Top positive review
24 people found this helpful
Good sound quality...but there's BETTER.
on August 2, 2011
EDIT: July 17, 2013. In the below review, i compared this JSP set to the two Columbia discs of mostly the same music, giving a slight edge to the Columbia discs. But i now own the Mosaic set that contains most of these tracks, plus a whole bunch more Tram stuff. After comparing all THREE options now, i can whole-heartedly say that the Mosaic box is DEFINITELY the way to go. What the Columbia discs lacked, the JSP set had and vice-versa. Now, all problems are solved with the BEST way to hear this music...the Mosaic set. I actually sold both the Columbia discs and the JSP set on ebay once i listened to the Mosaic. It's that good. It's also more expensive. But watch ebay for a while, and you may find a deal. Now, on to the original review...
Let me first say this... if you want to listen to Bix Beiderbecke's short stint with the Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra on CD, you have two choices: the two Columbia CD's from the early '90s and this JSP box set. The JSP set does give you more tracks, but all the essential tracks are available on the Columbia set too. A number of the tracks in the JSP set don't even have Bix on them.
So which option wins out? I own both sets, and have compared extensively. Risking the anger of the John R.T. Davies fans, i'll have to give the nod to the Columbia discs. Read on for the differences you will hear (if you want to hear them).
The JSP set. This was re-mastered from very clean 78s by one of the best musical restorers of the last 30 years. There is a nice heft to the music, with strong bass present. Dynamic range is pretty good, but a little lacking in the upper register. You can especially notice when someone takes a solo, it sounds like you have your hands slightly covering your ears, and loses some of that upper-end definition. Still, this definitely sounds better than one might think for very early electrical (microphone) recording.
The Columbia set. This was re-mastered from the original metal and glass parts from the Columbia vaults. While there is a bit less heft, and could use a hair more bass, this definitely offers the music cleaner and more transparent. You can really hear every solo very smoothly and cleanly. It's more transparent and crisp than the JSP set.
So, both sets have their ups and downs. The problem with the JSP set is that no matter how talented the late John RT Davies was, he could only do so much, as he didn't have access to the original masters. He had to use consumer-level 78's. The problem with that is two-fold. For one, they are one generation removed from the master, so there is a slight degradation in fidelity. Second, a consumer-level 78 just can not hold the same quality of musical information as the original masters did. If they did, then masters would have just been made of the same material and process as the 78's. Again, no matter how talented a re-master is, if he's working with 78's instead of the masters, he has to work with a lower-quality medium. That said, sometimes masters are badly damaged or lost, and 78's are the only way to go. But not in the case of this music. Like most Okeh recordings of this era, the masters were recorded remarkably well, and have survived in pretty good shape.
That all said, i remind you that the Columbia set is not perfect. They were remastered more than 20 years ago, and technology has improved quite a bit. If it were re-done today, from the original parts, it would absolutely sound better than either of these.
So, what it all comes down to is taste. Neither set has much surface noice/scratchiness on it, so don't worry about that. If you want to hear more of the actual music, with Bix's trumpet in a clean tone, then get the Columbia set. It's definitely closer to what would have been heard in the studio. If you want more tracks, and aren't going to be critical with your listening, you will probably be fine with the JSP set. To me, it only sounds inferior when i compare it to the Columbia set.
NOTE!!! I forgot that there was also a Mosaic Records box set of all this. It came out about 5 years ago, and is out-of-print. I don't have it, so can't compare, but usually their stuff is mastered from the originals, and is likely the best-sounding you will get of Bix-Trumbauer material. Bear in mind, you may end up paying through the nose for it.