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Live Reviews

Sonship Theus Benefit in Los Angeles

By Published: November 3, 2004
The Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra and several LA jazz luminaries channeled love through music as a healing balm for ailing legendary influential drummer Sonship Theus. Organized by friend and band mate Nate Morgan, the benefit also served as a reunion for a royal family of musicians whose intertwined histories create the fabric of Angel City jazz. Even Cecilia Tapscott beamed in attendance. The relatively new R&B Station on Manchester played host with a good sized stage, fried chicken, and corn bread.

Playing a traditional ceremonial celebration piece, "Salute to the King," the Kabasa Drum and Dance Ensemble featured the drummers first with guest David Ornette Cherry setting the pace on a large stringed instrument. Next, the trio of accomplished hand drummers joined a quartet of brightly costumed women who gracefully maintained strenuous motion performing intricate African dance. Connecting the event to the ecstatic and The Real, Kabasa set momentum in motion that would snowball.

Joshua Spiegelman followed with a trio that included Nedra Wheeler on bass and Alex Cline on drums. Spiegelman played his own invocation on a soft, fluttering flute with Cline lightly sparking the cymbals. The veteran reed player followed that tune, "My Ship," with his hard swinging arrangement of an Israeli folk song. With Wheeler's strong basslines driving the tune, Spiegelman unloaded on tenor. A familiar in-demand sideman, the reedist showed no discomfort transitioning to a leader's power playing. With his creative jets on "10," Spiegelman burned through countless measures of thrilling improvisation, inside and out. Cline showed himself again the perfect drummer for any music, sizzling cymbals igniting brush fires around Wheeler's rock solid rhythm. Her solo further highlighted her gift for lyrical musing, and smart phrasing that nearly verbalizes her tones.

Eighteen year-old alto player Joey Dawson rose to the stand, and Spiegelman and company took off for their last run. Switching to soprano, he took another Jewish melody and rocked it. Cline popped rhythm with sticks on toms, while Wheeler gave the whirlwind an iron spine. Dawson caught the fever, incinerated his solo going angular and back. Wheeler flexed her authority as well as her creativity, causing Spiegelman to comment later, "Nedra is one righteous sister." Dawson and Spiegelman blasted heat at each other, finally leaving that remarkable soprano to end it. A one time configuration that could blossom.

LA bass boss Roberto Miranda followed Spiegelman's fireworks with a duet with bassist Neil Rosen. Miranda played a slap and pull funk riff with Rosen entwining and unwinding around it. Moving to "St. Michael Servant to the Lord," Miranda switched the gears to reverence with a deep arco intro. Rosen picked up the bow and Miranda plucked variations, soon joined by Rosen in an unraveling ribbon of melody. Dipping back into the original tone, they traveled out and back. Miranda finished the set with an acapella Ellington medley, soulfully recreating "In a Sentimental Mood," morphing to "Come Sunday" and back.

Andrew Jerrald's Pyramid Central offered a welcome take on Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Serenade for a Cuckoo," with new lyrics by singer Chini Kopano. Baba Alade played hypnotic riffs on amplified banjo and reminisced about his childhood growing up with Sonship as his neighbor. Switching to guitar he played meaty slide through an effective Robert Johnson medley, giving clean snap to the riffs.

A fourteen-piece Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra took the stage, with sax whiz Michael Sessions acting as conductor and the band's biggest fan. Longtime PAPA bassist Roberto Miranda joined Latiff in the bass section on a night when deep dexterous textures on bass were an evening's subtext. The Ark swung like a clock set on crazy. Tight on the turns and punchy punctuation gleaming off the brass, no one once ever hit the brakes. Trombone titan Phil Ranelin won first solo in the toss, tossing a match on the volatile band. Rafiq Wahib cut and cruised on trumpet, Kafi Roberts hot on electric flute, Fuasi Kaliq's full toned wail on tenor, Bobby West thinking for ten on keyboards, each executing balls out hard bop improvisation with drum generator Bill Madison and Michael Daniels on congas beating the path. That tune, "the Call," preceded a mid tempo Horace Tapscott composition, "I Love Cecelia." Sessions guided the Ark through the time changes with easy grease.

Their third performance again boldly flew through a fiery arrangement, but this time warmed up. After much anticipation, Sessions blew an electrifying alto aria using up much of the sax in a few measures and going back for more. His advanced facility with circular breathing and melodic production make his solo moments exhilarating. With that momentum the Ark maintained a full strength sure footed groove for Steve Smith's hungry trumpet. Sessions led the saxophones in support. Miranda brought his big hands, and Tracy Caldwell blistered on alto. McCoy Tyner's "Man from Tanganyika" received a colorful reading with Sessions leading on soprano. Riding on the African inspired polyrhythms, Roberts danced on flute, Ranelin kept it mellow, while Renbert Jamos played his 'bone raw and bluesy. Kaliq, Sessions, and Caldwell swapped measures for fun.

With a strong set already under their collective belt, the Ark proved the thrill ride was for from over. Dwight Trible led the nine voice UGMA choir, making the roof officially blown off. Wahib's flugelhorn flew on a gloriously arranged choral/arkestra interaction. The day's only encore, the anthemic "Little Africa" began with Trible's acapella gospel invocation that threatened to vaporize the tabernacle. The choir's joyous song of unity, and the musicians' palpable enthusiasm should have healed Sonship then and there.

Who could follow that peak tour de force but the Watts Prophets, or at least two thirds of the famous trio. Their brief reminder of bigger issues gave way to Larry Nash and Jazz Symphonics. The quartet included Ricky Woodard on tenor sax and Ndugu Chancellor on drums. Veteran of Cannonball Adderly, Bobbie Hutcherson, and Eddie Harris, Nash kept it bright and active, the Symponics coming up with one irresistible groove after another. Nash and Woodard took turns scorching the tune at hands. James Gatson and David Ornette Cherry also performed.

After seven hours the evening wound down, but the outpouring of affection for Sonship Theus continued vibrating through the night. "This is a healing for all of us," Chini Kopano said.



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