Jazz at the Pawnshop (30th Anniversary)

If you want to stop any discussion on a jazz board dead in its tracks or, in reverse, want to flame an ongoing discussion on any audiophile forum, you just need to either mention “Jazz at the Pawnshop” or say it’s at best a mediocre effort. Whatever you do wherever, you’re bound to illicit complete deafening silence or a flame war with loads of hissy fits. With all its reappearances in probably more formats than any other session ever recorded, it’s always fun to watch this one being hotly debated to the point of Internet insanity.

If you ask your local audiophile twerp, you’ll get a three-hour treatise on how good these recordings sound and that you simply have to run to your nearest dealer and buy one box for yourself and several for your friends. Of course, the audiophile is accused by the jazz connoisseur of not having any understanding of jazz whatsoever (“… shit from Shinola”, you know, that kind of argumentation) and the audiophile will lob an “elitist swine” right back at him or her. The “real” jazz fan will without fail compare this session (actually two sessions) to those of more well-known artists and judge it mediocre at best, not worth one’s time at worst. Usually, his or her post will be accompanied by inflammatory language and a reminder as to how many great sessions remain unreleased or only exist in crappy sound quality whereas these Swedish sessions remain in print seemingly indefinitely in great sound.

Interestingly enough, those arguments heat up instantly and are usually not very objective. The audiophile has tested just about all of his/her equipment with a high-resolution release of “Jazz at the Pawnshop” and, often enough, cites this double-LP, single CD or other release as proof that he/she likes jazz (as well). The jazz fan will look at the personnel, Arne Domnérus, Bengt Hallberg, Lars Erstrand, Georg Riedel and Egil Johansen without really recognizing anyone, throws on a tune or two and will invariably state that just about everyone has recorded this material better than these guys.

Err, yes … and no.

My turn.

These sessions were not meant to be anything but a spontaneous fun recording of a session in a positively tiny club, “Stampen” (a former pawnshop, hence the title) in Stockholm, Sweden, If you have read a bit more about this session recorded on two days in December of 1976, or if you watch the rather short interview on the accompanying DVD, you have gotten or will get an idea of how surprised the musicians themselves were at the success of this mostly totally improvised session. No rehearsals to speak of, no sound check, no anything really. Just some guys who walked into a club, crammed their instruments onto the tiniest of stages, waited for the sound engineer to set up as quickly as possible, and then … swung and improvised away. No pay to write home about either (although royalty payments from these sessions started, surprisingly, pouring in over the years), just a fun session with a rather noisy but very appreciative audience that was out those evenings to have some fun. That was it.

Many people thought that there was a marimba on the stage when it was only a vibraphone covered by cloth to protect it from guests leaving their drinks on there (and which was played “blind” with the cover on during one number, making it sound like a marimba), the musicians following Arne Domnérus, who often didn’t even announce what he was about to play; in short: A session which is probably typical of a million working jazz bands around the globe trying to make a decent living on your average weekend or weekday. Still, many people want to compare it to Miles Davis and John Coltrane live recordings.

I have no idea why some fans or detractors of these recordings love to go on about the merits of this recording endlessly. It’s almost as if the “real” jazz fans have to make sure that everyone knows that there’s better stuff out there (Duh!) and that the audiophile in-group gets its communal claws out to defend one of the best-recorded sessions available.

Yes, yes and yes. But who cares? There are a ton of wonderfully recorded sessions out there and there’s tons of better material out there to be had at a fraction of the price, but is that really the issue here?

I didn’t get into this live material because some audiophile twerp recommended it or some big-headed jazz fan told me to stay away from it.I bought it because I saw it in a shop years ago, checked who was playing on it and went for it. Simple as that.

I knew what to expect.

