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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

JANUARY 31, 2000: 

Chris Cornell, Euphoria Morning (A&M)

At about the time the ’80s became the ’90s, Soundgarden was on a tear, proving that the hard rock/metal genre was not the exclusive domain of mirror-kissing glam sluts and inadvertently funny satanists. As Soundgarden’s frontman, Chris Cornell can take a bow or three for restoring some credibility to a style of music that was, and is still, deservedly suspect on multiple levels.

With Euphoria Morning, Cornell takes some big strides toward what looks to be a promising solo career. The tracks on this new CD do not, for the most part, weigh in with the sonic heft of a typical Soundgarden song, but are instead closer to pop by several degrees. Substantial, rough and ready, somewhat experimental pop, that is.

Cornell often opts for oblique lyrical content, so it’s easy for two people to come to two very different conclusions regarding the meaning of many of the songs. Many of the words here might just as well be sung in another language — which is fine. By far, Euphoria Morning’s strong suit is its emotionally evocative music. And this can be attributed directly to the songs’ skillful marriage of adventurous chord progressions to creative melodies which navigate those progressions so naturally. So even if Cornell were singing in German, there are lots of moments on this CD to lean back, thrust a fist into the air, and say, “Yeah, man!”

On this fine effort, Chris Cornell enjoys a valuable songwriting assist from Alain Johannes (guitar) and Natasha Shneider (keyboards). Let’s hope that these three think hard about developing a long-term relationship. — Stephen Grimstead

Odean Pope Trio, Ebioto (Knitting Factory)

Tenor saxophonist Odean Pope has been carving a distinctive niche for himself throughout his career. His early work with the Philadelphia funk/jazz outfit Catalyst (recently reissued this year by 32Jazz) showed a unique twist on the fusion formula, while his Saxophone Choir has set standards for what a multireed, multivoiced outfit can accomplish, ranking with the World Saxophone Quartet in the experimental “reeds-and-only reeds-R-us” approach. Pope’s also played on a number of outings with drum legend Max Roach.

As if this were not enough, Pope also fronts an extraordinary trio, a tight outfit that can do no wrong on this excellent new disc of original material. Drummer Craig McIver and bassist Tyrone Brown are masters of their instruments, McIver’s style echoing Max Roach’s in his full use of the entire trap set, adding a conversational depth to his playing with subtle dynamics and a mixed use of tom-toms, bass drum, snares, and cymbals. He and Brown build a rolling, tumbling ocean of pulsing percussion and facile bass.

Pope’s playing, while singularly distinctive, echoes with the work of two masters. You can hear Sonny Rollins in how Pope states simple melodic themes, then builds complex-yet-inviting solos as he dissects and reinvents these themes. His playing also rings with a touch of John Coltrane’s spirituality, his heart and soul coming out through his horn. This is a deeply satisfying recording, filled with improvisational beauty, tempo changes, shifting solo roles, and invigorating surprises, a disc that evokes the best of Sonny Rollins’ Worktime-era trio work in form and execution. — Gene Hyde

Tom Varner, Swimming (OmniTone)

As one of the few French horn players in the jazz world, Varner has pretty much established his own spot in the genre, and his recent solo efforts have been consistently intriguing and rewarding. His latest, Swimming, on the new OmniTone label, is no exception. Beginning with the title track, Varner shows an Ellington-like savvy at voicing resonant ensemble sections, with the deep and full timbre of his French horn blending smoothly with Steve Wilson’s alto sax and Tony Malaby’s tenor. Cruising along at a funky clip propelled by Cameron Brown’s bass, Tom Rainey’s drums, and Pete McCann’s choppy guitar, this extended track allows ample room for exemplary improvisations from all the horn players.

Working within established compositional frameworks, Varner creates tension and excitement through interesting voicings, fine solos from the saxophonists, and Varner’s facile French horn. It’s a rare treat to hear the French horn played so well in such a fine jazz context.

Tempos and moods vary on the 15 selections, all Varner originals. “Pantoum” is a thoughtful series of horn interchanges over distinctive drum work, while “Maybe Yes” starts with pensive ensemble strains, then moves into a series of solos and changes over a walking bass. Several thematic selections are extremely interesting, including two biblically influenced ensemble workouts and a bizarre, eclectic suite entitled “Seven Miniatures for Mark Feldman,” where guest violinist Feldman runs the gamut from free pandemonium, to pizzicato silliness, to country-influenced musings, all accompanied by Varner’s French horn. — G.H.

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