Commander Potter takes musical helm

Since meeting legendary pianist and broadcaster Marian McPartland at 15 years of age American saxophonist Chris Potter has been on a musical journey.

Arguably one of the finest sax players on the planet, Potter has played with some of the greatest names in the world of jazz. including luminaries such as Red Rodney, Herbie Hancock, John Scofield, Dave Douglas, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian and McCoy Tyner. At only 42, his name features on more than 100 albums, 15 of which were recorded by Potter as band leader. However, it is his collaboration with the brilliant bassist Dave Holland, ever since the release of Holland’s Prime Directive cd on ECM, for which Potter will be most remembered.

It’s hard to believe, after nearly 30 years navigating frequently unchartered waters — such is the lot of the contemporary jazz musician — that Potter would be cutting his first disc with the prestigious ECM label. His moniker has graced the sleeve notes on quite a few of the iconic album covers in the past, but this is his debut at the helm for this musical journey inspired by a reading of Homer’s The Odyssey.

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s Potter steered a steady course through the many influences, such as rock, hip-hop, blues etc, and along the way blurred a few boundaries and with his Underground band erred mainly on the electric side of the rhumb line.

This wonderful debut on ECM, however, is more of an acoustic affair and as master and commander he has assembled a crack crew of fellow travellers: Craig Taborn, piano; Larry Grenadier, double bass; Eric Harland, drums and David Virelles on celeste, harmonium and prepared piano (a piano that has had its sound altered by placing various objects on the strings, hammers or dampers).

Apart from a few memorable excursions with Dave Holland, arguably, Lift: Live At The Village Vanguard (Universal Jazz/Sunnyside, 2004) is Chris Potter’s best to date — until now.

Opening with ‘Wine Dark Sea’, Potter nails his colours to the mast and, foregoing opportunities for a more monstrous composition, drawing inspiration from fiendish characters such as Cyclops and the six-headed monster Scylla, the saxophonist begins his expedition slowly before Grenadier’s double bass leads the listener towards a fiery, funky and spatial number. Potter changes tack on the beautiful ballad ‘Dawn With Her Rosy Fingers’ where Taborn’s delicate piano is beautifully moody and sparse. On the title track, ‘The Sirens’, Potter pushes the helm once again, and where you might have expected a soprano sax opts for a more muscular but tender bass clarinet. There’s a nod to Sonny Rollins on ‘Kalypso’ and sticking with ‘The Odyssey’, song titles ‘Penelope’ (Odysseus’s long-suffering and faithful wife) and ‘Nausikaa’ (a princess who becomes infatuated with Odysseus) Potter’s virtuosity shines through on the soprano while Virelles, not all that assertive on the other tracks, flexes his finger muscles and the interplay with Taborn works a treat.

All in all this is a marvellously eclectic mix where Potter doesn’t drop anchor staying in any particular place for too long and from the ‘Wine Dark Sea’ to the short and minimally abstract closing tune, ‘The Shades’, the listener is in capable hands with Commander Potter as he explores the eddies and creeks of contemporary music.

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