Derek Taylor // Dusted Magazine (25 août 2020)

Jazz orchestras are ambitious fiscal undertakings in the best of financial times. Pianist/composer Horace Tapscott led one during the lean decade of the 1970s and he did it out of Southern California where such ventures were even more fraught with the probability of failure. Ancestral Echoes documents one iteration of his large ensemble with surviving material from a rare studio session from January of 1976. Complete details are lost to time, but a reasonable approximation of both personnel and particulars graces an accompanying booklet and paints a vivid picture of Tapscott’s activities as an artist, educator, and community leader in Los Angeles. It was a period of transition for group as some of the seasoned players had departed and younger recruits filled the gaps.

Christened with a name that landed in intentional proximity to another bandleader who was both peer and inspiration, Tapscott’s group had more in common with Sun Ra’s than honorific. Members of the Arkestras lived communally in houses together, rehearsing and engaging in community outreach efforts. Where the two bands differed was in Tapscott’s magnanimous approach to collaboration. He regularly encouraged his musicians to hone their compositional skills alongside their improvisational ones. That element of egalitarianism directly informs the four pieces that comprise this collection, beginning with a lengthy foray through “Ancestral Echoes,” which benefits as much from spirited ensemble interplay and the Afrocentric poetry of Kamaou Daáood as Tapscott and the other soloists.

“Sketches of Drunken Mary” gains traction on a melancholic vamp forwarded first by Tapscott and percussion and augmented by precision interjections from the horn section. Altoist Michael Session shapes an extended solo steeped in vigorous intervallic contortions followed by a flute foray from Aubrey Hart that is similarly energized with swooping trills and punctuations. Awash in vivid horn riffs and colorful hand percussion, “Jo Annette” taps tenorist Charles Chandler and the French horn of Wendell C. Williams before landing once again on a dynamic keyboard statement by the leader. Nearly a half-hour in duration and action-packed throughout, “Eternal Egypt Suite” is an epic scaled closer. Two other pieces made it to tape, but time constraints preclude their inclusion. Any disappointment from the omissions is easily allayed given that what is included is well worth the price of admission.

 

 

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