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Horace Tapscott: The Dark Tree

Chris May By

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Horace Tapscott: The Dark Tree Buried treasure, lost and found... pianist Horace Tapscott's The Dark Tree has only been sporadically available since its original, limited edition release in 1991, and the re-releases have been small runs. In the gloaming, fables have grown around the album. But as is by no means always the case with rarities, the reality here is as good as the legend: this motherlode of groove is a signature performance by a woefully neglected artist.



Recorded live at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood in 1989, the album finds Tapscott—with clarinetist John Carter, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Andrew Cyrille—stirring a steaming gumbo of ostinato-driven street funk and visceral, outer limits jazz. The title track, just short of 21 minutes, remains in 2009 a galvanising avant-groove of epic proportions: anchored by McBee's low down and gloriously resonant bass, Tapscott delivers a cadenza and block chord-laden solo of astonishing incantatory power.



An alternative performance, "The Dark Tree 2," included on the second disc, is almost, but not quite, as intense. Carter is blinding on both versions. Anyone with an aversion to clarinet, and they are not few, should bend an ear. Cyrille, who takes the third solo, is on fire. "Lino's Pad" hits a similar spot, despite some tricky time signature shifts between 7/4 and 4/4. There isn't a dud on either disc.



The Dark Tree's roots are diverse. It can be traced back to late 1960s/early 1970s proto-grooves like trumpeter Eddie Gale's "Black Rhythm Happening" and trumpeter Donald Byrd's "The Emperor," and the contemporaneous vamp-laden work of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and pianist Alice Coltrane. Tapscott himself includes Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, Randy Weston and Les McCann in the mix. Politically, the music is informed by the Underground Musicians Association (UGMA), later renamed the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA), which Tapscott co-founded in Los Angeles in 1961.

Anyone interested in Tapscott and UGMA/UGMAA will enjoy reading Steven L. Isoardi's The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles (University of California Press, 2006), which examines the links that can be forged between jazz musicians and the communities in which they live, and the use of music as an engine of social change.


Track Listing: CD1: The Dark Tree; Sketches Of Drunken Mary; Lino's Pad; One For Lately. CD2: Sandy And Niles; Bavarian Mist; The Dark Tree 2; A Dress For Renee; Nyja's Theme.

Personnel: Horace Tapscott: piano; John Carter: clarinet; Cecil McBee: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums.

Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Hatology | Style: Modern Jazz


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