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Odean Pope: Locked & Loaded

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Odean Pope took his Saxophone Choir to the Blue Note for this live recording, and he brought along some heavy hitters: tenor saxophone giants Michael Brecker, James Carter and Joe Lovano. But those guys provide the guest solos. The heart and soul of this band are the nine saxophones in the choir.

It’s amazing how Pope’s band can sound loving and angry within the space of a few bars. The disc opens with “Epitome,” reminding one of an approaching storm, the saxes unsupported by the rhythm section until the piece is nearly over. The band takes “Prince Lasha” at breakneck speed, climaxing in a tornado of energy, though it’s hard to detect much emotion in Brecker’s technically flawless solo. The mood turns romantic with “Cis,” which finds Lovano exuding his trademark warmth during his lovely solo.

The program here is all Pope originals plus two John Coltrane tunes: a lovely reading of “Central Park West” and a head-turning take of “Coltrane Time,” which begins as a duet between Pope and drummer Craig McIver before pianist George Burton and bassist Tyrone Brown join the fray. A wondrous unaccompanied sax solo halfway through peaks with honking and squealing that could peel the paint off a wall, leading to a chaotic exchange between Pope and Brecker. Things relax once more with “Terrestrial,” but that’s the calm before the final storm of “Muntu Chant,” a thick, muscular song that brings out Carter, who’s always a blast. Here he begins soulfully enough but then gets wild, spilling out a frenzy of notes.

Yes, a group featuring nine saxophones could probably get tedious, but Pope never lets that happen. Bonus: Ornette Coleman wrote the liner notes. Decipher them if you can.