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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke


CHRIS POTTER
Gratitude

Verve 549 433-2
Crotchet
 

As a sideman, Chris Potter is hot property at the moment. He played on two of 2000's Grammy-nominated recordings (by Steely Dan and Danilo Perez). He is also a continuing member of Dave Holland's Quintet (& Octet), Dave Douglas's Magic Triangle Quartet, and Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, three bands that successfully combine ongoing innovation with popular and critical success. He is a vital part of each band. His playing is distinctive but also a model of taste and economy; Potter is not one for grandstanding or extravagant gestures.

As a leader, Potter has produced a series of convincing albums without any real gems. For this one, his eighth, but his first for Verve, he employs the familiar tactic of paying homage (or gratitude, hence the title) to past masters of the saxophone. With that information, you might have little trouble listing most of the dedicatees; Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Eddie Harris, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter get a dedication each. Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano share another, and two catch-alls - "for all the Past Masters" and "for the Current Generation" - round things out. (Personally, I would substitute Lee Konitz or Steve Lacy for Eddie Harris. But why quibble? It's a fine list. And as Potter himself says, there are enough great saxophonists left over for a second volume!)

In contrast to his last album, which featured the all-star band of John Scofield, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, this one features his regular quartet - Kevin Hays on piano, Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Ten of the thirteen tracks are claimed as Potter compositions. The remaining three are "What's New", "Star Eyes" and "Body and Soul" (And what a surprise, dedicated to Hawkins!)

Potter manages to strike a balance between evoking the spirit of his dedicatees, and stamping himself on each piece. For instance, "Body and Soul" is not played on saxophone but on bass clarinet with just bass accompaniment, in a beautifully understated performance. This is clearly a wise move by Potter; why try to compete with the perfect saxophone version, when so many sax players have failed to match it before? Instead, the old chestnut is given a complete makeover, and one can listen to it afresh, out of Hawkins enormous shadow.

The original compositions repeatedly capture the spirit of their subjects, so that one rarely needs to check the dedication. "Sun King" (for Rollins) exudes Caribbean swing and Potter's tenor sax evokes the relentless energy of Rollins himself. "Vox Humana" (for Ornette) perfectly captures Coleman's off-centre sense of melody, and Potter (on soprano, not alto) replicates the emotion of Coleman's best playing. (Surely though, "Eurydice" is a Wayne Shorter composition, not a Potter original, as is claimed here?)

Throughout the album, there is a free-flowing, joyful atmosphere. Inevitably, the album is full of variety in mood and style, but overall it has a pleasing unity to it.

John Eyles



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