Monday, September 17, 2007

Music of power and drama, beauty and spirit

This was an important, revealing release when it was first issued in 1991. Now, with both Tapscott and John Carter having passed on, it takes on even more significance with our knowing that they are beyond the vagaries of man and Fate, and cannot contribute any more to our lives. On The Dark Tree they created music of power and drama, beauty and spirit. It's a shame we had to wait so long to hear it, and now we should treasure it.  Art Lange

Horace Tapscott was a jazz musician of the absolute highest accomplishment. A brilliantly original pianist, deeply swinging, fleet-fingered, hard-driving, able to voice nearly the entire history of jazz piano in a single solo, nay, all of Western music (check out his sly quote of "We Three Kings" in "Lino's Pad"), possessed of a prodigious technique and unbounded energy, these qualities are magnificently on display on the two Dark Tree outings. Recorded in front of a live audience at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA, in 1989, there's a stunning electricity, a hard-swinging vibrancy, an almost impossibly deep groove in these sessions.

A good deal of the glory of this music is likely due to the leader being in the presence of entirely like-minded and equally brilliant bandmates: avant-garde warrior Cecil McBee on bass, who navigates his instrument with such surpassing dexterity even as he gets the fattest, toughest sound imaginable from it; the inimitable Andrew Cyrille, perhaps THE most distinguished free drummer ever, and the huge presence of clarinetist John Carter, himself one of the most important chroniclers of the African diaspora's musical experience, as well as being perhaps the greatest practitioner of jazz clarinet in the history of the music.

Equally important is the extremely high quality of the compositions. Each has a profound weight, an almost unfathomable insistence, yet wrapped in a dancing, almost inebriated, mock glory that belies their grandeur. Mesmeric, insistent, complex yet entirely accessible, these songs bespeak a lifetime of communality, struggle, and eventual triumph by dint of sheer perseverance. Yet, there is not the slightest whiff of maudlin solipsism, cheated glory, groveling self-pity, or slighted entitlement.
Instead, as with the finest of avant-garde jazz, there's a kind of insouciant, flip-you-off casualness amid an organized chaos that bespeaks the full monty of deal-with-it, in-your-face musical essentiality. Huh? No mistake, these lads are trippin', and at the highest possible level.

OK, here's the deal. You know what this is? Cecil Taylor that you can actually like; Anthony Braxton that makes sense; Wadada Leo Smith sans the radical weirdness. This, in my humble opinion, is the finest black American folk music ever recorded. (customer review,


Anonymous said...

Congrats on this blog - maximal heptitude! Looking forward to future posts. I'm a Greaves/Blegvad/Slapp Happy/Henry Cow fan from way back so it's great to see those up there.

You might want to check the link on Suite Africaine - doesn't seem to be working at present.

Keep up the good work...

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