October 25, 2013

Soular Energy: Better Than Ever!



By Michael Fremer

The late Carl E. Jefferson’s Concord Records, (now owned by Concord Music Group, which owns Fantasy, Prestige, Riverside, Stax, Specialty, Telarc, Hear Music etc.), was founded in 1972. It was at a time when the pioneering jazz majors — Blue Note and the above mentioned labels — had all been bought and turned into catalogs to be “asset managed” with little or no forward direction. Concord remains, like Norman Granz’s Pablo Records, among the most underrated and undervalued labels in the used LP market.

There are exceptions in both the Concord and Pablo catalogs, but for the most part, for chump change you can buy superb musical and sonic treasures on both labels. For instance, on Concord — for not much scratch — you can get Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers’ 1981 release Straight Ahead featuring an older Blakey but a very young Wynton Marsalis, Bobby Watson and others, and 1982’s Jazz Messengers album Keystone 3 featuring Wynton and Branford (his recorded debut). These are terrific records musically and sonically!

Soular Energy with the Ray Brown Trio, originally issued on Concord in 1985, has long been considered both great, straight ahead jazz and an audiophile treasure. It was reissued in 1991 by the German Bellaphon International Sound Service in an edition limited to 3,000  and half-speed mastered from the original tapes by an unidentified engineer. It was issued again by King Records “Super Analogue” in Japan. Then it was issued yet again in the 2000s; half-speed mastered by Stan Ricker and released along with four “bonus tracks” as a double 180g 33-1/3 LP set on Pure Audiophile Records — but with bonus tracks I always wonder if the cutting source wasn’t digital.

Whatever the source, it sounded very good as did the Bellaphon and King Records editions. But, none of them come even remotely close to this new double 45-rpm edition mastered by Kevin Gray at his Cohearent Mastering, pressed on 200g vinyl at QRP.

The music is straight ahead stuff — nothing groundbreaking — but that’s just fine. The legendary, late Ray Brown, who surely needs no introduction, is joined by pianist Gene Harris, who from the mid ‘50s through the ‘70s was a member of the “soul/jazz” trio The Three Sounds. Harris then retired to Boise, Idaho where he continued playing in a hotel lounge (!) until Brown coaxed him out of retirement to join his new group. I believe this record marks Harris’ return to recording. Later, he fronted his own group and recorded (mostly on Concord) until he passed away in 2000 at the age of 66.

The late Gerryck King, a former member of Joe Williams’ trio is on drums. The late tenor saxophonist Red Holloway and the late guitarist Emily Remler (married for a short time to pianist Monty Alexander) join the trio on one tune.

They run through standards “Exactly LIke You,” “Cry Me A River,” “Teach Me Tonight”, “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “That’s All,” “Easy Does It”, and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” plus “Mistreated but Undefeated Blues”—a Brown original— with tremendous energy and drive. Harris’s playing pushes everything along, and of course, Brown takes center stage throughout. Not much else needs to be said about the music or the performances: it’s all straight ahead, good humored, bop/soul infused music making of the highest order.

It was recorded at Coast Recorders in San Francisco. Coast was built by the late great Bill Putnam more than 40 years ago and the main studio remains untouched, as it should be!

The mastering room includes a cutting lathe where Paul Stubblebine cuts and where, I believe, The Tape Project’s commercially available 15IPS reel-to-reel tapes are produced, one-at-a-time. The room features giant Focal Grand Utopia speakers, so these folks are about the sound! Of course this record was recorded in 1984 so at this point I’m blathering.

In any case, this is a sensationally sounding, classic; straight ahead jazz record that continues to bring pleasure to new generations of jazz fans. It has never sounded better than it does on this double 45. The room is small, the micing close, the sonic excitement intense!

The longevity of this record’s popularity and so many others on Concord proves that, while Carl E Jefferson was a used car salesman before he became a record company owner, he did not sell lemons!

Very highly recommended!


Micheal Fremer is an editor at Stereophile magazine. This story was reprinted with permission from


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