Tenor saxophonist Chris Potter's
latest effort, "Traveling Mercies"
, takes the listener on a journey through a complex contemporary musical world that fuses straight-ahead jazz, funk, synthesized backgrounds, and retro sounds. It also benefits from the superb playing of its supporting cast, particularly drummer Bill Steward and guest guitarist John Scofield.
There is a surprising amount of electronic contribution to the overall weight of the album, but it is used in a very effective and complimentary fashion. Potter's tenor saxophone is featured, but is also multi-layered with his own saxophone and flute playing. Synthesized and sampled backgrounds are also predominant on a majority of the tracks. Yet they are not distracting or overused in the manner of pop recordings. Keyboardist Kevin Hays uses the Fender Rhodes extensively, which blends well with the electronic backgrounds and has an overall softening effect on the rhythm section.
Of the ten tunes on the CD, all but two are Chris Potter originals. Potter includes a funky version of the traditional spiritual "Children Go" to mark the half-way point on the CD, and closes the session with a somber reading of "Just As I Am", featuring Potter on bass clarinet. Oddly, "Just As I Am" is attributed to Willie Nelson in the CD liner notes - in fact, it was written by the great English hymn writer Charlotte Elliott, with publisher Thomas Hastings adding the familiar tune.
With its heavy leanings toward funk and contemporary sounds, this CD represents an interesting departure from traditional hard bop playing for Chris Potter. Potter's playing, though, is every bit as good as his listeners have come to expect from him. Perhaps if Potter had been in Miles' electric funk bands of the seventies and eighties, this is what those efforts would have sounded like.