Chris Potter – The Dreamer Is The Dream (2017)

The opening notes on “Heart In Hand” from Chris Potter’s tenor sax traces Wayne Shorter’s opening remark on “Dance Cadaverous” but Potter’s own deeply expressive character quickly surfaces on his own spare but symphonic poem. In what begins as a quiet exchange between Potter and pianist David Virelles flowers into a quartet piece with Joe Martin’s punctually placed bass notes and Marcus Gilmore’s flowing drums.

Maybe the echoes of the Shorter song are entirely coincidental, but it also symbolizes what makes Potter and other leading lights of his generation the true standard bearers of jazz: a healthy respect for prior generations while adding to the vocabulary of it. On April 28, 2017, Potter — along with Virelles, Martin and Gilmore — add a little more with the saxophonist and composer’s third ECM Records release, The Dreamer Is The Dream.

In keeping with making every ECM release a distinct entity, Potter unveils this whole new combo for The Dreamer, and their musical personalities by themselves alter how his compositions are rendered. It’s tight where it should be, loose where improvisation is needed to take a song to greater heights. The leader himself avails himself to four kinds of reeds, a flute, an African thumb piano and even delving a bit into 21st century sampling.

As for the bass clarinet, Potter is an undisputed champ and he puts it to good use on the titular song by turning a horn that often be caustic into an instrument of sweetened expression. Martin gets his spotlight on this freely flowing ballad, a keenly constructed solo that’s rhapsodic before handing it back over to Potter, now on a tenor sax that’s achingly sumptuous.

Everyone plays with sublime musicianship on “Yasodhara” (video above); not just the usual volley of chops from Potter who can go extended periods of time on a solo and still come up with fresh ideas well into it. Virelles keeps his diction tidy, placing chords only where they make impact. Gilmore moves Paul Motian-like on the drums, wringing every drop of timbral color from it. And Martin is the foundation who keeps everything tightly bound in spite of the looseness roiling around him. “Sonic Anomaly” is a song that Potter plainly describes as a “light-hearted kicker” but the tight bind between harmony and the Afro-Brazilian rhythm gives even this breezy number some interesting contours to behold.

This album isn’t at all restricted in its scope, even if it would be just fine as a typical lush, ECM affair, but Potter takes a few well-considered chances here. Experiments with grafting African forms into jazz have been going on since jazz itself was created as a descendant of music from that continent. Potter finds his own approach, constructing the song “Ilimba” from an African thumb piano of the same name. It’s complex with a simple, festive spirit at its core and Gilmore’s otherworldly percussion creates an endless supply of sparks…and that’s before he commences with his drum solo. Mysterious exotic sounds mostly coming from Virelles’ celeste and Potter’s samples is another surprising turn, found at the beginning of “Memory and Desire.”

With a new quartet and a few new twists but that same elite-class reeds playing and composing, The Dreamer Is The Dream keeps Chris Potter at the head of the class.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron