Saxophonist Chris Potter‘s latest album, The Sirens, came out last week on ECM. It features pianists Craig Taborn and David Virelles (who plays prepared piano, celeste, and harmonium), bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. As the album’s title indicates, it’s a suite of sorts inspired by The Odyssey; track titles include “Wine Dark Sea,” “Wayfinder,” “Penelope,” and “Stranger at the Gate.” Most of the nine pieces run in the seven- to eight-minute range, and they’re more atmospheric and skittery than the other Potter discs I’ve heard—Underground and its live companion Follow the Red Line—Live at the Village Vanguard, and another live-at-the-Vanguard disc, recorded with a different band, Lift. The two Underground albums (which also featured Taborn, albeit as sole keyboardist) were hard, riff-based jazz-funk that approached jazz-rock at times; Lift was a hard bop disc, but a particularly muscular one, including a show-stopping version of Charles Mingus‘s “Boogie Stop Shuffle” driven by an almost convulsive energy.
The Sirens is a quieter album, though it still has plenty of impact—Potter is a saxophonist with a particularly forceful voice and strong, emphatic tone; at times, he approaches the level of David S. Ware in terms of raw power, if not vocabulary. He doesn’t play free. Indeed, he’s extremely disciplined, uncoiling slow, thoughtful phrases that let him show his work without wallowing in “listen to all the stuff I know how to do” music-school bullshit. He’s a mature player, in every sense of that term. He plays tenor, soprano, and bass clarinet here, and while his voice changes subtly from one instrument to another, he’s always recognizable and never seems to be borrowing ideas from anybody else.
Behind him, the band is terrific. Taborn and Virelles play off each other in a deft and subtle manner, never turning their support roles into a battle of wills (though they do get the album’s two-minute closing track, “The Shades,” to themselves, and make the most of it). Grenadier takes a beautifully mournful bowed solo on the title track, and Harland is killer throughout; his drum sound is somewhat blocky, but still full and ringing. The cymbals are mixed in a way that doesn’t grate on the ear, a rarity in jazz. The Sirens is an album that covers a broad range of musical territory while remaining cohesive and identifiably itself at all times, much like its creator.