Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: Stan Getz & João Gilberto - Getz / Gilberto - Analogue Productions 2LP 45rpm

It was this record released in 1964 that immortalized famous tunes like "The Girl From Ipanema", or  "Desafinado" and "Corcovado", marking the definitive invasion of the Jazz World by the Bossa Nova wave by then also wide spread to the POP music world and the general public. Recorded in 1963 at A&R Recording Studios in New York and released by Verve Records the next year, it was one of the best selling Jazz LP's of all time winning several awards including the prestigious Grammy Award for Best Album Of The Year in 1965, the very first time for a jazz record and something that would take another 43 years to be repeated by Herbie Hancock and his album "River". Also worthy of note it was awarded the Grammy for Best Engineered Album (Non Classical) which is telling of the care taken during the recording and production of this LP, despite the unusual twist of events that occurred during the original mastering session that resulted in the perpetuation of a technical mistake that I'll describe later in this article.

The music needs little or no introduction, these tunes and melodies have been part of our collective imaginary for decades now, it's a true classic album filled with huge names from Jazz and from the Bossa Nova movement in Brazil featuring Stan "The Sound" Getz on tenor saxophone, João Gilberto on voice and guitar (one of the founders and best known voices of Bossa Nova) and António Carlos Jobim on piano (composer of most tracks in the album and also a major founder of Bossa Nova). Along with these big names the album also features Milton Banana on drums (his role in Bossa Nova and his contribution to this album are very important), Sebastião Neto on bass and somewhat unexpectedly the voice of Astrud Gilberto who just happened to be in the studio with her husband João Gilberto who suggested to the production team, out of the blue, that she should sing on some of the best songs thus forever making Astrud's sweet voice known to the world which resulted in the start of her own international career.

Speaking of Astrud Gilberto, the beautiful wife of João Gilberto, there are some interesting stories and rumors about her participation in the recording sessions where she became involved with Stan Getz, a fact that was made public only one year later and that might help us understand the tense atmosphere in the studio in spite of the cool and relaxed mood of the music. Throughout the years details have surfaced about the difficult relationship between João and Stan and their harsh coexistence in the studio around that time. Rumors have it that João Gilberto, not very good at English by then, would refer to Stan Getz as "gringo" (or worse) as he sent irritating messages forcing Jobim to do translation work between them. Jobim, always a gentleman, tried to keep them calm by making the communication seem less aggressive and more elegant than what it really was meant to be... but without much success. João Gilberto would later accuse Stan Getz of purposely playing the saxophone too loud and even asking the engineers to make it stand out more during the mixing of the album only as a way to self-promote and reduce João Gilberto's relevance which could have impacted the overall balance of the album that was meant to sound less intrusive and more relaxed. This problematic relationship can be seen in some of the photos of the recording sessions where Stan Getz often appeared smiling but João Gilberto sometimes appears to be bored and disturbed... maybe justifiably so. We are quite fortunate because this animosity didn't throw off the session and it doesn't seem to have affected the music at all, or maybe it even helped to give it a little edge.

(the video from blog shows side C of this reissue playing on a Rega P9)

The recording sessions were meticulously arranged at A&R Studios in New York by Phil Ramone and produced by Creed Taylor but not without another interesting occurrence, one that would change the way this music is known to the world and how it's been reproduced for decades. Following standard procedure at the time the recording was made simultaneously to mono tape (single channel feed mixed in real time) and to 3-Track tape that is similar to having 3 mono tracks corresponding to the left, center and right channels which have to be mixed-down to real two channel stereo. The first original mix-down from the 3-track tape to 2-Track stereo tape was made by Phil Ramone (this stereo mix is technically considered to be the Original Master Tape) faithfully representing the actual artists and microphones positions in the studio with Astrud Gilberto's voice and Jobim's piano on the left side of the stereo sound field, Getz saxophone and João Gilberto's voice/guitar on the center area and finally the drums of Milton Banana and Neto's bass on the right side of the stereo sound field. On this original Master Tape, Astrud's voice is always placed on the left side, it sounds somewhat distant and projected from the outside of the left speaker into the left corner of the stereo sound field and not really as if she was standing inside the stereo image. This effect on Astrud's voice is the result of the way it was mixed to be output almost exclusively from the left channel (it is hardly audible from the right speaker) making her voice sound out of place from the other elements that were mixed to produce a more traditional stereo image. Most readers probably remember it differently, and can go check it out now, this is probably not the way you've been listening all these years when you delight yourself playing your CD or LP copies of Getz/Gilberto. Something happened then...

