Saxophonist/composer Chris Potter's two previous ECM albums as leader both had a "special project" air about them. The Sirens (2013) was inspired by the epic poem The Odyssey, and featured an unusual quintet with two keyboardists. Imaginary Cities (2015) featured the Underground Orchestra, an expansive lineup of his Underground quartet plus two bassists, percussion, and string quartet. For this third release Potter presents a new acoustic quartet. It's not a studio band: the recording sessions were preceded by a long string of live performances.
While the combination is new, the players have history together. Potter and bassist Joe Martin have played together in New York clubs since the '90s. He and drummer Marcus Gilmore appeared together previously on saxophonist Mark Turner's Lathe of Heaven (ECM, 2014). Gilmore was on pianist David Virelles' Mbókò (ECM, 2014) and the experimental EP Antenna (ECM, 2016). Potter describes the personnel as "cross- generational"a startling reminder that he could reasonably be described as a "veteran," having been an active performer since 1989.
Opener "Heart In Hand" finds Potter on tenor saxophone, still his main voice despite the range of reed instruments he employs on the album. It's a rhapsodic introduction to this vibrant new band, Potter's playing receiving empathetic, increasingly energetic support . "Ilimba" begins with the sound of Potter playing the title instrument, a Tanzanian thumb piano that is like a larger version of the well known Zimbabwean mbira. That pattern sets up the piece, which also features a powerful drum solo. The title tune is a low register delight, featuring expressive bass clarinet and a lyrical, unaccompanied bass solo. "Memory And Desire" opens with atmospheric electronics from Potter's sampler (and overdubbed woodwinds), giving way to soprano saxophone. "Yosadhara" provides Virelles space for an extended piano solo.
In short, while this is the most conventional of Potter's ECM albums, it's still a kaleidoscopic affair, full of contrasting moods and tonal colors. It's a splendid showcase for the leader's composing and playing, but still offers plenty of space for the other band members. Here's hoping we hear more from them.
Heart in Hand; Ilimba; The Dreamer Is the Dream; Memory and Desire; Yasodhara;
Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; David Virelles: piano,
keyboards; Joe Martin: double bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums, percussion.
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