Thursday, May 25, 2006

THE DARK TREE - Horace Tapscott

I've removed to San Francisco, where the American Literature Association is meeting. A bit later I'll be filing some reports about that. Today, though, I want to call your attention to a new book I ran across last night.

Whenever my business brings me to this side of the Bay, City Lights Books is an obligatory stop on my agenda. So I hiked up there from the hotel right after check-in last night, and that's where I came across THE DARK TREE: JAZZ AND THE COMMUNITY OF ARTS IN LOS ANGELES.

The book is by Steven Isoardi, who teaches at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles. Many of you will remember him from his great work on the CENTRAL AVENUE SOUNDS project, that coffee table book and CD collection that documents the history of jazz in L.A. The new book is a sustained examination of one of the most significant portions of that history, the Black Arts collectives that formed in L.A. in the late sixties and seventies. Just as the Black Artists Group in St. Louis and the AACM in Chicago were artist-run collaborations that changed the face of both art and politics, the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension, which included as many as three hundred artists, represents a signal moment in the evolution of American arts.

The book contains many invaluable illustrations AND comes with a CD of music you won't be able to find anywhere else. Pianist/Composer Horace Tapscott and his Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra were the mainstays of the movement in L.A., and the book's accompanying CD brings us performances drawn from Tapscott's archives that have never been released before in any form. The CD alone is well worth the price of the book, but you'll want to read this book. Like other volumes that have recently appeared documenting at long last the fuller breadth and depth of the Black Arts Movement, this volume is assiduously documented.

Whether or not you have ever heard of Horace Tapscott before, you will want to read this book and give the music a close listening. This is music for the ages; it sounds as revolutionary today as it did in decades past.

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