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Sam Records - Made in France

Sam Records

Made in France

The Sam Records label brings French-American jazz history back to life.

If we vinyl nerds are being completely honest, we have to admit that in terms of sound quality, analog music playback is in dire straits in the face of current digital technology. This fact makes all the little things that go beyond the pure pleasure of musical enjoyment all the more important: haptics, visuality, historical cultural testimony and much more. But reissues in particular, especially in the jazz sector, often fail to breathe this extra atmosphere and historical spirit. This is ultimately the reason why many jazz fans prefer to rummage through first, second or even third pressings on the Internet or at record fairs.

And this is where Fred Thomas’ small and exquisite label Sam Records comes into play. The charm and success of the label is mainly due to the fact that Thomas found his way into his own record label primarily through his profession as a photographer and jazz lover. In 2006, he became personally aqcuainted with saxophonist Nathan Davis and decided to re-release a recording by Davis from 1965, bringing the entire spirit of the original LP back to life – in the best possible quality, not only in terms of sound and pressing, but also in terms of the cover and photography.

Sam Records - Made in France

The search for the author of the cover picture led him to Jean-Pierre Leloir, a legendary photographer who had been capturing the musical events in Paris on film for many years. The label’s catalog now includes more than 15 recordings from the years 1955 to 1968, all recorded in France, some of which have not been published previously or are very difficult to obtain as original editions. Holding one of the LPs in your hand, the first thing that’ll amaze you will be the loving visual and tactile restoration work, which goes the entire way down to the period appropriate crease at the rim of the covers, sometimes even retaining the original 10-inch format. The excellently reproduced photographs perfectly reflect the mixture of American coolness and French savoir-vivre of the time, which is often reflected in the collaboration between American and French musicians.

One of the label’s oldest recordings is the Chet Baker Quartet session that took place in the Pathé Magellan Studio in Paris in October 1955 and primarily featured Bob Zieff playing fresh compositions at sight. Apart from the quartet’s spirited performance, it is above all the studio’s astonishingly high level of recording expertise that makes audiophiles’ hearts beat faster. This statement actually applies to all re-released studio recordings on Sam Records. Fred Thomas makes every effort to avoid a typical label sound and concentrates on the original quality of the analog master.

Sam Records - Made in France

In the case of the live recording of the Donald Byrd Quintet from the Olympia in Paris, Thomas explicitly draws attention to some of the recording’s shortcomings that could not be retouched; any digital optimization, on the other hand, he firmly rejects. Even so, the differences between the studio and live recordings are generally marginal, a further indication of how well the French sound engineers at Philips, Fontana and Brunswick understood their craft in those years.

Sam Records - Made in France

The extraordinarily cool session by the Ronnell Bright Trio, recorded by Polydor at the Studio des Dames in 1958, is a revelation in terms of dynamics and, despite its 65 years of age, demonstrates what is so often wrong with recording technology these days.

Sam Records - Made in France

The recordings with Nathan Davis are particularly noteworthy. The Kansas-born tenor saxophonist spent many years in France and was a regular guest on the European tours of Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey. The previously unreleased ORTF radio concerts from 1967/68 are undoubtedly a musical highlight of the label.

Sam Records - Made in France

My personal favorite, however, is the album Jazz sur Seine, on which Milt Jackson can be heard as a pianist for once and, above all, a just 21-year-old Barney Wilen shows how you combine cool, bop and Latin. Genius made in France.

Sam Records - Made in France

Sam Records – Select Publications

John Lewis & Sacha Distel: Afternoon In Paris (SAM12005)

Donald Byrd Quintet: Parisian Thoroughfare (Live) (SAM87904)

Milt Jackson, Barney Wilen:
Jazz sur Seine (SAM77127)

Chet Baker Quartet:
Featuring Dick Twardzik (SAM84009)

Nathan Davis & Georges Arvanitas Trio:
Live in Paris – The ORTF Recordings 1966/1967 (SAM20)

The Ronnell Bright Trio: The Ronnell Bright Trio (SAM46106)


The stated retail price of the reviewed device is valid as of the time of the review and is subject to change.