|Almost Like Me
It shouldn’t be hard for Odean Pope and Khan Jamal to make distinctive music as they are both distinctive voices. Here they are joined by 2 other Philadelphia-based veterans and a sum total of about 160 years of experience for a program of originals that should tell you that nothing is wrong but more importantly everything is right. Recorded August 13 & 14, 2003.
One Final Note Review: Summer is normally an industrious season at The Spirit Room in Rossie, NY. The three-month span of sweltering days and humidity-laced nights in 2003 proved no different. Producer Bob Rusch and his crew committed five CIMP sessions to tape between mid-June and mid-August. Of those, this session uniting Philly creative music stalwarts Odean Pope and Khan Jamal just might be the most viscerally satisfying alliance. The teaming arose out of an urging of Jamal's, though neither man is a stranger to the pastoral charms of the label's living room studio—each has previous dates under his respective belt. Their familiarity with the surroundings works as a prime factor in the plenary feel of the disc. They even commemorate the recording space climate with an eponymous tune included in two takes.
The band is an uncanny near-facsimile of the one Jamal assembled for his 1985 Steeplechase date Dark Warrior in both instrumentation and sound. Pope presents an admittedly different stylistic pose than Charles Tyler, who filled the reed role on that now classic disc, though both men have roots in Coltrane's heavenward cry. But Pope's burnished tenor fits the saxophone slot just as potently. Two lesser known, though hardly tenderfoot, sidemen join the co-leaders in the cause. Bassist Arthur Harper holds 40-plus years of jazz experience from stints with J.J. Johnson, Shirley Scott and Wes Montgomery. Allen Nelson, an alumnus of the bands of Cecil McBee and Hannibal Peterson, holds down traps chores with an energetic expertise. Together the band achieves an exuberantly fulsome sound, one at odds with the stereotypically dry sonics of a CIMP session.
The compositions, five by Pope and three from Jamal, hover mostly around the nine- to ten-minute mark apiece. The open-ended durations leave plenty of welcome space. Pope's "Almost Like Me Part II" traces a tie back through Max Roach, his former employer, to the legendary Hassan, composer of the tune that is presumably its prequel. Jamal sounds a bit hesitant here with his mallets, resorting to the cushion of a static circular pattern beneath Pope's soloing at several points. The saxophonist also comes across as slightly off-center, his phrases punctuated by smeared curls of notes that trail off indecisively in places. However, Harper and Nelson do a fair job of shoring up the cracks.
With Pope's proceeding piece "Nothing is Wrong", the band hits a more comfortable stride that carries through the remainder of the session. Nelson sounds particularly bold here, his authoritative press rolls rising and ebbing against the vibraphonist's soap bubble streams of notes. Jamal's "Three", refurbished from another Steeplechase side of the same name, builds out of a waltz-like rhythm and swaying legato horn line stressed by short repetitive bursts of notes. Passages of dulcet melodic calm (as during Jamal's "The Magnificent One") alternate with pure full bore blowouts like the second half of the previously mentioned title track. The band also makes space for a jubilant groove feast on "The Rhythm Thang", a chance for Jamal to show off his undiminished dexterity as felt-tipped sticks blur across planks while Pope delves deep into the soulful recesses of his horn.
This is the kind of album that blooms continuously across subsequent visitations. It's also the sort that makes the probability of a return engagement in Rossie all the more tantalizing. Though fans will likely be satiated for a spell, these guys are strongly urged to gas up the station wagon and make the trek north again as soon as possible.