Acoustic Sounds

Jerome Sabbagh




Label: Sunnyside Communications

Produced By: Jerome Sabbagh

Engineered By: Ryan Streber

Mixed By: Pete Rende

Mastered By: Bernie Grundman

Lacquers Cut By: Bernie Grundman

By: Michael Fremer

December 8th, 2023





Saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh's Latest AAA Release Truly is "Vintage"

musical "comfort food" to groove the heart and soul

Backed by the all-star rhythm section of drummer Johnathan Blake, bassist Joe Martin and veteran pianist Kenny Barron, saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh steps up to the microphone and puts to analog tape his finest, most fully realized recorded musical performances. The quartet meshes as if it's been touring all year.

The album title and title track as well as the cover and rear photos telegraph that what you'll be hearing is strictly "old school" straight ahead, melodic post-bop jazz—a mix of familiar classics like Tadd Dameron's "On A Misty Night" and Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing"—and an impressive trio of Sabbagh originals. The set ends with a pair of Monk covers, the first, Wee See" playful and rhythmically adventurous, the second "Ask Me Now" a wistful ballad and a perfect album closer in which Sabbagh and Barron perfectly hit it off—one of the album's most special moments you're sure to savor.

The uptempo title tune opener would be at home on a Hackensack Rudy-recorded Blue Note release—musically and sonically. Sabbagh states the tune and everyone has a chance to go places with it—at its conclusion even to the Caribbean. Blake's simply miked drum kit owns the right channel as on old Blue Notes—though there's plenty of space around him—Barron and Martin sit center stage and Sabbagh floats eerily and transparently in the space midway between the left channel and center stage. Vintage for sure.

And oh boy, the sound. Hi-fi by 50's standards and that's meant as a serious compliment. The tonal character is warm, the spatial perspective wide and deep with the musicians appearing in a space and not in your face, but what most stands out is the transparency and the lack of "its recorded" artifice. By modern standards Blake's drum kit probably sounds distant—the sizzle of his cymbals and the precision of his stick hits might barely register if your system has been warmed up to make bright modern recordings sound tolerable, but one set up to deliver the news, bad and good will surely draw you in and let you turn up the volume as high as like.

The balance of Sabbagh's saxophone—direct and space around it—is ideal. At the right SPLs the three-dimensionality puts him in your room, or you in his. But enough about the sound.

The group caresses the cover of Dameron's classic, floating it slowly along the melodic curves. So lovely and delicate and a perfect set-up for the Strayhorn cover, which is truly a "lovesome thing" delivered almost too beautifully to absorb. If this was on CD you'd probably find yourself repeating those two tracks more than a few times before proceeding to the rest.

Side two opens with a Sabbagh original built upon a repeated, sunny melodic riff that exudes late 40's-50's era Parkerish musical optimism. That's followed by a slower, bluesy ballad and then come the two Monk covers. The tracking—the song order— is as well-accomplished as everything else about this record.

What's especially welcome is the generous arrangement space Sabbagh offers to the great Kenny Barron and of course what he makes of the opportunity. You could and should spend a few spins just devoting your attention to his contributions—on "Wee See"—a Sabbagh/Barron duet—the mix gives him the whole road—left hand to the left, right hand to the right—something I usually don't like but on this lively tune, why not?

I suppose some might say this album is of music that's come and gone, whose time has passed, but it's called "Vintage" for a reason and wouldn't you like to step into that 1936 cover shot if just for an afternoon? Folks of a certain "vintage" recognize the Davega name at the bottom of the Philco billboard. The retailer sold radios (obviously) then moved into sporting goods and later into vinyl records. Now the name is on the cover of one well into the 21st century. A highly recommended album for both music and sound. If you collect "Tone Poet" BN's you'll surely dig this.

The tech details: recorded to multitrack analog tape at Oktaven Audio on a Studer A800 MKIII at 30 IPS, mixed on a custom 1/2" tube Ampex 351 at 30 IPS and cut " from the analog tape using g an all-tube system." Usually at Bernie's this means it bypasses the board with the tape machine's output plugged directly into the lathe (or straight through as possible). Nicely pressed on 180g vinyl at Gotta Groove in Cleveland.

For now the only way to purchase the vinyl is through Sabbagh's website (digital is on Bandcamp). The vinyl edition's executive producer was Swiss electronics manufacturer darTZeel.

The only sour note is the odd way in which the album title and artists are (not) integrated into the cover art. The large black rectangle above the album title looks as if something been redacted!

Music Specifications

Catalog No: SSC 1698 LP

Pressing Plant: Gotta Groove


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: 1/2" 30 IPS master tape

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-12-08 03:53:16 PM

    Jerome Sabbagh wrote:

    Thanks a lot for this great review! If anyone wants to order the AAA vinyl for "Vintage", it's available at R2R tapes are also available. Thank you!

