Following a string of acclaimed releases on indie labels, a clutch of significant awards and honors and a profile-raising stint with Steely Dan, saxophonist Chris Potter makes his major-label debut with Gratitude, an album of mostly original material in tribute to the iconic saxophonists who inspired him. Potter tips his hat to a pantheon that includes Young, Hawkins, Parker, Coltrane, Rollins, Coleman and Shorter, as well as contemporary saxmen Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano. But rather than evoking his heroes literally, Potter uses them as a starting point for his own inspired elaborations on their legacies.
Thus, on "The Source" Potter spins a melody in a shape that suggests Coltrane, but casts it as a funky, off-kilter strut. On "High Noon," a hypnotic, odd-metered tribute to Eddie Harris, Potter blows soulful tenor over Kevin Hayes' Fender Rhodes, overdubbing tasteful embellishments on alto flute and bass clarinet. He weaves his soprano into graceful unison and counterpoint with Scott Colley's bass on "Eurydice," an elegant paean to Wayne Shorter. "Body & Soul," inextricably linked with the purring tenor of Coleman Hawkins, is tackled as a duet for bass clarinet and bass, paying unstated homage as well to Eric Dolphy, while sounding nothing like him. On alto Potter gleefully plays tag with Colley and drummer Brian Blade in the twisting turnarounds they've devised for "Star Eyes," updating Charlie Parker's rhythmic bravado. "Vox Humana" fetes Ornette Coleman with wistful Chinese wood flute and soprano over Hayes' watercolor piano.
In the hands of a lesser artist, such a program might have proven a recipe for cliche. But Potter demonstrates his imagination and resourcefulness time and again on Gratitude, proving conclusively that he has learned the most important lesson any of his forebears had to offer: be yourself.