How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Evidently, rhythm is at the core center of this contemporary and urban-sounding album. Throughout these hard-driving selections, Chris Potter and his 55 Bar cohorts deliver rock-solid performances, both individually and collectively. In fact, one cannot not mention Potter's producing and A&R workit firmly positions this album as jazz/fusion album of the year (if one can overlook the weird splice in the first track). More, it provides him an exciting live unit.
Indeed, Nate Smith is a powerhouse. His energetic drumming style, which sounds somewhat similar to Dave Weckl, Gene Lake, Sean Rickman and Rick Prince, features his unique ability at juggling broken rhythms, time signatures and displaced/syncopated accents, as well as a mastery of textures and kit-playing techniques. Many will find it interesting to study the way he prepares his shots and punches.
Like Potter, guitarist Wayne Krantz played with Steely Dan. Favoring a slightly overdriven Strat sound, his skewed legato phrases are peppered with Scofield-like double-stops, large intervallic skips, low-register jabs and inventive open-string ideas. Alternating playing the bass part, he and Fender Rhodes player, Craig Taborn, are dynamic and creative accompanists. Former Lost Tribe guitarist Adam Rogers is also added on two tracks. As for the leader, his constancy at holding high standards of inventiveness and coherence never disappoints. The themes and lines pouring out of his muscled tenor saxophone bring conclusive evidence of his moment-to-moment quest for musical unity in improvisation.
The album's pacing alternates between incandescent jazz-fusion selections, all-out solos and airier passages. It climaxes with Potter's "Nudnick," a ten-minute piece with an oblique 7/8 melody and tightly played ensemble parts. It is arguably a piece of jazz-fusion anthology. "Big Top" allows everyone to stretch in their solos. The extended performance ends with Smith freely soloing over an ostinato that borrows on the melody's triplet leitmotive.
"The Wheel," with Rogers, is another rhythmic tour de force. The bisectional melody is built around repeated alternating measures of 6/8 and 9/8 (which maybe is the source of its title?). The track's fireworks finale showcases Potter surfing over the band and Smith's incessant throbbing.
The set closes with a subdued and reharmonized rendition of Lennon & McCartney's "Yesterday." Taking liberty with the form and phrasing, Potter's arrangement is filled with neat harmonic and voice-leading concepts that sheds a new light on the pop standard.
Track Listing: Next Best Western; Morning Bell; Nudnik; Lotus Blossom; Big Top; The Wheel; Celestial Nomad; Underground; Yesterday.
Personnel: Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Wayne Krantz: electric guitar; Craig Taborn: Fender Rhodes; Nate Smith: drums; Adam Rogers: electric guitar (6,9).