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Dupree Bolton, trumpet; Curtis Amy, tenor, soprano sax; Jack Wilson, piano; Ray Crawford, guitar; Vic Gaskin, bass; Doug Sides, drums; recorded at Pacific Jazz Studios, Hollywood, CA, February 3, 1963, engineer Richard Bock.
Jack Wilson! Wonderfully melodic pianist who flowered briefly under Blue Note, and disappeared into commercial music production for film and TV.
Dupree Bolton was, in a unfortunate turn of phrase, criminally under-recorded. Harold Land’s The Fox (1959) and Katanga! (1963) were his only significant work, and just a couple of tracks with altoist Earl Anderza that appear only on a Mosaic CD MS 029 composer/arranger/band leader Onzy Matthews. Hard to be more obscure than this.
The remarkable Bob Sunenblick’s Uptown label issued a CD (2008) of the few recordings of Bolton, including five short tracks from the Oklahoma Prison Band, Joseph Harp Correctional Centre, recorded seventeen years after Katanga!, in 1980.
Katanga! is one of the Seven Wonders of the Vinyl World. Life beyond Blue Note, an exceptional choice from the guiding force of The Tone Poet,
In 1963, six otherwise little known musicians (Amy had several earlier titles for the label) stepped into the Pacific Jazz studio in Hollywood and recorded one of the most beautiful and unique jazz recordings ever. And in a puff of smoke, the group disappeared, other priorities and opportunities sent the musicians spinning in other directions.
Once in a while it happens in music, when everything was right. The compositions strike a certain mood, each musician inspired by the others, the session takes on a life of its own, and beauty is born. Another recording to approach the Kind Of Blue elite collection level, alongside Blues and The Abstract Truth.
Amy’s compositions and spare arrangements are inspired. Dupree Bolton’s trumpet is strident and triumphant. Amy’s soprano sax adds an ethereal spirit, dancing in the upper register. The heraldic opening slides sideways into a modal centre. Jack Wilson’s reverberating piano establishes a hypnotic landscape in which time is suspended, rolling backwards and forwards while Ray Crawford’s repeated choppy chords add percussive texture and colour. The extended solos ebb and flow with the mood, especially Wilson’s rapid-fire bluesy cascades and Crawford’s bluesy string ride, filling over ten minutes of suspended time.
Amy had an ear for bold composition and dramatic execution. Other tracks have similar force and originality, they are all good, especially the title track Katanga! More Youtube selections at the foot of the post.
Vinyl: B0032877-01 Pacific Jazz ST 70 – remastered from original tapes by Kevin Gray.
Expansive musical soundstage, dynamic and tonal range, the same trick as on Blue Note original tapes.
A very insightful and powerfully-written piece, well worth a little eye-strain.
It’s around three years since I found the vintage UK Fontana mono edition of Katanga! released by Philips around the same time as the Pacific Jazz edition. This is one of my top ten albums of all time, so how could I resist a Tone Poet stereo edition to complement it.
How do they sound head to head? WordPress player side by side so you can flip the same section between the two. Let’s find out.
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US Tone Poet, stereo, 2021: Native Land (link fixed)
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Sound Check: The Three-Wise Listening Panel – Hear No
Comparative listening is like wine-tasting, only with the ears. The other difference is that a bottle of rosé – Cotes de Provence, naturally – helps sharpen the critical faculties. Well, initially at least. Pictured on the listening sofa with LJC: Man-in-a-Shed, and Mr Speaker! (No primates were harmed in the making of this picture)
Comparison is most effective in the company of others, who share their initial thoughts. “Dry, fruity, slightly pettilant, aroma of red berries and a hint of spice…very nice. Now let’s move on to the music.
I prefer to start with the vintage vinyl, then on to the modern edition, so you are hearing the progress, or lack of progress, in fifty years. The passing of time does not always equate to progress. In those years the priority has been to make things cheaper, and more convenient, nothing to do with making them sound better. Convincing listeners it sounds better is left to the Marketing Department.
A couple of minutes to get the ears in gear, then swap records over, same again, swap back. Often you need to increase the volume for lower-gain modern recordings. Personally, I think lowering the gain, to pack the grooves and keep the tonearm away from the centre of the record is a poor solution to a non-problem, but they are all doing it. But I am not an engineer, just a listener.
A couple of repeats usually crystalises opinions, and other people’s observations helps direct your own focus. Surprising how often the observation “seems slower” turns up a summary effect of weaknesses in presentation. Also, the musicality of the bass – taut and musical, or wooly and muffled? And the highest frequencies, ringing cymbals, or hardly audible on some editions, is it the same recording?
The original stereo Pacific Jazz would be fairer comparison but I don’t have it. You work with what you have, basically, the same recording. The mono vs.stereo is a confounding factor as modern editions are almost always stereo, vintage often mono. No-one goes out to buy an exact matching copy merely to compare it. Partial knowledge is often all we have, but preferable to nothing.
Another listening session with the hi-fi buddies, after more bottles of pink, arrived at the same conclusion as with the remastered Blues And The Abstract Truth. While I had been listening quite happily to the modern stereo for a couple of weeks, a focussed listening session for the sole purpose of comparison, A:B a couple of times to and fro, sharing our reactions to the music, was a revelation.
The vintage mono pressing has a muscular musical force which has the music shining through, figuratively, punching you in the face. The modern stereo is slightly skinny, more reserved, and despite being mastered from the original tapes, leans towards a digital presentation. That observation came from Mr Speaker! who listens to a lot of digitally-sourced music through his impressive valve-based hifi.
The moral of the story is, that without comparison, you don’t know very much, especially if you are content with a high quality modern production which you assume must be better.
Vintage pressings more than hold their own, and introduce a dimension of musicality that somehow escapes modern AAA engineering. I think the low gain may be a contributor to the difference, but I have no real idea why, and there are a lot of issues that go with sourcing vintage pressings, which many of you will be very aware of – price, postage and customs charges, and the disappointment that comes with over-optimistic grading. (A reader shared with me his experience of a badly scratched record graded as “near-mint”. Near mint, just not very near.) At the end of the day, you make your own choices.
Hey LJC, it’s all the same music, isn’t it? Well no, unfortunately for some of us, it isn’t.
Whatever your choice of format, you need this music in your life. Youtube choice cuts while they last: