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A Modern Masterpiece: Chris Potter on Recording Lift

By Published: July 28, 2004
AAJ: I've seen all of you play together, and I've also seen each of you play with other groups and it's been very interesting to see how distinct your voices are as players and yet depending on who's taking the leadership role, you can end up with very different results. How does that creative process work? Is it always a smooth ride?

CP: Its pretty organic. We're all sufficiently secure enough that if somebody has a good idea, we want to listen. With each tune you just play it a bunch and maybe have a conversation after asking what people thought. But not that much of it is discussed. It just finds its vibe.

AAJ: To me that seems a hallmark and a difference of the jazz group compared to other forms of music.

CP: I think we all have respect for each others playing. No one feels they have to carry the other person. And this is the approach I like to take as a leader. I really want to be able to get the best out of the people I'm working with, which just involves letting them do what they do. If I tried to box Bill and Scott in I can't imagine—they'd just laugh at me first of all—but it just wouldn't be as great as letting them figure it out themselves.

AAJ: How would you describe Bill and Scott and Kevin' styles to a non-musicians who was interested in getting into the music?

CP: A big hallmark of Bill's playing is his clarity. He's playing all these polyrhythmic ideas. Ideas on top of ideas, all these elements are happening, but it never sounds cluttered, it never sounds half-baked. It always sounds as if he's really thought it through. He has a language and he's worked on extending that language and he's very clear in his thinking. And his time feel. It's very easy to hook-up with.

AAJ: I think, as you said, that even though there's all that complexity, for the listener there's always this stable net back there that helps give access not only to what he's doing, but what everyone else is playing.

CP: Right. It effects how everyone else plays. Definitely. It gives us the freedom too. You just know there's a groove there that's not going to let up no matter how abstract it gets.

Scott. He's just a natural on the bass... It's always easy to recognize that it's Scott when you hear him. You really understand it when you see him play and know him, see how he's moving and how he's getting that sound. It's very light and flowing, but also definitely grooving. That is a difficult thing. There are people who have one or the other. But Scott has both, and brings them together organically. He hears these floating melodies, all these divisions of bar lines, but it's always about the groove.

AAJ: When it comes to recording live, do you approach it differently? How do you guarantee your going to get what you want that night?

CP: (Laughing) You really don't know. Obviously, it's never going to be perfect. It's never going to be a performance where every second of it you go 'Oh, yeah, I did exactly what I wanted there' Very rarely would that happen. But you just go and hope for the best really. I remember after the week was over, I tried to just leave it alone and not listen to it for awhile so I could come back later, after I'd forgotten all the particulars, and hear it again.

AAJ: When you look back at it now, are there any moments that stand out, like if you were directing listeners, is there something you'd want them to listen for?

CP: The things I'm most proud of are when you can really tell everyone is playing together. Of course, we're playing together all the time, but there are moments that are more collected and you can hear that. It's hard for me to think of any specific moments.

AAJ: I was just curious because there's always the process when you've created something you can sometimes zero in on something that for one reason or another, sometimes just for personal reasons, you're proud of or particularly happy with.

CP: I'm actually a fan of the quieter moments on the album. I like that. I like how "Okinawa" builds and stays within a certain key and grooves there for awhile which is in contrast to a lot of the other stuff on the record. A lot of what I like is the energy—like you were saying—the live energy, the way it doesn't let up.

AAJ: Is there anything you're not happy with?

CP: Oh well, yeah sure.

AAJ: That's the easier part? Finding the things you'd like to improve?

CP: Again, I'd have to think about it to come up with specifics, but that's part of the process too. When you make a recording, part of what that does is to get it out of your system so you can say, 'what am I going to do next?'

AAJ: It always seems like it's easier to find the things you want to improve than the things you're happy with.

CP: Yeah, yeah. That's always the way it seems to be.

AAJ: When do you think you are at your best? When you are practicing or when you are performing?

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