(Upcoming Release) Miles Davis – Bitches Brew Mobile Fidelity One-Step – A Deeper Dive

Cover for the MoFi Ultradisc One-Step for Bitches Brew

This month Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab announced their next titles to be released as part of their Ultradisc One-Step program. In this list were two Miles Davis titles, Sketches of Spain as a 2 LP 45 RPM release and a 33 RPM 2 LP release of his 1970 jazz fusion masterwork Bitches Brew.

I’ve covered Bitches Brew quite a bit in these pages, so I won’t cover the complete history of the album’s creation here. I recommend reading my coverage of the Bitches Brew sessions in my article about the RSD Double Image release of outtakes. The interesting thing about this release is that MoFi says that this release is mastered from the original tapes (I’ll get into this later). This is pretty much the M.O. for Mobile Fidelity: get the best versions of the original analog tapes for a release and then create the best possible high fidelity audiophile release. Often this involves restoring these original tapes, thus preserving them for future reissues. In the case of the One-Step releases, they get a custom box set treatment and are pressed on vinyl that is a proprietary formula known as “Super Vinyl.” From a post on their Facebook page:

“MoFi SuperVinyl is a new proprietary compound developed by NEOTECH and RTI to address two specific areas of improvement: noise floor reduction and enhanced groove definition. The vinyl composition features a new carbonless dye (hold the disc up to the light and see) and produces the world’s quietest surfaces. This high-definition formula also allows for the creation of cleaner grooves that are indistinguishable from the original lacquer. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab feels SuperVinyl provides the closest approximation of what we hear in the mastering lab.”

September 28, 2021 Post to Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Facebook page
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs SuperVinyl

Beyond the vinyl composition, there is the One-Step process itself, which is an attempt to create a record as close as possible to the original master by removing the typical three steps involved in creating additional copies to provide a way to create additional stampers as they wear out over the lifetime of the plates. The creation of the additional copies adds a small bit of loss in fidelity. Here is what MoFi says about this:

Instead of utilizing the industry-standard three-step lacquer process, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s new UltraDisc One-Step (UD1S) uses only one step, bypassing two processes of generational loss. While three-step processing is designed for optimum yield and efficiency, UD1S is created for the ultimate in sound quality. Just as Mobile Fidelity pioneered the UHQR (Ultra High-Quality Record) with JVC in the 1980s, UD1S again represents another state-of-the-art advance in the record-manufacturing process. MFSL engineers begin with the original master tapes and meticulously cut a set of lacquers. These lacquers are used to create a very fragile, pristine UD1S stamper called a “convert.” Delicate “converts” are then formed into the actual record stampers, producing a final product that literally and figuratively brings you closer to the music. By skipping the additional steps of pulling another positive and an additional negative, as done in the three-step process used in standard pressings, UD1S produces a final LP with the lowest noise floor possible today. The removal of the additional two steps of generational loss in the plating process reveals tremendous amounts of extra musical detail and dynamics, which are otherwise lost due to the standard copying process. The exclusive nature of these very limited pressings guarantees that every UD1S pressing serves as an immaculate replica of the lacquer sourced directly from the original master tape. Every conceivable aspect of vinyl production is optimized to produce the most perfect record album available today.

What Master Was Used?

The 4 CD boxset titled The Complete Bitches Brew was released in 1998. In addition to taking some creative liberties by including music from sessions that were not part of the Bitches Brew proper, the decision was made to remix the original Bitches Brew album, which required the recreation of Teo Macero’s original edits of the album. In an interview with Davis biographer Paul Tingen, Producer Bob Belden said the reason for this was twofold. First, they wanted to have a consistent sound across all of the music so all of the recordings needed to be addressed. There were disparities in the LP mixes of the material that had been released on albums like Big Fun, Circle in the Round and Live-Evil, and the a lot of the outtakes had never been mixed before. Secondly, the two-track masters had not aged well. Session engineer Mark Wilder elaborated, “So, we could either work with inferior tape copies from other countries, or go back to the original eight tracks and re-mix them, and so save ourselves a generation. The decision was made to re-mix from the original multitracks, just like with the Miles & Gil and Quintet boxed sets.”

