Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Odean Pope's Potent Free Jazz Universal Sounds

Saxophonist Odean Pope may be best known for his tenure with the late Max Roach, but was also part of the legendary cooperative group Catalyst and also the Saxophone Choir. The Philadelphia based tenor saxophonist is joined on his newest recording Universal Sounds (Porter Records) with Marshall Allen, one of the principal saxophonists with the late Sun Ra, on alto sax and electronic wind instruments, bassist Lee Smith and three drummers, Warren Smith, Craig McIver and Jim Hamilton creating an unusual setting for the performances here.

Listening to this CD, a number of reference points strike me.
Custody of American Spirit, opens with Pope’s strong tenor contrasted with Allen’s electronic wind instrument followed by the Warren Smith’s employment use of percussion and what sounds like Indian chants and whoops backed by Lee Smith’s arco playing followed by Warren Smith’s timpani and the other drummers creating a wall of percussion as Pope and Allen, both on saxophones state the theme. Pope and Allen state the theme of Mwalimu with its African flavor followed by Lee Smith’s dueting with one (or more) of the drummers. The Binder conjures up some of the more intense free jazz of the sixties and seventies which evokes some of the recordings by Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane (particularly the latter recordings with Rashied Ali, including those which included Sanders and/or Donald Garrett). Allen follows with a furious solo with a fair amount of overblowing, screeches and honks set against the furious cacophony of the percussionists.

She Smiled Again is a more pensive composition with Pope’s ballad playing employing a slightly harsh vibrato with Lee Smith anchoring the performance while the drummers add their own accents here. Bassist Smith contributed the lively Go Figure, which is a lengthy bass feature with the drummers adding their comments. The Track by Allen has him on the electronic wind instrument contributing various electronic effects and sounds and engaging in a musical colloquy with Warren Smith on marimba and timpani. Allen’s playing here was interesting and suggests the possibility of electronics in the mix of usual wind instrument musical ideas with sounds one might associate more with, say, keyboard synthesizers. Blues opens with some driving percussion before the saxophones state the simple blues riff at the performance’s heart leading to fresh and robust blues playing by Pope (once again Lee Smith’s bass playing merits kudos) with some intense, fresh passages. A longer rendition of Custody of the American (Bullshit Version), concludes with Warren Smith’s wordless chanting supplemented by soft shouts of ‘Bullshit,” with more furious percussion by the trio of drummers.

There is powerful music here and when one considers that Pope is 72, Warren Smith is 76 and Marshall Allen is 86, one has to be astonished by the energy they impart into these performances. Obviously if one is not a fan of free jazz, this will not appeal to that individual. However, there is more on
Universal Sounds than what might strike some as the frenzied cacophony during The Binder. Most of the performances more structured and providing for some fascinating, and thoughtful musical conversations. While admittedly this won’t be for everyone’s tastes, this is a most potent session.

I purchased this CD.

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