Chris Potter

Chris PotterGratitude
Chris Potter
(Verve – 2001)
by John Barrett

A tribute should show two things: the style of the honored and the talent of the performer. Chris Potter has been very busy the last decade, the sideman of choice for many projects. One reason is versatility: his tone on “The Source” is the image of Coltrane. The same tart inflection, the same ecstatic squeals – but his solos copy no one. The song is a forceful blues, a form at which Trane excelled; while Chris struts, Kevin Hays evolves. Quiet chords are followed by broad phrases, like Tyner but more relaxed. On “Shadow”, he glides a Fender Rhodes through funky waters – Potter walks slowly and growls hard. While dedicated to Joe Henderson, I also hear Turrentine; this sax has authority.

Scott Colley stretches on the tough “Sun King”: long sinewy notes, and a nice woody sound. Hays jumps in with gospel chords; Chris emulates Rollins … while the theme smacks of Monk! (It makes sense; the two played together often.) The star here is Kevin; his solo is quite delicate, and there are hints of calypso. “High Noon” (for Eddie Harris) is loaded with that ‘Seventies vibe: no amplified sax, but the Rhodes is mighty tasty. Brian Blade whomps all over the drums, for a spacious sound reminiscent of Elvin; there’s even a bass clarinet, humming like a fuzz bass. “The Mind’s Eye” has sharp stabbing lines (Colley is great with a bow) and the lithe, slurpy tone of Joe Lovano. He slowly climbs up the stairs, prodded by Hays – the performance gets stronger the longer it goes. To cool off, we have “Gratitude”: dedicated to no specific musician, Chris sways, on a long lazy rumination. The mood is soft, the lights are dimmed … and the stars are shining brightly.

For the Lester Young spotlight “the Visitor”, Chris surges hard on a boppish theme. A little breathiness suggests Prez, but nothing else; this one is closer to Coltrane. The bass clarinet returns on “Body and Soul”, dripping despair as Colley walks beside him. Like Hawkins’ version, Potter never plays the theme – and like Hawkins’, this one is a thing of beauty. “Star Eyes” isn’t terribly Birdlike, but the pianoless backing makes it a treat. (Blade is alive, and this is his best performance.) “Vox Humana” (for Ornette) is a wooden flute, a few bells, Hays in the distant background – and a sense of eternal peace. The final theme, on soprano, is especially touching. Playing alone on “What’s New”, Potter radiates hope; the notes ripple with force, and they smile. His tribute complete, Chris Potter walks out of the spotlight, having repaid his mentors in a wonderful way. For this I am grateful.