Thursday, February 05, 2015

Chris Potter - Invisible Cities (ECM, 2015)

Chris Potter’s signing to the ECM label has marked a distinctive turning point in his evolution as a saxophonist and composer. While on his earlier playing as a bandleader or as a sideman with the likes of Dave Holland and Pat Metheny, he took a “traditional” modern jazz approach, and beautifully so, growing into one of the finest soloists in jazz on tenor saxophone. This is his second album at meeting the unique ECM aesthetic head on and it shows remarkable open mindedness on his part to embrace new musical concepts and settings. On this album, there’s an interesting symbiosis between his Underground group, Adam Rogers on guitar, Craig Taborn on keyboards and Nate Smith on drums with a wider cast, made up of a string quartet, two bassists, vibes and marimba. It’s an audacious concept, beginning with “Lament” where Potter picks his spots, not overwhelming the proceedings, but adding a wonderful soft ballad tone at times recalling Johnny Hodges or Ben Webster. One of his most risk-taking propositions follows, the four-part suite “Invisible Cities.” It is kind of a shock hearing him in this string laden dreamy setting, with “Part 1: Compassion” being something of a stoic ballad where he patiently navigates the almost but not quite sappy strings, building a majestic solo statement, followed by some tasteful guitar. Dancing plucked strings usher in "Part 2: Dualities" and nimble playing from all concerned launches Potter on a more organic solo flight, followed by a nifty marimba solo from Steve Nelson. “Part 4: Rebuilding” concludes the suite with a very wide scale cinematic performance with a fine saxophone solo in the middle and a hopeful air all around. “Firefly” works with swelling strings to propel saxophone and guitar to flight, while “Sky” is a mini-suite in it’s own right moving through sections of strings, saxophone and showing a distinct Pat Metheny influence in it’s open structure and wide palette of sound colors. I must confess with regret that "with strings" albums are not my favorite. The arrangements here are ambitious and Potter's playing is simply magisterial throughout, but I found the strings to be a distraction. Your milage may vary. Imaginary Cities -

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