It’s enough to be considered one of the top tenor saxophonists in jazz, but Chris Potter has long incorporated flutes, bass clarinet, and other instruments into his sound, whether on his own records or in his work with Pat Metheny’s Unity Group. Never before, however, has Potter done something like his lockdown dispatch There Is a Tide, a wholly self-contained set on which he plays literally everything: all keyboards, guitars, bass, drums and percussion, samples, and of course woodwinds. This demands more than just bush-league competence on each instrument, and Potter delivers, though his intent is not to show off—he makes the guitar, for instance, do what he needs it to do, and nothing more. The result sounds remarkably like a full top-tier band, and the compositional depth on display is no less than it would be if he’d actually hired one.
With a title borrowed from Shakespeare, There Is a Tide is more an orchestration album than a shredding album, and yet this is Potter: There are monster tenor and soprano sax solos on just the first track. On the second track there’s tenor followed by bass clarinet. On “Rising Over You” and “Rest Your Head” there are beautiful B-flat clarinet features. The virtuosic flights are everywhere, and yet the emphasis is layered ensemble textures and melodically rich unison passages, with moments that evoke other Potter projects: the funk of Underground, the chamber jazz of the Tentet, the epic sweep of the ECM albums. The guitar tends toward a stripped-down folk-rock influence, the percussion at times recalls Metheny, the harmony a bit of Steely Dan here and there (another major name in Potter’s sideman résumé). But the sum total is distinctively Potter, and the yearning and hope at the heart of the music bursts through on the exuberant sendoff, “New Life (In the Wake of Devastation).”