Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

June 2024

At the beginning of 1961, four decades after the dawn of the so-called Jazz Age, it seemed like the art form would continue to dominate American popular music for the foreseeable future. Despite the commercial hiccup that accompanied the rise of artists like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard in the mid-’50s, jazz had weathered the storm and appeared well positioned to be the soundtrack of the ’60s. Youth culture was on the rise, jazz was the music of choice at US universities, and as a handsome young president took the oath of office on January 20, what was becoming known as “America’s classical music” seemed primed to continue its dominance.

James Hale

Just a week after John Kennedy was sworn in, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley set up at Bell Sound, a popular recording studio just off Broadway in Midtown Manhattan, to record with pianist Bill Evans. Joining them was the rhythm section of the Modern Jazz Quartet: bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay.

Having turned down a continuing association with Miles Davis so he could maintain a band with his brother, cornetist Nat, Adderley was enjoying the halo of popularity that often surrounded musicians who had worked with Davis. Since 1958, Adderley had been under contract to Riverside Records, the jazz label founded by Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer Jr. in 1953, and Know What I Mean? (recently reissued on 180gm LP, Craft Recordings CR00716) provided an opportunity for the saxophonist to reunite with Evans, with whom he’d played briefly in Davis’s band. At the time, the pianist was riding even higher than Adderley, leading a trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian that was quickly gaining popularity.

By the time the album was released in October 1962, Evans’s life was in complete disarray. He had left his longtime romantic partner for a relationship with a fellow heroin addict and buried himself deeper in the opiate, due in large part to LaFaro’s accidental death the previous summer.

Know What I Mean?

The year 1962 also marked a turning point in the career of drummer Art Blakey. His band the Jazz Messengers was undergoing significant changes; trumpeter Lee Morgan, bassist Jymie Merritt, and pianist Bobby Timmons had all quit, leaving huge instrumental and compositional gaps in the band’s structure. Fortunately, the Jazz Messengers were the musical equivalent of the New York Yankees of the day. No sooner had the band lost these future legends than it filled the ranks with others. Stepping in to replace Morgan was an exceptionally brash 24-year-old, Freddie Hubbard, while Reggie Workman and Cedar Walton came onboard to replace Merritt and Timmons. And moving up to the role of primary composer was Wayne Shorter—the equivalent of moving Roger Maris in to replace Mickey Mantle. Rounding out the band was the agile trombonist Curtis Fuller, who had created a name for himself in the late ’50s.

In addition to the personnel changes, the prolific Blakey had also switched labels, leaving Blue Note in 1961 for a single album with Impulse! before signing with Keepnews and Grauer. On October 23, 1962, the new band assembled at Plaza Sound on the eighth floor of Radio City Music Hall to record its Riverside debut, Caravan (recently reissued on 180gm LP, Craft Recordings CR00717).

While neither Know What I Mean? nor Caravan has ever really been scarce, these Kevin Gray–remastered heavyweights represent significant additions to the ranks of Blue Note’s Tone Poet, MoFi, ECM’s Luminessence, et al. The real source of interest here is that, while Blue Note and ECM have substantial catalogs, Craft Recordings is part of the massive Nashville-based Concord conglomerate. Like a magician at a kid’s birthday party, Concord could pull rabbits out of its hat all day long, courtesy of the deep roots of Concord Jazz and Fantasy Records, not to mention other lesser-known labels it owns.


Riverside is one of the least-understood labels in Concord’s stable, due mainly to Grauer’s sudden death in late 1963. The company went bankrupt the following summer and its catalog was purchased by ABC Records, which then shunted it to Fantasy in 1972. A number of recordings were reissued in analog format on the Milestone label, and then on CD as part of Fantasy’s Original Jazz Classics series, which also featured past recordings from labels like Prestige, Galaxy, Debut, Contemporary, and Pablo. Overall, Fantasy’s OJC has reissued about 850 titles. As we continue to follow this bouncing ball, Craft purchased the OJC moniker in 2023.

Tracing those corporate machinations across the past 60 years tells the story of how the music business has evolved: big fish eating smaller fish, and then running afoul of sharks. Things were very different in the early ’60s, when jazz represented the US along with big-finned cars and the continual rise of California-based filmmaking.

While non-American film directors have now risen to prominence, and exotic-looking Coupe DeVilles, Wildcats, and DeSotos aren’t coming back in the foreseeable future, exposed tubes on contemporary amps are having a moment. A growing number of fashionable high-end systems are beginning to glow with warm authority from tube and hybrid-tube amplifiers produced by manufacturers like PrimaLuna (their $6995 EVO 300 is a thing of beauty) and BAT, whose VK-80i lists at just a shade under $10,000 (all prices in USD).


But, just when you begin to fear that tube amps are only for those with limitless budgets, along comes Dayton Audio’s HTA200 integrated amplifier ($349.98), which Dennis Burger reviewed earlier this year on SoundStage! Access.

To summarize the HTA200’s features, it employs solid-state amplification for its power stage, which is rated at 50Wpc into 8 ohms (<1.5% THD+N) or 100Wpc into 4 ohms. No surprise there for a sub-$500 amp. The revelations begin when you open the box and lay eyes on the tube-studded top—each tube encircled by a chrome lattice—used for the preamp stage.

