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Last year the excellent local jazz reissue label International Phonograph reissued the 1969 album Flight for Four by the John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet, a crucial document of the LA avant-garde jazz scene. Carter and Bradford were fellow travelers of Ornette Coleman's musical revolution—they were also Texans who'd migrated to the west coast, and they began working together at his suggestion. I first heard most of that album as part of a 1991 CD called West Coast Hot, which combined it with another 1969 album made for the Flying Dutchman label, The Giant Is Awakened by the Horace Tapscott Quintet. Now International Phonograph has reissued that second album as well, restoring its fourth track and its gorgeous artwork.
Pianist and composer Tapscott was one of the most unique and important figures in LA's jazz world, a guy who embraced self-determination and independence after leaving the Lionel Hampton Big Band in 1961 (when the pianist was still playing trombone!). Several years before the birth of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Tapscott formed the Underground Musicians Association and his own big band, the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. He and his collaborators performed around LA, frequently giving free public concerts for underserved audiences in Watts and South Central and offering musical education.
Tapscott, though a local treasure, was barely known outside of the city. But a year before he made The Giant Is Awakened, the great LA hard-bop saxophonist Sonny Criss recorded a classic album on Prestige called Sonny's Dream (Birth of a New Cool), all six pieces on which were composed and arranged by Tapscott, so it makes sense that producer Bob Thiele (who'd recently left the Impulse label) sought out the pianist for his new Flying Dutchman imprint. According to the new liner notes for the reissue by Bill Shoemaker, Tapscott was leery of the music business in general, and of this deal in particular—and considering a promise that he'd be involved in the mixing process was subsequently broken, his skepticism was prescient. He didn't record again for another decade, and then only for small independents like Nimbus and Interplay. In any case, as listeners, we should be grateful Tapscott agreed to make The Giant at all.
The band featured an unusual lineup with two bassists—David Bryant and Walter Savage Jr.—but aside from the pianist, its most notable member was the great alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe, who plays with a sharp, keening tone and relentless intensity. Intensity, in fact, is the defining quality of the record, which has a hard-driving energy that never seems to flag; drummer Everett Brown Jr. and Tapscott—making the molten vamping of post-'Trane McCoy Tyner feel almost polite—provide serious propulsion for the dark, stormy melodies at the heart of his writing. Below you can hear one of Tapscott's most enduring tunes, "The Dark Tree," which would be the title track on a live 1991 album for Hat Art that included John Carter on clarinet.
Benjamin Biolay, Vengeance (Naïve)
Wes Montgomery, Boss Guitar (Riverside/OJC)
Foster Manganyi na Tintsumi Ta Tilo, Ndzi Teke Riendzo No. 1 (Honest Jon's)
Anna Webber, Percussive Mechanics (Pirouet)
Corkestra, Gas Station Sessions (Platenbakkerij)