Traveling Mercies

CHRIS POTTER: Traveling Mercies (Verve)In his previous outing, Gratitude, Chris Potter dutifully paid his respects to his several influences: Coltrane, Rollins, Young, etc. Freed of that obligation, Potter attempts to realize his long held dream with Traveling Mercies--which is to create both a more personal and eclectic statement. Unfortunately, the result is a dispiriting affair and a chore to listen to.

Potter lacks neither technique nor craft. He has carefully studied his elders, and frequently demonstrates a comparable command of his instrument, particularly in the harmonic realm. The problem is that Potter has little respect for, or understanding of, the African-American folk and dance traditions that inform the work of the great tenor men.

Traveling Mercies is largely devoid of rhythmic interest or creativity. Virtually every track features the same simplistic backbeat John Scofield has employed since his A Go Go album (it comes as no surprise, then, that Scofield appears here on three of the ten tracks). Attempting to compensate for this rhythmic monotony, Potter has composed eight tunes, nearly all of which are written in compound or mixed meters, and often feature irregular and truncated phrases. This is fine, for the duration of the each tune's exposition, but as soon as the players complete the head, we are left with a rhythmic void. There is nothing to captivate either the soloist's imagination or the listener's ear.

Potter is trying too hard to be taken seriously. Yes, he can write and negotiate difficult lines. But these exercises should not be construed as intellectually challenging; rather, they are emotionally meaningless. To dress things up a bit, and perhaps to disguise the album's vacuity, Potter frequently bookends the tunes with sampled noises. It's his nod to the Beatles. Both the album's opening sounds and the reversed organ recording heard on "Any Moment Now," call to mind "Tomorrow Never Knows." But all this is a little like serving fast food on a table set by Martha Stewart. Hey! Where's the beef?

© 2002 David Tegnell
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