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Mike Pope: The Lay of the Land

Phil DiPietro By

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Mike Pope plays a mean piano. He's also a noted inventor, designing and building pre-amps for the boutique bass builders Fodera . But really he's a bassist; and not surprisingly, a skilled, er... pontif -icator on both electric and acoustic. He's also a fine mainstream jazz composer and has assembled an all-star cast of musicians here, including heavy hitters the Brecker Brothers, Mike Stern, Joe Locke, Jeff "Tain" Watts and his doubling double John Patitucci to assist in expressing his vision. Bloomdaddy and Monk competition winner Seamus Blake on sax and Henry Hey on acoustic piano are along here to provide their edginess to the proceedings.

There was already a buzz about Mike in his days at North Texas State's prestigious jazz program. In 1993, he hit New York, where gigs with Randy Brecker, Locke, Chuck Loeb, Stern, and Bruce Barth ensued. He's also received deserved attention from the brethren of bassists, including a white hot appearance as a special guest with Matt Garrison's band that blew the doors off of Bass Day 2001 (that unit included Hey and drummer Jojo Mayer ) and glowing praise, in print, from no less than Oteil Burbridge and Victor Wooten .

The praise focuses on the fact that Pope solos on bop changes as well as any bassist out there, shown on electric to full effect on his "Lay of the Land," over Patitucci's walking acoustic. The head for this title cut effectively combines a Latin lope with a smoky swing showcasing the Breckers' ensemble horn work before yielding the floor to Randy, then Michael, who both do their usual superlative thing, and finally Pope, who knocks the bop proceedings out of the park over Tain's doubletime 'tensity.

There's also a subplot going on here in terms of new talent. Listen to fellow North Texas Stater and Locke band-mate Henry Hey's expansive and expressive work on beautifully recorded acoustic piano throughout. You can start with his own composition for acoustic trio, "Climate," which also serves as a vehicle for Pope's combination of lyricism and command over changes, which he emphasizes while soloing with only the drums. Dig the duo's relaxed swing and "falling" unison passage in the head, as well as Hey's lyrical way with the right hand and how the left so insistently and sensitively follows, with chords, rhythms, and lines always attentive, sympathetic and perfectly placed.

While the gorgeous arrangement of the National Anthem may seem in timely response to recent history, I have personal knowledge that this recorded version was completed in 2000. More importantly, Pope's arrangement, combined with the deft touches of Hey and Locke, impart a warm feeling to the listener harkening back to nothing so pleasant and radiantly intense than Guaraldi and Tjader.

Listen to the erudite ensemble work, especially between Hey and Randy Brecker, combined with the unrelenting forward propulsion of "The First Order of Business." Hey's incendiary chorus is followed by elegant trumpet, Tain's soliloquy and a loose ending. Now reflect on the fact that Pope et. al. have crafted a truly first class, major label ready and worthy (whatever that means these days) effort- a resoundingly straight ahead and expertly executed recording by a set of New York's most accomplished musicians. The dish? It's another independently released and marketed (by Whaling City Sound) effort that drives home the ponderous state of the jazz marketplace. The easiest place to get it? Visit CDBaby and Mike's place on the web.



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