Ron Rambach, the head of Music Matters, Ltd., is a man on a mission. Talk to him about jazz and his gravelly voice starts to quiver palpably. This, friends, is a man who doesn’t just enjoy America’s greatest musical tradition; he is besotted with it.
It is probably safe to say that Rambach has probably forgotten more about the history of the genre than even many diehard fans ever knew in the first place. A conversation with him is always enlightening and can range all the way from the minutiae of the Firehouse 5 recordings, which, among other things, I assiduously listened to as a child and which to this day retain much of their period charm, to excogitations about the significance of the trumpeter Lee Morgan’s albums, which mostly appeared on the Blue Note label.
Ah, Blue Note. Here is where Rambach’s true service to music--and the high-end--rests. For the past several years, he, together with mastering engineer Kevin Gray and Audioquest’s Joe Harley, has been releasing dozens and dozens of Blue Note LPs in the 45rpm format; the discs are tucked into handsome laminated gatefold covers with copious pictures of the artists themselves, ranging from Morgan to Hank Mobley, from Donald Byrd to John Coltrane. As any jazz aficionado knows, the asking price for the original LPs is often quite daunting, reaching into the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
There was just something special about the recordings made by Rudy Van Gelder—the phrase “goin’ to Rudy’s” New Jersey studio for a session was common parlance among the elite jazz musicians. Like the Living Stereo recordings movingly described by Jonathan Valin recently, the Van Gelder sound was part of an era that irretrievably vanished. So it has been quite exciting to hear these discs in such refulgent sound over the past few years.
Now Rambach is concluding the 45rpm series and issuing 10 stellar recordings in the 33 1/3 format in honor of the 75th anniversary of Blue Note. Recently, the equipment that Gray is using has been considerably upgraded, including some very pricy but clearly impressive Audioquest interconnects. A few weeks ago, Rambach was kind enough to send me the test pressings.
My first reaction on listening to Midnight Blue with Kenny Burrell was “whoa!” The sound of the congas played by Ray Barretto was superb, exceeding, and not by a small margin, the 45rpm version issued by Analogue Productions, which I own. They exploded into the room with a pop and rush of air. I have been consistently impressed by the sound of the test pressings. When contrasted with the original LP, for example, I found Rambach’s reissue of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder to sound smoother and more relaxed with less grain in the treble. The engineering jiggerypook, the TLC lavished on these recordings really is quite extraordinary. Music Matters, you could say, knows that music matters more than almost anything else.
So here’s the skinny: if, like me, you love jazz, don’t relish the thought of hopping up every few minutes to turn over a 45rpm record, and cherish superior sound, then these exquisite reissues look to be a no-brainer.