes this.
  19. The music and performances are good, in a polite way. It's a wonderful record for jazz novices as it's easy to listen to.

    The recordings are beyond reproach though. Simply stellar!

    I have all 3 releases on CD and the first on LP.
    Gardo likes this.
  20. Eric Palmcrantz

    Eric Palmcrantz New Member

    Gert Palmcrantz talks about the recording:
  21. Gardo

    Gardo Senior Member

    Hi Eric! First of all, welcome to the Forum! And second, thanks so much for a) producing that lovely interview and b) sharing it here. I have loved this recording for many years. I can always tell when I've made a significant upgrade to my stereo, as Jazz at the Pawnshop sounds better and better with each improvement. It's great to hear Gert's memories and a very rich experience to follow him around the original venue.

    Excellence deluxe! Thank you!
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  22. Awesome! Thank you! Are you his son?
  23. matteos

    matteos Stereotype

    Just listening to this on spotify premium. Quite like the music actually. I can see how this is beloved by audiophiles. I've got two direct to disk vinyl records that sound superb.. Don't really like the music on those that much tbh but in terms of realism wow. This is almost up there in terms of the recording but the music is better. A fun record all in all. Well worth listening to. Wouldn't pay $60 for it mind.
    RelayerNJ likes this.
  24. sonofjim

    sonofjim Forum Resident

    I found the original vinyl for $20 at a record show about 5 years ago and snatched it up immediately. I'm not sure if the seller knew what it was or not. It turned out to play perfectly and sounds wonderful IMO. I don't play it often, nor do I plan to part with it. I consider it one of the treasures I've found.

    Is it worth $60? Well, not to me probably. If it's selling for that though that is indeed what it's worth. It's supply, demand and whatever you can get. Still, would I part with mine for $60 now? Nope.
  25. Hamhead

    Hamhead The Bear From Delaware

    Welcome to the Forum Eric
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