Live At I.U.C.C.
Twenty years after his death, pianist-composer Horace Tapscott is receiving the accolades that largely passed him by at the peak of his career. Firmly ensconced in the Los Angeles jazz scene, his recording career as a leader began in 1969 when his quintet released The Giant Is Awakened (Flying Dutchman). Aiee! The Phantom (Arabesque, 1996) was the last album issued in his lifetime, and there have been very few posthumous releases. 2019 has seen a resurgence of interest in Tapscott's music with the re-releases of four recordings, Why Don't You Listen?Live at LACMA (Dark Tree Records), Flight 17 and Callboth on Outernational Recordsand, the subject of this review, Live At I.U.C.C.. In each case, Tapscott's Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra is featured.
Tapscott, who was born in Houston, Texas, relocated to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles at nine. It had a profound effect on his life and music as the early part of his career coincided with the 1965 Watts Rebellion which left dozens of African American residents dead at the hands of police and military. Hundreds of structures, residential and commercial, burned to the ground including many local jazz venues. Tapscott had founded the artist group Underground Musicians Association (UGMA) in 1963 and he took on the role of activist and mentor, bringing his "spiritual" jazz to community youth, and offering jazz as a creative outlet to that same community. It was from Tapscott's own neighborhood that members of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (PAPA) were often nurtured. His outreach program extended from churches to prisons, and his personal associations included Don Cherry, Sun Ra, Arthur Blythe, Butch Morris, David Murray, and members of the controversial Black Panther Party.
Live At I.U.C.C. (Immanuel United Church of Christ) was recorded at that PAPA home-base where, from 1972 to 1981, they performed on the last Sunday of every month. Seven of the eight tracks on this two-CD set are double-digit in length, two surpassing the twenty-minute mark. Those epic pieces, "Macrame" and "Village Dance," are the dual centerpieces of the album. They typify Tapscott's penchant for large-ensemble blending of avant-garde and hard-swing, in an approachable, infectious manner. Much of the horn-driven music is led by tenor saxophonist Sabir Mateen, who wrote two of the compositions. "Future Sally's Time" (by Arthur Blythe and Stanley Crouch) is Tapscott's showcase piece, as he opens with a solo and irregularly weaves his pointed lines through the dense group play. The pianist's own "L.T.T." demonstrates a disciplined approach which still leaves room to soar into otherworldliness.
In 1998 Tapscott's physical health was in decline and he had been diagnosed with palsy. Still, he continued to amaze audiences as he played concerts with only his right hand. In February 1999, when Tapscott could no longer play, a tribute concert was arranged. Billy Higgins, Pharoah Sanders, Gerald Wilson, Tapscott's Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, and many others played to a crowd of more than one-thousand. Few in the audience knew Tapscott had died just before midnight, aged sixty-four. In South Central LA, he was known by everyone. It is about time the rest of us got on board.