See, I spent (“wasted away”, as some people might be apt to interject here) most of my formative years in smoky jazz clubs, listening to local outfits that were smoking the joint without even trying to better the material they were copying, emulating or expanding upon. I often liked those informal local sessions a hell of a lot better than some of the major ones (Miles Davis in Spandex pants!) I had to pay ten times the amount for to get into – if that’s enough – and I’ve always enjoyed hunting around for jam sessions, informal events or live gigs off the beaten track at which I could hear people with a mundane day job letting it loose. In summation: I went there to enjoy myself.

There’s definitely a difference between seeing Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Count Basie or whatever live and hitting a small jazz club in some town one evening to just relax and listen to some good music to go with that attempt at relaxation.

The whole discussion surrounding these two live sessions is just like seeing any escapist or merely entertaining Hollywood production in a movie theater and sitting next to some endlessly irritating guy continuously mumbling that “The Godfather” was so much better. Really? Duh. Tell me something new. The point is this: Did you go to the movie theater to see “The Godfather?” Probably not.

“Jazz at the Pawnshop” delivers.
There, I said it.
Start throwing rocks.

Yes, I love these sessions and I often throw them on Fridays or Saturdays, to get things started. I’ve cleaned, I’ve sorted mountains of papers, I’ve slept and I enjoyed either a few good glasses of wine or a decent amount of freshly-brewed German beer to these.

I also think the music is tons of fun. It swings. So much so that this is the third reincarnation of these recordings that I either downloaded or bought. “Fun”, people, neither “great” nor “essential”. Yes, the playing is mediocre at points, clumsy, shrill or not too clever at others, but the overall impression I get is that of some guys having fun, the audience appreciating it, and things being whipped up by the intimate setting (if you know your Bengt Hallberg a little, you can really tell he’s getting into things here, playing a lot looser than on other recordings, enjoying the moment).

And I like that.

If you buy into the most recent limited reissue (3000 copies), this is what you get:

a) The complete “Jazz at the Pawnshop” sessions on 3 (hybrid) SACDs (multichannel and stereo), which were previously released as three separate CDs (or any combination thereof) as “Jazz at the Pawnshop”, “Jazz at the Pawnshop 2” and “Good Vibes”.

b) A bonus DVD with a much too short (about 12 minutes) anniversary interview with Lars Erstrund and Georg Riedel (interview in Swedish and Interview in Swedish with English subtitles).

c) 20 minutes of previously unreleased material.

d) All of it stored in a fold-out digipack, accompanied by a limitation sheet (my box is 1404/3000) and a 2007 Prophone/Proprius jazz/world catalogue, housed in a somewhat flimsy but nicely designed slipcase.

The sound? Stellar, and not up for discussion. Gert Palmcrantz, who also produced sessions with, for example, Art Farmer (Art Farmer, “A Sleeping Bee”) or Clark Terry (Clark Terry and Red Mitchell, “Jive at Five”), apparently showed up at the club, set up some microphones around the stage, stuck one into the vibraphone, and hit “record” … without any other preparatory work. On the interview DVD you get the impression that he set up in a few minutes and got rolling and it is understandable that jazz connoisseurs get irritated about the excellence of the recording under such circumstances while some, for example, Miles Davis sessions sound like utter crap. Depressing, really. Here’s a quote to give you an idea:

One microphone pair spaced 20 cm apart was responsible for the main pick-up, with a couple of microphones placed to register the “live” atmosphere of the Pawnshop jazz club and a few discrete support mikes – all recorded on to a pair of two-track Nagra tape recorders by Gert Palmcratz in the restaurant kitchen!

The music?
Depending on your take, anywhere between 0 and 5 stars.
I’d give it a solid four, but that’s me.

