Odean Pope and Jake headline busy weekend at Club Helsinki

Saxophonist Odean Pope

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 1, 2002) – Tenor saxophonist Odean Pope is one of those rare jazz improvisers who no matter how far out he goes still maintains a foundation accessible to most listeners. It’s not surprising to learn that he began his professional career as a musician backing up r&b legends like Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and the Temptations in the pit band of the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. As heard on Pope’s Ebioto (Knitting Factory), the saxophonist boasts a big, juicy r&b-type sound on his instrument.

But his playing on Ebioto isn’t all riffs and funk bombast. On original compositions that include blues, calypsos and ballads, he runs post-bop volleys of melody and he swings with his bandmates. For over 30 years Pope has been the main saxophonist in the acclaimed Max Roach Quartet. In the 1970s he co-led the well-received fusion band, Catalyst, and he has also experimented with his Saxophone Choir, featuring nine saxophones and a rhythm section, with arrangements modeled on the big Baptist church choirs of his youth. Pope, who is noted for his mastery of circular breathing and multiphonics – the art of playing multiple tones simultaneously, using oboe fingering -- brings his trio, featuring Tyrone brown on bass and Craig McIver on drums, into Club Helsinki (413-528-3394) on Friday night, February 1, at 9.

On Saturday night, Woodstock, N.Y.-based modern rock band Jake performs at Club Helsinki. The group’s two albums, Bloodblue and Snake Road feature the sinuous lead vocals, guitar and songwriting talent of Jessie Lee Montague. The group refers to its songs as “psycho-sexy aural thrillers” on its website, and indeed the tunes and Montague’s voice have a way of crawling under your skin. With each shimmering, moody, folk-rock song on the album, Montague reveals new nooks, crannies, aspects and colors of her voice.

A native Midwesterner, Jessie Lee brings a heartland quality to her singing and songwriting, but one hardened by stints in New York and on the streets and subways of London, so that a song like “Stay” veers back and forth from a quiet two-chord rock ballad to a subtly menacing bit of Velvet Underground-like street-rock. The group has a funky side, too, as heard on its alluring cover of the ‘70s soul hit, “Strawberry Letter 23.”

Jake is what the Wallflowers would sound like if instead of Bob Dylan’s son Jakob it was his daughter Anna who was the lead singer.

Along with brother duos (the Monroe and Stanley brothers) and family groups (the Judds and the Carters), country music has a venerable if less-celebrated tradition of husband-and-wife duos. Think of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash and June Carter, and Buddy and Julie Miller.

Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart fit right into that tradition. They are a performing team, a band unto themselves, songwriting collaborators, a vocal harmony duo, and now, with the release of Must Be Live (Gearle), a two-CD live recording billed to Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart, officially a recording act.

Earle and Stuart perform on Saturday night at 8 at Williamstown’s Clark Art Institute, as part of the museum’s “American Roots” series. Call 458-2303 ext. 324 for tickets.

Must Be Live captures the homespun quality of the duo’s act, from the informal, in-between song banter between the two to the simple love songs like “Is It Enough,” “Gonna Love Me Someday” and “Must Be Love” that connect the two and their audience.

While most of the album features Earle on lead vocals, Stuart is given a few moments in the spotlight on his own tunes, including “Girl From Louisian’.”

Like her more famous brother, Steve, Earle has country in her voice and melodies, but it’s not the kind of faux country you hear on country radio. Her songs have more in common with contemporary singer-songwriters like Shawn Colvin and even Carole King – “Is It Enough (I Luuv You)” occasionally threatens to turn into the latter’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” proving that Earle is as much a soul singer as anything.

Not that Earle is all sunny and feel-good stuff. In the great traditions of country and sensitive singer-songwriter music, her songs have their fair share of romantic heartbreak, family dysfunction, and financial dislocation. But as heard on Must Be Live, she leavens the serious stuff with the beauty and energy of her music.
Earle boasts a plaintive yet powerful voice that in its little-girl quality recalls Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith. Although she’s not nearly as well known as them, she could just be one hit away from country music stardom.

Platonica (Soapster), the new album by New York City-based pop-rock band The Pasties, is chock full of catchy if occasionally dark tunes about the ups and downs of modern romance. Beatlesque harmonies drape songwriter Devon Copley’s sensitive loser narratives, offset by Moog synthesizer lines and plenty of jangly guitars. Think Ben Folds Five meets Weezer. The Pasties celebrates the release of its new album at Harry’s Nightspot in Northampton tomorrow night.

Tomorrow night, highly-touted Boston rock singer-songwriter Meghan Toohey headlines at Pittsfield’s Red at 8:30. Warming up the crowd for Toohey will be the Pioneer Valley’s Celia, whose dark ballads and waltzes dance between art music and folk. Celia has been collaborating with guitarist/songwriter Bruce Knowlton of Pittsfield, who will accompany her tomorrow night.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Feb. 1, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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