Friday, March 05, 2010

Last week - Part Three: ESP and vinyl problems

Playing right now: Vijay Iyer - Historicity

So after buying the two CDs mentioned in the last entry (one of which is playing right now), I got to work transcribing some interviews for two pieces that I wrote last week. The first interview was with Nik Westman, the frontman of the band Nik & the Central Plains. That piece ran in Pittsburgh City Paper this week and can be viewed at

Last Tuesday, I finally received a package from ESP Records. About two weeks earlier I received an email from them saying that they were having a special "Let's cut down on the inventory" sale, and select CDs were $6. I bought Frank Lowe's Black Beings and Don Cherry's Live at the Cafe Montmartre 1996 Volume 3. I also decided to splurge a little bit and bought the vinyl reissue of Albert Ayler's one-sided clear vinyl Bells. It's a limited edition of 1,000 and since Ayler's Spiritual Unity was out of stock, I opted for this one. I knew if I waited I wouldn't get it before it sold out and I'd rue the day.

Now, of course if you've ever read this blog, you know how I feel about vinyl. I love it. I'm not quite ready to buy a vinyl album if it's nearly twice as much as the CD version (Historicity, in this case), but I've been known to pay a few bucks more that the CD price to get an album. And I understand that since vinyl is pressed in limited quantities that the labels have to charge a little more. I'm fine with that. If my extra bucks can help a label continue, I will support them.

But if you're going to press vinyl, could you at least do a quality check to make sure it isn't pressed off center? I put Bells on and the tone arm was practically undulating. That's not really an issue with Albert Ayler since he plays with such wide vibrato that pitch is relative. But what about the Pearls Before Swine album that ESP just reissues? If I got that and "Surrealist Waltz" (the final song on the album) was all wobbly like that, you bet I'd be pissed.

This isn't the first time this happened to me. I returned a BYG/Actuel album because the off center pressing ruined any kind of enjoyment I could get out of the album. My copy of Ida's Lovers Prayers has a lot of serious droning going on throughout it, and three of the four sides have pressing issues. The first song on side 4 has a noise at the beginning that could be guitar amp noise, but it sounds more like a scratch in the pressing. (I still haven't used my digital download for compare and contrast.) This isn't some flimsy vinyl either. This is 180 gram stuff that makes us vinyl geeks drool.

I'm keeping the Albert Ayler record. For one thing, it's written as #18 out of a pressing of 1000. Besides, with a pressing that small, I feel pretty sure that the rest of the records are like that. But I hope the people releasing vinyl will realize that if this happens too often, the folks who love records won't trust them and then the vinyl action will really drop. Can you imagine how you'd feel if you purchased that latest four-record set of Monk at the It Club, only to find out the they're pressed off-center and that Charlie Rouse really sounds drunk?

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