Saturday, May 28, 2016

Chris Potter - 1998 "Vertigo"

Shortly before the recording of Vertigo, Chris Potter suffered partial hearing loss after undergoing treatments for Ménière’s disease, an inner ear condition. Vertigo was in fact one of the symptoms he had been experiencing. Despite (or perhaps because of) the somewhat frightening circumstance that led to its title, Vertigo is Potter's most mature and expressive work to date. "Almost Home" and "Wake Up" are two of his prettiest, most memorable melodies. "Fishy" and the title track feature bass clarinet overdubs that double Scott Colley's basslines, to great effect. "Shiva" opens the record with an angular melodic line, stated in unison with utmost precision by Potter and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, whose warm yet crisp tone is a delight. Drummer Billy Drummond trades 12-bar solo statements with Colley on "Long Walk, Short Pier," the first of three tracks to feature guest tenor man Joe Lovano. ("This Will Be," based on the standard "My Shining Hour," and "Modeen's Mood," a free-form tribute to drummer Paul Motian, are the other two.) "Act III, Scene I" is a rubato meditation on the most famous Shakespeare soliloquy of them all ("To be or not to be"). Even more than Unspoken, Potter's superstar session with John Scofield, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette, Vertigo reveals Potter as a player and composer with an uncommonly personal vision.

Everyone nowadays wants to be a songwriter, it seems, and young Chris Potter is no exception. All of the songs on Vertigo, Potter's fifth date under his own name for Concord Jazz, were composed by the 27-year-old South Carolinian, and none of them, to these ears, serves as more than a convenient springboard for improvisation. As for the latter, it is shared primarily by Potter on tenor, bass clarinet or soprano (on "Wake Up"), guitarist Rosenwinkel and Potter's guest, Joe Lovano, who unlimbers his hard-edged, post-bop tenor on three numbers - "Long Walk, Short Pier," "This Will Be" and "Modeen's Mood" (the last dedicated to drummer Paul Motian). Potter, once a young lion, has been around for so long that he can uphold the label old veteran, even though age 30 isn't even on the horizon. His playing, once fiery and straightforward, has undergone subtle changes too; he's become mellower and more introspective, added depth as well as dissonance to the repertoire, even though he reverts often to the "more-notes-I-can-spray-the-better" school. Is the new approach more desirable? Depends on one's point of view (and how open his or her mind is to new concepts). Mine? It's open only a crack, I'm afraid. That is to say, the new and improved Potter is not displeasing but I preferred the earlier hard-boppin' model - however, that's only one person's opinion. As for Lovano, he moves easily into any given environment, and is solidly in the groove here, matching Chris stride for stride on his three numbers. The third solo voice, that of Rosenwinkel, is indeed a pleasant surprise. He knows his way around, and fares quite well whenever his turn at bat arrives. In fact, his presence is sorely missed on the only Potter/Lovano pairing - "Long Walk, Short Pier" - on which he's not included. Colley and Drummond are there largely to keep the rhythm flowing, which they do with characteristic ease and assurance. In fact, everyone plays well - although Potter and Lovano do scrape the blackboard of irksomeness from time to time - and if I were more enamored of Potter's still-developing prowess as a composer, the session would receive more than a lukewarm endorsement.
 
Chris Potter's quartet shares the spotlight both individually and in ensemble. The young tenor saxophonist (Potter turned 27 this year) turns in a dramatic set based on his own compositions. As Zan Stewart states in the liner notes, "... Potter stretches himself, his musicians and his audience, creating new and challenging music ..."Working out recently in the ensembles of trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Dave Holland and The Mingus Big Band, Potter continues to explore the modern mainstream. Joe Lovano joins the quartet on "This Will Be," and "Modeen's Mood," and replaces Rosenwinkel on "Long Walk, Short Pier." Potter overdubs bass clarinet on "Vertigo" and "Fishy," and piano on "Act III, Scene I."
Chis Potter plays tenor with a lush fluid tone, spontaneous creative ideas, and an openly emotional lyricism. Joe Lovano has a drier tone and is recorded on the right channel, so you can easily identify the two. Working together, Potter and Lovano converse with creative near-screeches, moans and wails, and solid empathetic, sonorous phrases. Rosenwinkel's guitar spots are creative, but in the mainstream idiom. His fresh approach remains lucid and articulate, never loud or harsh, and quite similar in character to the leader's. Colley supports the ensemble accurately, according to each composition's intent. From nonchalant walking stutter-steps to vocal-like spirals, the bassist infuses a fresh voice. Likewise, Drummond's crisp press rolls and varied drumhead textures produce welcome solo scenes. Potter changes the timbre on "Wake Up" with his soprano saxophone voice. Vertigo is atenoralbum with fresh ideas from an exciting artist. Highly recommended.
 
Track Listing:

01. Shiva
02. Vertigo
03. Long Walk, Short Pier
04. Act III, Scene I
05. Fishy
06. This Will Be
07. Almost Home
08. Modeen's Mood
09. Wake Up

  Total time (63:15).

Personnel:

Chris Potter, tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, piano
Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar
Scott Colley, bass
Billy Drummond, drums
Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone (tracks 3, 6, 8).

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