Jamaaladeen Tacuma and The Last Poets Move Beyond the Nation’s Combative Moment

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Jamaaladeen Tacuma (center) produced the most recent album for The Last Poets, a collaborative effort called Transcending Toxic Times.

(Photo: Courtesy Jamaaladeen Tacuma)

Tacuma recorded his bits for the final track in Seoul, South Korea, with Lady Alma’s warm voice floating above him and Wolfgang Puschnig’s alto saxophone flurrying. Oyewole and Babatunde added their voices and percussion in Philadelphia. On their drive home to New York, the percussionist came up with combining the two titles, because, as Oyewole said, “We don’t want to be in the toxic times. We want to transcend them.”

To spread that message, Tacuma plans to tour with The Last Poets, although he has multiple commitments and other ambitious ideas to handle. He’s scheduled to travel in percussionist Kahil El’Zabar’s group with saxophonist Gary Bartz and keyboardist Robert Irving III, an ensemble that premiered at New York City’s Winter Jazzfest in January. He’s produced an album for his longtime friend, vocalist Lawrence “Weas” Newton, for his own Jam All Productions. And during May in Modena, Italy, Tacuma previewed an opera based on his self-produced 2010 album For The Love of Ornette, which includes some of Coleman’s last recorded playing. But did the bassist learn anything from Coleman that helped him collaborate with The Last Poets?

“Being with Ornette has helped me a lot with all these projects I’ve done,” he answered instantly. “Doing this album, I thought of his attitudes about patience and perfection. Knowing that as human beings we’re never going to reach perfection, but having the idea and attitude that that’s where you want to be. This project took a long time to get out, but sometimes you have to sit back and make sure things come together properly, so it has a life and can hope for longevity.”

Transcending Toxic Times, though, makes some blunt assertions and offers a perspective that some might find controversial.

“There always has been an audience,” Tacuma said. “And I think there’s more of an audience now, because the way that things are. I’m not talking about one person, like 45, I mean people in general. The lying, cheating, infidelity—all the things that keep human beings from their excellence. It’s like those things are fashionable. But deep down inside, people don’t want that. It’s not fashionable to be a liar, to be dishonest. The only thing you have as a person is your word. So, backlash—I’m not worried about that. People know what’s going on. They don’t want to be lied to.”

He paused a moment to pivot to the music. “You can dance to it,” Tacuma figured. “People should listen to it. They should react to it. They should react.” DB

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