by Phil Freeman
On its face, saxophonist Chris Potter’s The Dreamer is the Dream, his third album for ECM, is his most straightforward and middle-of-the-road. (Get it from Amazon.) Unlike 2013’s The Sirens, which took inspiration from The Odyssey (cf. song titles like “Wine-Dark Sea,” “Penelope,” etc.), there’s no overarching theme here; unlike 2015’s Imaginary Cities, which expanded his powerhouse Underground quartet into an 11-piece jazz orchestra to perform a lengthy suite (read an interview with Potter about the album), this is a simple acoustic session, a collection of tunes.
But of course, when you’ve assembled a pool of talent like that gathered here, there’s nothing simple or ordinary about the results. Potter is joined by pianist David Virelles (who also played on The Sirens), bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Marcus Gilmore, and the six original compositions he’s written showcase everyone to glorious effect. The album begins with a slowly rising ballad, “Heart in Hand,” which gradually becomes florid and romantic, somewhere in between Charles Lloyd and Columbia-era David S. Ware. Virelles’ dancing, lyrical piano anchors “Ilimba,” as Martin and Gilmore bounce and caper behind him. On the other hand, the title track opens with an extended, strumming bass solo, after which Potter enters chewing on a mantra-like line as piano and drums shimmer and shiver into position, Gilmore rolling across the toms like he’s calling the church to order. The whole thing is explicitly John Coltrane-esque, drawing on the same majestic beauty and spiritual power that he, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones were able to summon on tracks like “Wise One” from Crescent.
The album isn’t all classicist art-bop, though. “Memory and Desire” begins with what sound like treated field recordings, and Potter’s entrance, on soprano, is squawky and almost Anthony Braxton-esque. Eventually the piece becomes a tender ballad, but with ominous undertones from Virelles, who deploys low chords like shaken fists. The album’s longest track, “Yosadhara,” is also one of its most abstract, the group at one point allowing Virelles to dangle in the air on his own. Even when they’re playing together, though, there’s a sense it could all fly apart. This is an intense, high-energy album, one that will please fans of Potter’s most fevered work.