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Back in Ithaca
on February 3, 2013
I first encountered Chris Potter in the summer of 2001 at a makeshift gig-space in Calgary (it was Jazz Fest). He was touring Gratitude with Kevin Hays, Scott Colley, and Clarence Penn. While it was probably just another stop on the road for Potter (he certainly wasn't at the Vanguard), he and his band mates played an absolutely smoking (and very long) set. I was hooked, and immediately went out and picked up a copy of Gratitude (still one of my favourites of his). I have seen him twice since then, although I will confess that as the years passed I became something of a casual listener. I wanted to like Travelling Mercies, but the compositions simply weren't strong enough. I like Underground, but I have to be in the mood for it. (His work with Dave Holland strikes me as brilliant, but I haven't spent enough time with it to speak confidently about it.)
With The Sirens, however, I believe Potter has found a perfect (literary) vessel for his restless creativity. The band is especially well-balanced (and I challenge anyone to come up with a more suitable drummer for this music; Eric Harland plays with the strength and unpredictability of Poseidon, tempered with the wisdom of Pallas Athena). It seems characteristic that Potter should have wanted two pianists for the occasion; however, he deploys them with extreme care. Nobody gets in anybody's way. Potter moves between tenor and soprano saxophones, and includes a little bass clarinet along the way. The emphasis is on the tenor, however (or at least that's how I hear it), which suggests dedication and focus.
I will single out two tracks. "Kalypso" is what you would expect it to be--a calypso (and if you ask me, Potter was born to play calypsos), only it sounds a little off-kilter (like Kalypso by way of Circe, perhaps). Conversely, "Nausikaa" is ethereal, almost childlike--but of course we remember that Nausikaa is a beautiful young princess. (The Celeste is perfect for this performance. I close my eyes and I can imagine Odysseus waking up to the sounds of Nausikaa and her maids playing ball. "What am I hearing?" Odysseus asks, and of course because he is Odysseus he feels compelled to investigate....)
Chris Potter has re-established his power and (endless) promise with this recording. He has come home to Ithaca, and it was well worth the wait.