Vinyl Corner is a 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 giving
a brief overview of the music itself. This time around we’re checking out a set
of rare deep funk grooves from Roy Ayers,
reissued by the ever-interesting BBE Records.
To those crate-diggers with a hunger for jazz, funk and soul, the name Roy Ayers should be memorised by heart. Over a lengthy and prolific career, he’s forged an ambitious and wide-ranging body of work that covers a gauntlet of styles. It’s perhaps unsurprising that, considering the diversity of his work, his long players also range from top sellers available cheaply on the second hand market to highly prized rarities that fetch wallet-bruising sums from those in the know. Ayer’s 1983 outing ‘Silver Vibrations’ is one of the scarcest and most collectable entries into his discography, with original pressings commanding prices anywhere within the £100 to £150 range. Within moments of dropping the stylus in the groove it becomes clear why the album has been an object of collector desire for so long – groove-heavy, trance-like and smart, this is heavily disco-influenced funk with an edge. Despite Ayers being an American artist, ‘Silver Vibrations’ was only ever released in the UK – and just once, at that. This new reissue from Hastings’ BBE Records marks the first time the album has hit the shelves since its original release 36 years ago. Those with a taste for deep jazz-funk and alternative disco will be in something not far off seventh heaven with this one. Album opener ‘Chicago’ sets the tone – it has a strong bassline, buckets of atmosphere and a moody vocal delivery. While the rest of the album shares an attitude with its opener, there’s definitely a sense of variety here. Between the glossy soul of ‘Smiling With Our Eyes’ and the almost P-Funk inflected party atmosphere of ‘Good Good Music’, there’s never a dull moment for fans of collector-friendly funk/soul.
We’ve written about a fair few BBE reissues on Vinyl Corner in the past (see, for example, our thoughts on their Yan Tregger and Takeo Moriyama reissues from last year) and we’ve been thoroughly impressed by all of them. Their reissue of ‘Silver Vibrations’ is no different. As with all their releases, the LPs have been pressed by Germany’s Pallas – very good news indeed, as they’re arguably the best pressing plant in the world. True to that, playback quality is excellent across the album. As with the trilogy of Japanese Jazz reissues they released in the second half of 2018, they have here expanded the original single LP configuration of ‘Silver Vibrations’ into a double LP. That means sides are now all around the ten minute mark, give or take a couple of minutes. At most, each side has only two songs – and side A has only one. Some may have preferred the original single LP configuration to have been kept intact, but we’re all for this new double LP presentation. As a direct result of spreading the album over two LPs, there’s plenty of breathing room for the groove and, as such, sound is spacious and lively across all four sides. The album is still cut at 33rpm – which is a little surprising considering that it could quite easily have been cut at 45rpm for even better sound – but quality is excellent anyway so this isn’t an issue. Mastering is great here, with a strong yet defined bass part and clear guitar and keys parts.
Sound impresses on this reissue, then, but what of the packaging and presentation? While we don’t have an original pressing of this rarity to directly compare to, we’re happy to report that the reissue is almost certainly an improvement upon the original release in terms of presentation. The original non-gatefold sleeve has been expanded into a chunky gatefold, retaining both the original front and back covers (which actually consist of the same image) but then adding a candid live shot of Ayers and a brand new, in-depth essay on the inner gatefold spread. It’s an excellent addition to the package and one that helps place ‘Silver Vibrations’ in the broader context of the artist’s discography at large. The gatefold sleeve itself is really nice quality; it’s manufactured from decent quality card and print quality in terms of both colour and definition is great, with lovely rich greens and precise replication of the original artwork. The chunky spine is also very appealing, with bold font that makes it an easy title to pick out on a busy shelf of albums. Although now expanded to a double LP from the original releases’ single disc, labels nevertheless replicate those of the original as closely as possible, which is a touch likely to appease the hardcore collector base that’s likely to be this release’s main audience.
This is another top-drawer reissue from BBE Records. The Pallas-pressed LPs sound fantastic, with clean playback and rock solid mastering. Packaging and presentation also impress, rounding off a rerelease that more than earns the attention of funk/soul collectors both long-serving and new.
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