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Chris Potter The Sirens Review

Album. Released 2013.  

BBC Review

The union of ECM with Potter promises to be a happy and fruitful one.

John Eyles 2013

The Sirens is saxophonist Chris Potter’s first ECM release as a leader, a significant milestone which marks the culmination of his inexorable rise over two decades.

Although he has recorded for a respectable selection of labels since his 1994 debut album, ECM is one of a select few (including Blue Note) which says something special about a musician.

While this is Potter’s ECM debut as a leader, he has recorded for the label before with Dave Holland and Paul Motian, just two of the many bands in his impressive CV.

To mark the occasion, Potter has come up with an atypical album for him. Rather than a selection of originals plus standards, Potter composed a cycle of songs without words.

Written in just two weeks, it was inspired by re-reading Homer’s The Odyssey, and he had its epic, mythic mood in mind. Those unfamiliar with ancient Greek literature need not be daunted, as knowledge of the book is not necessary to appreciate the moods and melodies of The Sirens.

In an acoustic quintet, Potter is joined by three esteemed former bandmates – pianist Craig Taborn from Potter’s electric band Underground, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland – plus relative newcomer David Virelles on prepared piano, celeste and harmonium.

Although uncommon, the use of two pianists is very successful, with the two serving different purposes: Taborn on grand piano acts as a conventional accompanist-soloist, while Virelles adds coloration and atmosphere.

Their most notable combination here is the beguiling improvised duet The Shades, which provides a beautiful and relaxed close to the album. 

The quintet creates music that consistently emphasises atmosphere over pyrotechnics. At its heart is Potter’s own playing, as full-toned and assured as ever. He alternates between tenor and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet, on any piece opting for whichever tone is most atmospheric.

So, on the album’s extended title track, he chooses bass clarinet, although its tone is at odds with the song of the Sirens, but the end result is just as irresistible.

The union of ECM with Potter promises to be a happy and fruitful one.

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