Ken Waxman // The Whole Note (August 27, 2019)

There are suggestions of spiritual singing from Pneuma and an equivalent instance of turning ecclesiastical words and music into a secular form on Why Don’t You Listen? (Dark Tree DT (RS) 11) by Horace Tapscott/Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Great Voice of UGMAA. Los Angeles-based pianist Tapscott’s nonet expresses its characteristic message on this 73-minute concert, not only through his highly rhythmic arrangements utilizing three double basses and three percussionists, but through songs performed by the l2-member UGMAA. In its vocal blends the choir, whose initials mean Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension, bring the sound of a sophisticated gospel ensemble to the selections. But divergence occurs since the word-poetry isn’t on sacred texts, but instead, variously salutes a Nigerian musician known for his struggle against dictatorship (Fela Kuti); provides an object lesson of the accomplishments of jazz heroes (Why Don’t You Listen?) and praises the mother continent itself (Little Africa). The most accomplished achievement is the second tune, where singing over a captivating rhythmic groove, the voices invest the listing of innovators with the same sincerity a church choir would bring to the scriptures, emotionally extending the words with melisma and hocketing, as boisterous, sinewy solos from the pianist, saxophonist Michael Session and drummer Donald Dean are interspaced like extra voices. When choir director Dwight Tribble ends the extended track with near-R&B testifying, the spiritual link between improvised music and Black empowerment is complete. Tapscott’s worldly arrangements, which combine exploratory sounds and grounded beats, characterize the non-vocal parts of the disc, with the slippery blats of trombonist Phil Ranelin and Session’s soaring slurs particularly impassioned.

 

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