**** (music) / ***** (sound)

***

Tracks:

Disc 01:
01. Limehouse Blues
02. I’m Confessin’
03. High Life
04. Jeep’s Blues
05. Lady Be Good
06. Take Five
07. Everything Happens To Me
08. Barbados
09. Stuffy

Disc 02:
01. Over the Rainbow
02. Gubben Och Källingen
03. In a Mellow Tone
04. Nancy (With the Laughing Face)
05. High Life [Take 2]
06. Poor Butterfly
07. Exactly Like You
08. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be
09. It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

Disc 03:
01. Now’s the Time
02. Out of Nowhere
03. In a Mellow Tone
04. Take the “A” Train
05. Jeepers Creepers
06. Struttin’ With Some Barbecue

Disc 04 (Bonus-DVD):
01. Interview 2006

Personnel: Arne Domnérus (alto saxophone & clarinet); Bengt Hallberg (piano); Lars Erstrand (vibes); Georg Riedel (bass); Egil Johansen (drums).

Recording Date: December 6th and 7th, 1976
Venue: Stampen” in Stockholm, Sweden
Release Year (anniversary box):: (February) 2007

Recording Engineer: Gert Palmcrantz
Recording Supervisor: Jacob Boëthius

Digital Mastering: Andrew Lang
Replication: Sonopress, Germany

Graphic Design Esa Tanttu
Cover Painting: Jonas Englund

Executive Producers (anniversary box): Jan-Erik Lindqvist & Tryggve Palmqvist

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. I got the 1st Pawnshop CD back in the late 80s.  But I I did not give it a spin for SOME YEARS until I read your take.

    Now, maybe I will buy the Box

    Reply

  2. Thanks for your introduction. I have my box set since August. Since then it’s my best favorite out of the whole CD collection.

    I am wondering my box set does not have the limitation sheet you mentioned, but a brochure listing the history of the music, notes from the musicians & recording engineer instead. !?!

    Anyway let’s enjoy.

    Reply

  3. Hi Brian,

    mine had a single squared sheet (black on one side, limitation on the other) which stated, next to a small reproduction of the cover: “Limited Numbered Edition. Jazz at the Pawnshop. 30th anniversary. #1404/3000.” At the bottom, centered, it said “proprius”.

    Maybe they printed more copies which then aren’t limited? Wouldn’t surprise me because it seemed to be quite popular for a while. In one online shop it was in the “Movers and Shakers” list for a few weeks, meaning lots of copies were sold.

    Hope I could be of help. Just enjoy the music and forget about the limitation sheet. 🙂

    Reply

  4. Brian – I just got the set today and it didn’t have a certificate either. Maybe it’s a second printing?

    Not that it matters much, still love the recording.

    Reply

  5. Melanie & Brian,

    I do believe there’s a second printing out there. I just saw one (new) copy in the shops yesterday, also without the limitation sheet.

    Reply

  6. My comment is:::: Can you list what you think are the “finest recordings” available?

    In various musical styles, including Jazz, Rock, Pop, New Age, Classical

    Its’ hard to believe that there are only a few recordings that improve on Jazz at the Pawnshop, especially since this was recorded thirty five years ago on reel/reel tape machines…

    Thanks in advance Volkher

    Reply

  7. Hello again. I picked up Jazz at the Pawnshop Vol 1. PRCD 7778 and Jazz at the pawnshop PRCD 9044. I had asked my wife for a copy for Christmas but she wasn’t able to get it done. They were available at UHF magazine store.

    The only problem I am having with the music is that it’s JAZZ…. The recording is otherworldly awesome! The dynamic range is UNBELIEVABLE…. far exceeding most modern Digital Recordings. I still find it hard to believe that there are few recordings that improve on the sound stage of Jazz At The Pawnshop, but perhaps it’s true. Every tom doesn’t have a microphone but They Don’t Need One…. it’s not rock and the playing is more expressive than any Pop/rock offering I can think of.

    I have to restate my previous question:

    Lets have a list of the Finest Recordings Available including all Music Types Please..

    Come On People! Let’s Hear From You !!!

    Reply

  8. Hi again, Mike.

    Asking for a list of the best recordings of any genre is like asking for the meaning of life. 🙂 Still, I’d like to add my 2 cents to get you started.

