Photo Credit : Jules Allen
Photo Credit : Jules Allen

Vinyl Corner : Lloyd McNeill Quartet ‘Washington Suite’

Vinyl Corner is a new feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect, as well as a brief overview of the music itself. This time, we’re giving the low down on the new reissue of Lloyd McNeill Quartet’s underappreciated deep-jazz masterpiece ‘Washington Suite’

The Music:

Every genre has a few classics that slip through the cracks. Robbed, for whatever reason, of the success they deserve, such albums are renegated to cult status, known only to the most dedicated of genre aficionados and record collectors. Lloyd McNeill Quartet’s 1970 effort ‘Washington Suite’ is one such album. By any measure, it’s a masterpiece; endlessly deep and rewarding, it’s a controlled, mature jazz record dripping with both style and substance. There’s no shortage of ultra rare, underheard jazz albums out there, but this is one of the best.

Although the quartet is led by McNeill – a powerful and dynamic flautist – musicianship throughout shines. Subtly undulating tugs of bass underpin the music throughout, allowing flighty, feather-light drum work and singsong keyboard to shine. Side one comprises of three groove-centric slices of relaxed confident spiritual jazz whilst side two offers one more expansive, experimental piece bookended by two unexpected but deeply effective orchestral pieces. ‘Washington Suite’ is an inventive album and one every bit as nimble as the ballet dancing it was commissioned to soundtrack.

The Pressing:

Originally released on McNeill’s own Asha label in 1970, the album first saw reissue on both CD and vinyl in 2011 via the excellent Soul Jazz Records. With a vinyl pressing limited to 1000 copies, that issue became a rarity in itself within a couple of years and, until this latest pressing, commanded prices of £60+ , a considerable sum, certainly, but nothing on the hundreds that an original fetches. Available once again in an edition of 1000, it’s a release that is likely to follow its 2011 predecessor and become something of a rarity. Issued again through Soul Jazz, this is a reissue that’s had real thought put into it. Both aesthetically and sonically, it’s a rewarding, dynamic release and a great way to hear the album.

It’s a nicely pressed record that is largely free of surface noise, with a nice dynamic soundscape and bright, rich mastering. Our copy isn’t flawless – there’s one or two pops dotted throughout the album and a few moments of very minor surface noise but never enough to distract from the music, which is fairly loud on this pressing. There’s also some slightly harsh sibilence that lends the high end of the soundscape a very slight distortion but it’s definitely subtle and again, not enough to mar the listening experience. In this case, of course, there aren’t any other options for those looking to aquire the album on wax, past saving up for an original – but that’s unlikely to sound better anyway and, despite a few minor flaws, this is still a great pressing and definitely one that’s easy to recommend.

The Packaging:

Throughout the reissue, packaging and presentation remains admirably faithful to the original. The label claim the artwork to be an exact reproduction of the original and, aside from the barcode, label infomation and catalogue number, it does indeed seem to be a faithful transcription of the original artistic vision. The label, likewise, stays true to the first pressing, boasting the same design as the Asha Records pressings, again minus the updated copyright information around the rim of the label. There’s also a sizable and informative information sticker on the shrinkwrap, giving a brief overview of the album’s story as well as the band lineup. It’s a nice touch; especially given infomation on the album is scarce. The sleeve itself is printed on fairly lightweight card but it’s certainly not insubstantial and more than serves its purpose. The inner sleeve could have been better, though – our copy came in a fairly rough paper sleeve advertising other releases from the label and repeated use of the sleeve would likely lead to surface marks, so we swapped it out for a Mofi sleeve straight away.

Final Thoughts:

Clearly a reissue produced with passion, Soul Jazz have done an excellent job here. Although not a flawless pressing, it is an excellent one and it’s great to have an underappreciated jazz classic back in print.