Curtis Amy, Dupree Bolton: Katanga! (1963) Pacific Jazz (TP, 2021)

Selection: Native Land (Amy)

.  .  .

Artists:

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. 

Dupree would seem to have been incarcerated for many years, a forgotten victim of the war on drugs drug-addicted musicians. He died in 1993, age 64.

Music

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.

Insert

A very insightful and powerfully-written piece, well worth a little eye-strain.

Collector’s Corner

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.

UK Fontana, mono 1962: Native Land

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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 Evil Digital

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.

LJC

Whatever your choice of format, you need this music in your life. Youtube choice cuts while they last:

23 thoughts on “Curtis Amy, Dupree Bolton: Katanga! (1963) Pacific Jazz (TP, 2021)

  1. A lovely album.
    There is a fantastic piece on Dupree Bolton in Granta Magazine by Richard Williams called ‘Searching For Dupree Bolton’. Worth searching out.

  2. Delighted this wonderful work has appeared on this equally wonderful site. Firstly, thank you LJC, (surely soon to be Sir LJC) for shining the heavily smoke laden spotlight onto this true masterpiece and possibly groundbreaking and influential recording? Not just in the jazz world, but the cooler ends of blues, rock and all points between. Carol K knew. She used Curtis on one of the biggest selling records of all time – Tapestry, as you all will know. With Amy’s yearningly melodic soprano statement on It’s Too Late, a key sound on that record, and with 25 plus million sales and counting, it’s not too late to acknowledge this unique saxophonist’s contribution to the culture. In fact the west coast vibe and groove on LJC’s selected track is not only singular but powerfully subliminal. Cross referenced, no doubt across the now revered 70’s long form jazz/blues rock recordings of bands like The Allmans, the Doors, Clapton et al. Who knew? Well maybe, but it’s a reasonable thought. The Katanga album taken as a whole thrills throughout, varies wildly in pace and dynamic, without low points and moments of real beauty and grace. It is varied yet as of a piece and best listened to in one sitting, ears wide open and all extraneous thoughts and distractions banished. Then repeat. It’s possible, although I’ve lost this argument before, that non-jazz lovers might “get” this record, I still hold out hope and encouragement to those poor souls. The TP product is faultless in every respect and an absolute credit to all involved. The cover is moodily magnificent. The included notes moving and informative. The playback format of choice diminishes somewhat because the sheer emotional quality and standard of the material transcends the need for the pure audiophile experience. Obviously, nice if you have that luxury. The term “Influencer”, today has a new connotation, and great financial reward for some of those successful in their field. But if artistic respect is currency, then this quintet of relative musical strangers (and with all due credit to K Gray and company), on the strength of their creation of this truly beautiful record are now rightly very rich indeed as this landmark jazz album comes of age and hopefully extends it’s audience. Katanga my good friends and thank you Sir LJC.

  3. Listening to and comparing the samples of both pressings, I was reminded of testing to different amplifier-CD-player combinations. One sounded cleaner, with more details, kind of like the Tone Poet sample, the other one sounded more alive, but also kind of muddy – the “muddiness” I can also hear in the Fontana sample, the liveliness of course not.
    In the end, I decided for the amplifier and CD player that gave me the clean, more detailed sound. The other system did not satisfy me, although I enjoyed the liveliness – I wanted to crank up the volume to hear more details, which was not possible.
    I can only suppose that comparing modern audiophile vinyl and vintage vinyl gives me a similar experience. I will not know anytime soon, since my budget only allows be to buy readily available reissues.

  4. Definitely a top 10 title for me as well. I have a pristine first mono pressing, but I still picked up the Tone Poet release to compare the two, and I drew a similar conclusion as your hifi buddy. The mono plays with more punch, but the stereo still isn’t bad.

    I also have another original pressing, not quite as clean as the aforementioned copy, but it’s signed by Curtis Amy on the back, which makes it a keeper.

  5. I have listened to 4 recordings of Native Land , the 2 you posted plus my 1984 Charley LP UK issue and the Mosaic select 2003 CD issue and my conclusion is , to quote a Dewey Redman album ,it is in ” The Ear of the Behearer”. .I always judge an album firstly on the music and then if can I hear it in the way I like ,clear ,strong treble and bass but retaining that mellow vinyl sound.
    That is why I have kept my 60 year old custom speakers and purchased a graphic equalizer many years back when I got sick of what engineers, record companies etc were doing to what should be a simple transfer system. But I digress, of the 4 I like what tone poet have done but I think the Mosaic CD meets my criteria .I must also comment on your Jack Wilson note about basically vanishing into the world of film etc. Wilson had a number of albums out before signing with the “holy grail” label. 2 fine outings on Atlantic as a trio ( 2 sides of) and then a quartet ( with Roy Ayers) and a wonderful album on Vault called Ramblin’. He later also had albums out on Discovery. He toured with Sonny Stitt in 1981 and cut an album whilst in Australia with Stitt on the AIM label.
    My favourite Amy is the live ” Tippin’ on through” ,another Pacific Jazz release.

  6. Curtis Amy’s wife – of 32 years – was Merry Clayton, who, among many notable achievements, sang the duet with Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter.” Her brother was Sam Clayton, percussionist with the band Little Feat. Amy’s and Merry’s bios on Wikipedia are quite interesting. Thanks for highlighting another nice album, new to me, to investigate.

  7. Also have a copy of the original Pacific Jazz Mono – more than happy with it, so will ‘stick’.

    That Fontana pressing from the link sounds pretty good too.

    • Also wanted to add that I remember the tune ‘Amyable’ being used as theme music for some BBC TV show in the UK (or maybe it was radio?) many years ago but can’t recall the title. Maybe something like ‘Call My Bluff’?

      Anyone have any idea?

  8. An inspired choice from Joe Harley; an album new to me. Abdul I’ve it.

    FYI: the clip of the TP below the mono won’t play but the one under the cover shot does as does the mono.

  9. Let’s celebrate the discovery, or re- birth of Jazz beyond Blue Note. This album alone will serve to make this a reality. There’s a hell of a lot of great jazz that B.N. did not produce and I firmly believe that if you let your ears guide you, the discovery will amaze you and your wallet will thank you !

    • Define digital presentation? As in “sounds a bit like listening to a CD”. The observation came from one who listens to both vinyl and CD. He is describing how it sounds to him, comparing the modern stereo to the vintage mono. They are both cut from original tapes, but by different engineers, and they don’t sound the same.

  10. I’m fortunate to own an original Pacific Jazz stereo pressing of this wonderful record, so I don’t feel a compulsion to acquire the new Tone Poet. However, I do want to take a moment to praise everybody involved in the Tone Poet series for opting to make this date widely available again. It deserves much wider recognition and everybody’s ears deserve the pleasure of hearing it. In my book, Katanga! is the ultimate example of the whole far exceeding the sum of the parts.

  11. Have the japanese replica reissue of Pacific Jazz (NS) by T oshiba-EMI Ltd

    From the series « Pacific Jazz Collection » issued with cat# PJ 0070 from 1992.

    Sounds great.

    • I have the Japanese and it’s all very well done and a lovely pressing, but I do find the sound a bit bland, I’d almost call the presentation boring, unfortunately although I also have the Tone Poet I have yet to play it let alone do a direct comparison, but I’m hoping and expecting it will be a much more involving and enjoyable listen.

  12. KATANGA was reissued (replica edition with black & silver center label) in Japan in April 22, 1992 – acc OBI barcode = 4 988006 669956
    You can look it up at Discogs.

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