Apr 22 1999
What I find most interesting about the ICE Newsletter interview w/ Rudy Van Gelder, especially in light of comments I've read from some listeners who hear the new RVGs as being the closest CD masterings yet when it comes to the old stereo LP sound, is that RVG states: "I did not approach this project in an attempt to reproduce the original sound of the LPs. I felt I should remaster these albums the way Alfred Lion would have wanted them to sound on CD. These CDs are an accurate representation of what the musicians listened to upon playback at the sessions." Van Gelder goes on to disown the original stereo spread of the original LPs as basically a concession to the 1960s demand to have a wide stereo spread. He also claims that Lion didn't like the spread, and Van Gelder himself states that the separation of instruments in the early LP, as well as the original CD transfers, always bothered him (Van Gelder), too. He also implies that the reason Lion issued mono and stereo versions was, at least as I read it, because of Lion's dislike of the wide stereo spread. So basically, it sounds like, if you like the stereo sound of those early original LPs, then the "old" CDs are the ones to get. If you want to hear what Rudy (and according to RVG, Lion and the musicians would have as well) thinks is a better mix, then get the RVGs.
But make no mistake--the RVGs, according to Rudy, are a whole new animal, and not an attempt to replicate the old Blue Note sound, or at least the old BN sound of the original stereo LPs when it comes to the stereo imaging. One other statement RVG makes in the ICE piece, again in reference to his dislike for the harder stereo spread, is: "Five-piece acoustic bands should sound like they're playing together; it's supposed to be an ensemble." I strongly disagree with this argument for a more collapsed spread, because how a group sounds in person depends on where you are sitting! The collapsed spread is more representative of sitting further back in the hall or club or wherever. But where I've always liked to sit for an acoustic small group (whether jazz, chamber music, bluegrass, whatever) is right up front. In that case, I am hearing a very hard-panned stereo spread. For an orchestra, I like to be in a front-row, first balcony seat, which gives a more blended, but still wide-spread sound. Anyway, the RVG piece is in the May, 1999 ICE, in the "CD Watchdog" column. It's not long, but it is definitely food for thought. And call me a tin-ears, a nostalgist, or simply a hard-pan stereo fetishist, but I own plenty of old BN LPs, virtually all of the "old" BN CDs, and a few RVG BN CDs, and I like the old CDs better. Sorry Rudy!