Jamaaladeen Tacuma's Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Fest stretches sound and perceptions
Jamaaladeen Tacuma unleashed a torrent of tone and rhythm from his electric bass at SOUTH Jazz Kitchen last Saturday night, keeping a sold-out crowd hanging on every note. It was opening weekend for his Outside Improvised & Creative Music Festival — and judging by the reception in the room, audiences are more than ready to follow his post-pandemic funk forays all the way to their natural conclusion.
The kickoff began on Friday with a group featuring Philadelphia legend Odean Pope on saxophone. Saturday’s lineup featured another heavyweight saxophonist, James Carter, along with drummer Calvin Weston and guitarist Jake Morelli. They displayed a synergy through close listening and reflexes rivaling many steadily working bands.
"As improvisers, we understand the concept of morphing into grooves and styles within a given setting," Tacuma tells WRTI, after the fact. "In humbly taking the lead in these moments, I feel the vibration of the audience and it's clear as we're playing what should follow."
Tacuma's history with Weston and Carter stretches back decades, and formed the nexus for Carter’s 2000 album Layin’ in the Cut (with guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Marc Ribot). That common musical language similarly set the tone for this lineup, billed as the Jamaaladeen Tacuma Quartet.
Nattily dressed as always, and armed with his Fender Precision Bass, Tacuma guided the squad through a fire-breathing groove medley. His bass lines, at times, suggested patterns traceable to Funkadelic's Billy "Bass" Nelson or even Larry Graham. But emerging from that groove was an improvisational flair and vocabulary that dazzled and surprised the crowd.
Carter, one of the most thorough and powerful saxophonists of any generation, unleashed a torrent of melodies and sounds representing the history of his instrument.
And while many groups in this configuration would employ a pianist or keyboardist, Morelli's guitar proved to be better suited to the music. His harmonic underpinning was flexible and energetic enough to allow Carter maximum freedom — and when Morelli stepped forward as a soloist, his rock-like intensity was right at the center of the band's sound.
Weston and Tacuma have been tight rhythm partners since their teenage years, when they were both playing in Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. His beat took no prisoners, while supporting nearly anything that Carter or Morelli put forth. As Tacuma says of the band’s process: "It's easy to play a full show without preconceived compositions, but within our improvisations, sometimes we're also able to throw in our compositions as well."
In a supper club like SOUTH, patrons can sometimes be lulled into passive listening by the splendor of the food. But with Tacuma's Quartet in full gear, even the cornbread came in second. On Saturday the Outside Improvised & Creative Music Festival moves to The Painted Bride Art Center at 5212 Market Street — with "Strings and Things," Tacuma’s trio with guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, which will likely fare even better in scope and immediacy.
That performance will happen both in person and in VR (virtual reality); admission is respectively $25 (in-person) or $20 (VR), available for purchase here.