Prince Lasha & Odean Pope Trio: The Mystery of Prince Lasha (2005)
Shooting for a faux sense of inscrutability, the tongue-in-cheek title of this new CIMP masks what is an unsurprisingly common occurrence in creative improvised music. Like others of his era who have dropped beneath the public radar since their halcyon days, Prince Lasha opted for a more financially remunerative path than the largess of professional musicianship could provide. Or to put it more simply, when the well ran dry, he sought water elsewhere. Now a septuagenarian, the time felt ripe for a return to the jazz world to redress what he feels is a waning sense of soul.
Teaming with the well-established Odean Pope Trio, a unit that's been crafting meaningful music for going on fifteen years, Lasha's homecoming to active duty is both auspicious and edifying. His hiatus has been kind to both his chops and his outlook. Evidence that both are intact arrives right out of the gate on his spirited alto play on the Calypsonian opener, "Coleman Captain Hornblower, dedicated to an old colleague, Ornette Coleman. Alto and tenor engage again at length on the rapid closer, "Divine Message, rocketing across a comet tail rhythm with convening streams that revel deeply in the blues.
Pope takes on the role of fulcrum between his rhythm section and Lasha's freewheeling method of phrasing a line. It's not always an easy task, and the mesh between the horns isn't always the most durable to scrutiny. But Pope still manages to serve as a mutually supportive bridge. His robust tenor tone, indebted but never enslaved to the precedence of Coltrane, anchors, while Lasha proves more prone to flights of fancy beyond the tether of rhythmic decorum. McIver and Brown sound a bit stiff and sequestered on the opening cuts, but they loosen up swiftly.
Later pieces like the sectional "Prince Lasha reveal more expansive roles for their substantial talents. A griot storytelling spirit pervades the entire session and Lasha's accompanying notes further expound on the living narrative quality inherent to his compositions. Black mysticism and an ancient-to-the-future philosophy are palpable ingredients, both in the annotations and the collective passion brought to the pursuit of infusing them with musical life.
The program also makes ample accordance for Lasha's wide palette of reeds and winds. His nimble and often knavish soprano flavors tracks like the balladic "Selmer with a welcome amount of piquant spice. Clarinet gets short shrift, only appearing later in the set on pieces like the somber gospel-intoned "Book of John, another bow to the deity that is Trane. Lasha's piccolo threads through the vamp-powered "Dinka Man Warrior, soloing lithely before a particularly supple tête-à-tête between McIver and Brown steeped in telegraphing African beats. Flute calmly intones echoes of the eponymous master on "Eric Dolphy, with Brown's warm pizzicato as sole support and foil.
Lasha was gone so long that his absence eventually necessitated acceptance. Years of possible musical activity may have been lost, but this disc makes a persuasive case that many more may exist ahead.
Track Listing: Coleman Captain Hornblower; Many, Many, Many, Many Miles Away; Selmer; Dinka Man Warrior; Eric Dolphy; John the Gospel; Prince Lasha; Book of John; Divine Message.
Personnel: Prince Lasha: clarinet, flute, alto and soprano saxophones, piccolo; Odean Pope: tenor saxophone; Tyrone Brown: bass; Craig McIver: drums. (Recorded April 5, 2005, Rossie, NY.)