Sonny Rollins "Way Out West" In Deluxe Box Set From Concord's Craft Label

Concord's Craft Records division just released a deluxe two LP box set of Sonny Rollins' Way Out West recorded in March of 1957 in stereo and released by Contemporary Records first in mono in 1957 and then by Stereo Records (in association with Contemporary Records) in stereo probably in 1958 or perhaps later.

It just arrived and it's nicely packaged in a clothbound box and sourced from "the original master tapes". It includes a second LP of session outtakes including an alternative version of "I'm a Old Cowhand" and two outtakes of the title tune.

I've not yet played the records but as the photo indicates there's an interesting back story here. The photo at the top shows an original stereo Contemporary Records pressing that I paid $70 for during the "vinyl lull" of the 1990s so I can only imagine what it might be worth today but I bet it was good investment. That, however, is not the interesting record here. The white label test pressing is.

People often complain about record prices and I get that, but consider this story—and it happens more often than you might think. Way Out West was originally slated to be an Analogue Productions reissue—along with a few other Contemporary titles. Analogue Productions' Chad Kassem had licensed the titles, booked time at Bernie Grundman Mastering, flew out to watch them being mastered, had the lacquers plated and ready for the press when Concord pulled the plug. You can be sure this cost Analogue Productions plenty.

What happened? New management at Concord. According to Chad, the individual with whom he had negotiated the deal left and that was that. Now Chad was not angry, though of course he was upset. He wasn't angry because he's seen this play more than a few times, and more frequently as the vinyl market heats up.

I was there for the mastering and it was interesting to hear real time "A/B"s of the tape versus the lacquer. Speaking of "blind testing", I doubt any digiphile could tell which was which. The Roy DuNann recording was spectacularly transparent and the tape was in great shape.

You can see the master tape and watch the video here. You'll see that producer Lester Koenig's son John attended the sessions and that the original LP was compared to the tape and that the two sounded very different for a variety of reasons.

As many of you probably know, DuNann used a primitive sort of "Dolby system" in the recording process whereby he boosted the top end so that in mastering, the top would be cut and along with it would go some tape hiss. When Kassem first reissued Way Out West in 1992, mastered by Doug Sax on his all-tube cutting system (APJ 008) as I recall, neither he nor Doug was aware of this so the record sounded somewhat bright. This time, Bernie made the adjustment.

Was Craft Records producer Nick Philips aware of the treble boost? Was project supervisor Mason Williams (I assume he is that Mason Willams)? I will soon find out as I compare all of these pressings. However, while the new box set issue was "sourced from the original tapes", they were cut by George Horn from high resolution digital transfers. This will be interesting! Review to come very shortly.

rshak47's picture

to APO's plans for the Concord reissues. Damn, I was really looking forward to that series. Thanks for the update.

foxhall's picture

I'm not at all surprised the label pulled this on Analogue Productions. I assume label leadership are the types who brought us brick-walled mastering.

jazz's picture

Didn't you forget to mention this reissue? Seems to be the best then as it's from analog tapes...

planarhead's picture

Yes, this is the best sounding version I have heard on vinyl. Along with the 45 rpm vinyl of Tenor Madness and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders.

I imagine Michael Fremer has copies of all three of these?

Michael Fremer's picture
See just published review of box
Michael Fremer's picture
Can't find it if I have it. Found the original AP cut by Doug Sax from tape and of course the one I have cut by Bernie that's never coming out. Not chopped liver!
planarhead's picture

A real shame since Analogue Productions release SACDs along with the vinyl. Many of those albums have not had an audiophile remastering before. I am not entirely surprised by this development, there is another big jazz label that was reissuing Blue Note on vinyl (I don't think Ron would mind me posting this since they are finished) they were essentially stone walled and made it very difficult to license the use of analog tapes and not hi-res digital files, which every Blue Note vinyl reissue label has had to use.