The Master Tape (stereo mix-down) is then copied to a Safety Tape (as a precaution) and used in the very first mastering session to cut the vinyl record, it is believed that this first mastering was made by Ami Hadani but I was not able to confirm this. In this critical moment, and for reasons that are completely unknown, there was a channel inversion that switched the position of the instruments/voice of the left side channel with the instruments of the right side channel effectively inverting the stereo sound field which resulted in changing Astrud's beautiful voice to the right side of the sound field and that is the way most people have experienced this album, but in fact that's not the way it was recorded in the studio or how it was originally mixed to the Master Tape.

So how and why was this channel inversion replicated for so long? Another set of tapes called EQ Cutting Masters were copied from this first mastering session forever preserving the channel switch as well as all the other usual mastering moves and technical options carried out during the session so that these same exact mastering steps can be repeated on later reissues or to release the album around the world without significant changes to the sound signature of the album. These EQ Cutting Master tapes are the ones that were commonly used and distributed for mastering subsequent LP (and CD) releases of Getz/Gilberto at least until 1997 when this album was reissued and remixed from the 3-track tape, probably because they couldn't find the original Master Tape and the only option was to remix... It's not absolutely clear if this technical issue was intended or if it was indeed a mistake, but it is mostly consensual by now that it was in fact a mistake that resulted in the unexpected channel inversion because there is no mention at all about such a radical mastering option in the original mastering notes where all these details were registered. So this is how the switched channel orientation was replicated for decades to become a huge commercial success based on this technical mistake that was most likely caused by some inverted cable set on the mastering console of the original mastering session of Getz/Gilberto. What we do know is that this tape had not been used for mastering of any release since 1980 up until now, in this 31 years time lapse all other reissues on LP, CD, SACD, DVD-A or sound file, were sourced from a safety copy, or EQ Cutting Master, or remixed from the 3-Track tape.

After a long research to locate and identify the true original Master Tape (Phil Ramone's 1963 stereo mix-down) and going through several catalog storage facilities with difficult or plain wrong labeling of A-File/B-File material (as can be read on the tape box cover) or other typical archival mistakes, it was necessary to evaluate the condition of the Master Tape and its viability for use after more than 50 years in storage and likely mishandling damage. As it is to be expected after all those years of storage manipulation and possibly not being treated as a true Master Tape by many, some loss of information may occur as the tape deteriorates. After careful inspection, George Marino and his team considered it was possible to use the Master Tape to take advantage of the sonic benefits of a first generation tape and keeping the noise and distortion levels to a minimum at least as low as any other release of this album that used a second generation tape as source for mastering and that was not drenched in damaging noise reduction filters. And they were right, even though some age related sound artifacts can be heard  in places they are in no way intrusive and the overall transparency of the tape to lacquer transfer is quite remarkable with Getz saxophone and Gilberto's voice becoming very life-like and vivid, the detail of the presentation is quite impressive. We can't find such a dynamic and rich sound in any other version of this album on any format.

Working at Sterling Sound studios, George Marino had the possibility to use a unique Ampex ATR-102 Tape Deck playback/recording machine, a great piece of professional equipment for mixing and recording but that was not used in vinyl cutting because Ampex never made a version of this deck with a "Preview Head" that is required for that type of utilization. For this particular ATR-102 machine used at Sterling special changes were made to add the "Preview Head" component (this was executed by Mike Spitz from ATR Services and Barry Wolifson from Sterling) making this the only such machine in the world capable of being used in a vinyl cutting lathe and doing so with the highest quality standards that are known for this machine. What we are getting from this reissue is not only a double LP cut at 45rpm but also the fact that this is the very first time we can appreciate this LP with the original Phil Ramone mix-down channel orientation mastered from his original 1963 Master Tape on a 100% analog mastering chain by George Marino at Sterling Sound. Never before did Getz/Gilberto reach the market with such careful production and fidelity to the source, to the original recording session and Master Tape as it should have been since 1963. Unless we can find a way to get Stan Getz and António Carlos Jobim along with the Gilberto couple to play this timeless classic in our homes right in front of us, nothing will take you closer to that ideal sound than the 1963 Master Tape, and we audiophile music lovers are fortunate to have that now with this Analogue Productions reissue.

