Part of a triumvirate of heavy hitting young saxophonists that includes Joshua Redman and Eric Alexander, Chris Potter finally makes his major label debut on Verve with Gratitude. And while his track record via small label efforts for Criss Cross and Concord is without question, one always has to approach an artist’s first major label release with a bit of caution. On the surface, it’s positively clear that a “concept” is at work here. Fortunately, Potter’s homage to his inspirational peers is without contrivance or imitation. Instead, his original lines hint more at the spirit of such artists as Coltrane, Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Joe Lovano, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and Ornette Coleman.
The opening line for John Coltrane, “The Source,” is far from what you’d expect. There are no hairpin turns or quicksilver lines along the path of “Giant Steps.” Instead, we get more of a funky Nalwins groove. “Shadow” is for Joe Henderson, but its only hint of identification is the opening line, which inverts one of Joe’s own melodies. “Sun King” is an attention getting item, with its trip through several odd meters. Three standards fit in nicely with Potter’s originals, but they get more than just the standard treatment. “Body and Soul” finds Potter picking up his bass clarinet for a duo performance with bassist Scott Colley. “Star Eyes” is in the spirit of Bird, but takes flight in 7/4. Finally, “What’s New” seems to ask a musical question with Potter going solo on tenor.
Aside from those specific performances already mentioned, Potter picks up his soprano sax, alto flute, and Chinese wood flute on various numbers. Plus, Kevin Hays utilizes the Fender Rhodes in addition to his work on acoustic piano. Bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade round out Potter’s superlative quartet and help make Gratitude the lofty event that it is. Potter fanatics will be elated and newcomers could easily become converts.
1. The Source (for John Coltrane) 2. Shadow (for Joe Henderson) 3. Sun King (for Sonny Rollins) 4. High Noon (for Eddie Harris) 5. Eurydice (for Wayne Shorter) 6. The Mind.
Chris Potter, tenor, alto, and soprano saxes, bass clarinet, alto flute, Chinese wood flute; Kevin Hays, piano, Fender Rhodes; Scott Colley, bass; Brian Blade, drums.
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