To get as far as Chad got in the mastering stages is really crazy, and I would think would even necessitate legal action, but I could very well understand if he didn't want to pursue this for locking him out entirely of future deals.

foxhall's picture

Good point. I really like how Analogue Productions releases the SACDs as well.

grey17's picture

I spoke to Chad at a recent audio show and he told the same sorry but with less detail. He did say this set was being pressed at QRP, so he probably wants to continue to maintain good relations with Concord to keep some of the business. Also there is nothing to say Concord doesn't have future management changes and AP is able to revisit the subject.

marmaduke's picture

Perhaps Chad can outwit them if they permit an RTR tape release.
Not cheap but sweet for some!

my new username's picture

Concord: It may be fine, and it may even be the best version we can buy today. But you cut corners when you do this, and you know it. And because of that, it's a cheat, quite frankly.

I can't help but imagine that the Analogue Productions result would have been cut from tape, sounded better, and cost us LESS than $75 ... are you kidding me?

my new username's picture

... was both charming and heartbreaking.

The emotion and the dedication to craft (not Craft ...) certainly came through.

@ about 9:50 into it, " ... and we're not cutting from 24/96 files ..."

Yeah, that. Oh well.

AnalogJ's picture

And then there's the AAA 45rpm done by SH/KG for AP a number of years ago. Believe it or not, I bought that and have yet to open and play it. One thing after another, I suppose, has gotten in the way. In any event, I'm beginning to resent the over-boxing of records nowadays, adding a lot of unnecessary costs.

Rudy's picture

The boxes and all that are nice, but seriously, I don't want to keep these things stored in with my other LPs. The boxes often don't fit, and I'm not in a position to be setting aside even more space in my limited listening area to keep them out. At least some boxes offer the LPs in individual jackets, but for something like the MoFi "Kind Of Blue," there are no jackets in the box, so I'm stuck having this box eating up valuable space. Give me a sturdy gatefold for something like that instead. Make the packaging nice, but put most of the money into the mastering, cutting and pressing, please...

xtcfan80's picture

I have an old MFSL issue of this classic LP from many years ago and it sounds fantastic....Here's hoping this new LP sounds great that Chad K. will be paid back for his dedication someday to release an Analog Prod. version on Vinyl with out label suits mucking up the works.....

Brian Hartsell's picture

On LP I am pretty sure MFSL never released this particular title on LP. Chad did twice in the past, the 33 mastered by Doug Sax and the 45 Hoffman/Gray version. Their was an OJC and a couple of japanese versions that I am aware of.



Michael Fremer's picture
He knows this stuff. i agree of course. MFSL never released WOW!
WesHeadley's picture

If this is THE Concord Music Group, that have been swallowing up small labels and releasing (on their imprimatur) many new vinyl editions then I'm wary. Their product quality has generally sucked for years now. When I see their name on a release I get the same feeling in my gut as I do when I see a release by Plain Recordings-- I expect terrible quality and I am almost never disappointed.

jokerman's picture

No matter how many times I see that album cover, it always looks like he's scratching his butt at first glance. Lol, sorry.

DietChapstick's picture

Concord is a sinking ship as far as quality goes. The canary in the coal mine was when they started pressing a bunch of records at United and Rainbo, then started repressing CDs as CD-Rs. Great way to alienate customers and sink the company. Too bad as they have so many great titles in their catalog.

Also too bad the clueless management couldn't figure out a way to work with Grundman's AAA cuts, especially since the work was already done. Now, Horn has done some fine work in the past but for the kind of coin CMG is charging here, it really needs to be an AAA cut. Not sure what the market is for this reissue, but I definitely won't be buying it.

Neward Thelman's picture

Null of the 1990's???

What null?

During the 1990's, used record retailers made more money - and moved more product - than they had before or since. Used record stores proliferated. Mail sellers such as Ars Antiqua and Carol Keasler made a good living at selling used records. Used records commanded extremely high prices. Japanese and German buyers abounded.

And, today? All of the mail order sellers have long since disappeared. Used record stores have disappeared. Here in the greater Chicago metropolitan area, the dozens and dozens of used record stores have vanished, leaving just one or two in the third largest city in the United States of America.

Tellingly, Val's Halla Records of Oak Park, IL went out of business about 10 years ago.

These days, every single day, some happy bohay on every single vinyl discussion board is posting his "Goodwill Haul", in which the said bohay shows pictures of the many valuable records he's [yes, it's always some guy] gotten for next to nothing.

Today, guys expect to find valuable records for pennies - or for free. And, they're doing exactly that. They're used to it.

