The Sirens is Chris Potter's debut as a leader for ECM but he’s no stranger to the label. He recorded as a member of Dave Holland's band, and collaborated with Paul Motian and Jason Moran on Lost in a Dream. The saxophonist’s quintet here includes pianist Craig Taborn -- a member of Potter's electric ensemble Underground -- bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Eric Harland, and the relatively unknown David Virelles, texturing the proceedings on prepared piano, celeste, and harmonium. Creating a concept album as your first offering for a new label is a brave endeavor, but Potter rises to it. The Sirens is inspired by his re-reading of Homer's The Odyssey; he was moved by the enduring qualities of humanity in that epic, and wrote the entire album in two weeks. Potter's inherent lyricism is evident from opener "Wine Dark Sea," that offers the feel of the first romantic, tentative steps when embarking on an adventure. After a brief intro, Grenadier sets a groove articulated by Taborn, whose painterly chords offer a palette for Harland. When Potter commences the melody, that "sea" is wide open with possibility. His songlike quality is underscored by Taborn's beautiful fills and comps. Potter's tenor solo is warm, inviting, searching. "Dawn (With Her Rosy Fingers)" is introduced by Grenadier's melodic bassline and Taborn's tasteful coloration. When Potter enters, his lines become spidery, alternately inquisitive and emotionally expressive. On the title cut he plays both bass clarinet and tenor. Grenadier's bass is bowed and the sense of seductive foreboding is made plain, even as the lyric line remains mysterious and spare. The entire tune becomes a lament in revelation after the bassist's gorgeous argo solo. Potter's soprano soars in "Penelope," yet it remains, true to form, expressive of only what is necessary to communicate the music's dictates and not his considerable athleticism. The gentle sting provided by Harland and Taborn makes the tune irresistible. "Kalypso" is a taut post-bop tune with wonderful articulations from Harland, Taborn, and Grenadier locking it down even as they grow it out. The culmination of drama and sense of emotional homecoming expressed in "Stranger at the Gate" would have made it a fitting end piece -- were it not for the whispering duet between Virelles and Taborn on "The Shades" that gives the set its sense of rest and closure. Potter's vision and compositions on The Sirens never lose sight of his goal: portraying the eternal essence of humanity in the mythos of his subject; his poetic lyricism as a soloist, and his empathy as a bandleader are consummate.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek