The 2 x LP 60 Years
celebrates the history of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (PAPA), which was founded by the pianist, composer and community activist Horace Tapscott
in South Central Los Angeles in 1961, and directed by him until he passed in 1999. The release, albeit of archive material, also reminds us that the Arkestra remains active in 2023, now under the direction of drummer Mekala Session
, son of the Arkestra's veteran alto saxophonist Michael Session
. There are six tracks, all of them previously unreleased, recorded between 1961 and 2019, one from each of the six decades (and counting) of the band's existence.
During those six decades, over 300 musicians have passed through PAPA's ranks, including such singular stylists as Arthur Blythe
, Dwight Trible
, Phil Ranelin
, Butch Morris
, Kamau Daaood
, Nate Morgan
, Linda Hill
, Adele Sebastian
, Jesse Sharps
, Michael Session and Tapscott himself. These musicians figure in the lineups heard on 60 Years
Originally a septet, as heard on the opening track, a home recording from 1961 titled "The Golden Pearl," the band soon grew to eighteen members. By the mid-1960s it had become a South Central institution, playing on a bandstand at South Park every weekend. When the Watts Rebellion broke out in 1965, the Arkestra set up to play in the middle of the road on a flat-bed truck. The police showed up, guns out, and tried to shut them down, accusing them of inciting the violence. By the end of the decade, Tapscott and the Arkestra were under surveillance by the FBI.
Tapscott founded the Arkestra to "preserve the music of Black composers, dead or alive. To perform this music in our neighborhoods, for our people." He intended PAPA to preserve African American music, nurture its musicians and, above all, contribute positively to community building in South Central LA. There were (and continue to be) parallels with another Arkestra, but Tapscott was clear about the differences, too. "He was thinking in terms of space, of an ark travelling through space," Tapscott said of Sun Ra
. "I was thinking in terms of a cultural safe house for the music."
Tapscott succeeded in his mission, against all the odds, and entirely on his own terms. The music business was poison as far he was concerned and he barely engaged with it. He recorded only one album in the 1960s, A Giant Has Awakened
(1969), for Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman. PAPA's relatively small back catalogue has never been near a major label, being either self-produced or released on independents financed by supporters with no thought of monetary gain. PAPA only performed once outside Southern California, at the Moers Jazz Festival in Germany in 1995, where track four on this album, Tapscott's river-deep swinger "The Ballad Of Deadwood Dick," was recorded. 60 Years
is a carefully curated package. It is released by The Village, a label operated by members of the Arkestra. The booklet includes archival photographs documenting the band's history, and the detailed liner notes include illuminating track-by-track commentaries from Arkestra members past and present along with complete personnel details.
From the very first bars of track one, Tapscott's "The Golden Pearl"featuring Arthur Blythe and trombonist Lester Robertson
's elegant close harmonising over skeletal bass and drums before the full septet kicks in a couple of minutes laterit is clear we are in for a great ride. And so it proves to be.
The Golden Pearl; Little A’s Chant; Nation Rising; The Ballad Of Deadwood Dick; Justice; Dem Folks.
Collective Personnel: Horace Tapscott: piano, conduction; Jesse Sharps: soprano saxophone; Arthur Blythe: alto saxophone; Sabir Mateen: alto saxophone; Gary Bias: alto saxophone; Tracy Caldwell: alto saxophone; Devin Daniels: alto saxophone; Al Collins: tenor saxophone; Michael Session: alto and tenor saxophone; Charles Owens: tenor saxophone; Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq: tenor saxophone; Randal Fisher: tenor saxophone; Ralph Gibson: tenor saxophone; Charles Chandler: tenor saxophone; Jimmy Woods: saxophone; Guido Sinclair: saxophone; Amos Delone Jr.: baritone saxophone; Aaron Shaw: baritone saxophone; Adele Sebastian: flute; Dadisi Komolafe: flute; Kafi Roberts: flute; Maia: flute; Kafi Roberts: flute; Raiyan El-Megharbel: oboe; Angel The Oracle: bass clarinet, vocals; Lawrence Douglas Morris: trumpet; Steve Smith: trumpet; Richard Grant: trumpet; Nolan Shaheed: trumpet; Chris Williams: trumpet; Fundi Legohn: French horn; Lester Robertson: trombone; Lorenzo Gardman: trombone; Thurman Green: trombone; Phil Ranelin: trombone; Isaac Smith: trombone; Zekkeraya El-Megharbel: trombone, conduction; Nate Morgan: piano; Austin Peralta: piano; Brian Hargrove: keyboards; William Roper: tuba; Ben McIntosh: tuba; David Bryant: bass; Richard Herrera: bass; Robert Miranda: bass; Nick Rosen: bass; Chris Palmer: bass; Bill Madison: drums, percussion; Everett Brown Nr.: drums; Billy Hinton: drums; Fritz Wise: drums; Sonship Theus: drums; Mekala Session: drums, vocals; Ernest Cojoe: congas; Taumba: congas; Moses Obligacion: congas; Natajite Olokun: percussion; Linda Hill: vocals; Jujigwa: vocals; Dwight Trible: vocals; Aankah: vocals; Tamina Johnson-Lawson: vocals; Qur’an Shaheed: vocals.
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