Is Chris Potter the most extraordinary tenor saxophonist alive? Cue up a YouTube clip titled “Chris Potter Going Completely Insane on Moment’s Notice” with 555,000 views and you tell us. Alongside fellow tenorman Marcus Strickland, pianist Benny Green, bassist Martin Wind, and drummer Matt Wilson, Potter plays as if it’s the last time he’ll ever pick up a horn. By the end of his incendiary solo, even his bandmates look taken aback.
Once your technical ability seemingly hits the ceiling, what do you do? Over the past decade, the answer for Potter seems to be that you open up. A trio of critically acclaimed albums on ECM—2013’s The Sirens, 2015’s Imaginary Cities, and 2017’s The Dreamer Is the Dream—recontextualized his gutsy playing onto an impressionistic landscape for full emotional impact. Then came a pivot to the U.K. label Edition, and with it the electrified Circuits Trio, featuring keyboardist James Francies and drummer Eric Harland.
Sunrise Reprise is the second ride for this project, and it’s a more spacious one than the first, 2019’s Circuits. But where the ECM albums felt earthy and capacious thanks to masters like pianist Craig Taborn and bassist Larry Grenadier, here the synthesized accompaniment leans a little listless. This especially applies to the opener, “Sunrise and Joshua Trees.” When the energy does upshift, it’s only to second or third, as on the CTI-style workout “Serpentine.”
Taborn comes up for a reason. Last year, his Junk Magic project put out Compass Confusion, one of the most startling and disorienting electronic crossover albums in years. Going “completely insane” isn’t a necessary or even advisable value to uphold as an artist. Still, as this style of music goes, hot tends to beat room temperature.