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Odean Pope Brings Philly to DC

Matt Merewitz By

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At an early age, I sort of cancelled saxophone players out?I found out that you never get any recognition if you played too much like someone else.
A markedly different and original musician, Odean Pope offers a saxophonic approach that sounds nothing like saxophone. In fact if anything it sounds more like wood flute or mellophone despite a typical tenor setup (with metal mouthpiece).

Odean Pope was born in the town in the town of Ninety Six, South Carolina, but grew up in the city of brotherly love. While paying his dues, he played behind such R&B acts as James Brown and Marvin Gaye. He studied with Ray Bryant. Though cognizant of Coltrane's presence and contributions to the music, Pope developed in his own way and managed to escape the shadow of Coltrane's legacy, which many critics used to categorize players over the years. Unfortunately as a result he doesn't share the same name-recognition as many of those same players who were branded as Coltrane followers.

'At an early age, I sort of cancelled saxophone players out'I found out that you never get any recognition if you played too much like someone else. I started to listen to piano players'Dynamically, harmonically and melodically, I think I got a tremendous amount of knowledge from that experience,' says Pope in an old issue of Downbeat.

Pope's heyday was in an era of experimentation. It was after hard-bop, but not quite in the heart of the free jazz vein. For over two decades he was the tenor saxophonist in drummer Max Roach's group. This job certainly shaped his conceptions of music as one might expect when working with a drummer who brings out the subtle effects of the drum set ' converting it into a tonal instrument with a melodic range almost as open as a horn player.

His strapping tone runs from a low thin drone (especially on the low end) to joyous shrieks of pain and joy as his solos climax. Backed by a duo of fellow Roach devotees, drummer Craig McIver (of Roach's M'Boom) and bassist Tyrone Brown (of Roach's groups with the saxophonist), Pope cruised through four drawn-out tunes with well-built solos that explored each melodic possibility of each tune's changes.

Joined by John Coltrane's cousin, altoist Carl Grubbs (a fellow Philadelphian), whose sweet singing tone was of distinct contrast to Pope (though their 'out' harmonic concepts were interestingly similar yet Grubbs reverted more to Coltrane-esque licks and re-harmonizing). At the same time, Grubbs ventured over to a darker sound that brought out an entirely different side of him than I had previously seen in his numerous previous DC appearances.

Though the saxophone solos were the featured attraction, the electric bass (played sitting down as one would play a cello with a floor peg) of Tyrone Brown truly wowed the audience with his rich tone and well-constructed solo. He had me dancing in my chair and since his approach was so original, I feel I have to retell it to you avid jazz fans.

He sets in real nice and easy (swinging hard). Then he goes into a routine where he'll start a walking motif running eighth or sixteenth-notes lines in double time against the drummer's 4/4. And thus he plays a game of catch me if you can with the drums. This really was a pleasure to watch, but what brought the most attention was his impassioned introduction and obligato on the last piece, McCoy Tyner's Eastern-tinged Wise One.

I thanked Odean for bringing such an interesting set that exposed the audience to these players and brought the Philly tradition to the District.


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