Kenny Dorham “Afro-Cuban” (1955)

Track Selection: “Minors Holiday”


Kenny Dorham (tp) Hank Mobley (ts) Cecil Payne (bars) JJ Johnson (trom) Horace Silver (p) Percy Heath/ Oscar Pettiford (b) Art Blakey (d) Carlos “Potato” Valdes (congas)   recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, January 30/ 29 March 1955


First released in 1955 on 10″ Blue Note, and subsequently re-released on 12″ LP in 1957 with additional tracks and new artwork, on Lexington . This is a copy of the latter version, as reissued in Japan. The line up is magnificent, with one of my favourite bassists Oscar Pettiford, plus JJ Johnson, Hank Mobley, Cecil Payne and Horace Silver, though if I were Charlie Valdez I wouldn’t be too delighted with the nickname “potato”. Skin or shape, it doesn’t flatter.  Blakey powers along as you might expect, no surprises there. Dorham is in his best peppy form ,with his trademark rapid bursts of notes in twisting trails . Mobley excels in his generous solo space and Cecil Payne’s baritone adds some welcome texture, whilst adding a little JJ can never be wrong.

As the title implies it’s a riproaring latin-infused bop session –  time to brush up your steps to the Mambo, or may be just light up that Cuban cigar. “Hey Muchachos, Vaya con Dios!” I think I remember that from a Spaghetti western, it sounded sort of Latino.

Vinyl Stuff

Japanese pressing by Toshiba-EMI dating from November 1983, nearly thirty years old itself, though reissued twenty years after the original Blue Note release  on Lexington labels. It may be considered one of Dorham’s best recordings as regards musical content, but as an audio recording it leaves something to be desired. 1955 was a little early in the way of recording technology, especially microphones, and it does sometimes sound a little boxed in, and occasionally the mikes overload.

Collectors Corner

“Tell me Miss Playmate, what was it first attracted you to a 79-year-old billionaire”?  Yes, it was money that caused me to fish out my copy of Kenny Dorham’s Afro-Cuban. $1,293.66 to be precise, in its closing eBay auction. From time to time I like to watch the closing minutes of auctions for highly collectible records. Anyone can do it, just click on “ending soonest” over at Collectors Weekly and watch

Kenny Dorham’s Afro-Cuban’s  record came up, on Lexington!!

I was taken a back by the closing price, and curious about who would pay $1300 dollars for this very early Blue Note. First, the screen at 0 seconds to close:

Next up, the thirty-day trading summary of the “lucky” winner. Phew! Score over 1,000, makes thirty eBay bids a day, all on records, and he likes to chase the action, putting in up to six bids on the same item. He doesn’t like losing. If they were all big-ticket items like this one, he would be spending up to $100k a month on records. I can remember putting in three bids overnight and woke up terrified I had won them all.

That evening I  sat back and played my Japanese copy of Afro-Cuban. It’s very good. The Toshiba sounds great, but I can imagine it firing up as a 1st pressing on Lexington, fizzling with excitement. Dorham’s bright trail of notes, Mobley in your living room, tenor and baritone duelling, that would be very very exciting. I couldn’t have paid $1,300 for it, but the auction prompted me to hear the record afresh.

I hadn’t played this for a long time. It was one of my first jazz purchases three years ago, which cost me all of £18.  Hearing it now, I can now appreciate it in a way I couldn’t have as a jazz-rookie. So a good outcome. I hope the buyer gets as much pleasure from listening to it as I have, hopefully $1,250 more. Now, where’s that cigar?

13 thoughts on “Kenny Dorham “Afro-Cuban” (1955)

  1. Pingback: Kenny Dorham – Afro-Cuban – RVJ []

  2. I just Picked up Trompeta Toccata after a very long search. Liberty Stereo Vangelder stamp, And I think its the most dynamic Liberty Pressing I have to date. Holy Moly did it blow my socks away!! The pressing is nothing out of the Ordinary. It does have a 114 in the deadwax. I can’t imagine it being better. Completely in awe with this pressing and extremely satisfied.


  3. Fantastic Post, I would love to hear that 10″. I have a Lexington, pretty beat up though. still sounds better than the CD.

    I just love “K.D.’s Motion”, quintessential hard bop, and underrated gem for sure!


