Evaluated by Claude Lemaire. Max. perfect rating: 10/ A+ [sound/music]
NAT 'KING' COLE AND HIS TRIO - AFTER MIDNIGHT
Originally on Capitol W782 (1957)
Reissued by Analogue Productions AAPP 782-45 (2010)
Rating: 9.4/ A+
Category: Jazz - Traditional Pop
Format: vinyl (3x 180g at 45 rpm)
Nat 'King' Cole – vocal/piano/arranger
John Collins – guitar
Charlie P. Harris – bass
Lee Young – drums
Alto Saxophone – Willie Smith
Trombone – Juan Tizol
Trumpet – Harry Edison
Violin – Stuff Smith
Produced by: Lee Gilette
Recorded at: Capitol Recording Studio, Hollywood, California, August 15, September 14, 21 and 24, 1956
Recording Engineer: John Kraus
Remastered and Lacquer cut by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech Mastering
Pressed at: RTI, California, USA
Throughout history, be it religion, geometry or aviation, the power of the troika and delta symbol have often been exalted as divine, perfect and complete. You just have to glance at your favorite turntable and chances are its plinth rest on a tripod-based system. Why, because that configuration is rock solid and such is the case when in the company of an elite jazz trio. Before The Bad Plus, Medeski Martin & Wood and even the sublime Bill Evans Trio, there was the Nat King Cole Trio.
Starting in the late 1930s first as the King Cole Swingers before changing names once signed to Capitol Records in 1943, the 'Trio cut its wax first on 78rpms later switching to 10 inch LPs in 1950. Although piano, bass and guitar were already prominent figures during the Big Band era, Cole is recognize as ushering in the countercurrent–at the time–trio format. On this 1956 recording, to be clear it is not really the 'Nat King Cole Trio' but rather 'Nat King Cole and his Trio' plus a few guest on and off, so maximum minimalism takes a back seat on this 'mid-career' release. This current reissue is part of Analogue Productions' wonderful Nat King Cole series.
Beginning with the presentation I was disappointed that the outer artwork did not reflect the very high standards that went into this reissue project. Although a 3-LP set brings it's own set of challenges regarding packaging, the visual and tactile aspects could have been handled way better. In my opinion a premium price (as such is the case) commands a premium packaging. This has been a recurring criticism with all of the 'Top 100 Fantasy 45 series' and–save for the special 5-LP box set beautifully executed–unfortunately remains with the 'Nat King Cole 45 series' as well as their 'Blue Note 45 reissues'.
The records are housed in their inner see-through 'slippery' 'plasticised' sleeves (no paper). The 180g vinyl was black, shiny, flat and silent, with the dead wax starting about an inch from the label perimeter; in other words perfect. The label is a pseudo-reproduction of the famous Capitol "rainbow" era. The word 'MONO' seems as if it's been added at the '9 o'clock' position. The "rainbow" label represented the "FULL SPECTRUM IN SOUND" and appeared in a similar manner only in 1958 in both STEREO (ST) and MONO (W or T) versions but the latter did not mention it anywhere on the label whereas the former did. Therefore in 1957, the original US pressing would be the (pre-rainbow) black label with 'Capitol' in silver at the top 12 o'clock position.
A full size folded insert explains the behind scenes of After Midnight and the elaborate remastering project.
Every song on this special edition album is a real gem. Absolutely no second-tier material, even the bonus tracks keep it interesting until the end. Nat is indeed the King of the vocals showing tremendous range, richness and refinement with every phrase. I can think of only one other male singer that can conjure up such command of his 'natural instrument' all the while making it sound so effortless and that would be Frank Sinatra. Oddly both were at the top their game at the same period sharing the same label; late fifties to early sixties, Capitol. The Chairman, more extrovert and showman, the King showing more restraint and refinement.
The Collins-Harris-Young jazz Trio (not unlike the Baker-Harris-Young trio of the later Philly Sound era) provide the swinging backbone to Nat's piano and vocals chops without discounting the fine solos of alto sax, trumpet, violin and trombone making their appearance. With such classics as "Sweet Lorraine", "Caravan", "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "Route 66" in the hands of a Master, you can't possibly go wrong.
Recording Engineer John Kraus did a fantastic job capturing the King's voice with great immediacy, natural warmth, huge non clipped dynamics, swinging modulations and no annoying sibilance ("Route 66" excluded); to combine all of these together is extremely difficult and yet he makes it sound so easy. The piano comes out clear in the upper registers, non boxy nor veiled like we often encounter on Van Gelder recordings or some 1950's jazz lp's; nevertheless it lacks the weight and presence of the Real Thing and the realism of the Count Basie "88 Basie Street" album I evaluated in a prior post.
The Bass has a nice presence but also shows a slight timidity in the lowest notes. Guitar, alto sax and trumpet exhibit great tone and natural bite. The drum possesses a lively feel with the snare brush revealing great harmonic complexity and see-through density. It's almost sad when one thinks of the immense lack of refinement nowadays in upper octave and general treble reproduction since the early to mid 1980's, the (1983) Basie '88 being the exception to the rule.
Meanwhile in the 'Batcave'... The 'Dynamic Duo' of (Re)Mastering–Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray–have done it once again. Instead of taking the easy road they've painstakingly took great care to go back to the ultimate source the original session tape, not the assembled 'production master' or 'dub master' but the 1/4" mono full track work parts, bringing us closer to the actual event and avenue.
Cut at 45rpm at just the right level, not too 'hot' to sound hard nor too low to sound soft, giving us large dynamic burst over a black background and a solid vividness.
As soon as the very first seconds travels up the vibrating cantilever down to the moving speaker cone while "Just You, Just Me" springs to life, you know you're about to experience something very rare: the utter presence of real musicians breathing life in your company. I guarantee it is spooky! The sound is intimate and non-mechanical, i.e. you forget the electronics and the complicated path between the original event captured in time and the reconstruction over half a century later for you in your home at the time of your choosing.
I wouldn't qualify the presentation as 'fat mono', rather I keep that attribute more for Monk's Brilliant Corners or Rollins's The Sound of Sonny, both also on Riverside, ditto Hoffman-Gray. Here it's seems narrower, a bit leaner–but not lean per say; faster; lighter. I did a short track comparison between this issue and the previous 33rpm audiophile reissue by Pure Pleasure for sonics. The latter was also excellent and held it's own with a bit more bass and low mids giving the voice a chestier palpability and a weightier Bass (earning a 9.2/10) but the newer 45rpm predictably surpassed the 33rpm for upper harmonic resolution, extension, transparency and dept leaving the general impression of greater dynamics and sheer 'speed', particularly noteworthy on the percussion's in "Caravan". Combining the best of both worlds would have probably pushed it up to a 9.6/10; having to choose only one I'd still go for the 45rpm if price is not a factor.
In conclusion, artwork quibbles aside, this is one of my favorite record purchases in a long time. Close to perfection in many areas, I consider it one of the most dynamic tape to vinyl transfers in my collection and near the top for traditional pop-jazz vocal for music and sound.
Can't wait to hear more from this wonderful series.