The information available about the Mobile Fidelity Original Master Recording One-Step of Bitches Brew says only that it was mastered from the original master tapes, so we know that it won’t be based on the 1998 remix upon which all of the subsequent Sony releases have been made. The likely master that this will be based on is the 2014 Mobile Fidelity Original Master Recording, which according to discogs.com pricing is selling for around $200. The 2014 release was created by MoFi in-house engineers Kreig Wunderlich and Shawn Britton.

Since this uses a new process to create the records, it stands to reason that there will need to be new mechanicals created from the master tapes– lacquers, stampers and converts. None of the parts used for the 2014 release would be used for this. Which brings us to the tape used to make these parts. I couldn’t find any direct reference to what Wunderlich and Britton did to create a useable master tape for the 2014 release.

Reading about the work that Acoustic Sounds did for the recent UHQR Kind of Blue we know that Bernie Grundman created a copy of the vault masters for Kind of Blue in the 1990’s for Classic Recordings (which Acoustic Sounds bought) and this was used for the UHQR rather than go back to the vault. Considering that Mobile Fidelity was in a similar situation, they presumably acquired master tapes for the 2014 release and created their own copy after fixing issues due to age as well as maybe fine-tuning it for the equipment they use. Many reviews online say that the Original Master Recording releases (both the 2 LP and the SACD versions) are superior to the original releases of Bitches Brew, so my hopes are high for this release sounding fantastic. I would love to hear more about the tape used for the master. Was it, to quote Wilder, an “inferior tape copy from another country” or was it another source?

MoFi In-House Engineer Kreig Wunderlich talks about mastering for vinyl

Even over 50 years after the release of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew its importance to the history of recorded jazz is undisputed, though certainly not universally loved. It’s place in the pantheon of jazz contributes to the interest in preserving it and creating new editions of it. It’s interesting to contrast what Sony did for their reissue in 1998 versus what Mobile Fidelity did in 2014. One could argue that the 1998 remix is a different album than the original 1970 album created by Davis and Macero. Nevertheless, I’m interested to hear and see this new reissue done by one of the premiere reissue labels.

You can pre-order the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs One-Step for Bitches Brew either from Mobile Fidelity (the pre-order link is not live yet) or any number of other places online like Music Direct. The MSRP on it is $125.

Note: I’ll update this article if there is any additional information about the source tapes for this release.

(Upcoming Release) Miles Davis Gets RSD Bitches Brew Outtakes LP – Double Image – A Deeper Dive – Out 10/24/20

Double Image : Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions Cover Art

UPDATE: The 2020 COVID pandemic resulted in the standard April Record Store Day being canceled in favor of three “Record Store Day Drops” August 29th, September 26th, and October 24th. All of these are Saturdays, incidentally. The original Record Store Day list has been split up over these three dates. It’s worth noting that Black Friday Record Store Day (Friday, November 27th) has not been changed, yet, and is kind of a 4th “Drop” I suppose, coming a month after the last Drop.

The Miles Davis Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions will be released on the 3rd drop on October 24th.

The 2020 Record Store Day List came out this week, and I’m pleased to report that Sony is continuing the trend of releasing compilations of Miles Davis outtakes that they started for the 2019 Black Friday RSD Early Minor release for the In A Silent Way sessions. This release titled Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, takes the unreleased studio recordings from the 1998 Columbia boxset The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions.

Double Image Full Packaging

Sony is stepping up their game with this release. It is a two LP gatefold with opaque red LP’s. Bull Moose Records (kind of the original home of RSD) shows their list price as being $25.97 (note: this price went up $1 since it was originally announced in March) which is a pretty fair price for such a nice presentation. According to the RSD site, there will be 6000 pressed worldwide.

The importance and influence of Bitches Brew in Miles Davis’s catalog can’t be overstated. The new electric direction he established with In A Silent Way in 1969 was refined even further for Bitches Brew by focusing on African rhythms and funk. Betty (Mabry) Davis, who was his wife from 1968 to 1969 is credited with being the inspiration for turning Davis on to the explosion of rock and funk from James Brown and Jimi Hendrix (and apparently renaming the project from “Witches Brew”) which fueled the somewhat polarizing (at least among fans of Davis’s career up to this time) new direction that he’d pursue through 1975, up until his disappearance from performing for five years.

