Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Record Review: Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain - Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Vinyl LP

(Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain - Mobile Fidelity vs Classic Records)

After Kind Of Blue where the last track was "Flamenco Sketches", Miles Davis presented its new album "Sketches Of Spain" in 1960 with arrangements by Gil Evans and now without John Coltrane or Cannonball Adderley besides him, a record that in some ways didn't stray too far from the "Cool" sound characteristic of Miles Davis style at that time but now with the Jazz vein more diluted as this is one of the most representative efforts of the Jazz Fusion genre or the so called Third Stream with its even blending of Jazz, European Classical Musical and World Music elements.

Considered one of the highlights of Miles Davis career, the sound presentation of this masterpiece is different from other more traditional jazz albums, with a larger and deeper than usual sound stage as well as more pronounced ambient sound from the large studio as the result of the orchestral arrangement that we usually associate with Classical Music recordings. There are also unusual instruments being used that we don't usually hear in other Miles Davis albums (or Jazz music in general), as such the peculiarity of this performance brings additional and different challenges to the recording, mixing and mastering of this LP.

When it comes to analog audiophile releases Sketches Of Spain was reissued by now inactive but still very respected "Classic Records" in 1998, after that there was a long period of darkness with several low quality reissues surfacing in the non-specialized stores coming from labels like Music On Vinyl, WaxTime, Not Now Music or Doxy, in search of easy sales to unknowing customers (who certainly don't read this blog), until now that it is part of the Miles Davis audiophile reissues by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. If this one is like the others in this series I'm sure we're in for a treat once again, with superb mastering and pressing of the highest quality standards from the analog Master Tapes approved by Sony.

For that reason I've decided to compare these two versions, the previous benchmark "Classic Records 200gr Quiex SV-P Super Vinyl Profile" from 1998 mastered by Bernie Grundman, and the new "Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Original Master Recording 180gr High Definition Vinyl Half-Speed Mastered on the Gain 2 Ultra Analog System" from 2013 mastered by Krieg Wunderlich and Shawn Britton. Once again MFSL didn't disappoint continuing its amazing work on the Miles Davis reissues, even now being confronted with the high quality Classic Records release and Bernie Grundman's impressive know how, MFSL was again able to bring us Sketches Of Spain with even more clarity and higher resolution in a much more complete sound and musical experience.

(on side A of the Classic Records LP we can see a much larger run-off grooves area)

Listening to both these LP's with two different takes on mastering Sketches Of Spain the main difference resides in the slightly more compressed sound of the Classic Records LP that was cut hotter in a way that seems to reduce the overall dynamic range and also affect the scale of the sound stage making the performance sound narrower and with a sonic context that is more typical of a traditional Jazz recording, which in this case because of the peculiarity of the music being played, was probably not the best approach in terms of mastering options. In fact the MFSL version with the dynamics preserved in a more subtle and refined sound presentation makes the ample 30th Studio ambient sound more holographic, with the percussion and even Miles Davis trumpet a little less forward and adequately placed in the overall sound mix as it would be expected for them to sound when integrated in a scenario of a small orchestra in a big studio setting that is larger than the usual Jazz Trio or Quintet.

(on side A of the MFSL LP we can see a larger area occupied by the recorded grooves)

Another advantage of the increased dynamic range on the MFSL version is the way Miles Davis trumpet sounds more natural, rich and expressive, unlike almost all the previous releases where the trumpet sometimes sounds artificial, hard and harsh to the hears causing some discomfort for the listening session (something that certainly didn't feel appropriate to the mood of the music), as well as a much more open and expansive bass that makes for a more realistic representation of the larger scale that is a vital aspect of this recording. With the Classic Records LP we get a more direct and narrow approach with all the main sounds very much upfront in the presentation, but on the Mobile Fidelity mastering we get Sketches Of Spain in all it's greatness and with all the detail of a varied and complex musical performance where several factors come into play and the main sounds are perfectly integrated and in tune with the spirit of the original recording, and this with increased dynamics and resolution that is deeper, richer and more detailed than ever before. Congratulations to MFSL for bringing us another classic in top shape, this Miles Davis reissues program is a must have for any music lover, these are the very best mastering jobs from the best sources available cut into the best format in the World.

Back then someone asked: "But is this jazz?" ... Davis replied, "It's music, and I like it." We like it too!

Vinyl Gourmet Rating: Music (0-10): 8   Sound (0-10): 9   Product Value (0-10): 9

Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain (originally released in 1960)
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Original Master Recording (2013 reissue)
Made in USA 33rpm 180gr High Definition Vinyl
Catalog Number: MFSL 1-375
Barcode: 821797137515
Mastered by Krieg Wunderlich and Shawn Britton
Matrix Side A: MFSL 1-375 A1   KW@MoFi   20519.1(3)...
Matrix Side B: MFSL 1-375 B1   KW@MoFi   20519.2(2)...

Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain (originally released in 1960)
Classic Records (1998 reissue)
Made in USA 33rpm 200gr Quiex Super Vinyl Profile
Catalog Number: CS 9271
Mastered by Bernie Grundman
Matrix Side A: CS 8271-A   BG
Matrix Side B: CS 8271-B   BG

Review by Sérgio Redondo
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