September 19, 2007

Music Matters to These Guys

The buried treasure for those who frequent garage sales in search of LPs are jazz titles from the '50s and '60s, especially from Blue Note Records. Some Blue Note LPs command big money on the used market because their sound quality is considered definitive. But a new music label is working to challenge this notion, reissuing classic Blue Note titles on super-quiet 180-gram vinyl in the most authentic way possible.

Music Matters is the creation of industry veterans Steve Hoffman, Kevin Gray, Joe Harley, Ron Rambach and Michael Cuscuna. Not satisfied with producing just another series of reissues, the Music Matters team decided to create LPs that would improve upon the originals in terms of musical fidelity, pressing noise, and packaging quality. Each will be a 45 spread over four sides, and the gatefold packaging will use the original cover artwork and include unpublished pictures from the recording sessions. Such attention to detail doesn't come cheap -- $50 per title -- but once you see what an original mint copy of Hank Mobley's Soul Station or Dexter Gordon's A Swingin' Affair costs, you'll think these two-LP sets are more than reasonable.

The product of first-generation analog master tapes, the Music Matters reissues have a refined sonic pedigree. Collectors and audiophiles prize the mono versions of Blue Note LPs for their supposed sonic authenticity, but, as the Music Matters team discovered, the mono tapes were often derived from the stereo masters. Therefore, many of the reissues will be in stereo, not mono. From the Music Matters website: "To our collective surprise, when listening to the master tape, the stereo was greatly preferred to the (summed) mono." The audio equipment used for mastering and playback is some of the finest available, right down to the isolation products, which come from Silent Running Audio.

Music Matters has an ambitious schedule planned: six initial releases, then two titles each month through 2009. There will be 63 titles in all, and they comprise a cross-section of the most important music from the golden age of jazz.

Look for the first six titles -- Art Blakey's The Big Beat, Horace Parlan's Speakin' My Piece and Us Three, Kenny Drew's Undercurrent, Lou Donaldson's LD+3, and Hank Mobley's Soul Station -- later this year and in early 2008. Only listening will tell for sure, but the Music Matters reissues have all the outward signs of being the finest LPs available and becoming collector's items themselves. Maybe it's time to hold a garage sale of your own.

...Marc Mickelson

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