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November 2002

Chris Potter
Traveling Mercies
Verve

A recording of genuflections to the masters (as predictable major-label recording strategy often has it) should be followed by a personal statement recording-preferably something with a little sass and swagger, something to help counteract the starch an earnest thing like a tribute record can put in a player's reputation. Now, Chris Potter is an exciting player, and Traveling Mercies may have been all his idea, but unfortunately it comes off as the end result of a marketing plan.

This rangy, glossy affair, which follows Gratitude, Potter's saxmen encomium from 2001, touches on fusion, funk and acid jazz without committing to anything. Potter toys around with loops and processing on the opening two tunes, "Megalopolis" and "Snake Oil," though the touch is ornamental. Kevin Hays' Hancocklike Fender Rhodes sets the first of those tunes firmly in a '70s Red Clay sound, and then does the same later for "Washed Ashore." Potter adds his own wordless vocals to a gentle, sleepy, new age "Invisible Man" and comes up with something limp. Ubiquitous funk/jazz generator, John Scofield sits in on a few tracks, including the Sco-funk number "Migrations," a tune that catches Potter in semi-David Murray mode. By the end of the song, however, the funk subsides and the new-age-chant-plus-synthesizer elements return.

The only real standout track is Potter's soul-jazz version of the spiritual "Children Go." Beyond that, and despite some fine playing by Potter, Traveling Mercies' attempts to sound eclectic and vibrant end up sounding calculated and cautious. At this point, Potter fronting a band with quick reflexes on daring material, minus concept and gimmicks, would be more than welcome.

Originally published in November 2002
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