We're back--and so is Odysseus, a regular visitor to these pages.
Homer's epic hero--featured in Cream's Tales of Brave Ulysses, Steely Dan's Home at Last, Suzanne Vega's Calypso, and many other contemporary songs--has inspired still more modern music, this time a new album by saxophonist Chris Potter, released late last month. “The Sirens draws inspiration from The Odyssey, the ancient Greek epic poem of exile, homecoming and the treacherous path in between," writes the New York Times's Nate Chinen in an interview with Potter.
The album features such tracks as Wine Dark Sea, a title drawn from Homer's poetic description of the Mediterranean; Penelope, Kalypso, and Nausikaa, each inspired by specific characters in the tale; and of course, the title track, about the mythical women whose irresistible song lures sailors to shipwreck on the rocks.
In the Times interview, Potter talks about what drew him to The Odyssey:
I read it in high school and thought it was cool but didn’t go much further than that. When I reread it, I was really taken with the beauty of it and how many of the themes in the book resonate. It’s good and evil, these big decisions — and a lot of stuff about interpersonal relationships, which is rare for an ancient text, I think. It’s very psychological, in a way....A lot of what’s interesting to me is how Odysseus actually interacts with people. He’s in these situations where he has to represent himself. That to me is a big reason why it feels so contemporary. A couple of the tunes that are about women—'Penelope' and 'Nausikaa'—are played on soprano saxophone. In a way that’s them speaking in their voice. It works also because most of the album is on tenor, which is a lower, more male voice: Odysseus.
He also suggests that a working musician can particularly identify with Homer's peripatetic hero: "As universal as the themes in The Odyssey are, there might be some that personally resonate more with me: leaving, and not knowing exactly how it’s going to go, or who you’re going to run into, or what problems are going to arise. Just that being-away-from-home thing, and returning home."
For an additional musical reference to Homer, visit our companion blog Classics Rock! The Sequel.