Like many people, my first exposure to Miles Davis’s catalog started with his groundbreaking 1959 album Kind of Blue and by most accounts this is the album most people wanting to get into Davis or jazz in general should start with. Wanting to dig further into his catalog I went earlier in his career with his pre-modal style Prestige Records catalog, then moved into his early Columbia career with albums like Round About Midnight (1957), Sketches of Spain (1960) and Someday My Prince Will Come (1961). At the time I was aware of Bitches Brew, but it took a long time for me to really appreciate the album, initially seeming too cacophonous and lacking any discernible structure. For me it took listening to the Chicago jazz artists like The Chicago Underground Ensemble/Chicago Underground Trio and bands on Delmark Records who were related to post rock band Tortoise to really be able to appreciate Bitches Brew. Further, it was interviews with Tortoise bass player Doug McCombs about how Teo Macero’s tape editing work on Bitches Brew informed how his 2009 album with David Daniell Sycamore was created– improvisational recording sessions were edited into the resulting album that pushed me to take a closer look at the album.

The album as released was recorded over three days in August of 1969 (19th-21st) at Columbia’s Studio B in New York City. The band was the largest collection of musicians Davis had assembled to date. The core of the band was a partial carry over from the In A Silent Way sessions with Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Dave Holland on bass, Chick Corea on electric piano, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Notably, this was the live touring band and had already been performing some of the key pieces from Brew including early versions of what became “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”, “Sanctuary”, and “Spanish Key”. According to Paul Tingen (who wrote the essential book on this period “Miles Beyond : Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991”), this pre-work with a band before hitting the studio was rare (apparently not considering the fact that most of the 1950’s Prestige releases were based on in studio takes of what was his live show at the time). The five-piece was joined in the studio by Joe Zawinul (electric piano), John McLaughlin (electric guitar), Larry Young (electric piano), Lenny White (drums), Don Alias (congas), Juma Santos, and Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet).

After some meetings with the band at his house where they, according to the JazzTime article Tingen wrote, brought in their own compositions for Davis to choose from and he made sketches that they would work from in the studio during the three days booked. At these sessions (with Teo Macero producing and engineer Stan Tonkel), Davis acted more like a conductor than composer. The tapes typically ran the entire time and he used playbacks to further tailor the works.

Davis left the post production work to Teo Macero. Macero used extensive tape editing and effects like delay and echo on previous albums In A Silent Way and Circle in the Round to create new works from the raw recordings which many consider to be groundbreaking work in itself. Extensive tape edits were done to create the first two tracks on the album “Pharaoh’s Dance” (which has 19 edits) and “Bitches Brew” (which has 15). Davis had the final approval of the recordings, but according to Tingen never really gave Macero the full credit he deserved and Macero’s own opinion was that Davis didn’t really want to credit even the musicians. This is why In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew are credited as “Directions in Music By Miles Davis” as a kind of way to take full credit for the recordings.

The second LP in Bitches Brew had less studio manipulation than the first two sides. This was largely because these songs were more fleshed out due to live performances. “Spanish Key” and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” had no edits. “Sanctuary” has one edit where Macero clips in a different take. “John McLaughlin” is an edit of a studio improvisation where Davis isn’t playing. According to Tingen, Davis gives some rough vague instructions during the session and they lumber along not knowing where to take the work until Davis says “John” and McLaughlin takes a guitar solo and then the band falls into lock step. Macero edited this down to McLaughin’s solo and following for the final recording.

The resulting album was somewhat baffling to the musicians who performed on it. Tingen quotes a famous story by Zawinul where he says he was standing in the offices of CBS and heard music over the speakers and asked a receptionist what it was when she replied that it was “that Bitches Brew thing.”

When you look at the jazzdisco.org entries for August 19-21, 1969 sessions and compare it to the track listing for Double Image, you’ll notice that the songs included were not recorded during the sessions that were used for Bitches Brew. So, what are these recordings?

Reissue producer of the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions Bob Belden told Tingen that they included the extra tracks that used a lot of the same musicians as Bitches Brew and also that these songs were additionally electric piano focused. As was typical of this later period Davis studio work, he had a lot of sessions recorded that were not intended for any particular album release, and CBS kept cranking out new albums that were ostensibly just compilations of unrelated songs– oftentimes songs many years apart. The 1979 compilation album Circle in the Round has tracks from 1955 through 1970. Exploitative? Maybe, but the renewed posthumous effort of getting Davis’s work released in a somewhat orderly fashion serves the purpose of making some sense of the progression made over his life in music.

