In a year that has affected everyone in a million different ways, on the face of it, there have been very few positives to take from it. However, delve a little deeper and one can clearly see pockets of triumph over adversity. One such pocket has been the open-minded attitude of musicians the whole world over. Fighting against a backdrop of widespread difficulty and challenge – whether it be lack of income, lack of financial support, or a whole myriad of personal health, well-being and mental health issues resulting from lockdown – it has been incredible to see how communities have pulled together to offer help and support. This is perhaps one area where social media has been used to positive effect. Here in the UK, it has been sickening to read comments made by the government that devalue the arts in such a way that is quite frankly incomprehensible and unforgivable. And yet we are resolute. We are strong. We are hopeful. Many musicians have turned to writing, recording, filming and sharing their lockdown musical experiences. For saxophonist/composer Chris Potter, a musician who has been on the road continuously since the ’90s, lockdown presented a challenge and an opportunity. Starting in May 2020, he set out to create something alone, to express his reaction to these chaotic times. Uniquely, playing each and every instrument himself, piano, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drums, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, percussion, samples, and of course saxophones, the whole project took just six weeks to complete… he can’t have slept much is all I can say.
Musically, Potter has created something here that is not only innovative, but that also seems to bring together the old and new in perfect harmony. Listening to the album as a whole, his writing, arrangements and playing of every instrument, are brilliantly focussed and stupendously stunning. Whilst some of his music brings to mind old-school albums from the likes of Claus Ogerman and Michael Brecker, there’s also a freshness and sparkle that emanates out from this recording that surpasses many of the new-wave of current, contemporary jazz musicians. It’s a thrilling session that’s equally fluid, rhythmic, poetic, melodic, funky, audaciously bold and ultimately inspirational.
As Potter explains: “This project grew out of a wish to continue creating at a time when most of the usual channels of musical expression were unavailable. I offer it as a musical perspective on the issues we are facing: the importance of community at a time of physical distance, the need for strong leadership, the necessity of supporting vulnerable members of society who have always gotten the short end of the stick, the troubled relationship we have with the natural world, and the difficulty of dealing with all the fear and uncertainty we face. My hope is that this extremely difficult period will also have positive effects, leading us to focus on the true value of things.” Sentiments I think we can all whole-heartedly agree with.
Ten original compositions flow effortlessly from one track to another throughout the whole album. Potter’s seemingly inexhaustible invention comes in many forms. “I Had A Dream” sets the tone with bass and drums creating a lovely groove before those luscious arrangements kick in- flutes, clarinets, saxes, all combining in an exhilarating juxtaposition of rhythmic diversity and beauty. “Like A Memory” brings together warmth from the brass, circling on a breeze above the bass and guitars. Potter’s chords and interchangeable ideas are fascinating, with the percussive nature of “Mother of Waters” flowing like a bubbling river, ever moving, ever-changing. Funking it up on “Rising Over You”, Potter moves into underground territory, punchy and exciting. There’s a darker overtone to “Oh So Many Stars”, and yet it’s almost like Potter is telling us that from darkness comes light, let’s make those stars blaze! There’s a Caribbean flavour to “Drop Your Anchor Down”, full of life with its catchy hooks and phrases. “Beneath The Waves” darts and flashes with a compelling exuberance, joyous and upbeat. The mood changes once more on the gorgeous “Rest Your Head”. My heart missed a beat when those beautiful acoustic guitar chords came in… mesmerising. “As The Moon Ascends” is akin to a short story with many chapters of discovery contained within. The emotive draw to “New Life (In the Wake of Devastation)” is utterly compelling. If there is one piece of music that potentially sums up this year in musical terms alone, this is it for me. It moves me deeply, in so many ways.
The one thing I haven’t even mentioned so far is the saxophonist’s formidable soloing… I think anyone familiar with Potter’s musical output over the last 30 years won’t be at all surprised to hear that it’s just as incredible as you might imagine. Undoubtedly one of my albums of the year, for so many different reasons, all I can do is sit back, admire, and above all enjoy the listening experience. Thank you, Mr Potter. Whilst I don’t hope for any more circumstances akin to the one we find ourselves in, I do hope your inspiration continues to find ever new ways of coming to the fore. I will be listening to “There Is A Tide” for many years ahead.