Tenor-of-our-times Chris Potter on his ECM debut as leader has come up with something very special indeed, make no mistake, on The Sirens (*****). Released in just under a fortnight, on 28 January, the album has a Homeric conceit, like streets in close proximity can be named after peaks in the same mountain range,  so the tracks on this record have titles to match the legendary tale. You’re also by association supposed to say it is epic! Or heroic! In terms of technique it’s not just that Potter handles the saxophone like a rancher is able to tame the wildest horse; he can also charm, coax and caress.

It’s all about expression on The Sirens, and like a theatre play that suddenly makes you feel frightened, or anxious to know how the drama is resolved, whether it’s going to be happy, sad, or even tragic, the narrative of each tune manages this as well. The serious yet unpretentious tunes he’s written resemble the way Potter stands on stage in a club before he plays, looking ahead, presenting himself, at ease with what they call the fourth wall, although as improvisation gains traction he’s oblivious to it. Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland is at the kit and it’s a maelstrom of ideas he brings to the session, the way say Nasheet Waits can burn on a Jason Moran record, with Harland’s own customised input.

There is a tenderness at play that Potter is expert at, maybe the best interpreter of a ballad since, in a different idiom, Stan Getz. Larry Grenadier on bass sounds different here than the way he plays with Brad Mehldau, he’s actually sounding more like he does with Fly. As for brilliant pianist Craig Taborn, well he’s less abstract than he usually is say on a song like ‘Kalypso’ and he rows in to meet Potter somewhere close to a Monk sound after his solo here. The other pianist, David Virelles, is on hand with the role of adding prepared piano sounds, celeste and harmonium, so that’s a twist in the arranging and it gives the album a distinctiveness without being gimmicky. The title track, opening with Potter on bass clarinet, and the very moody and sensual seascape-like accompaniment then opens out to transport us the listeners into the middle of a dream. When was the last time a song did that? Chicago-born Potter, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on New Year’s Day, has been playing beautifully of late and in the Unity Band last year with Pat Metheny showed just one more aspect of what he can do. There’s something magical in the water with this release, an element as mysterious, dangerous, and vital as the best music.

Stephen Graham

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