Percussionist and harmonica player Donald Bailey is best known for his work from 1956 to 1964 with Hammond B-3 organ monster Jimmy Smith. Originally from Philadelphia, Bailey went to and worked in Los Angeles after his time with Smith. Returning to the United States in 1982, after five years in Japan, Bailey settled in Oakland. In addition to his influential work with Smith, Bailey has worked with trumpeter Blue Mitchell, vocalist Carmen McRae, and pianists Jimmie Rowles and Hampton Hawes. While this may only be Bailey’s second release as a leader, he has appeared on hundreds of recordings by other artists.
This, the third volume of recordings by Talking House records that shines the light on some of the lesser known innovators and style-setters in jazz, should perhaps more appropriately be credited as a duo leader release because of the strong contribution by tenor saxophonist Odean Pope. South Carolina born Pope moved to Philadelphia at the age of 10. Pope, also a veteran of Jimmy Smith’s band, studied at the Paris Conservatory, among other institutions of learning. A regular of Max Roach’s band for two decades, Pope has a big strong sound that is so gritty you can hear all of jazz's history in every single articulation he creates and is, in many ways, reminiscent of the fabled Texas tenor sound.
It’s hard to imagine these compositions, three of the nine by Pope, being played by a different saxophonist - drummer combination. Pope’s own take on the sheets of sound concept is strikingly original as he finds was to meld tritone substitutions to diminished and altered scale concepts. Leaving little room for repose in his solos, without Bailey’s powerfully hard snare work and almost over the top splashy cymbal sound Pope’s solos would languish. Together the two are as perfect a duo as one could ever hope to hear. With Bailey and Pope so locked into each other, Tyrone Brown’s bass and George Burton’s piano playing are almost afterthoughts.
Pope dazzles on his extended cadenza on "For All We Know," and the rambunctiousness of the two leaders is happily evident on Pope’s "Family Portrait." While the other musicians all get solo space, of the others it’s Charles Tolliver who steals the scene. With his recent re-rise to prominence in jazz circles, it’s glorious to hear his time-tested harmonic concepts and avant-garde/hard-bop leaning exclamations, featured unfortunately on only two of the nine trackes, be introduced to a new generation of young jazz musicians and aficionados. Overall, this is so solid disc that makes one wonder why producers didn’t put Bailey and Pope out there as leaders together earlier.