Horace Tapscott with the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra ‘Live At I.U.C.C.’ LP (Outernational Sounds) 5/5

Horace Tapscott was (is) an important, inspirational voice in the LA community; he was an amazing pianist, gifted composer and courageous bandleader as well as being a well-respected community activist, teacher and mentor. During the 1965 Watts riots, he led his Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra to perform throughout the town on flatbed trucks. He also recorded an album with Black Panther Elaine Brown while under FBI surveillance. He was creative, principled and audacious.

The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra was formed in early ’60s LA, part of the Underground Musicians Association (UGMA); a spiritual, political community of local musicians, poets, dancers and artists. It spawned much musical heat including Arthur Blythe, Azar Lawrence, Dwight Trible, Phil Ranelin, David Murray, Adele Sebastian and Jesse Sharps.

Between 1973 and 1981, the Immanuel United Church of Christ (IUCC) was home to the Arkestra. Tapscott said of the church, “I had seen this place in a vision before we got there. When I first saw it, I said ‘This is it,’” He loved “the rawness of it, the way the sound reverberated and filled the space”. This album was recorded there between February and June 1979 and is the only live recording of the full Arkestra.

Opener, “Macrame”, is a 20 minute, Jesse Sharps-penned, modal paragon; its gorgeous, soft, massaging waves of deep spirituality caress, uplift and ultimately heal. Everett Brown Jr (drums) and Alan Hines (bass) create a swelling, rhythmic ocean for Tapscott and the four saxes to bob along on. There’s a single motif that never releases, even when no longer present, as Kafi Roberts (flute), the saxes and Tapscott all take turns in communal expression. Tapscott’s solo in particular is remarkable; it ambles, strokes, dances, jabs, bursts and buoys. He was a wonderful, bold pianist. Sublime.

“Future Sally’s Theme” is a fleeting, finger-clicking bop that allows Brown Jr a bit of a walkabout. “Noissessprahs” (?) kicks off with Billy Hinton demolishing his kit, as the assembled horns throw some drama at him, before Dave Bryant renders poetic arco-bass and we riff into a florid free jazz fallout with on-point cosmic cacophony, twittering Adele Sebastian flute and Bob Watt’s comforting french horn.

26 minutes of “Village Dance” just ain’t enough. It’s Afro-Homeric. Shango-ic maybe. Rhythms upon rhythms upon rhythms push the Hines bass-hypnosis and Matteen, Harris and Sebastian individually turn up the epic-ometer. “L.T.T.” kinda doesn’t belong, it has an unlikely pop-ska Nutty Boy piano/sax stabbing riff that clumsily falls in and out. I like it a lot, but a wee bit odd. Tapscott plays around it and then branches into a last-man-standing solo; captivating and charismatic; striking phrasing and exceptional technique. Love his playing.

“Desert Fairy Princess” you may know from Adele Sebastian’s album of the same name; contemporary classical overtones and a scene-setting North African rhythm section grace this glowing, romantic Sebastian flutefest. So gorgeous, and simply not right that we lost her at only 27 years of age.

The album appropriately departs with an evocatively distant-voiced gospel of James Weldon Johnson’s black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice”.

I cannot acclaim this spiritual opus enough. It is a very important piece of work. It is the zenith of late 70s/early 80s underground jazz. It could have been so much better if recorded in the studio; yet, while it may have gained in dynamic and detail, it would have lost in raw, emotive potency. It is political, polemic, engaged, considered, free. It is the inherent beauty of Horace Tapscott and much truth can be found here. “The world is a whole note sustained and augmented….See sharp and Be natural…The Western ways are dying.”

Ian Ward

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Horace Tapscott Conducting The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra ‘The Call’ LP (Outernational Sounds) 5/5