Chris Potter is probably the second most famous young tenor player working today, Joshua Redman being the clear numero uno. After releasing over a half-dozen albums for Criss Cross and Concord, Potter now makes the leap to a major label, Verve, with the excellent Gratitude.
Jazz is a lethargic sales category, so major labels often like jazz artists to do concept albums — usually tributes to legends both living and dead — to attract the attention of otherwise indifferent consumers. But tributes often seem self-conscious and forced, stultifying the artist’s individual voice by imposing an artificial agenda upon it. Happily, Gratitude escapes this fate. It’s a generalized tribute, an acknowledgement of saxophone greats (eleven of them, to be exact) who have influenced Potter and continue to do so. (McCoy Tyner made a similar gesture with Jazz Roots. ) The idea seems to flow naturally from Potter’s artistic self-image, and so it serves him well.
Rather than clutter the record with guest artists and the like, producer Jason Olaine wisely has Potter sticking with a quartet all the way through. And as quartets go, this one couldn’t be more burning — joining the saxophonist are Kevin Hays on piano and Rhodes (sounding better than ever), Scott Colley on bass, and Brian Blade on drums. The group focuses on Potter’s originals for an unbroken stretch of nine tracks, beginning with the Coltrane dedication "The Source," cleverly based on "Mr. Day" blues changes. Not until late in the program does Potter start to tackle standards, and when he does, it’s with an unconventional flair. He interprets "Body and Soul" on bass clarinet, in duo with Colley — a nice update on the version found on 1995’s Sundiata (Criss Cross). He plays alto, fittingly, on the Bird tribute "Star Eyes," with Hays laying out. And he closes the album with a solo tenor reading of "What’s New?", intending the title as a double entendre, a rhetorical question about the prospects for innovation among the current generation of jazz artists. Sandwiched between these standards is the original "Vox Humana," a tribute to Ornette Coleman, on which Potter plays a Chinese wood flute — one among many creative breakthroughs on this refined, rewarding disc.
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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