(ECM 574 0661. CD review by Peter Bacon)
The improvisational power of saxophonist Chris Potter, his astonishing command of his instrument and his seemingly endless ideas when it comes to threading a single continuous line through the music, is easy to find overwhelming in a live situation, as I found out yet again when I saw him perform with his quartet last weekend at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
So it's a real pleasure to sit down with this album because Potter's playing is not quite so dominant when it is coming out of the hi-fi speakers, and there is space in this listener's heart and mind to take in the leader's - and the band's - other strengths.
The band is Potter on tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, ilimba (a Tanzanian thumb piano which he uses on a track of the same name) and samples, David Virelles on piano, Joe Martin on double bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums and percussion (Nasheet Waits was in for Gilmore at Cheltenham).
One of Potter's other great strengths - and it's an increasing one - is his compositions. The tunes on this album are often very lovely indeed. There are turns of phrase in the melodies of the opener, Heart In Hand, and in the title track, that simply melt the heart with their beauty. And, naturally, a great melody and set of harmonies means the improvisations are given an added boost, too.
To a certain extent this is a more conventional jazz quartet in that the horn takes centre stage and the piano plays the role of a vital counter-voice in both mood and style, with the bass and drums in support for the main. And each player plays their role impeccably.
Virelles must have a very busy diary as he is much in demand at the moment, but I think he fits this band and his role as a complement to Potter better than in any other aggregation. His solos are as astounding as Potter's but in a totally different way - more oblique, perhaps, more idiosyncratic, certainly often more instrospective, and more sharp and spiky, in contrast to the lozenge-like tone that Potter brings to all his horns.
Martin and Gilmore do get their spots in the sunshine, but are just as compelling - maybe even more so - when pushing and pulling behind Potter and Virelles.
And what of their leader? Well, it's great to hear him on bass clarinet on the title track, and leading in on soprano before returning on tenor on Heart In Hand. There are the big, exploratory solos on tenor for which we know him best and still love him best. Yashodhara (with which he opened the Cheltenham set) is a real blast. It has a jumpy melody line which reminds me of another younger saxophonist, and one who is hot on Potter's heels, Marius Neset. It's also a fine place to really get the measure of this band and the strengths of all four players. A good place to start despite being track five of six.
With each release, it seems to me, Chris Potter's saxophone prowess increases but he has got to the stage where, having reached the technical heights some years back, he is now in a process of honing, and even paring back, some of the more bravura aspects. He can hardly become a better saxophonist but he is becoming a better editor and his music is becoming more profound as a result. And with each release he leaps forward as a composer.
A hugely rewarding album which gets better as one's absorption goes deeper.