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Chris Potter: Unspoken

Robert Spencer By

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Twenty-seven year old reed man Chris Potter made a big splash on his 1992 debut as a leader for Criss Cross. He showed remarkable promise not only in tenor sax work, but also on alto, soprano, bass clarinet and alto flute. On this one he sticks to tenor and soprano, but his playing is no less fluent and capable. An all-star lineup joins the former Steely Dan and Joe Henderson sideman for this date: John Scofield on guitar, Dave Holland on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. All four are in top form for this album, which manages to be warm, smooth, inviting, and adventurous all in one package.

Potter shows that he's been doing his homework. "Wistful," the opening track, veers perilously close to Coltrane Imitator Wasteland, but Potter skirts the edge of homage without lapsing into slavish regurgitation. "Hieroglyph" recalls Coltrane on soprano, complete with a tasty proto-world music ostinato from Holland, but again, Potter's playing is fresh and involving. "Seven Eleven," on the other hand, makes you wonder if Chris was digging into his Ornette collection. Then "Amsterdam Blues" starts with an unaccompanied tenor of such quality that I became sure I'd find some of the works of Mr. Sonny Rollins over at Chris's house. Still and all, Potter is a player of enormous talent who is already far along in synthesizing these and other influences. This is a fine album, but I'll bet I'll like his release of 2007 even better.

The highlight here is "Et Tu, Brute?", the album's most striking track. Scofield contributes some scalding guitar licks to a rhythmically complex workout requiring some careful listening by the quartet. Of course, these guys are old hands, and they come through. With no loss of energy, the lovely title track follows, featuring some tasty arco by Holland and passionate playing by everyone. "Time Zone" is as far out as this one gets, with some remarkable variations of mood and tempo a free section of great vigor. Potter is clearly the star here, proving he's worthy of the company he keeps.

The legendary trumpeter Red Rodney loved this "kid:" "This kid is exactly what I like to hear in a kid. He sucked up everything like a sponge, but his sound is original; his articulation is different from anybody; his harmonic knowledge is profound." Red was right. The kid has a great tone, great chops, and by the way, he wrote all the tunes. While this is relatively common these days, Potter's tunes show a wealth of good sense, imagination, and care. He's paid attention to architectonics, and it shows.

Unspoken is a solid album from start to finish. The sidemen are top-notch throughout, and the leader doesn't disappoint. I'll be interested to check out Chris Potter's future work.


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