Charles Gayle Trio

NotTwo MW 805-2

Odean Pope

Plant Life

Porter Records PRCD-4017

Superficially similar, each of these dates is lead by a veteran American saxophonist on either side of 70, adds the contributions of a bassist and a drummer, and consists of a program of mostly originals plus a different famous composition by John Coltrane. Although neither reaches the top rank, certain cohesive warmth and looseness in performance makes alto saxophonist Charles Gayle’s Forgiveness more enticing than tenor saxophonist Odean Pope’s Plant Life.

What’s actually most surprising is why Pope’s session is so remote and wearying. Best-known for work with his own Saxophone Choir, jazz-funk fusion band Catalyst, and a 30-year association with master drummer Max Roach, North Carolina-born, Philadelphia-based Pope is the epitome of the journeyman jazzman who can be relied upon to produce consistent, swinging work no matter the circumstances. Plus his sideman here include Sunny Murray, one of Free Jazz’s pioneering inventive percussionist; plus lesser-known bassist Lee Smith. In contrast, Buffalo-born, New York-based Gayle has only worked regularly since the late 1980s – about 30 years after Pope established himself – and following a period living on the streets now numbers established players like drummer Rashied Ali – who helped liberate percussion along with Murray in the 1960s – among his cohorts. This live gig from Lodz, Poland, however, features German drummer Klaus Kugel and another steady but unheralded bassist, Hillard Greene.

Recorded in a Philly studio, Pope’s nine tracks seem to suffer from both coldness and literalism. Murray, who has a habit of disassociating himself from a situation for no apparent reason, appears particularly disconnected here. Certainly his half-hearted rolls and rim-shots, substandard flams and drags plus distant cymbal cadences don’t add much rhythmic impetus. When he rouses himself though, he pumps out a respectful and languid beat, relating overall to the Latin and Bop conventions that he actually helped to push aside in the 1960s.

With Murray nearly hors de combat, it’s left to Shaw to keep the bottom solid, and he does a yeoman job throughout, with tough walking pulses, sul tasto resonations and double stopping. “I Want to Talk about You” – closely identified with Coltrane after he recorded it in the 1960s – even brings out near C&W twanging from his bull fiddle.

Pope’s melodious soloing is most assured on that track – at more then nine minutes the CD’s lengthiest as well – but his inspiration merely underlines the isolation elsewhere. Respectful and low-key, he exhibits double-and triple-tonguing here and in other spots but evidentially has trouble connecting with the other players. Sheets of sound, reed-biting obbligatos, warbling vibrato and accented flutter tonguing are tremendous exhibits of reed power and inventiveness; but cohesion would have been just as welcome.

Perhaps enlivened by a club audience on the other hand, members of the Gayle trio are more unified and superficially exciting than the Pope crew. If anything, their run-through of “Giant Steps” may be the least memorable track, since so many jazz musicians have played it so frequently. Still Greene’s bass pulse is as solid as Paul Chambers’ on the original; Kugel’s slaps and stomps speed by more quickly faster than Art Taylor or Elvin Jones ever did; and Gayle’s theme-shredding coupled with shrieks and cries at least moves the head from Trane to Gayle territory.

Additionally, despite the audience’s enthusiasm, the trio’s performance of Gayle’s ecclesiastically titled tunes is a pretty standard Free Jazz trope. The sax man repeatedly piles glossolalia, jagged vibrato screams and squirming piles of notes on top of the drummer’s insistent cross-sticking, rat-tat-tats, cymbal slides and bass drum thumps, while the bassist pumps, thumps and practically directs traffic to keep the staccato motifs from careening off the sonic road. Jagged, ragged and emotional, it still resembles a peacock tail of colors when compared to the near-chiaroscuro tail feathers of Pope and company.

Curiously, one of Plant Life’s rather standard tracks is entitled “Multiphonic”. Yet the undulating resonation of a typical Forgiveness piece such as the nearly 17-minute “Holy Birth” includes more obvious and un-named multiphonics than the entire other CD. Moving from military stop-time – courtesy of Kugel’s drum strokes – to balladic properties – when Greene’s thick string pops reign in the others – Gayle’s meanwhile studs his solo with split tones. Harsh passing tones, altissimo octave screams, buzzing triple-tonguing and a capella curves are his most common recourse. Ending with pitch-sliding slides, extended passages are distended with klaxon-like honks and cries.

Frankly, any one who has followed Gayle’s career over the years will admit he has done better, more focused work. Still this CD is nothing for which to seek forgiveness. In comparison, while steady as say, a Hank Mobley or a Charlie Rouse-led date would have appeared 50 years ago compared to a Coltrane set, Plant Life is also a respectable effort. But its appeal will be more for Pope followers than for those seeking sonic revelations.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Plant: 1. Two Dreams Part 1 2. Happiness Tears 3. Plant Life 4. I Want to Talk about You 5. Scorpio Twins 6. Thoughts 7.Multiphonic 8. Two Dreams Part 2

Personnel: Plant: Odean Pope (tenor saxophone); Lee Smith (bass) and Sunny Murray (drums)

Track Listing: Forgiveness: 1. Living Waters 2. Glory, Glory, Glory 3. Holy Birth

4. Confess 5. Song To Thee 6. Giant Steps 7. Forgiveness

Personnel: Forgiveness: Charles Gayle (alto saxophone); Hillard Greene (bass) and

Klaus Kugel (drums)