CHRIS POTTER
Mark Soskin/One Hopeful Day
Kind of Blue – KOB 10019

Saxophonist Chris Potter has been turning heads for some 2 decades, beginning with his teenage years. Starting out on the alto, Potter has made the tenor his true voice for most of the last fifteen years. While his tenor playing has not changed the shape of the earth in quite the same way as Lester Young, John Coltrane or Michael Brecker, Potter has taken the language of post-be-bop and the tenor’s role in it, and marked it with his own very personal stamp. Potter’s melodic, harmonic and rhythmic sense, together with his sound and cracker-jack technique have shown that while you need not reinvent the wheel, you certainly can improve its performance and mileage.

Although Potter is a sideman on this recording, his contribution is significant enough to warrant close consideration. The leader on this date, pianist/composer – Mark Soskin, has assembled an all star group consisting of John Patitucci – bass, Bill Stewart – drums and special guest, John Abercrombie – guitar. The music, all arranged by Soskin, is drawn mostly from the standard and jazz standard literature as well as 3 compositions from the leader.

The CD opener, Lerner and Lowe’s On the Street Where You Live, begins with the seldom heard verse played by solo piano, into a rhythm section ostinato which also serves as an interlude and ending. Potter comes in with the melody over what has become a modal pad for the tune, and the first thing you notice is his sound is different. Potter is using a different mouthpiece these days, and the usual buoyant sound he normally gets does not sing quite as much. Hopefully the sound will be back. After an excellent solo by the leader, Potter comes to the plate swinging hard and aggressively. He has a unique way of playing lines that are lyrical and complex all at once. The intervals Potter chooses have been known to make grown men cry. The same is true of his solo on Chick Corea’s Innerspace. The tempo is way up, and Potter rips into his solo, layering one intervallic sequence upon another. His vocabulary is endless, with energy to match. He also displays a definite Coltrane influence here, something we haven’t seen too much before.

Step Lively, by Soskin is an up-tempo modal tune whose melody takes some nice unexpected twists and turns. Potter gets such variety out of his solo, using the full range of the horn playing some very impressive runs from bottom to top. His crisp articulation adds so much to the energy level. On End of a Love Affair, Potters makes use of staccato notes to punctuate his phrases much in the same way Sonny Rollins and Jerry Bergonzi do.

Potter’s final contribution to this CD, Strive, by Soskin, has him playing the soprano saxophone. Potter does not play the soprano that often on recordings, which is kind of a shame since he has a completely unique voice on the instrument. His sound is very dark and centered, with great control particularly in the altissimo range. When he plays fast lines, every note is played with such clarity, you are not aware that he is playing fast at all.

Any fan of Potter’s will really appreciate his playing on this date. His approach to the music is showing more maturity and a new direction, without trying to extricate himself from his deep, well planted roots.