Saxophonist Odean Pope is probably one of the most underappreciated jazz musicians of his generation. While Pope is most often cited for his long tenure with drummer Max Roach, his own recordingsfrom trio outings to his explosive saxophone choir albumsshow a tough-toned tenor titan who writes and scores brilliantly for groups of any size and plays his heart out on every occasion. Pope came up on the Philadelphia scene, and fellow saxophone maverick Archie Shepp's liner notes for this album detail the good times they had while hanging out and playing with trumpeter Lee Morgan, bassist Reggie Workman and the legendary pianist Hassan (Ibn Ali). While Shepp's stories might lead one to believe that this album could be a trip down memory lane, Pope is no nostalgia act. He uses different combinations within this octet to create bold pictures of intensity. Massive blocks of soundunmatched by some ensembles twice this sizeoften come into play but the energy is there, regardless of how many musicians are blowing at once.
Pope establishes a musical world here that basically subscribes to the idea that you never know what you're going to get from moment to moment, but it will certainly bring an edge-of-your-seat intensity through your speakers. Even in more reflective moments, like the saxophone and bass essay on "Say It Over And Over Again," Pope manages to pull out surprise after surprise. An introductory saxophone solowith a few multiphonic sighs thrown in for good measureleads to a comfortable exploration of the melody. Pope's soloing, in a faster and more agitated state, provides contrast to bassist Lee Smith's stable lines that hold things together. Smith gets some space to solo, Pope returns, and both men throw short and quick musical snippets back and forth at each other before concluding. "Blues For Eight" explores the saxophone, bass and drum format, famously worked over by saxophonist Sonny Rollins. This sly, swinging blues gives Pope a chance to work over wide intervals andfollowing saxophone and bass solosPope and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts light up the track when they trade fours. The relationship between drummer and saxophonist is explored againin a more interactive wayon the title track, which begins with the full ensemble churning out an energetic line together.
The rest of the material deals more with the possibilities that arrive when an adventurous writer like Pope plays with eight musicians who can essentially play anything and have solo chops to spare. The all-too-brief "Minor Infractions" begins with a cyclical, ascending piano line and the horns pick up on this, creating a broad swath of sound that Pope rides over. Many of these pieces begin with forward-leaning, bop-based lines for the whole band and then quickly give soloists the space they so richly deserve. This is the case with Pope's tribute to Max Roach"To The Roach" which features tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding, pianist George Burton and Watts. Blanding's blustery and broad tone matches Pope's ideals and his fierce and fast lines brim over with intensity.
"Collections" begins with a fun line for the horns and James Carter steals the show. His tenor saxophone solo is a tour-de-force combination of breakneck runs and agony-meets-ecstasy shouts, squeaks and squawks. Trumpeter David Weiss follows, with a solo that uses a bit more space and has a searching quality, and Watts completes the run of soloists. Carterperhaps the most complete saxophonist of the modern erais equally riveting on baritone saxophone. He utilizes a wide vibrato and provides some deep, bellowing sounds on "Phryigian Love Theme," which also features trumpeter Terell Stafford and intense, rippling horn lines toward the end of the piece. Pope has recorded "Cis" on numerous occasions and this particular rendition is a bit slower than some others. He uses the horns to create a rich harmonic bath of soundboth with rhythmic backing and sans rhythm sectionwhich works by itself, and as backing for Pope's solo. The 10 items on Odeans List prove that Pope's playing and writing are as vital and awe-inspiring as they've ever been.
Tracks: Minor Infractions; To The Roach; Phrygian Love Theme; Say It Over And Over Again; Little Miss Lady; Blues For Eight; Collections; Odean's List; You And Me; Cis.
Personnel: Odean Pope: tenor saxophone; Walter Blanding: tenor saxophone; James Carter: tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone; David Weiss: trumpet; Terell Stafford: trumpet; George Burton: piano; Lee Smith: bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums.
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