I hooked my Pro-Ject Audio Systems Debut Pro turntable into the moving-magnet (MM) RCA input with my AudioQuest Wildcat phono cable, and connected my AudioQuest Type 5 cables to my Q Acoustics 3050i floorstanding speakers using the HTA200’s five-way binding posts. Also on the back, you’ll find optical (TosLink) and coaxial (RCA) S/PDIF inputs, plus a USB Type-B port for connecting a computer. The HTA200 also supports Bluetooth 5.0 and has a subwoofer output.


On the front, the retro feel continues with a pair of VU meters and a full-size headphone jack. As Dennis mentioned, Dayton doesn’t provide specs for its headphone amp. The rest of the front leans closer to an early-aughts vibe, with push-button input selectors, small knobs for tone and volume, and a utilitarian-looking digital source indicator.

Given its eye-catching form factor, you’d be forgiven for guessing that the manufacturer directed its development budget toward the visual aesthetics and short-changed the internal tech. How wrong you’d be; the sonic personality of this quirky-looking amp is equally engaging.

I began with the Adderley/Evans combo—a matchup that may seem as odd as the HTA200’s meshing of tube and digital technologies. Even while riding the success of his exceptional trio, Evans was more poet than performer. Overwhelmingly introspective, he hunched low over the keyboard while spooling out melody lines rich with emotion. In contrast, Adderley was loud and spirited; his alto saxophone had a stentorian voice that more than matched the spiritually charged torrents of Coltrane when the two played together with Davis.


There’s plenty to love for those listeners who can’t get enough of Evans’s melancholy lyricism. From the drop, on his “Waltz for Debbie,” Evans makes it clear he’s more than a sideman here, introducing the piece with a sprightly, unaccompanied statement. Likewise, “Nancy (with the Laughing Face)” opens with Evans at his most lyrical, flowing across the keyboard with accents and note choices that are both fresh-sounding and surprising. Beyond technique, Evans’s gift was his ability to let emotion flow directly from his heart without obvious filters. On the up-tempo “Toy” he balances an ebullient approach with some blue-tinged phrasing.

By contrast, Adderley has no time for tears; every time he plays, he finds a way to generate a flow that leads to joy. To indulge in a tangent, I’ll alert the reader to two new live recordings—Burnin’ in Bordeaux: Live in France 1969 and Poppin’ in Paris: Live at L’Olympia 1972, both of which are on Elemental Music—that capture Adderley at his peak, sadly not long before his untimely death from a stroke at age 46. If Coltrane represented spiritual enlightenment, Adderley’s playing constantly expressed optimism and the ability to rise above life’s challenges. Coltrane may be a deity to some; Adderley is the firebrand preacher who points the way to salvation.

On the Gershwins’ “Who Cares?,” atop an unadorned rhythmic bed from Heath and Kay, the saxophonist flows energetically, and even an errant reed squawk can’t stop him from creating an unbroken line of joyous expression. Over piano and arco bass on “Goodbye,” his purity of tone sounds remarkable, and on “Elsa”—a darker-hued piece, composed by Earl Zindars—he takes the listener through an emotional journey toward the light.

Know What I Mean?

Given his seemingly bottomless energy and expressive tone, Adderley could’ve been an ideal member of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; the drummer welcomed strong, distinctive voices into his band and, though lesser known than recordings like Moanin’ or A Night in Tunisia, Caravan provides an exceptional showcase for his band members.

Shorter, of course, was already well established as a singular musician, whose phrasing, timing, and feel were entirely his own; Caravan enabled him to step forward as one of the greatest composers of his generation. His “This Is for Albert” (which, great jazz story, is actually dedicated to Bud Powell, the name scrambled due to Shorter mishearing Blakey when the drummer co-mingled the pianist’s name and that of London’s Royal Albert Hall) provides an exceptional showcase for Blakey’s new lineup. Over busy drum work, Fuller displays his great tone and flawless, fluid phrasing, and Hubbard engages in the kind of rhythmically driven playing that established him as a muscular presence as the new decade began.


In contributing “Thermo” to the band’s catalog, Hubbard also introduced himself as a distinctive composer who wrote to his own strengths, which, not coincidentally, were perfectly aligned with Blakey’s. Together, they are a powerful force, one that makes you yearn to hear some duets with just the two of them. As for Shorter, “Thermo” is exactly the kind of straight-ahead burner that allows him to find ways to display his own slippery musical logic.

Unsurprisingly, Gray’s remaster brought out the depth of these recordings—to my ear, something akin to blowing the dust off an old surface—both in the relatively sparse soundstage of the Adderley/Evans recording and that of the dense, loud Blakey band, and the HTA200 let both display their full sonic range. Also on display is Keepnews’s approach to recording, which results in a somewhat shallower, less natural soundstage than one would expect from his closest contemporary, sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder. While the latter tweaked his two studios (the first of which was in his parents’ living room) to his love of a perfectly layered combination of sounds, Keepnews segregates the instruments. Consequently, you experience Hubbard deep in one channel, Shorter in the other, and Blakey’s drums sometimes don’t seem balanced, either. But, those are aesthetic choices that can’t dim the power of this music.


Like the impossibly handsome couple in the White House, this music gleams like the promise of a new day.

Of course, Camelot would soon be shattered, the Beatles would arrive to inaugurate the decline of jazz as America’s music of choice, and cheap, transistorized music systems would begin to dominate.

So, take this chance to step back in time. Turn down the lights, enjoy the glow of the VU meters and tubes, and dig these jazz platters.

. . . James Hale

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.