A heavy listen with chamber jazz, avant and driving muscular post-bop flavours, as well as a probing restlessness in the writing, Chris Potter’s latest album takes the long view compositionally and demands a good deal from the listener.

Given that brave sense of adventure and the intricacies of the ensemble interplay it’s not surprising that not everything here has immediate impact. But pushing obvious buttons for instant effect probably isn’t Potter’s point at all.

With a string quartet augmenting a jazz group bristling with vibes and a two-bass configuration this recording was made just over a year ago in New York studio Avatar where a good deal of ECM albums are made these days Stateside anyway. The centrepiece of the music is a four-movement ‘Imaginary Cities’ suite comprised of sections titled Compassion, Dualities, Disintegration and Rebuilding. The full line-up of players on the album is: Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Adam Rogers: guitars; Craig Taborn: piano; Steve Nelson: vibraphone, marimba; Fima Ephron: bass guitar; Scott Colley: double bass; Nate Smith: drums; Mark Feldman: violin; Joyce Hammann: violin; Lois Martin: viola; and Dave Eggar: cello.

While much preferring Potter’s 2013 album The Sirens there is much to savour here nonetheless even if it’s not always easy to figure out quite the direction of the music. ‘Shadow Self’ one of four tracks that wrap themselves around the suite maybe represents what Potter is trying to do best, seemingly harness in a slightly more digestible manner on this track the disciplines of contemporary composition and improvised music. As listeners we might also need to take the long view and keep coming back to Imaginary Cities for further insights.

Stephen Graham  

UK/Ireland release: 19 January