The Upshot: Reedist Potter hits a new peak as composer, player and bandleader,
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Following up the rich and ambitious Imaginary Cities with his Underground Orchestra, reedist Chris Potter turns to a more compact vehicle – the classic jazz quartet of horn, keyboard, bass and percussion. But that’s not to say The Dreamer is the Dream goes for a small sound. Indeed, such a thing would be impossible with this group. Pianist David Virelles, clearly too busy lending expert support to others to keep up with his own increasingly remarkable solo career, brings his distinctive hybrid to the table, effortlessly blending avant-garde, Latin, worldbeat and straightahead jazz styles into a sound all his own. Drummer Marcus Gilmore keeps the rhythms in the pocket and on the move, adding flamboyance that never crosses over to bombast. Bassist Joe Martin acts mainly as an anchor, though his big, round sound never gets lost in the shuffle. Potter himself is no shrinking violet, putting his skill, taste and experience into every note, no matter if he’s on tenor sax or bass clarinet. He solos as if the greats have been downloaded into his hard drive and rewritten in his own programming language.
But where Potter really distinguishes himself is in his writing. After two-plus decades of playing with the best – Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Paul Motian, Dave Douglas and more – the saxist knows how to paint a picture. “Ilimba” subtly incorporates African music into its post-bop workout, giving Gilmore a chance to shine on a solo and Virelles plenty of room to weave a spell whose origins seem familiar but add up to something unique. “Memory and Desire” builds a multi-faceted diamond out of balladry, bebop and classical music, letting samples and overdubbed woodwinds put its traditions into the 21st century. “Yasodhara” ostensibly adds Indian music to the mix, but the epic track’s almost dizzying blitz of styles, held together by Virelles’ furious improvising, rears its own beast. “Heart in Hand” and the title track – which features Potter on the bass clarinet, making a case for increasing the instrument’s prominence in jazz – take on classic balladeering, the former’s supper club soul and the latter’s trembling nerve mixing in the right touches of humor and passion. The relatively brief closer “Sonic Anomaly” gleefully romps through a field of whimsy, Potter happily skronking away and Virelles running up and down his keyboard like a rabbit in the sun.
With a catalog as extensive as Potter’s, it’s hard to define a masterpiece. But hitting a new peak as composer, player and bandleader, Potter definitely makes The Dreamer is the Dream at the very least a triumph.
DOWNLOAD: “Ilimba,” “Memory and Desire,” “Yasodhara”