Horace Tapscott / Jesse Sharps on Nimbus West
Earlier this year, the legendary imprint, Nimbus West, relaunched with their first new release in years, the astounding triple LP, Live at Century City Playhouse 9/9/79, by Horace Tapscott & the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. Building on that momentum, they’re back with two more truly incredible releases from the vaults, the long lost, never before issued 1983 album by Tapscott, Tapscott and Winds and the first ever, fully-authorized vinyl edition of Arkestra band leader Jesse Sharps’ Sharps and Flats, recorded in 1986, but not released until it appeared as a CD in 2004. Both, issued in limited pressings of 1000 copies, mastered direct from the 1/2” and 1/4” master tapes (All Analog Cut), are joyous explosions of sound that rest at the juncture of spiritual and freejazz, illuminating the remarkable social, political, and community-based action that sprang from LA during the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Propelling Nimbus West forward into the years to come, they join Live at Century City Playhouse as some of the most beautiful, striking, and historically important records of the year.
Horace Tapscott "Tapscott and Winds" (1983, LP)
The Los Angeles based pianist, band leader, and composer, Horace Tapscott (1934-1999), always stood apart from the pack. A true visionary who was fiercely principled and independent, across the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, leading his legendary Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, he produced a tour de force of sound, seeded by social, political, and community-based action. Tapscott began his career as a trombonist before switching to piano, playing with Frank Morgan, Don Cherry, and Billy Higgins while still his teens, before hitting the road with Lionel Hampton during the late '50s and early '60s, an experience formative enough to push him down his own path as a band leader. For most of his career, Tapscott remained one of the unsung giants of jazz; a gifted composer, arranger, and educator, as well as a remarkably original pianist and bandleader. In 1961 he founded the Underground Musicians Association (UGMA) - which morphed into the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra roughly a decade later, a project which, despite Tapscott’s untimely passing in 1999, continues to send ripples across the world of improvised music to this day, both through its own activities and through the individual gestures - past and present - of the hundreds of talented voices who have passed through its ranks (Arthur Blythe, Azar Lawrence, Jimmy Woods, John Carter, Bobby Bradford, Sonny Criss, Ndugu Chancler, Nate Morgan, Jesse Sharps, Adele Sebastian, Dadisi Komolafe, Gary Bias, to mention only a few).
In addition to his large ensemble activities within the Arkestra, Tapscott recorded in numerous configurations and solo over the many years of his activity, forming a singular body of recordings as a leader that channel his monumental talents, revolutionary spirit, and Afrocentric and self-determinist philosophies. Remarkably, Nimbus has unearthed a never before released album by Tapscott, now emerging more than 20 years after the pianist’s death as Tapscott and Winds. Featuring Arkestra heavyweights, the flautist Aubrey Hart and the saxophonist Kafi Roberts, these recordings form a striking counterpoint to the ferocious energy that helped define much of Tapscott’s most celebrated works.
Tapscott and Winds encounters one of improvised music’s greatest minds embarking into introspective and restrained territory, his piano lines carving their way across the LP’s two sides via intoxicating melodic structures that would produce an almost meditative effect, were it not for the bristling tension that bubbles below each combination of notes. Into this tapestry of tonal, rhythmic, structural and intellectual complexity, Hart and Roberts intervene with brilliant responses, building upon years of collaboration and mutual respect between themselves and their leader, that culminates as a quite discourse - channeling numerous threads of African American music - with one of the most strikingly individual pianists of the 20th Century.
Beautiful and creatively immersive from start to finish, Tapscott and Winds holds countless revelations for his fans who have thus far been only exposed to his work within the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, unfurling an entirely new dimension from his hands. Never before issued on any format, Nimbus West issues this brilliant statement as an all-analog vinyl cut, mastered from the original 1/4” master tapes recorded in 1983, housed in a tip-on sleeve, complete with an insert containing liner notes by Mark Weber. They’ve only pressed 1000 copies of this wonder, so move fast. It’s not going to sit around for long.
Jesse Sharps "Sharps and Flats" (1986, LP)
Born in Los Angeles in 1953, the saxophonist, Jesse Sharps, spent his childhood in Watts. He encountered Horace Tapscott when he was still at high school, and was asked by the pianist to join Arkestra rehearsals soon after. Leaving to study under Cecil Taylor at university, upon returning to LA he rejoined the band on flute and reeds, ultimately becoming the group’s leader when Arthur Blythe departed, and spearheading the force that Tapscott called “a cultural safe house for the music… black music,… a panorama of the whole thing right here”, playing fundraisers, organizing teach-ins and workshops for young and old, while integrating their efforts - drawing upon the culture and the immediate community from surrounding Los Angeles neighborhoods for talent and creative inspiration - with radical theatre groups and poets, political revolutionaries, community groups and churches. Sharps led the Arkestra like a well-oiled machine during the incredible period which gave way to Flight 17, Live at IUCC, and The Call, and was recalled by Tapscott as “hardcore.. They’d all be quiet and listen to him when he talked.” - a power of personality only trumped by the life his playing breathed into each work. While Sharps was technically the leader of the Arkestra, the chance to record under his own name as a leader didn’t arrive until 1986, with the efforts which became the majority of Sharps and Flats, which tragically - given the power and vision captured during the sessions - remained unissued until a CD release in 2004.
Sharps and Flats - now issued by Nimbus West in its first ever authorized vinyl pressing - encounters Jesse Sharps leading his own quintet, featuring players drawn from the broader orbit of the Ark, the legendary drummer Carl Burnett, Joel Ector on flute, Nate Morgan on piano, and Steve Smith on trumpet, augmented by Horace Tapscott sitting in for Morgan on piano for a stunning rendition of his composition As a Child and Sharps' own Carnival. Despite being a relatively small ensemble - intermittently expanded by the interventions of percussionists Alippa and JJ Kabasa - Sharps, blazing forth on saxophone, culls out a sound - thick, weighty, and wide - that implies the specter of the entire Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra is lying in wait.
Drawing on a vast range of sonic touchstones - pushed to the reaches by the Caribbean infused composition Carnival - Sharps sculpts a strikingly independent vision of jazz during the '80s, sophisticated and driving, at the borders of spiritual jazz and a visionary conception of bop, ebbing and flowing across the album’s six pieces with remarkable energy and dexterity, the totality of which conjoins as one of the most intoxicating and infectious bodies of sound created during the decade.
Hugely historically important, and an absolute marvel of sound, Sharps and Flats is West Coast avant-garde and spiritual jazz at its absolute best. There’s no explaining why these sessions, particularly when faced with the resulting power and quality, gathered dust until their release on CD in 2005. For this pressing - the album’s first ever fully authorized vinyl release - they’ve really gone the distance, creating an all-analog cut, mastered from the original 1/2” master tapes recorded in 1986. Housed in a tip-on sleeve, complete with an insert containing liner notes by Mark Weber and previously unseen photos from the recording session. They’ve only pressed 1000 copies of this beauty, so move fast. It’s easily among the best slabs of jazz that we’re likely to have land in our hands this year.