So, how does this new reissue sound? Well to begin with it's always immensely satisfying to listen to this LP even after so many years of repeated listening there is no tiring of this wonderful music, quite the opposite each and every time I play Getz/Gilberto it sets me on to another voyage of rediscovery and aural pleasure. It never sounded better than on this reissue where the saxophone and voices sound even more real and palpable than before and the balanced, tasteful and faithful equalization options makes it the cleaner sounding version you've ever heard. The lower frequencies, most notably the bass, sound tighter and more focused retaining all the tonal detail unlike some previous audiophile atempts such as the older Mobile Fidelity LP with its exaggerated equalization that makes the album sound a  bit unreal and unbalanced. The mid-range frequencies are presented flat and natural, the overall balance of the original Master Tape was expertly transferred on this new remaster resulting in impressive timbre accuracy, life-like transient response and an increased sense of harmony in the fusion of all the instruments and voices. This new George Marino cut is also free from other issues related to the panning of elements in the mix like hearing João Gilberto's voice coming from a different location than his guitar or having Astrud's voice placed closer to the center of the sound stage, on this reissue all the elements are kept coherent with the original recording and Phil Ramone's original stereo mix.

Besides the odd minor distortion snippet that is present on this 1963 Master Tape, another age and manipulation related concern is usually related to the the high frequencies energy and extension. What can be said about this is that the high frequencies on this reissue sound with enough presence and very well preserved as well as possessing extended range and natural sounding timbre. Certainly if this LP had been cut using currently available technology and these high production standards back in 1964 with this same fresh "just recorded" tape there would be more information available in those high frequencies to cut but there is absolutely no reason to feel like the audiophile quality and sound fidelity of this reissue is compromised in any way because the new mastering and pressing are far superior in all possible aspects. I was relieved to find that George Marino resisted the temptation to try and unnecessarily compensate this  with exaggerated and intrusive equalization options, such as other Mastering Engineers had done before, that would certainly have a negative impact on all the instruments and voices changing the original tonality of the recording effectively defeating the good taste and extremely careful production efforts they put into this reissue. This Analogue Productions reissue cut by George Marino at Sterling Sound studios is, in my opinion and with little room for doubt, the best release of this album ever made, this is pure classic Bossa Nova Jazz on the ultimate reissue LP, a must have for any vinyl collector and music lover.

The pressing for this release was made to double 200gr vinyl LP's cut at 45rpm by QRP (Quality Record Pressings, part of Chad Kassem's Acoustic Sounds) in the U.S.A. and it does meet our high expectations and the relatively high price tag of this reissue. Although some minor and sparse noise "ticks" were detected during playback of my personal copy on my notoriously unforgiving sound system, these were quite irrelevant and both records sit almost completely flat on the platter, it can be said that the pressing is close to perfect on very high quality silent vinyl. The packaging is superb, heavy stock cardboard was used for the glossy finished gatefold cover and the inner sleeves are made of "polyethylene" material to protect the records avoiding scratches and reducing static. This is a limited edition and according to Analogue Productions only the first 2500 units were numbered. Right now this double LP set is still in print and available for the non-numbered version but it will not be around forever! Not to be missed, and an obvious choice to start the Vinyl Gourmet Audiophile TOP 100 list.

 (photo by David Drew Zingg that can be found on the inside of the gatefold cover)

Vinyl Gourmet Rating: Music (0-10): 10   Sound (0-10): 9   Product Value (0-10): 9

Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
Getz / Gilberto (Verve 1963)
Analogue Productions Ltd Edition (USA 2011)

Mastered from Original Master Tapes by George Marino at Sterling Sound
2xLP 200gr @45rpm pressed at Quality Records Pressings 
Catalog Number: AP-8545 / B0015625-01
Matrix Side A: (AVRJ).MG-V6-8545-A Sterling
Matrix Side B: (AVRJ).MG-V6-8545-B Sterling
This article was originally written by myself in Portuguese and published at on May 13, 2012. This is the English version of that same article from more than one year ago... In the mean time George Marino has passed away, I would like to dedicate this article to his memory and to his family. Thank you George Marino for your wonderful legacy!

Review by Sérgio Redondo
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  1. Thank you for sharing this great detailed review. I am 49 and an audiophile music lover and so thankful my son told me about Joao Gilberto. The sound of this of this recording exceeded my expectations even after reading your review. What a wonderful discovery.

  2. Fan-TAS-tic research. Thank you so much. Are there any other pictures of the recording session, specifically microphones / pre-amps / compressors / reverb used?

  3. I have the Blu-ray audio release of this and am wondering how it Compares with the 45 RPM vinyl release.???

  4. Thanks Sergio .... share it on Facebook .... I really liked it .... you can even send this kind of music historical writings ... hello Muhi L.


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