Monday, January 01, 2007

The Sauce

Every once in a while I’ll be on my knees squinting at the spines of my record collection, flipping through the musty and worn albums searching for something good and worthy, and sometimes it’s moments like that -- looking at a crappy Humble Pie record or an album of birdsongs, a samba anthology or an old Nonesuch collection of Gesualdo – when I’ll think "Jesus, what a bunch of garbage. I should just throw 80 percent of it away." I had a few of those moments today – I was revisiting Buffy St. Marie’s (bad) Nashville record, trying to remember what I liked about Renaldo and the Loaf, shaking my head in frustration at how scratched up my Sons of the Pioneers 10-inch was.

And then, occasionally, you have those moments when you realize you’ve actually got a few gems in the library. I watched Desperate Man Blues the other night, the documentary about the legendary 78 collector Joe Bussard – if you’ve ever looked closely at the notes to your re-issues of old recordings made originally on 78s, CDs on Document, Revenant and Yazoo, you may have noticed that Joe Bussard gets thanked an awful lot. It’s because of his obsessive hording that we have such pristine records of Charley Patton or some ultra rarity on Black Patty, of which Bussard has the only extant copy. It’s hard to imagine in these days of infinite digital proliferation, but maybe one day a little slab of vinyl will help piece together the story of some soon-to-be-forgotten genius.

As I mentioned before, I was semi-inspired by the story about Dave Douglas and the guys from Bad Plus and some mp3 bloggers and their quest to improve the reputation of underappreciated jazz from the 70s and 80s. That had gotten me dusting off some long-neglected albums. So I got out an old Odean Pope record from the early 80s. I got introduced to Odean Pope’s tenor playing from records he did with the Max Roach Quartet, a band that made some first-rate records during the 70s and 80s. Pope also leads his own excellent group now, the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir. It’s a huge 13-member band with nine sax players. And they make amazing shiny and bright music. It’s like the jazz equivalent of a Frank Gehry building, all shimmering and undulating and immense. Experimental and open, but solid, too. Pope has this signature leap that he makes on the horn; he’ll burn through a long, impressive run flying up or dropping down in tone until he hits the top or bottoms out, and then he’ll do this giant intervalic leap, starting way low and shooting up into some extended technique upper register, maybe chomping out a shrill whistle. That’s his thing.

As I was pulling out some of my records with Odean Pope on them, I searched to see which of the Max Roach records are available on CD. I was surprised to learn that Chattahoochee Red, one of my favorites, is not only not available, the vinyl is going for like $160 on-line. (I had a similar experience recently when I saw that Sasha Frere-Jones had pointed out on his blog that African Headcharge CDs are no longer in print, and many of them are going for biggish cash now.)

"Dervish Chant" - African Headcharge (from Songs of Praise)

"Healing Father" - African Headcharge (from Songs of Praise)

For a while I worshiped Max Roach (who was born in NC, by the way). His drumming was so melodic and musical and compositional. He was brilliant with space, with repetition. His rim-shots, muted strokes, rolls and the way he traded fours, just made me blink my eyes, shake my head in disbelief and practically fall over. Along with Stewart Copeland, Elvin Jones and John Bonham, he was one of the guys I always tried to emulate behind the kit. I actually got to shake his hand when he played at a high school in Asheville. He was talking about the gospel/church music that he heard as a kid as being the inspiration for much of his playing. "Gospel is the source," he said; the only thing was, it sounded like he was saying "Gospel is the sauce," which has become one of those creative mishearings that I repeat still.

Here are two tunes from Chattahoochee Red. Now, Max Roach could be as far-out and ponderous as any free jazz cat – he did records with Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor, he’s done albums with vocal choirs, he’s done collaborations with string quarters (his daughter plays in one), he’s done extended drum solo records, extended improv records – but what’s great about Max as a band leader is that he sometimes opts for curtailing much of the long-winded head-solo-solo-solo-solo-head business that bulks up a lot of jazz records. Here is a wonderful to-the-point staccato reading of Coltrane’s "Giant Steps" and a pretty tune called "Lonesome Lover," I like it for the kind of Ellingtonian effect of Pope’s alto flute paired with the muted brass. It might border on corny, but whatever. (It reminds me a little of Duke’s beautiful "Portrait of Mahalia Jackson" from the New Orleans Suite, which I’d meant to put up with the post on Mahalia.)

"Giant Steps" - Max Roach (from Chattahoochee Red, featuring Odean Pope)

"Lonesome Lover" - Max Roach

"Portrait of Mahalia Jackson" – Duke Ellington, from the New Orleans Suite

And then there’s "No Air" from one of Pope’s solo records with the great title Almost Like Me. Warning: there’s some seriously spastic incontinent electric bass playing here and the tuning and tone of the drums will be unacceptable for many. Still the band makes an admirable amount of noise for three dudes, and they skirt the borders of free jazz, funk and late-night talk show theme music with ample energy.

"No Air" - Odean Pope (from Almost Like Me)

Continuing with the Coltranisms, here’s "Coltrane Time" from the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir’s Epitome record. I love the fractilized, chopped-and-scattered intro/outro.

"Coltrane Time" - Odean Pope Saxophone Choir (from Epitome, listen at the 1:20 marker and again at 2:30 for the signature Pope leap)


Rod... said...

great stuff... especially like the Odean Pope... under-rated player...

JazzDoIt said...

Couldn't listen to the tunes, but great post man. I wonder if you can upload Chattahoochee Red album. I've been waiting for this one long time..