A new and improved Original Jazz Classics series
By Dennis Davis
For some time now, jazz reissues on vinyl have been the hot ticket for mining the resources of record conglomerate archives. It started out with audiophile labels, Classic Records being an early and illustrative example. In 1994 they started out reissuing titles from the RCA Living Stereo classical catalog, but before long moved into rock and jazz, issuing dozens of titles from Verve, Blue Note and others. In 2007, Ron Rambach and Joe Harley started reissuing Blue Note titles under the Music Matters label, with gatefold sleeves containing two 45-RPM LPs, followed in 2013 by further Blue Note titles in the 33-RPM, single LP format. The third big publisher of jazz titles during this early part of the century was and remains Analogue Productions, an arm of Chad Kassim’s Acoustic Sounds (and the only major record seller who cannot claim “not to be in Kansas anymore”). His first major effort was a handful of Blue Note titles followed by a series from what was then the Fantasy library, which owned Riverside, Contemporary, Prestige and Milestone, all in 45-RPM two disc packages. Since then, Analogue Productions has released jazz titles from Impulse, Verve and a few other labels, including re-pressings of earlier Classic Records’ titles, now that they’ve acquired that label.
Enter the Majors…
It took a while, but eventually the major labels caught on to the fact that vinyl sales of jazz recordings were booming, and they should get in on the act. The first one to catch that wave in a big way was Blue Note. Although it started off as a small independent label, Blue Note was purchased by Liberty Records and today is operated by Capitol Music Group, itself owned by Universal Music Group, one of the big three record labels (along with Sony and Warner Music Group). In 2019, Blue Note introduced the Tone Poet series of audiophile recordings, reissuing classic Blue Note and Pacific Jazz titles, as well as the occasional reissue of more modern titles that either saw limited vinyl release by an independent, or CD only release. The program is curated by Joe Harley (the “tone poet”) and hits all the buttons—top quality covers, 180-gram pressings from RTI and re-mastering by Kevin Gray of Cohearant Audio.
Warner Music Group has recently launched its own audiophile series through its subsidiary Rhino Entertainment. Its series, the “Rhino High Fidelity Premium Vinyl Series” opened with John Coltrane’s Coltrane’s Sound, originally released on Atlantic in 1964. That Coltrane selection was hardly a priority, so the program seems to have stumbled out of the gate, at least from an artistic perspective. Like the Tone Poet series, it is a full price product and so far, they have been re-mastered by Kevin Gray and pressed on 180-gram vinyl. However, Rhino selected Optimal Media (near Berlin) as the pressing plant, and Optimal pressings are not as consistently quiet as those from RTI.
The third player in the jazz reissue game is Craft Recordings, an imprint of Concord Records, owner of the fabled Fantasy catalog. Craft has named its series the Original Jazz Classics (“OJC”) re-launch, after the extremely popular OJC reissue series of the 1980s. The original OJC series was a budget label, pressed on thin vinyl from original analog tapes, and slipped into thin card covers. Over 850 titles were released, and over time have become collectable (despite their lightweight production values) because of the high-quality mastering of many of their in-demand titles.