Katanga! Proves West Coast Jazz Need Not Be "Cool"

Everything is true that you might have heard or read about this “off the beaten Tone Poet path” release.

If you’re unfamiliar here’s what you should know: this 1963 release was saxophonist Curtis Amy’s 6th and final Pacific Jazz album and trumpeter Dupree Bolton’s first and last for Pacific Jazz or for anyone else—though some live television appearances with Amy were cobbled together to produce the appropriately titled Fireball. Bolton was thirty-three when this session was recorded and while he died in 1993 at age sixty four, sadly he spent much of that time either strung out or in jail on various charges. That can happen when you leave home for a jazz life on the road at age 15.

In addition to his Pacific Jazz output Curtis Amy helmed a few other recorded sessions and for a time led The Ray Charles Orchestra. He also recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Lou Rawls and Gerald Wilson and worked as a music educator and in the record business. He wasn’t averse to playing studio rock sessions. He’s heard on Carole King’s Tapestry and he played the solo on The Doors song “Touch Me”. He was married to Merry Clayton, who of course sang the searing “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” “Gimme Shelter” chorus.

This session opens with Dupree Bolton’s amped up title tune, which at first might have you thinking your turntable is spinning a familiar Blue Note kind of session accidentally at 45rpm. Bolton’s on fire out of the gate and at first Amy just lets him rip before getting into the groove, backed by Victor Gaskin on bass, Jack Wilson on piano, Doug Sides on drums and the unmistakable Ray Crawford on guitar. Fans of Gil Evans’ Out of the Cool will recognize Crawford on “Native Land”, which sounds an awful lot like Evans’ La Nevada” recorded a few years earlier.

Following the opening “barn burner”, the group settles into the bump and grind groove of “Lonely Woman,” followed by the aforementioned “Native Land” that in turn sounds something like the extended break on The Doors “Light My Fire”. It’s Crawford’s chance to take charge and he makes the most of it.

Side two opens with “Amyable”— a Jack Wilson original that also gives Crawford wide open opportunities before Bolton takes charge with a series of searing solos over drummer Sides’ insistent woody rim shots the recording so well captures. A cover of the familiar ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is” bathes Amy’s soprano sax in sultry reverb after which Bolton lays out a magnificent and muscular extended run off of the melody that makes Chet Baker’s take on the tune sound kind of soft.

The breezy closer “A Shade of Brown” gives everyone space in which to stretch out—especially Crawford. Fortunately Bolton adds plenty of dazzle before the final fade,both solo and in lock step with Amy after which he sadly exited the building, leaving unfulfilled his contract with Pacific Jazz Records.

The sound on the opening tune is somewhat bright and a bit “pinched”, which might cause you to lower the volume and think perhaps you’re in for a shrill two sides, but things turn sonically rich and full on “Lonely Woman” and remain there throughout the album.

World Pacific owner and recording engineer Richard Bock does an outstanding job recording all of the instruments, placing them in a believable three-dimensional space. Crawford’s guitar in particular is reproduced with a rich juicy/crisp tone and texture you’re sure to enjoy.

Add new useful annotation by Stereophile contributing editor and noted jazz journalist Thomas Conrad and you have a not to be missed Tone Poet release previously only available as a costly import of dubious origin. You won’t regret the purchase. I didn’t.

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dukeandduke's picture

The others don’t transport me to a gravity/beauty bomb world quite like this one. For a moment listening to this one I imagined Grant Green joining the second great quintet.

thorenssme's picture

Been loving most of the Tone Poet releases, but this one is special. Thankful they put this one out.

Slammintone's picture

So all I can say is congratulations to the lucky winner whoever you are!

Intermediate Listener's picture

is the type I appreciate most. Familiar material by familiar artists is fine, but it is these undiscovered or unavailable items that are truly special. I wish Charlie Rouse Bossa Nova Bacchanal were in the queue.

Thanks for highlighting this one Michael.

Rashers's picture

One of many on World Pacific records, that, like Contemporary, released some really fabulous sounding recordings. It would be great if Tone Poet could release “Modern Art” by Art Pepper - which was reissued at one stage under the Blue Note moniker. And, speaking of Art Pepper - it looks like Craft are releasing “Meets the Rhythm Section” and “+11” amongst others for the 70th anniversary of Contemporary. Are these the same lacquers that Bernie Grundman prepared for Analogue Productions (featured on this site) a few years ago?

Intermediate Listener's picture

There is also a fine album with this title by Art Farmer! Also started out on another label (UA I think), reissued on Blue Note. Another worthy Tone Poet candidate.

jazz's picture


jazz's picture

the old Gray/Hoffmann 45 remasters will beat Grundman‘s in the sum of their characteristics. But good anyway they are done. Just again - there are so many more Contemporary releases not yet reissued I’d prefer to see. But we know already, we will see most of the same stuff again every several years. On Blue Note and every other label.

