"Sound Archaeologists" Uncover Classic Jazz Recordings

Aluminium used in vinyl record production is making rare live concerts available again.
20 March, 2017
The French company Devialet has always enjoyed a reputation for quality in its high-end audio products.
Those products range from their latest tiny amplifier in a mobile device or the complete Immersive Theater System.

Now the company plans to get into the vinyl business, but they are doing it with Devialet's typical elegance. The company teamed up with the Fondamenta label, another French venture launched in 2008 with the same ethos of exclusivity, to recover lost recordings of jazz artists and return them to a global audience.
Fondamenta put together a team of "sound archaeologists" who spent a year traveling the globe in search of missing recordings ultimately recovered on analog tape. They found an August 9, 1975 live performance of Sarah Vaughan at the Laren Jazz Festival, covering 14 selections to represent her work.

"I played the tape and I said 'wow,'" explains Piet Tullenaar, who discovered the Sarah Vaughan recordings in a broadcast archive at the Beel en Geluid, the Dutch institute for sound and vision. "I was surprised the recordings were preserved. It was a chance to restore it and to release it."
They found a live performance of the Oscar Peterson Trio, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on February 10, 1961. They also found the Bill Evans Trio in concert at the Hilversum studio on June 22, 1968, just one month after Evans had won a Grammy Award. Each of these performances included nine different songs – although with Peterson, the recording includes his introduction and welcome on stage.

"One of the distressing things about jazz is that it's completely subjective and you have no real way of measuring the value of any artist," says a prophetic Norman Grantz as he introduces bass player Ray Brown to the Amsterdam crowd. That might be said of the value of the rediscovered recordings too.
For jazz enthusiasts and vinyl aficionados, the discoveries might be worth adding to the collection in any format. Yet Devialet had other plans, and has created a remarkable lacquer recording available for each of the performances. There are just 30 pressings available for the collector items, but there's a catch: The lacquer recording, made from an aluminium disc coated in nitrocellulose, is really only heard once.

Lacquers are never actually listened to, because they're just an intermediate step in the vinyl recording process. It's a first recording, pressed into acetate and typically used to make the first version of sound and the pressing die to make the multiple copies. A lacquer will play, and it has a certain purity that attaches, but because it is a soft coating on the aluminium, it's damaged if you actually use it.
Image: Devialet
"The lacquer wears off as it is listened to," the company explains. "Just like a concert, those pure emotions can only be lived once." So the irony is that the collector's lacquer is the most flawless capture of the sound and the original "lost recording" performance, but one that can't be experienced without ending its beauty.

Fortunately, the lacquers aren't the only copies available. The three concerts also are available in 180 gram vinyl, and Devialet has limited their availability to 900 copies each. The best part is that almost 50 years of technology have evolved since Grantz gave those Amsterdam introductions – and the sound is available in digital format too, as samples for prospective buyers and in their entirety for those who own copies of the Devialet collection.
Banner image: Devialet