Curtis Amy, Dupree Bolton: Katanga! (1963) Pacific Jazz/ UK Fontana.

Selection: Native Land

.  .  .

Artists

Dupree Bolton, trumpet; Curtis Amy, tenor, soprano sax; Jack Wilson, piano; Ray Crawford, guitar; Vic Gaskin, bass; Doug Sides, drums. Pacific Jazz Studios, Hollywood, CA, February 3, 1963

Music

Katanga!?  At LJC I sometimes like to cover angles not found in the Gawp-at-Ebay Prices!/ DJ Groovylicious! sphere. Music in a moment, first, a short geo-political history diversion, let’s go deep: who what where is Katanga!? What’s the beef?

At the time of the Pacific Jazz recording, Katanga was a short-lived secessionist state in central Africa led by Moïse Tshombe (1960-63). Mineral-rich Katanga seceded from the newly formed independent Republic of Congo, which in 1960 was given independence from Belgium . The Republic of Congo first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba sought international assistance to suppress Katangese secession. All under the shadow of the Cold War machinations involving Russia, China, the UN, Belgium, Britain’s MI6 and the USA, with alleged nefarious CIA involvement. Any of this sound familiar? Various internecine political twists led to Lumumba being imprisoned and, at the behest of Katangan authorities allegedly under Belgian influence, executed by firing squad in January 1961. For context, this occured shortly before the inauguration of US President JFK.

Katanga! was recorded for Pacific Jazz early in 1963.  Of the former fiefdom of Belgian King Leopold II of the Belgians, the Belgian Congo, what started as the independent Republic of the Congo (1960), became the People’s Republic of the Congo (1964), and following a military coup led by General Mobutu, became the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1966), which was of course not, as its name implied, democratic, but a dictatorship. Often such things are the mirror-opposite of what they say.  Just to confuse everyone, in 1971, DR Congo was renamed  Zaire, bait and switch, with Mobuto still in charge, one of Africa’s most reviled dictators. Mobutu ruled the country, which long included previously breakaway state of Katanga, with a rod of iron and with his  cronies stole all its wealth, bleeding it dry over 32 years.

What has this got to do with Curtis Amy and Dupree Bolton? Very little probably, but I was curious how an album came to be called Katanga!  The name would have been a big international news item at the time. Perhaps the album title and cover art  was simply record company “Afro-turfing“™ a generic association with  roots and heritage.  According to my reading of the transitional phase of ’60s post-colonial African liberation, a politically more astute title might have been Lumumba!, but maybe Pacific Jazz’s Richard Bock had a different angle on the world at that time. Maybe I should stick to the music.

History Class dismissed, on to the Music.

All-Music awarded Katanga! four stars out of five, which is high praise indeed for All-Music, but  rating systems can be deceptive. Consider, perhaps  there are only one or two recordings worthy of five stars,  so to save the five-star ranking for them, the maximum award for all other recordings can only be four stars. Well  I give Katanga! five stars. If something better shows up, I’ll give that six.

The piece de resistance of the album, Native Land, is a huge ten minute modal canvas setting off inspired playing by everyone, a stunning  tour de force. All the more shocking to me as with the exception of pianist Jack Wilson ( Liberty Blue Note 8270 Easterly Winds ), I knew little or nothing of any of the musicians. LJC feet of clay!

It is not an every-day West Coast Pacific Jazz recording, but something quite extraordinary, an East Coast vibe straight out of the Blue Note playbook of 1963, parallel-running the mighty BLP 4154 Grant Green Idle Moments – one of a handful of albums I would award six stars out of five:  Jack Wilson’s cascading piano shadowing Duke Pearson, Curtis Amy’s fluent and lyrical tenor in for gruff Joe Henderson, Ray Crawford in for Grant Green, Dupree Bolton’s  poignant tone with a touch of fellow Pacific Jazz horn Carmel Jones, the rhythm section carrying the suspended-in-time mood and flow.

All of the other tracks contain some of the same magic, a masterpiece imagined out of thin air, by artists of obscure standing and futures, who by rights could not have produced such a momentous album, which is surely the business of only five-star artists. Magic happens, deal with it.  It is a crying shame that there would be no further recordings from this quintet.

Curtis Amy has a modest but significant discography, but what of enigmatic Bolton Dupree? Trumpeter Bewis Dupree Bolton first broke on the scene on Harold Land’s The Fox a rapid-fire 1959 outing which attracted  “considerable interest owing to Bolton’s inventive bop styling” (according to All-Music’s Scott Yannow). Unfortunately Bolton’s  narcotic habits also attracted considerable interest from the boys in blue, which put him away soon after. Three years later Bolton turned up with Curtis Amy on Katanga!, “startlingly individualistic soloing was inventive and fully formed, his work showing a man of imagination and in complete command of his instrument” (Yannow)  . I can only assume his time in the Big House was put too good practice use.

After the Katanga! session, Bolton made a further long-term disappearance, with no recording session of note except with the Oklahoma Prison Band, a session captured by the Jazz-Internist, the other DottorJazz, Dr. Robert E. Sunenblick, internal physician and part-time Canadian, proprietor of Uptown Records, sadly only available on the Evil Silver Disc™

The question remains what a musician  Bolton could have become, a fine trumpet voice, wasted.  But then the history of jazz is littered with unrealised talent. Scott La Faro anyone? Tina Brooks? You can probably think of others.