Michael Fremer's picture
The old Gray mastering chain is far inferior to the one he now has. Anyone comparing the older double 45s cut on that soft/muffled system versus the new ones cut at 33 1/3 can hear the differences... That's my opinion and I'm sticking with it!
jazz's picture

when comparing especially the first few muffled AP 45 Blue Notes and also the first part of Music Matters 45’s with the later ones and even (to a lesser degree) the second part of 45’s where he already changed EQ and made the chain upgrades, with the 33 ones done on the new chain. I think he mentioned that the later MM 45’s were already done on the new chain, just still with a slightly different EQ than the 33’s. It’s important to differentiate between AP 45 Blue Notes, the first part of MM 45’s, the second part of MM 45’s and the MM 33’s and Tone Poets etc. Kevin once told me how to differentiate the MM 45 series and it’s audible.

But when comparing e.g. his Saxophone Colossus on AP 45 from the Fantasy series with his later ones on 33, the 45 is still superior in my opinion for whatever reason.
Generally however I definitely agree that his later mastering chain is much better sounding.

Though in the post above I spoke about KG vs. Grundman releases, not KG old vs. new chain. When I compare releases out of the AP 45 Fantasy series (which also contain the Contemporary releases mentioned in your article) with equivalent Grundman mastered releases (Dorham Quiet Kenny, Coltrane Lush Life with Grundman”s Craft releases), I still favor the AP in most (not all) characteristics. That’s why I don’t necessarily expected the new Art Pepper releases to finally sound better. The Fantasy series n my opinion was a great sounding one for the most part.

Also, with Grundman you never know if he will master bright, artificially EQ’ed treble or not. Can be gorgeous or ear bleeding unfortunately. We had all kinds of examples on the various labels he worked for so far. I love tons of his masterings, but it wasn’t reliable what to expect.

jazz's picture

the later (2010) 45 RPM MM were not done on the new chain with a bit of adjusted EQ, they were still done on the old chain with quite the same noticable EQ change as on the MM. that’s why they sound very similar already. The AP 45’s were the weakest (on a high level), the first part (2008) of the MM 45 had some adjusted EQ already and sounded better, the second part of the MM 45‘s without Steve Hoffman influence had strongly adjusted EQ, quite like the MM and the MM then were mastered on the new chain. Especially the second part of the MM 45‘ sound quite close to the MM already.

jazz's picture

Grundman and not Gray remasters the potential new Contemporary releases (the post I answered to).
If it’s Gray, I’m fully with you. If it’s Grundman, they can be better or worse than the old KG, we’ll see.

Intermediate Listener's picture

MF has argued convincingly that for Meets the Rhythm Section you want mono because in stereo they never meet! But mono reissues seem to be rare when there is a stereo master tape.

Prestone's picture

I kept reading "this LP is fantastic" on the Tone Poets thread at Steve Hoffman Music Forums and picked it up a few months ago. This thing smokes musically and sonically: thank you SHMF!

Glotz's picture

I think I am going to get this!

shawnwes's picture

A wonderful record by 2 artists I'd never heard of before. This one was a pleasant surprise. I was going to pass on this but am glad I didn't. Highly recommended.

jazz's picture

as one of my favorite west coast albums of that era and always waited for a reissue (as I wait for Kenny Dorham’s Inta Something). This reissue rules.

Spencer's picture

Best purchase in some time. So enjoyable! Thanks for the recommendation and review.

Scarberian's picture

of the tv show is incredibly well planned. Early television was not constrained by convention . The kinescope flares the lights and the quality creates an image that is dream like.

The images supercharge the music if thats possible.

gotta get a copy.
Thats Mike

Neilrd's picture

Thanks, Michael, for this review. I read it, listened through my blue sound node via Tidal, and purchase the lp all on the same day. What great music, wonderfully recorded, and now preserved through the Tone Poet reissue. Absolutely made my day. Keep up the good work. I’ll be reading, and listening.

Kevinh's picture

I listened to Katanga today for the first time (from Spotify) as I heard it was excellent.

As I was listening I got a distinct Doors vibe in a couple of places. I see now that I'm not the only one to note a connection! It was interesting to hear that Curtis played on the Doors Touch Me. I love that part of the song!! So is that Curtis playing on the Doors Touch Me performance on the Smother Brothers (youtube)?

Anyway I just ordered the Kevin Gray cut vinyl - in strong part thanks to the informative review above. Thanks Michael. By the way, I really find your Music and Sound rating meter super helpful.

I can't wait to pop this on when it arrives!