Chris Potter Gratitude Review

BBC Review

Debut Verve outing from multi reedist Chris Potter pays homage to saxophone masters of...

Peter Marsh 2002

The supremely gifted saxophonist Chris Potter is probably best known for his work with bassist Dave Holland and trumpeter Dave Douglas among others. Gratitude (which doesn't feature anyone called Dave) is a summation of his influences, with each track dedicated to a saxophone master. Perhaps the fact that this is his debut for Verve (a classic jazz imprint if ever there was) has something to do with this acknowledgement to jazz tradition, but Potter is undoubtedly sincere in his intentions and has the talent to pull it off.

Though each track has some trace of its dedicatee, Potter hasn't gone for slavish imitation ('tonight Matthew, I'm going to be Lester Young'). Opening with a sweet bluesy blast for John Coltrane, he goes on to adapt a Joe Henderson tune for "Shadow", a lazily funky outing redolent of the tenor player's classic Milestone albums; Kevin Hays' expansive Fender Rhodes is a particularly effective springboard for the leader's tenor explorations.

Potter's most discernible influence is Sonny Rollins; he shares Rollins' rhythmic precision and urgency and consequently his tribute to the great man (a particularly tricky exercise in 15/8) brings out some of his most buoyant, joyful playing. Likewise "High Noon" (for Eddie Harris") is a lovely slice of langorous, slightly sweaty funk, with drummer Brian Blade (recently heard performing miracles with Wayne Shorter) on top form, chopping bar lengths with surgical precision without sacrificing the groove.

A couple of standards appear too; Potter wisely opts for bass clarinet on "Body and Soul", played as a duet with bassist Scott Colley (dedicated to Coleman Hawkins) and in the process comes up with an original take on ye olde tenor warhorse which doesn't sound like Eric Dolphy - no mean feat. He switches to alto on "Star Eyes" (unsurprisingly dedicated to Charlie Parker), shoehorns it into 7/4; and it works too, with some desperately exciting seat of the pants interplay between alto and drums.

Not quite a standard is "The Visitor", where Potter takes a trademark Lester Young phrase and bases a composition around it; the results are more Dave Holland than Prez, though there's a tinge of the Porkpie Hat in Potter's generous, sparkling solo. "Vox Humana" is an impressionistic tone poem for Ornette Coleman, featuring Chinese wood flute and soprano; inspired by Ornette's comment on the saxophone's similarity to the human voice, Potter's playing again evokes Coleman's spirit in some way without sounding much like him.

While Chris Potterisn't out to change the course of jazz history, he doesn't suffer from a Marsalis-like tendency to preserve it in aspic either. This album is more evidence (if it was needed) of a major talent. Inspired, beautifully played mainstream jazz, and thoroughly recommended.

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