Though best known for his lengthy tenure accompanying legendary drummer Max Roach, Philadelphia-based tenor saxophonist Odean Pope has long demonstrated a flair for writing and arranging that is as impressive as his sideman work. His most arresting compositions have been conceived for his decades-old Saxophone Choir, while smaller-scale projects have featured his improvisational prowess in collaboration with peers such as Dave Burrell, Khan Jamal and Sunny Murray. The octet featured on Odean's List gracefully integrates the intricate charts of Pope's Saxophone Choir with the intimacy of his small-combo sessions. Comprised of veterans both young and old, this multi-generational ensemble features a number of Pope's close colleagues, as well as heavyweights like saxophonist James Carter, trumpeter Terell Stafford and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.
Many of the tunes are culled from Pope's earliest efforts, expounding post-bop tenets with propulsive swing and spirited solos. Providing the session with dynamic diversity, he balances the octet's capacious density with a handful of ballads, trios and duets, including two covers, the opulent "Say It Over And Over Again" and spry "Little Miss Lady." A magnanimous leader, Pope steps out of the limelight after the introductory fanfare of "Minor Infractions," offering the date's first extended work-out to tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding, whose tortuous musings on the vivacious tribute "To The Roach" are reinforced by incisive statements from pianist George Burton and Watts.
A member of Pope's Saxophone Choir, James Carter's pyrotechnic tendencies are well-suited for this ensemble, providing an extroverted lyrical alternative to the leader's coiled intensity. Although trumpeter David Weiss and Watts each contribute exemplary solos to the thorny "Collections," Carter steals the show with his opening screed of blistering altissimo runs and testimonial cries. The staccato attack of his bellowing baritone is equally dramatic on "Phrygian Love Theme," infusing the minor key vamp with frenzied ardor, bolstered by Stafford's clarion brass flourishes and a rousing collective coda.
Pope uses the octet's voluminous potential sparingly, paring down occasionally to a more modest scale. On the duo feature "Say It Over And Over Again" Lee Smith's resolute bass figures underscore Pope's mellifluous long-tones and brusque interjections with an affable rapport. "Blues For Eight" elicits the same level of empathetic discourse in an archetypal trio format, culminating with an animated call-and-response dialogue between Pope's intervallic tenor and Watt's thunderous trap set. The title track expands the concept further, as the full ensemble book-ends an epic duet, casting the leader's multiphonic peals against Watts' roiling undercurrent.
A commanding soloist (now in his early seventies), Pope reveals the lyrical side of his tough tenor on "Cis," a harmonically rich ballad dedicated to his wife, which closes the album on a tender note. Bolstered by the phenomenal contributions of his sidemen, Odean's List is a compelling reminder of Pope's relevance as a composer and improviser, one whose talent deserves greater recognition.
Personnel: Odean Pope: tenor saxophone; Walter Blanding: tenor saxophone; James Carter: tenor and baritone saxophones; David Weiss: trumpet; Terell Stafford: trumpet; George Burton: piano; Lee Smith: bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums.