It's been a banner year for tenor saxophone trios. Not the most common lineup, this challenging ensemble has seen some terrific releases from musicians both famous and unsung, veterans and newcomers alike. Now Philadelphia saxophonist Odean Pope
adds his superb contribution with Odean's Three
It might not be fair to judge any jazz musician by the standard of whether he's become a 'household name.' What's famous among jazz fansa group dedicated to esoteric musicians if ever there was one is meaningless within the context of broader popular music. But even among jazz fans Pope deserves wider recognition. At seventy-five years old he qualifies as a member of a select group who, by virtue of longevity, musical vision, and personal style, qualify as elder sages, able to play whatever they want however they want, beholden to no one.
Some musicians reach the point where they transcend questions of skill or intellectual construction. Performances become direct links to consciousness and emotion, extraordinarily pure deliveries of self: think John Coltrane
on A Love Supreme
, or Lee Konitz
's recent introverted wanderings. With Odean's Three
, Pope has reached that point of unbridled expression.
Pope is not an easy saxophonist. He's by turns frenetic, strident, and always vigorous, and his horn tone has some sharp elbows. He is not 'creamy and mellow.' Nor is Odean's Three
free music, although melodies are long and loose and seem to vary from measure to measure.
Pope maintains context among his fellows, drummer Billy Hart
and bassist Lee Smith
. They're more like three cats in a closed bag, bouncing around, climbing over each other, straining at their boundaries, but in the end still in it together. This is trio collaboration heavily, though not entirely improvisationalat its best.
Of course, as a trio, with the saxophone carrying all of the melodic and most of the improvisational duties, it's all about Pope's playing, and his playing is wonderful. Throughout the record he exhibits the ability to challenge the listener with surprising little flakes of creativity in the midst of larger statements. His solos range far and wide, unrestrained by octaves or collaborative tempo, and he fills the recording with volumes of sound. This is creative, powerful jazz: the product of a musician with confidence in his vision and a direct connection to himself. Odean's Three
demands and captures the listener's attention. It's not trying to play to a bigger crowd, or be all things to all people. It's a snapshot of Pope's singular creative aesthetic and it may well be one of the most important saxophone records of the year. Press play, sit down, and take the ride. The journey is most rewarding.