Though Tapscott released his first album, “The Giant Is Awakened,” with a separate quintet in 1969, his debut LP with the Arkestra didn’t arrive until “The Call,” a mix of bluesy ballads and orchestral arrangements with grand flourishes, in 1978. Along the way, noted musicians and vocalists like Nate Morgan, Kamau Daaood, Adele Sebastian and Phil Ranelin played in the band.
Trible came across Tapscott in the late 1980s as a singer in another group who wanted to work with the Arkestra. Two weeks after they performed separately at a festival, Tapscott offered an invitation. “He said, ‘I want you to come to my house tomorrow at 3 o’clock,’ and he hung up the phone,” Trible remembered with a laugh. “And just about every concert that Horace played from that time on, I sang with him in some capacity.”
Trible performed a fiery rendition of “Little Africa,” a rapturous gospel song, with the current version of the Arkestra at National Sawdust in Brooklyn earlier this month. The festive night of shouts and praise featured older and younger Arkestra members, and served as a showcase for Session, the band’s leader since 2018; Mekala is the son of the saxophonist Michael Session, who led the band before him.
In an interview before the gig, Session recalled joining the band as a teen. “I’m 13 and my first gig with the Ark is with Azar Lawrence,” he exclaimed, referring to the noted saxophonist and sideman to Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner and Freddie Hubbard. “It’s actually a very humbling thing to be a medium, a conduit for the ancestors trying to spread this vibration as far and as hard as possible.”
The idea for the compilation arose shortly after the band’s 50th anniversary, which came and went without much fanfare. The collective vowed to not let that happen for its 60th. “We were like, ‘We’re going to make a product that will introduce a bunch of people to this band in a way that’s comprehensive and concise,” Session said. “This is for us, by us. We wanted to present something to the people from the band that can directly pay the band and support the band, and then be turned into other projects. It’s the first time the Ark has been able to do that, really.”
Renewed interest in Tapscott and the Arkestra dates back at least seven years, when a new crop of L.A. jazz musicians — including the bassist Thundercat, the saxophonist Kamasi Washington and the producer and multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin — helped the superstar rapper Kendrick Lamar create his avant jazz-rap opus “To Pimp a Butterfly,” shedding light on the city’s still-fertile jazz scene. Since then, various labels have reissued Tapscott’s work. But the music on “60 Years,” remastered from old cassettes and CDs, hasn’t been heard beyond the Arkestra.
Six decades since Tapscott formed the band, Session said the group’s mission hasn’t changed, and he vowed to continue pushing forward. “I want to get weirder. I want to get back to how Horace did shows at prisons and high schools and colleges for free,” he said. “We could sell out Carnegie Hall and then come home and do the same set for 50, 60 cats. I want that balance. It sounds impossible, but we can do it.”