When pianist/composer/conductor Horace Tapscott founded the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra (PAPA) in 1961, it was by design a support collective for all arts, bringing pride to the black community, specifically that of South-Central Los Angeles. PAPA signified social activism, teaching empowerment, and advocating Tapscott's belief that channeling African ancestral roots was a key to succeeding. Tapscott, who died in 1999, had forsaken wider recognition to bring music and teaching to his community, but his catalog has seen a revived interest with four recent reissues. Ancestral EchoesThe Covina Sessions, 1976, the latest from the Dark Tree label was something of an open-house jam session that likely included some Watts neighborhood musicians not documented for the credits.
PAPA worked as a rotation of musicians that often changed considerably from one project to another. Of the twenty-four known participants on Ancestral Echoes, only flutists Adele Sebastian and Aubrey Hart, and poet/percussionist Kamau Daéood, were part of the live 1972-1981 compilation Live at I.C.U.U. (Soul Jazz Records, 2019).
Daéood, at Tapscott's request, had written the verse that accompanies the pianist's nineteen-minute "Ancestral Echoes," a composition that appeared in a much shorter version on Daéood's Leimert Park (Mama Records, 1996). That album included Tapscott and his regular bassist Roberto Miranda. Daéood's recitation gives way to an extended Tapscott solo after two minutes, morphing into an orchestrated masterwork with electrifying solos from trumpeter Steven Smith and soprano saxophonist Jesse Sharps. Tapscott's quartet of Andrew Cyrille, Cecil McBee, and John Carter recorded "Sketches of Drunken Mary" on the seminal recording Dark Tree (HatOLOGY, 1989), over twenty years after this version. Flutist Hart and alto saxophonist Michael Session create a whirling back-and-forth dialog bookended by Tapscott's expansive solos. At nearly a half-hour, the closing track "Eternal Egypt Suite" features an ethereal Sebastian flute in its opening segment, shifting to an Afro-Cuban theme, free improvisation from tenor saxophonist Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq, and finally, a lush, orchestral finish.
Tapscott's music, particularly with the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra, is traditional in a way we rarely think of as tradition. The pianist/composer created and fostered multiple generations of Watts musicians through the nurturing of a sweeping philosophy of autonomous and organic creation with origins in Africa and South- Central LA. The reality Tapscott presents on Ancestral Echoes, plays out at the crossroad of music and values.
Ancestral Echoes; Sketches of Drunken Mary; Jo Annette; Eternal Egypt Suite.
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