In January of 1976 pianist/composer Horace Tapscott brought the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra into the Audiotronics Recording Studios in Covina, California. Tapscott had been leading the Los Angeles-based orchestra since the early 1960s; as with the Sun Ra ensemble, the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra had a communal house where Tapscott and many of its members lived. Before 1976 the Arkestra had tried, largely without success, to make a studio recording. While the Covina sessions weren’t without their problems, the recordings that emerged, four of which are collected on this album, document an ensemble playing solid compositions with vigor.
The group that recorded in 1976 comprised over twenty musicians, many of whom were young players who joined after some of the founding members left to go on to pursue careers in New York and elsewhere. The exuberance of much of the music in this set may have been a consequence of the ensemble’s youthfulness as well as of the openings each composition left for expansive soloing.
Two of the compositions are Tapscott’s. The title track was originally one part of a four-part piano concerto he was commissioned to write in 1975 for the Watts Community Symphony Orchestra. It opens with a dramatic reading by the poet Kamau Daaood and develops into an asymmetrical yet swinging rhythm supporting solos by Tapscott and trumpeter Steven Smith and soprano saxophonist Jesse Sharps. The minor-key Sketches of Drunken Mary, another Tapscott composition, has an off-kilter swagger and brooding, descending melody arranged with an emphasis on the low brass. Alto saxophonist Michael Session and flautist Aubrey Hart provide energetic solos. Jo Annette, composed by alto saxophonist Guido Sinclair, a founding member of the group who’d since moved on, is an altered blues that features solos by tenor saxophonist Charles Chandler and Wendell C. Williams on french horn. The closing piece is the twenty-seven-minute-long Eternal Egypt Suite, an epic four-part composition by tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq that features a lovely, atmospheric flute introduction by Adele Sebastian.
Dark Tree have done a fine job of presenting the music, which comes packaged with a well-illustrated booklet featuring the recollections of several of the musicians who participated in the sessions.