Vinyl:  Fontana  UK mono  of Pacific Jazz PJ-70

This copy is Philips Fontana label first European release, Dutch pressing, dating from 1963. Generally these are close-to original status, sometimes with a condition advantage. It’s a trifle on the bright side but faithful mono. The proof of the pudding is US comparator, sadly missing. Pacific Jazz are usually superior, source original tape mix.

 

Collector’s Corner

I haven’t been so excited about a piece of music in a long time. I recall being recommended it by a reader, but it never actually crossed my path until a couple of weeks ago. Seems everyone else knew except me. I picked up the 80’s Affinity reissue a label, something I would normally avoid, but to my surprise it was quite acceptable sonically, but oh my, the music, wow, a sublime modal monster.

I took my Affinity copy around to a listening session with a friend, and surprise surprise they pulled an “original” Fontana UK issue off their shelf, prompting an A:B on the spot. No doubt about it,  the Fontana showed more class and substance, so an upgrade was sought urgently.

The Pacific Jazz US original seemed hard to come by in top condition, expensive and mostly only from  US sources, which has its issues for us across the pond,  so that will have to wait, but a Fontana came fairly readily to hand, and took  immediate pride of place on the turntable. Maybe I’m late to the party, but I say better late than never. Critical appreciation seems almost totally absent on-line for such an iconic album. Maybe I’m on my own here. Anyone have thoughts on this record I’d be interested.

LJC

 

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17 thoughts on “Curtis Amy, Dupree Bolton: Katanga! (1963) Pacific Jazz/ UK Fontana.

  1. The esteemed critic Richard Williams put together his dream Junkie Quintet with Bolton and Brooks partnered by Dick Twardzik,Albert Stinson and Frank Butler. Plenty of other candidates unfortunately but not Scott La Faro who didn’t partake and died in an automobile accident

    • Richard also wrote a fascinating piece on Dupree Bolton which featured in an edition of literary publication Granta, sometime in the late 90s. I think it is also in Richard’s book of collected music writing that came out in the early 2000s. It was called Searching For Dupree Bolton.
      Would love to read it again, I think it involved someone – maybe Harold Land The Fox producer David Axelrod – meeting Dupree busking in San Francisco.

        • Richard Williams strikes again, I’ll copy the centrepiece here for posterity as links can disappear over time, simply beautifully put:

          “His sound was strong and brilliant, his attack swift and bright. The notes
          swarmed out of his horn, impatient to be heard, slanting back and forth
          across the chords and vaulting the bar lines. He tended to come out of the
          gate already moving through the music at full speed, as if he thought there
          was no time to waste, but he knew the value of a moment’s unexpected
          silence, and he could stroke a ballad with an old-fashioned elegance while
          probing beneath its surface. Even under the fiercest pressure, weaving
          through complex chord sequences at the highest tempo, his phrases were
          unfolded with a confidence that seems strangely chilling now.

          He died with nothing, with no family or friends on hand to mourn him, without even an authentic identity. Yet to listen to his music today is to hear the sound of exhilaration, of transcendence, of beauty imagined into life.”

          Amen.

  2. Nice post. It is a great album, indeed. My version is the Japanese Toshiba PJ-0070 reissue from 1992 and I have no objections towards the sound, pretty good transfer actually.

  3. This is my first comment since signing up to LRC and I agree this was a great outing for both Amy and Bolton. Have a few bits of information that could be of interest . Harvey Pekar reviewed the album for Down Beat for the September 26 , 1963 edition and gave it 3 1/2 stars. He was not overly impressed with Bolton and some of Amy’s soprano work , keeping most of the praise for Crawford and Wilson. (Probably one of the reasons I gave up reading magazines and making up my own mind). The other slice of information is Amy and Bolton can be seen on Frankly Jazz ( you tube) doing Blues for Amy , Katanga , Summertime , and Laura ( a feature for Bolton.) in trendy black and white. Rhythm section was Dolo Coker , Vic Gaskin and Ronnie Selico These tracks are also available on the Uptown release already mentioned. Keep digging up those nuggets please.

  4. Glad, delighted, overjoyed that you have finally succumbed to this terrific record. It is a genuine forgotten masterpiece and one that proves the old adage that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Bolton has almost mythic status among those who have heard him.

    I spent three years tracking down my copy of this beauty. Price is not the problem; rather a combination of scarcity and condition. But I eventually nailed a Pacific Jazz stereo first in gorgeous condition with a superb laminated cover. It came from Germany, of all places. I have a theory that US service personnel left a lot of goodies behind on the continent during the cold war.

    If any of your other readers get the chance, they should snap up a copy. If they can’t wait for an original, they could try the French label Heavenly Sweetness’ reissue.

      • Same here with the minty original – not from a German dealer though.

        The ‘Frankly Jazz’ video of this group is essential viewing. The host is touting this particular album on the show, hot off the press.

  5. Wow. Thanks for profiling this album! I had never heard of it, and other than Ray Crawford (one-time guitarist with Ahmad Jamal in the early 1950’s), wasn’t familiar with any of the musicians here. I’ll have to check out the rest of the album and the artists on it.

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