Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra @ LACMA

It had been a while since I had been to one of the Friday Jazz Concerts at LACMA, so when I heard that the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra was performing I made the trip down. I had not seen the Arkestra before, but had seen it's founder Horace Tapscott many times in the 90's. The group is now led by Michael Session, a longtime collaborator of Tapscott's. A large Creative Orchestra made up of winds, brass, piano, two double bass, vibraphone, percussion, and drumset the group played music by current members, Tapscott, and Charles Mingus in the one set that I was able to see.

A repeated baritone figure signalled the beginning of the set as the Arkestra launched in to Mingus' Moanin. The group's instrumentation created a massive sound for this piece, truly in the spirit of Mingus himself. Although the sound was predictably awful where I was sitting, not helped by the chatter of those around me, the solos sounded great and the drums and percussion contributed to a propulsive forward momentum.

Next in the set was an original written for Barack Obama by the vibraphonist Maia, Yes, Now This Time. With the group providing a musical foundation, Maia and vocalist Dwight Trible used poetry and vocalisations to convey a sense of strength and optimism regarding the presidential candidate. With the constant barrage of media concerning this election, it was a welcome change to have a musical and poetic take on the candidate.

Los Angeles has felt a great musical void since the physical departure of drummer Billy Higgins. Reminiscent of the countless 60's Blue Note recordings that Higgins played on, the modal harmony and lyrical melody of the third piece in the set, Billy's Delight, showcased the compositional creativity and instrumental virtuosity of it's composer, trombonist Isaac Smith. After a solo by Session, Smith had his say with a solo marked by an amazing tone and rhythmic inventiveness. A return to the melody signalled the end of the piece.

Ending the set, Dwight Trible was accompanied by piano (Nate Morgan, I believe) for a beautiful version of Tapscott's Little Africa. The vocal power of this man cannot be overstated. After the introduction, the Arkestra fell into a 3/4 groove that allowed to Trible to go where he needed to to. The classic richness of his voice combined with his ability to go beyond jazz vocal tradition made for a perfect end of the set.

Seeing this performance by the Arkestra made me realize how important community music ensembles are. It is no small feat to get this many musicians together, but when they are united by the legacy of a musician such as Horace Tapscott the result is something that contributes to the musical and spiritual life of Los Angeles.

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