Tenor saxophonist Odean Pope spent his teenage years in 1950s Philadelphia with such luminaries as John Coltrane, Lee Morgan and Jimmy Smith. He never reached the heights attained by those associates but he acquired a formidable reputation based on long service in drummer Max Roach's group and with his own nine-horn Saxophone Choir.
On Odean's List, Pope leads a powerful octet of three saxophones, two trumpets plus piano, bass and drums. The presence of such star players as saxophonist James Carter, trumpeter Terell Stafford and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts testifies to that reputation. Eight of the 10 tracks are Pope compositions, with several old favourites appearing too.
Pope's skills as an arranger, which he honed with the Saxophone Choir, are evident. He artfully combines the five horns and the rhythm section, interweaving rich ensemble passages with space for soloists. Pope leads from the front, taking the lion's share of solos, but all the band members get room to shine.
The band hits top form with To the Roach, Pope's tribute to his former boss. The boppish riff displays the fire of a big band before driving solos from tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding and pianist George Burton pave the way for a drum solo that pays fitting homage to Roach. The momentum is maintained by the Spanish-tinged Phrygian Love Theme; after a beautiful intro from bassist Lee Smith, solos from Carter, on baritone sax, and from Terrell reinforce its flamenco mood and pulse.
Pope's arrangements do not rely solely on the octet's power but also make effective use of understatement. Say It Over and Over Again showcases the leader's saxophone alone with Smith's bass, the economy of the instrumentation making it hauntingly atmospheric and intimate. When the duo is joined by Watts on Blues for Eight the trio achieves similar results. On both, Pope's solos typically burst with ideas and are refreshingly free of cliches.
Odean's List makes it sound straightforward to produce a great jazz record: all it takes is a band of fine players who interact well plus strong compositions and imaginative arrangements. Simple, but so successful.