CD review: Chris Potter

sirensThe Sirens
(ECM 279 4579)

Homer’s Odyssey is a natural inspiration for jazz musicians with its theme of a searching journey and all kinds of hazardous attractions along the way.

For his debut as a leader on the ECM label, one of the most acclaimed and respected saxophonists of his generation, and a worthy standard bearer for modern tenor playing, keeping the Michael Brecker flame aloft, Chris Potter has assembled a fine band for his own Odyssey.

On piano is Craig Taborn, on double bass is Larry Grenadier, and on drums is Eric Harland, while playing a more subtle addition to this core quartet is David Virelles, who adds prepared piano, celeste and harmonium.

To be honest I didn’t notice Virelles a lot of the time, either due to the nuanced nature of his contribution of texture or, more likely, the exceptionally strong and characterful playing of the core quartet in the foreground.

Wine Dark Sea is the opener and it’s a glorious, richly-hued ride with Potter working the lyrical tune in and out of the improvisations, and featuring strong solos from both Potter and Taborn. This is big and expansive music, generous in its timbres and running deep in its emotions.

Dawn (With Her Rosy Fingers) is, as you would expect, a gently ballad, with Taborn in particularly delicate mood against a gossamer beat from Grenadier and Harland.

The band pose for the traditional rooftop shot at Avatar Studios in New York - Craig Taborn, Larry Grenadier, David Virelles, Chris Potter and Eric Harland.

The band pose for the traditional rooftop shot at Avatar Studios in New York – Craig Taborn, Larry Grenadier, David Virelles, Chris Potter and Eric Harland.

The title track features Potter on bass clarinet, and instrument he is exceptionally eloquent on, bringing that muscular, contained tone he has on the saxophone to bear on the gruffer instrument. As the tune develops and the mood intensifies and becomes more stridently alluring, he switches to tenor, but not before a very affecting and tempting arco solo from Grenadier.

For Penelope we hear Potter’s mastery of the smaller straight sax, and again his tone is something most saxophonists can only dream about. He also manages to get right up the instrument without ever sounding shrill.

We’re in slightly freer territory for Kalypso and, of course with this Caribbean tinge to the tune and rhythm, the spirit of Sonny Rollins can be glimpsed reflected in its glistening waves.

Virelles is effective in expanding the mood in Nausikaa, interplaying beautifully with Taborn, Grenadier and Harland in a shimmering sonic landscape.

Not only is The Sirens a triumph from a playing point of view, but it shows how strong Potter the composer has become down the years. This is possibly his finest achievement yet, and at the same time I’m sure it’s only another few steps in a longer, even more fulfilling jazz journey for both Potter and his growing number of admirers.



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