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 we’re rating this year’s reissue of an intriguing early ’70s soul-jazz morsel, Harold Alexander’s ‘Sunshine Man’.
Flautist and sometime saxophonist Harold Alexander cut his debut long player in 1971 – in many regards, it’s a quintessential product of its time. Led by his flute work – by turns lilting or ferociously bombastic, sometimes within the same song – a band of drums, bass and mellow keys cuts a selection of funky soul-jazz numbers. The seven minute reverie of ‘Aquilla’ finds the band exploring the atoms at a relaxed pace; the atmosphere is easy and the playing is quietly confident. Standout cut ‘Mama Soul’ is rather more energetic, showcasing some of the most fleet-footed, eager flute work of any such album of the era. Alexander uses his breath-control as an integral part of his playing on such songs, and the gasps of air between frantic puffs are as integral to the ecstatic mood of the piece as the notes themselves. The 11 minute opening title track might have benefited from a little more progression over its lengthy runtime, but its affable groove and melodic soloing ensure that it’s far from a struggle to get through. The album’s various stylistic threads – free and easy jazz, funk, soul and even a touch of psychedelia – are enough to make the album an unmistakable product of its time. That is only a positive, however, and the album serves as a charming time-capsule. ‘Sunshine Man’ is a varied and engaging soul-jazz LP with more than enough to differentiate it from its peers, so that it comfortably earns its place in the pantheon. While it may not be an absolute essential of the style, it’s got more than enough easy charm to make it a highly worthwhile listen.
As so many modern releases are, this 2018 Tidal Waves Music reissue was pressed by the perennially popular GZ Media. Despite (or perhaps due to) being one of the largest pressing plants in the world today, their output can sometimes be patchy. It’s therefore difficult to know exactly what kind of quality you’ll get with the factory. While they’re certainly not above the odd duffer, they have proved themselves to be capable of pressing some top quality records at their best and that, thankfully, is exactly what they’ve done here. As is generally typical of their produce, the noise floor is very minimal here, even on the run-ins and between songs. What is perhaps less expected, going by their previous track-record, is the almost total absence of surface noise and/or crackle. Our copy is very tidy indeed and only a few infrequent and minor crackles can be heard at points. The fidelity is perfect throughout and the sonics are also well balanced, with a pleasingly neutral soundscape. There’s no specific mention of remastering on the reissue, so it’s possible that this version is representative of how the original release was mastered but, either way, it sounds great so we have no complaints at all there. The pressing is physically heavyweight and not only feels sturdy in hand but also tracks nicely and stays flat on the platter during playback. All in all, this is a very solid reissue and not only a convenient way to acquire a very clean copy of this jazz rarity, but also one which is comfortably more affordable than the original.
Packaging is really solid on this reissue, and in many ways is comparable to quite a lot of other good quality jazz reissues of recent times. A sturdy gatefold sleeve with a glossy finish replicates that of the original issue, with full reproduction of the original artwork both front and back, as well as inside the gatefold itself. Print quality is decent throughout although if scrutinised closely, there is a slight fuzziness to the overall image of the original cover art, which sits in contrast to the razor-sharp clarity of the new additions, such as the Tidal Waves Music logo and updated copyright information. However, it’s nothing more than a minor complaint and presentation is still solid here. The inner gatefold is much the same deal, reproducing the original liner notes in good enough quality that they’re still easily legible. The record labels make no attempt to replicate the original Flying Dutchman design, which may be out of an inability to do so from a legal perspective, or perhaps simply a lack of desire on the label’s part. While collectors surely would have been pleased if this reissue had gone that extra mile, the labels found here are colourful, attractive and well laid-out, so it’s no great shame and they still look good. Rounding off the presentation is a wrap-around paper add-on which covers the spine and part of the front and back covers. It’s an addition in the style of your typical Japanese Obi strip, but is constructed differently and serves an alternative purpose. It gives short new liner notes – a review of the album more than anything overly informative – and also advertises other releases from the label.
This is a really solid, nicely made reissue of this great soul-jazz LP. The pressing is very high quality and ranks amongst the best releases from GZ Media that we’ve heard in quite some time. The presentation is also respectable and, overall, this is a very agreeable way of acquiring the album – and a lot less hassle than hunting down a clean original.