Selection: Native Land
. . .
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
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.
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.