Below is the track listing from Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions with my added notation of what the recording dates were.

LP 1 / Side A
“1. Yaphet” (11/19/69) 2. “Corrado” (11/19/69)
LP 1 / Side B
“1. The Little Blue Frog (master)” (11/28/69) 2. “The Big Green Serpent” (11/28/69) 3. “Trevere” (11/28/69) 4. “The Little Blue Frog (alternate take)” (11/28/69)

LP 2 / Side A
“1. Double Image (first version)”(1/28/70) 2. “Feio” (1/28/70)
LP 2 / Side B
“1. Recollection” (2/6/70) 2. “Take It Or Leave It” (2/6/70)

A YouTube Playlist of the tracks from Double Vision.

I’m going to predict that since we have had an LP from In A Silent Way’s complete sessions (which was box set #5 of the “complete” series) and now Bitches Brew (which was box set #3) that the next RSD release will be based on the 2003 box set for The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (box set #6). The Jack Johnson album only had two tracks on it and there were a lot of sessions not used, so it should be interesting to see what they’d include on a vinyl comp.

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition Out 5/26/09

One of my all time favorite jazz records is the 1959 Columbia release Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. I have this release on compact disc (not the remaster) and a couple copies on vinyl. Frankly, it is a lot of people’s favorite jazz release– it is one of the best selling jazz albums ever (next to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue also produced by Teo Macero). It has the distinction of having a single that reached the Top 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart– “Take Five” composed by band member Paul Desmond.

2009 is the 50th Anniversary of Time Out, and to celebrate the occasion Sony Legacy is re-releasing it’s 1997 compact disc remaster of the album on May 26th. According to this posting on the Down Beat website, the second disc is made up of previously unreleased performances from The Newport Jazz festival from 1961-1964. So, sadly, no unreleased session outtakes for this release. The unreleased Newport recordings are a nice touch, I suppose but makes the release not worth much more than the 1997 remaster except for the third disc in the release which is a DVD with an interview with Dave Brubeck on Time Out as well as some photographs and an “interactive piano demonstration” (who knows what this is?).

I spent time today trying to find any information on this release other than the paltry little bit that the online retailers have and was not successful. No press release, no mention of the release at the Sony Legacy website (at least at the time of this writing)! So, while it might be nice that they are doing a new packaging of the release, they don’t bother to promote it.

At first glance this really looks like a way for Sony to cash in on the 50th Anniversary of this release.  Unfortunately this is nothing like the Kind of Blue
50th anniversary box with the 180g blue vinyl, the CD, DVD and book that they did last year. I will pick this up because I’m interested to see the interview with Brubeck (who turned 88 last December) and I don’t have the remastered version of Time Out.

Here is the track listing with some session information I found at the excelent jazzdisco.org I haven’t found any place that indicates which Newport Jazz Festival shows the songs are from. I’ll update if I get any details.:

Dave Brubeck Quartet Time Out 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition Track Listing

Disc 1:
1. Blue Rondo A La Turk (Album Version) (NYC, August 18, 1959)
2. Strange Meadow Lark (Album Version) (NYC, July 1, 1959)
3. Take Five (Album Version) (NYC, July 1, 1959)
4. Three To Get Ready (Album Version) (NYC, June 25, 1959)
5. Kathy’s Waltz (Album Version) (NYC, June 25, 1959)
6. Everybody’s Jumpin’ (Album Version) (NYC, June 25, 1959)
7. Pick Up Sticks (Album Version) (NYC, August 18, 1959)

Disc 2 (Live at Newport Jazz Festival 1961-1964):
1. St. Louis Blues – (previously unreleased)
2. Waltz Limp – (previously unreleased)
3. Since Love Had Its Way – (previously unreleased)
4. Koto Song – (previously unreleased)
5. Pennies From Heaven – (previously unreleased)
6. You Go To My Head – (previously unreleased)
7. Blue Rondo a La Turk – (previously unreleased)
8. Take Five – (previously unreleased)

Disc 3 (DVD):
1. Dave Brubeck on Time Out
2. Photo Gallery
3. Interactive Piano Demonstration

Wikipedia article on Time Out