Chris Potter ‘The Sirens’ (ECM) 3/5

chris-potterThis is Chris Potter’s debut for ECM as a leader, though he has already recorded for the label as part of Dave Holland’s band on ‘Prime Directions’ from 2000 and subsequently other recordings by that formation. Here he is surrounded by the cream of New York musicians including bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Eric Harland (the two have regularly combined for the Charles Lloyd quartet) and piano duties are mainly by Craig Taborn with various other keyboards being performed by David Vireilles. The new album is motivated by Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ and impressionistic recordings are not especially new to jazz, though they can result in intensely creative musical accomplishments. Herbie Hancock scored one of his greatest critical and commercial successes with ‘Maiden Voyage’ while Wayne Shorter recorded ‘Odysssey of Iska’ a few years later. In the UK Neil Ardley and the New Jazz Orchestra triumphantly scored ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ while more generally the musical collaboration of Miles Davis and Gil Evans was invariably a deeply evocative enterprise. There is a good deal to admire in Potter’s attempt at the impressionistic interpretation, particularly in the opener ‘Wine Dark Sea’ which has something of a hint of Hancock’s masterwork about it, albeit at a significantly quicker tempo. The piece features a lovely solo from Craig Taborn. Potter alternates between reed instruments on the album with bass clarinet featuring alongside soprano and tenor saxophones, and on the sparsely accompanied ‘Penelope’ lays down a beautiful soprano solo. In fact overall this writer would like to have heard a good deal more of Chris Potter’s soprano playing. For a touch of exotica, look no further than ‘Kalypso’ which is in fact a dysfunctional calypso and may be an ironic hint at the influence exerted by Sonny Rollins on Potter. The lyrical piece ‘Way Finder’ incorporates some experimental piano and as the number develops, Potter’s solo becomes freer. If one had to voice one criticism of this recording, it is that the concept lends itself to a great dose of classical influence and the at times the reposing ensemble sound can sometimes detract from more heated exchanges between individual musicians.

Tim Stenhouse