John Potter Amores PasadosIf you want a fascinating blend of classical and rock, I’ll bet that this is different to what you expect – and it is strangely compelling. Well conceived and presented, this is one of the year’s most original projects, and one that deserves a wide audience.

Label: ECM

Time:  13 tracks / 46 mins

Put together names like John Paul Jones, Tony Banks and Sting, and you would expect a rock super-group. But add in John Potter, former tenor of the Hilliard Ensemble classical vocal group and some 17th century material and you might do a double-take.

Potter has assembled a project that looks at how words and music get put together over the centuries. More specifically, he notes how 20th century music became split between pop songs (sung by ordinary people, even if, say, a barrow boy whistling a Verdi aria) and, with the advent of recording, ‘art’ songs (often written by the person that recorded them) and tries to mix them up here.

Essentially, the disc is just his vocal with accompaniment from two lutenists, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman, but he is sometimes joined on vocals by Anna Maria Friman, from Trio Mediaeval, and her contribution takes the set up another notch. Her harmonies with Potter on the title track are essential and her solo take on Thomas Campion’s “Follow Thy Fair Sun” is gorgeous.

The latter is one of two Campion songs for which Genesis keyboards player Tony Banks has written modern tunes, and as a classical singer, Potter delivers both versions of Campion’s “Thy Cypress Curtain of the Night.”

Led Zeppelin bassist Jones has written the three-part title track for lyrics written between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first has a simple and striking lute hook; the third is flamenco-inspired and equally accessible. In between comes “No Dormia,” a spacious and almost monotonous work, whose final seconds are surprisingly brash and sound to me slightly out (maybe this is the part referred to by Potter in the notes, when he says, “We have left in some of the inevitable glitches that are part of what makes a performance human”).

Just to blur the lines further, the lutenists play a pair of short sixteenth century Picforth instrumentals.

So you can listen to this start to finish, compare particular songs in different versions, or play them in chronological order. Whichever way, the album is over too quickly and is easy to put on repeat.

This is one that defies easy description and is best heard as a whole. Although Potter’s singing style is worlds apart from Sting’s, Robert Plant’s or Peter Gabriel’s, there is a huge amount here for listeners who enjoy those artists’ work


Derek Walker

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