    First of all, good sound, at least in part, is also a subjective thing. I’ve gotten into lots of discussions, sometimes even fights, in regard to recording, mastering and general sound quality and there are people who insist that they own systems that help them alleviate sound problems by turning a couple of knobs. I don’t subscribe to that theory and believe that the source itself should be as pristine as possible.

    I’m not about to post a list here of recordings I think are worth it also sound-wise, but I’d like to alert you to a forum that owes its entire existance to the discussion of sound quality and remastering. All genres are discussed there and there are often heated battles in regard to the best-sounding release of just about any CD. There are literally thousands (5-figure and more) posts debating just about any CD or LP release under the sun.

    That forum is the Steve Hoffman forum ( http://stevehoffman.tv/forums/ ) and I think you’ll find answers to your questions there. Be aware of the fact though that there are different schools of thought present on that board and you have to get to know the people before you actually “follow” suggestions.

    I hope I could be of help.
    Happy hunting!

    Volkher Hofmann

    P.S.: Before you hit that board, make sure to discuss financial matters with your wife or relatives and what should happen to you and your family once you end up homeless on the street because you can’t pay the bills anymore. ,)

    Reply

  9. I bought this on LP back in the late 80s and its been one of my reference recordings. its just one of them. i have done my own session stereo recordings and so i have an appreciation for JAP from that stand point too. i never considering the music to any kind of pinnacle of jazz but i do enjoy it. if anyone were to ask me why, i would have my own story but really your story echo’s mine: its just good spontaneous music. when i listen to it i feel like i do when i walk into a jazz club on the spur of the moment with friends and listen to whom ever happens to be playing (usually some decent local jazz band). so JAP for me captures this experience. and the recording leaves my brain thinking i saw it live. so those two things together are what i like it. but i have my own personal reasons (like you) and never impost it on anyone either as a reference recording or as an example of great jazz. its something outside of those two but encompassing both in a different way typically thought. I just bought the 30th anniversary 88/24 FLACs for $40. great value! and, i still have the LP version in my collection for when I want to fire up my Oracle.

    Reply

    1. Brett,

      sorry for the (very) late reply. I’ve been out of town for all too long. I’m glad your experience with this fantastically recorded music mirrors mine. It never ceases to amaze me how people get into heated arguments concerning this release. Good Friday evening fun put out there by capable musicians. I’ll keep the flame burning for this music (lots of my real-life and online friends I have been ablte to entice into dishing out the dough). 🙂

      Cheers!
      Volkher

      Reply

  10. Greetings, Volkher! I got the album in DSD128 from NativeDSD just to see how good this much praised jazz recording made on Nagra in a small club was compared to my own purist jazz recordings in London clubs in DSD128 format (almost 40 years later) with only a pair of ribbon mics also spaced 20 cm. apart (an important point). And get more inspired to do a better job.

    I would be interested in your opinion of my efforts. Do you use DSD format? Please let me know what bands you happened to like from this compilation downsampled to MP3 320kbps (the lowest quality MP3 format’s limit for me) and I will love to provide higher res staff either in FLAC 24.96kHz or DSD128.

    ‘Sketches in High Res’ – some tracks from a series of concert recorded live in DSD128 (but downsampled to MP3 at 320 kbps for easier handling) to give you an idea of the sound and presentation of acoustic parameters at each performance.
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/eiaywj6i65pf4ui/AAC6GR9NG55WC9ptj9WxKJqya?dl=0

    Here are a couple of other tracks:
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/tqjg1flhe8rh3t5/Cissy%20Strut.flac?dl=0 John Etheridge FLAC 24/96kHz

    Michael Rosen https://www.dropbox.com/s/od7p60umpyvfds2/04.dff?dl=0 DSD128 track

    Hope to hear from you soon. BTW, I have 64 full concert recordings of this type, all as yet unreleased.

    P.S. The website has not been publicly launched yet. But it will be. Soon.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: