Brian Olewnick // The Squid’s Ear (4 mars 2021)

Unless you were an active concert-goer in the Los Angeles area in the late 60s and early 70s, there’s a good chance that your first awareness of Horace Tapscott as both a pianist/composer and organizer of local musicians roughly comparable to the AACM and BAG, was when hat[now]ART issued the Dark Tree sessions in 1990. Since then, there have been occasional archival releases, many by the Nimbus West label, documenting the rich and vital musical scene he engendered, often with, as here, the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. Ancestral Echoes is an exceptionally fine addition to this canon.

This session is from January, 1976 and features a large ensemble of 20+, with a little uncertainty as to exact participants. As above, unless you’re generally familiar with Tapscott’s bands, it’s likely that the only familiar name apart from the leader is that of tubaist Red Callender. The set begins with the title track, written by Tapscott, which commences with soft, smoky sounds, featuring the words of poet Kamau Daáood. About five minutes in, the music breaks into a captivating rhythmic/melodic groove that recalls Randy Weston (there’s a Weston vibe over much of the proceedings, in fact). Strong, sustained and layered horn lines, beautifully arranged over the propulsive rhythm section. Throughout, the ensemble plays a fantastic series of supporting riffs under fine solos from Tapscott, Steven Smith (trumpet) and Jesse Sharps (soprano saxophone). « Sketches of Drunken Mary » is a ballad with a lovely melody reminiscent of Dolphy’s « Fire Waltz », providing a nice set of rolling changes to undergird solos from altoist Michael Session, flutist Aubrey Hart and Tapscott.

Saxophonist Guido Sinclair, who worked with Tapscott but was apparently not present at this session, penned « Jo Annette », a mid-tempo, gently ambling piece, a superb vehicle for solos from Charles Chandler (tenor saxophone), Wendell C. Williams (french horn) and Tapscott, who also provides great, bell-like supporting chords throughout. It’s the kind of track that might have appeared on a McCoy Tyner album from around the same time but unique enough on its own merits. Finally, there’s « Eternal Egypt Suite », written by Arkestra saxophonist and bass clarinetist, Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq. Beginning with a soft, vaguely Mideast-tinged flute solo from Adele Sebastian, it soon launches into a rollicking theme, richly buttressed by deep brass and Moises Obligacion’s congas. This leads to a sumptuous solo from Tapscott, intensely thoughtful and melodic, one of the single loveliest sequences this listener has heard from him. A wonderfully choppy, stop-and-start, eight note theme is introduced, leading to another strong, pungent trumpet solo from Smith followed by a masterful sequence from Abdul-Khaliq on tenor.

An essential document if you’re at all interested in these musicians, truly strong and inspired. The release includes a 16-page booklet with group and individual histories as well as a number of archival photographs. A great release.

 

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