    Jerome Sabbagh

    • 2023-12-08 03:58:33 PM

      Anton wrote:

      I'm in! Great review and a big thanks to your for popping in!

    • 2023-12-09 09:14:17 AM

      Come on wrote:

      Besides the good music, great you took the effort to record analog and let one of the best master!

      Can you give a hint how much more difficult and expensive such an AAA production is for you as customer compared to digitize the master or record digitally from start?

      I ask because I always wonder why even experienced folks like Zev Feldman with his analog recorded RSD remasters, let all the analog sources digitize to press it on vinyl. It’s a shame in my opinion. Can’t be so much more expensive that people wouldn’t prefer it AAA.

      • 2023-12-09 10:59:57 AM

        Jerome Sabbagh wrote:

        The answer depends on whether the album is a new production or a reissue.

        For a new production, such as mine, it is much more expensive to keep it AAA. The cost of blank tape alone is in the several thousands of dollars. Everything about tape is expensive. Even after recording/mixing, you have to physically assemble the oversize reels, one for each side, to cut the record. If you have any edits to do, they take up much more studio time, as opposed to being done in minutes in Pro Tools. All this adds up to considerable expense that is hard to recoup, especially in a niche market such as jazz. And that's in addition to paying the band, the studio, the recording engineer etc. It is very expensive and the only way to finance it is through the support of people interested in buying music on vinyl, people such as yourself.

        As far as reissues, I really can't speak to how Zev Feldman, for whom I have great respect, does what he does, and why he does it, but I imagine he has good reasons if his productions are not AAA (and personally, I have no idea if they are or not). In theory, with an existing master, it should not be much more expensive to cut it from the tape and keep it AAA but whatever the reissue label is, they might not actually have that kind of access to the tapes. It's very possible that whoever has the rights to the tapes doesn't want to let them out of where they are stored. The only choice then becomes copying the master tape, which is not trivial to do really well and cutting from that, or making the best possible digital capture of it, and cutting from it. It's not AAA anymore at that point and it certainly won't be the same, but there might not always be a choice to keep it analog, and cutting from a copy is not ideal either.

        • 2023-12-09 11:14:49 AM

          Come on wrote:

          Thanks so much Jerome, very interesting!

          Regarding Zev Feldman’s reissues, it was at least my knowledge that most or all of them were digital transfers. Michael might be able to give more insight, but at least those releases provide no transparency how they are produced other than that the initial source was tape.

  • 2023-12-08 03:56:02 PM

    Jerome Sabbagh wrote:

    And, by the way, yes, the mastering board was indeed bypassed at Bernie Grundman's!

  • 2023-12-08 04:58:46 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    I'm in!

    Jerome, so great that you've recorded this old school. I look forward to giving it a spin, and to seeing you live in NYC or Boston

  • 2023-12-08 11:18:02 PM

    Josquin des Prez wrote:

    My copy is currently on a USPS road trip. I'm waiting for it to stop in to stay a while. :)

  • 2023-12-09 06:48:08 AM

    Gary Saluti wrote:

    I'm enjoying it! Michael, your comments were dead on.

  • 2023-12-09 06:06:12 PM

    rshak wrote:

    I own all of Mr. Sabbagh's LP releases to date, having bought them on Kickstarter. I enjoy each one, but Vintage is my favorite to date - very fine performances and sound. And - - - I really dig the cover art.

  • 2023-12-09 06:12:55 PM

    JACK L wrote:


    " from the analog tape using g an all-tube system." Usually at Bernie's this means it bypasses the board with the tape machine's output plugged directly into the lathe (or straight through as possible). " qtd M F

    What a "vintage" way of making superb music ! I am sure they should sound pretty musical & enjoyable !

    Keep it up !!

    JACK L

  • 2023-12-09 07:52:03 PM

    tony a wrote:

    I thank Michael for referencing Jerome's LP "The Turn" back then and helping to start a trend. I am looking forward to hearing my copy of Vintage. Saving it to open on Christmas. Shalom !

  • 2023-12-16 05:06:43 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    Now having listened...Wow. My favorite records always leave me a bit shaky afterwards, as if I've seen a good concert, but I'm still at home. This one is in that category--beautiful, spell-binding music, like a meditation on a rainy night. An 11 on sonics, but in a subtle, not in your face way. It's kind of like the recording itself disappears. On both the music and the sonics, this goes to-to-toe with my other recent faves, the Aja and A Love Supreme UHQRs. But unlike those, Vintage sneaks up on you and sucks you into a peaceful harmonic groove. My only dilemma was that I had nothing else that I wanted to listen to I played it again. Congratulations, Jerome!