  4. Now that’s a great link. Too bad however that nobody in that thread can 100% conclusively confirm the story though… But, as you can see and read: we’re not that far away from the actual truth behind the Japanese reissues! One extra remark though: in the thread above they talk about 2nd generation masters made from the actual masters, but that’s incorrect. If you put the actual master tape from the Blue Note vault on one reel to reel machine and copy it to a blank tape on another, then that copy is the 1st generation master tape. And I think that’s what the ‘Japs’ have. Because a 2nd generation master is a tape, pulled off a 1st generation copy, which would mean even worse sound, since it’s a copy of copy, you see? The guy in the above thread must mistakenly assume that the actual master is the 1st generation and therefore talks about 2nd gen. masters. Still it’s weird to know that it’s apparently possible to press perfect sounding LPs from 1st generation masters, don’t you think?


    • I hear you. Having quite a few copies of Blue Note releases in both original Plastylite and King/Toshiba pressings, there are big differences in how they sound, which I think can not be put down to just pressing. There is another Master Race out there. Someone knows, and they are not telling.


  5. I saw that, too. And I, too, was wondering what it would mean. My two cents: the very first actual LP master for Cool Struttin’ ever made was cut in 1958 in order to then press the now so desirable BLP 1588. If Sawano uses THAT tape, instead of one of the later “RVG remasters” like the ones that now appear on CD, then I think that’s what they mean with “original master tape with no RVG remastering”. You see? “with no RVG remastering”. So they use the actual master made by Rudy in 1958 and not a later, remastered or re-RVG’ed whatever you name it tape. But then again; that’s what I think they mean. I’m not at all sure if I’m right. Then the “pressed in USA with original machine”… Maybe an actual press that they, lord knows how, undoubtedly could retrace back to the heydays of Blue Note at Plastylite and now stands alone in a corner of a small pressing facility, coughing up Sawano’s reissues? Of course with a raised ring in the label section of the stampers, in order to press the deep groove into the labels. So no matter how you look at it: the story on what tapes were used for what pressing in what country requires some serious attention. We know that there’s a vault full of tapes. Most of them issued, some of them (still) unissued. Are those tapes actually taken out of the vault for every reissue, or not? Have they been transferred to digital to prevent further wear and tear? And there can be only one vault with the actual original, absolute very first ever made masters. You can’t have two vaults containing the exact same tapes. Someone, the Japanese in this case, must have the best possible 1st generation copies of those masters. Hence their countless rereleases, always without the bonus cuts that DO appear on US and EU pressings. Oh well, maybe we’ll never know. Or maybe someone will drop by here on LJC and tell us all about it. 😉


  6. How the Japanese sourced and source their masters remains an interesting issue that requires some serious attention. I know I’ve been beating the same drum for quite some time now, but their has to be a core of truth in it. The Japanese re-release vast amounts of classic albums on a monthly basis. Check the Japanese HMV online store and some minor research will reveal that even the hardest to find classics are all available on CD there. Since I can’t believe that actual master tapes are flown into Japan for reissue purposes, there can only be one option left: they have 1st generation copies in their own vaults, providing them all the freedom in the world to re-release whatever they want, whenever they want. It has to be like this. I once read an extensive expose about this based on the fact that the Japanese already reissued the Beatles on CD long, long before that happened over here with the usual fanfare. It would also explain the extreme hiss on some of the late 80s / early 90s Japanese CD reissues. Oh, and I just finished my Trinidad before the Mrs. came home. Now she says I smell like a run down pub at closing time… Women… 😉


    • Women. And if you cover up the cigar smoke with scented air freshener, she’ll demand to know what’s HER name. Women indeed.

      Those Japanese definitely have something in the vaults. Those crazy guys at Sawano I linked the other day claim this:

      “This is not an ordinary reissue, a digital remastering, or a multi-channel audiophile release. We are introducing The Blue Note Premium Vinyl Reissue Series. The recording is from the original master tape with no RVG remastering.”

      “Disc : Pressed in USA with Original Machine”

      Now you tell me what those last lines mean – “original master tape” and “pressed .. with original machine”


  7. Allow me to offer you a superb and crisp Trinidad Fundadore, ’cause that’s what this beauty screams for. From the CD pressing that I, of course, have I’d say that it sounds quite well actually. Not necessarily boxed in, but maybe a bit ‘dry’, since it has no added reverb or ambience to it. Maybe the Japanese had a 1st generation LP master of the original tape 😉


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