All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

226

Mike Pope: The Lay of the Land

By

Sign in to view read count
In a year that has already produced a number of excellent recordings, Mike Pope’s The Lay of the Land may well be one of the best. It’s certainly one of the most exciting new albums this reviewer has heard in a long time. Pope, who excels on both acoustic and electric bass, has surrounded himself with major label talent for this indie label release: both Randy and Michael Brecker make appearances, saxophonist Seamus Blake appears on two tracks; guitarist Mike Stern, bassist John Patitucci, and vibraphonist Joe Locke turn up on one track each; and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts plays on all but two cuts.

All of this star power doesn’t diminish Pope’s talent, nor does it diminish some of the lesser known players, especially the magnificent pianist Henry Hey and drummer Jim White. It was a risk for Pope to put so many heavy hitters on one album – and then not crediting them on the back cover, which means a big surprise for the unknowing jazz fan who picks up this disc – since there was the possibility that such an aggregation of talent might overshadow the album’s leader. And while the album’s personnel rotates from track to track (a quartet on one track, a trio on the next, a duo on still another), the overall effect is far from incoherent. The album is a showcase for Pope’s ability on his instruments, and the revolving groups show the bassist to excellent effect in a variety of settings.

To choose just a few of the highlights from this exceptional disc, Randy Brecker shines on the opener, the dynamic “The First Order of Business,” which is a quartet track with Pope, Hey and Watts. There are some who run screaming from any album that features a Brecker, and those people will miss out on some of Randy Brecker’s most exciting soloing in years. Hey, Pope, and Watts perform as a trio on the brisk “Climate,” another Pope original. Pope and Patitucci double up the bass for the title track, with Pope playing electric while Patitucci anchors the band on acoustic.

Pope and drummer Jim White perform as a duo for a version of “Cherokee,” played by Pope at breakneck speed on electric bass. Again, it was a risky move for Pope, since this performance automatically invites comparison with Jaco Pastorius’s version of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” on Jaco’s debut album. Fortunately, Pope is as distinctive a voice on electric bass as he is on acoustic, and he brings off his performance with brio. Finally, there is the closing track, a decidedly non-flag waving version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which features Joe Locke on vibes. This performance is pensive, asking as many questions as Jimi Hendrix’s famous barn-burning version of the National Anthem.

Just as Jimi’s performance sought to redefine the concept of “freedom” for a generation lost in confusing times, so too does Pope’s version attempt to reclaim the song for the post-9/11 generation. By sweetly and tastefully couching “freedom” in terms of the jazz musician’s ability to improvise on a familiar melody – creating something familiar, yet entirely new – Pope and company provide a refreshing repudiation of the present administration’s hijacking of patriotism. It is probably the most overtly political statement a jazz musician has made since Max Roach recorded We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, although Pope is very subtle in his protest. It is a magnificent closing to a wonderful album.

Pope’s mixing of acoustic and electric bass on what is essentially a straight-ahead album is also exciting. The variety of musicians from different genres and generations show that the leader isn’t shy about crossing boundaries. In Mike Pope’s music, we get the sense that jazz’s past and future and both found in jazz’s present. It is refreshing to hear such a strong voice coming from such relative obscurity. Pope has made a terrific album, and it is my hope that as many people hear it as possible. In fact, when finishing this disc for the first time, I did something I hadn’t done in ages: I hit play, and listened to it again.


Track Listing: The First Order of Business; Essence; At Home Again; The Lay of the Land; Cherokee; Climate; The Avid Listener; The Way You Look Tonight; The Star Spangled Banner

Personnel: Michael Pope, acoustic and electric bass; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Seamus Blake, Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; Henry Hey, piano; Joe Locke, vibraphone; Mike Stern, acoustic guitar; John Patitucci, acoustic bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts, Jim White, drums

Title: The Lay of the Land | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Whaling City Sound

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Der Dichter Spricht CD/LP/Track Review
Der Dichter Spricht
by Troy Dostert
Published: April 26, 2018
Read Piano Works CD/LP/Track Review
Piano Works
by John Sharpe
Published: April 26, 2018
Read Throw Tomatoes CD/LP/Track Review
Throw Tomatoes
by Mark Corroto
Published: April 26, 2018
Read Reflections 2 CD/LP/Track Review
Reflections 2
by Glenn Astarita
Published: April 26, 2018
Read Making Other Arrangements CD/LP/Track Review
Making Other Arrangements
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 25, 2018
Read Charlie & Paul CD/LP/Track Review
Charlie & Paul
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 25, 2018
Read "Where Fortune Smiles" CD/LP/Track Review Where Fortune Smiles
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 13, 2017
Read "No Mundo Dos Sons" CD/LP/Track Review No Mundo Dos Sons
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: October 12, 2017
Read "Crystal Machine" CD/LP/Track Review Crystal Machine
by Glenn Astarita
Published: June 23, 2017
Read "Elementals" CD/LP/Track Review Elementals
by Chris May
Published: April 18, 2018
Read "After Bach" CD/LP/Track Review After Bach
by Doug Collette
Published: April 4, 2018
Read "Stage 'N Studio" CD/LP/Track Review Stage 'N Studio
by Jack Bowers
Published: October 15, 2017