Stuart Broomer // The New York City Jazz Record (February 2020)

During his lifetime, Horace Tapscott (1934-1999) was best-known to the wider jazz world as the pianist-composer-leader of allstar small group sessions from the ‘90s. On Dark TreeAiee! The Phantom and Thoughts of Dar Es Salaam, he was variously joined by clarinetist John Carter, bassists Cecil McBee, Reggie Workman and Ray Drummond and drummers Andrew Cyrille and Billy Hart.

Dark Tree is held in such esteem that it lends its name to the French record label that released the present work and Steve Isoardi’s 2006 study sub- titled Jazz and The Community Arts In Los Angeles (University of California Press). Isoardi, also author of an earlier book on Tapscott, contributes the liner essay here.

As Why Don’t You Listen? shows, Tapscott’s Los Angeles groups, the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (PAPA) and the choir Great Voice of UGMAA, were his ultimate focus. The first incarnations date from the ‘60s, PAPA from 1961 and UGMAA (Underground Musicians and Artists Association) 1963, the latter acronym later changing meaning to the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension. The names and the music place Tapscott in the same orbit as Sun Ra, Randy Weston and John Coltrane. This 1998 concert from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was the last at which Tapscott was well enough to participate fully.

PAPA includes nine musicians with the emphasis strongly on the rhythm section. Michael Session’s saxophones and Phil Ranelin’s trombone are held aloft by piano, three basses (Alan Hines, Louis Large, Trevor Ware) and three percussionists (Najite Agindotan, Donald Dean, Bill Madison), a dense, throbbing, driving power. “Aiee! The Phantom” immediately demonstrates the hypnotic energy all those drums and basses can bring to an ostinato, building to a peak that launches Session’s incantatory tenor solo of Coltrane-like power and Ranelin’s own controlled meditation. They’re not playing a lot of notes, just the right ones, over and over again.
The version of Duke Ellington-Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” is an extended fantasia, Dwight Trible’s yodeling vocal (think Leon Thomas) landing on the original melody only at the conclusion after an extended percussion passage featuring conga drummer Adingotan. Trible leads the ten-voice UGMAA choir on the African-inspired “Fela Fela”, with lyrics by Adingotan. The rousing title track namechecks a host of musicians, pointedly including both icons (Bird, Trane, Lady Day) and former Arkestra members Everett Brown and Carmel Crunk, insistently focusing on community. “Little Africa”, by Linda Hill, matriarch of UGMAA, is a buoyant, joyous conclusion, highlighting Trible and the horns as well as the choir and band.

 

 

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