Michael Fremer's picture
1) The number of new vinyl releases just about ground to a halt. 2) Expensive real estate has priced used record stores out of major cities (along with most indie retailers) 3) The Internet has become where used records are bought and sold for many people and because of the internet everyone knows used record values except for the clueless who drop them off at Goodwill but for the most part if you go to used record stores (SO. CA IS FILLED WITH THEM). there are no bargains because everyone knows everything.
Neward Thelman's picture

Real estate costs may have a slight impact - but I'm pretty sure that they're only a part of the story.

By the mid-2000's, many used record store owners around the greater metropolitan Chicago area were telling me that they no longer had anything like customer traffic they once had. For classical music, they said it was very difficult to sell anything.

There had been dozens of used record stores around the city and suburbs. By the 2010's, those were all gone. In the wake of the real estate bubble crash, store fronts were dirt cheap - so keeping your store going by paying your lease wouldn't have been a problem. People just weren't coming in droves as they used to, back in the 90's.

There was even a used record store chain around here - Second Hand Tunes. They had 6 stores around Chicago and one in Milwaukee. Today, all but one gone. And, as I mentioned previously, all of the mail order sellers are gone - including the biggest one of all - Ars Antiqua.

Much of the reason for their collective demise, I'm sure, is the rise of amateur record sales on the internet.

This is where YOU come in. In fact, I'm surprise that you haven't stepped forward on such an important issue, as you had on the issue of Crosley record players. After all, you are the indisputable King of Analogue Vinyl. I say that without irony - I mean it, and it's one of the things for which you're respected and admired.

Anyone who's spent any time browsing vinyl selling on Ebay may attest to the fact - and it's definitely a fact - that nearly all of those selling don't know what they're doing. They don't have a clue. Indeed, they don't even have a clue about a clue. Especially when it comes to classical recordings.

Shaded Dogs, White Dogs, No Dogs, S1, S5000, Living Stereo, Living Presence, Living Grateful Dead, FR1, Bert White Belock Everest, early pressing, late pressing ---- Dynagroove???? What????

No clue. To them, if it's RCA and it's vinyl - it's gold.

Not only do they present no information - cause they don't know anything - but they aren't interested in learning anything - even if you gently spoon feed it to them. How do I know? I've tried. Over and over, with countless of those pot-bellied, Ebay-vinyl-selling jokers.

And, that was one of my main points. All of those mail order record sellers of the 90's really, really, really knew records and recordings. With their demise, we've all lost a valuable source of knowledge.

Grant M's picture

First the $200 Blue Note subscription box, now this cut from digital files.
It makes you wonder why not just do it AAA? Don't they know who their customers are?

ann07cor's picture

I just so much love Sonny Rollins. It sounds simply fantastic! Used to listen to it long evenings after work, very relaxing, calmes down your mind, aftet hard work. I really like how Analogue Productions releases the SACDs.

xtcfan80's picture

Yes, I'm a dork! I wasn't complete on my post.. My MFSL Way Out West is a CD and an aluminum CD at that. It sounds great, but it would be so great to have an older Contemporary pressing or a new high quality APO pressing to hear.

cmathes's picture

I'm a bit disapointed, by the back story here; however, I wish I had more recordings up to this standard...

rl1856's picture

The age of the tapes for much of the material recorded 40-50-60yrs ago. Until the 80's storage conditions were abysmal. Much of the tape stock used back in the day suffered from shedding and has become brittle. At this point just about every time an original master tape is used, the simple act of playing causes further deterioration. On the other hand, a label can commission a "final" digital transfer at 24/96 or better (hopefully a lot better), and then will have an unchanging baseline to work from well into the foreseeable future. Digital files do not cost much to store, and are much much cheaper to utilize for a new reissue. From a business standpoint it makes too much sense. Unfortunately those of us who care will have to be content to tilt at windmills.

On the other hand, there is plenty of used vinyl out there. Sure prices are no longer garage sale cheap, but a smart buyer will be able to find what they want at an affordable price. The key is information. Continue to learn. Continue to build your knowledge base. Ebay has both distorted the market and democratized it. Eventually everything we want will show up for sale on Ebay. It's just a question of price.