369

Horace Tapscott: The Dark Tree

Troy Collins By

Sign in to view read count
Due to his limited exposure outside of his native Los Angeles, pianist Horace Tapscott was largely unnoticed by the mainstream jazz press throughout his lengthy career. A galvanizing force in the Los Angeles scene, Tapscott co-founded the Underground Musicians Association (UGMA), later known as the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA) in 1961, which eventually lead to the formation of his Pan-African Peoples Arkestra. Beyond the valiant support of Nimbus Records, little documentation of Tapscott's oeuvre exists, other than a few sides cut for such labels as Novus, Hatology, and Arabesque, most now long out of print.

The Dark Tree is one of those revered dates, a live session recorded at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood in 1989. Originally released in two separate volumes by Hatology in 1991, it has been reissued as a two disc set, delivering on the promise of its reputation—invoking the spiritual ecstasy of New Thing era free jazz and loft scene era Black Nationalism—without sounding dated or histrionic.

A harmonically unfettered and unabashedly percussive pianist, Tapscott's angular themes and unusual time signatures are a natural outgrowth of the innovations of Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, and early Cecil Taylor. Given free reign in this live setting, the all-star quartet of Tapscott, clarinetist John Carter, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Andrew Cyrille unleash a bracing combination of ecstatic free jazz, primal groove and opulent lyricism, lending credence to the date's legendary status.

The centerpiece of the record is the 21 minute title track, presented twice, with one take per disc. An ostinato fueled vamp of subterranean bass, menacing left hand piano refrains, and insistent snare accents, it features Carter's stratospheric clarinet cadences spiraling into oblivion, which set the stage for Tapscott and Cyrille's expansive ruminations. The leader's extended solo is a hallucinatory mosaic of ringing tones and hypnotic dissonances, with Cyrille's pneumatic variations building to a dramatic finish.

The remainder of the set exudes a similar energy, veering from the lilting 6/8 waltz of the carefree "Sketches Of Drunken Mary" to the crisp martial rhythms and labyrinthine bop interludes of "Lino's Pad." Carter sits out three of the five selections on the second volume, leaving ample room for Tapscott and his rhythm section to stretch out, especially on the epic "Nyja's Theme," a loose 3/4 vamp spotlighting Tapscott's kaleidoscopic variations, McBee's sinuous lyricism, and Cyrille's percussive invention.

A welcome reissue from a criminally under recognized composer, The Dark Tree is a stirring document, worthy of the attention of anyone interested in the full spectrum of jazz history.


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.

Title: The Dark Tree | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Hatology


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Whispers on the Wind CD/LP/Track Review Whispers on the Wind
by Jack Bowers
Published: October 23, 2017
Read Shropshire Lads: Songs to the Poems of AE Housman CD/LP/Track Review Shropshire Lads: Songs to the Poems of AE Housman
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 23, 2017
Read Heptagon CD/LP/Track Review Heptagon
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 23, 2017
Read ON Tour CD/LP/Track Review ON Tour
by John Kelman
Published: October 22, 2017
Read On a Distant Shore CD/LP/Track Review On a Distant Shore
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets CD/LP/Track Review Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read "Away With You" CD/LP/Track Review Away With You
by Glenn Astarita
Published: November 9, 2016
Read "Happy Juice" CD/LP/Track Review Happy Juice
by David A. Orthmann
Published: July 31, 2017
Read "Songs Without Words" CD/LP/Track Review Songs Without Words
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: July 3, 2017
Read "Free Radicals" CD/LP/Track Review Free Radicals
by Glenn Astarita
Published: August 7, 2017
Read "Hudson" CD/LP/Track Review Hudson
by Roger Farbey
Published: June 18, 2017
Read "Radio Luboyna" CD/LP/Track Review Radio Luboyna
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 9, 2017

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY IT!  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.