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Odean Pope: To The Roach & Serenity

Elliott Simon By

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Odean Pope Quartet
To The Roach
CIMP
2006


Odean Pope
Serenity
CIMP
2007

The many-sided figure defined by the intersecting lines among saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman is the space that tenor saxophonist Odean Pope inhabits and expands upon. A nexus among players of his generation, Pope is on the cusp of bop and free jazz, connecting the two with a singular approach that is both accessible and creative. These two recent releases on the CIMP label highlight differing aspects of his persona—his long association with drummer Max Roach motivates the hard-driving To the Roach while Serenity is a highly personal look inwards.

Pope was an integral part of the Max Roach Quartet for more than two decades and for his tribute To the Roach he unsurprisingly chooses to interpret rather than imitate. The swinging hard bop influence is of course there but the fabric of this quartet is decidedly different. Matt Davis, whose guitar's exquisite tone instrumentally replaces Cecil Bridgewater's trumpet, dovetails beautifully with Pope's ability to blow while working both inside and out. Together they give this stylistically varied session a spiritual center. While this is most evident on the elegant call-and-response duet and session closer "Prayer," their synergy is apparent throughout.

The title cut opens things up as a burner and is resurrected about midway through the program as a free-formish romp with massive Coltrane signifiers. Pope's capacity to switch gears quickly both tonally and temporally provides a challenge that this rhythm section—bassist Michael Taylor and percussionist Craig McIver—meet admirably. The short addendum cut "Where We'll Never Grow Old" inadvertently catches Pope soloing in the outdoors and provides the inspiration for Serenity, a solo tenor session that allows for a very personal spiritual connection between musician and listener.

For me, it brought to mind a Jewish music retreat during which I was walking through the woods and saw the sole Chassidic attendee praying in a small clearing surrounded by trees and birds. The outdoors gave these familiar daily prayers a new meaning and context and I was struck by his unity with nature, fervor and spirituality. Such is the case with Serenity, which poignantly captures this oneness, translating it through Pope's powerful horn. The program, recorded au naturel, uses the unscripted sounds of birds and even passing motorists as open backdrop. It consists primarily of spirituals such as "Wade in the Water" and "Go Down Moses" on which Pope's tenor soars, preaches, chants and interprets familiar melodies, in the process resanctifying them with a deep musical reverence. "Variations on Ellington's Come Sunday" presents this Duke classic from a variety of perspectives while "The Star Spangled Banner" recalls Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. With Serenity, Pope has given us a sacred work that links musician and listener with an omniscient presence.


Tracks and Personnel

To The Roach

Tracks: To the Roach; Bluesit; Harpology; Let's Meet Again; Plant Life; To the Roach Pt. 2; The Last Stop; Prayer; Where We'll Never Grow Old.

Personnel: Odean Pope: tenor saxophone; Matt Davis: guitar; Michael Taylor: bass; Craig McIver: drums.

Serenity

Tracks: The Lord's Prayer; Wade in the Water; Where We'll Never Grow Old; There Is a Balm in Gilead; Go Down Moses; Standin' in the Need of Prayer; Where We'll Never Grow Old; What a Friend We Have In Jesus; Variations on Ellington's Come Sunday; The Star Spangled Banner; Kum Ba Yah; Go Down Moses; I Shall Not be Moved; Serenity.

Personnel: Odean Pope: tenor saxophone.

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