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A Modern Masterpiece: Chris Potter on Recording "Lift"

Franz A. Matzner By

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I believe its everyone's duty whether they are politically involved directly or not, to try and live in a way that brings more harmony to the world rather than less. —Chris Potter
Recorded live, Chris Potter's current release Lift reunites Potter with band mates Scott Colley, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Stewart, the same line-up who produced the 2002 release Traveling Mercies, and with whom Potter has recorded and performed with many times over the years, whether under his own leadership or as a member of the others' various trios and quartets.

Fully capturing the unique power and synergy these four master musician's produce on stage, Lift is an exemplar of live recording. Not only is the sound quality crystal clear, but Potter and company reach peaks of collective creativity one rarely hears, and even more rarely encounters on recordings.

Each known for their strong, immediately identifiable voices and consummate skill, Potter, Stewart, Hayes and Colley have all attained equal stature as some of the foremost players in modern jazz. So it is no surprise that they sound good together. The more remarkable thing—and what will make this album one of the year's top recordings, if not of contemporary jazz—is that as strong as they may be on their own, these four never sound better than when they are together. (With the possible exception of Colley who seems to sound equally expressive and inventive no matter where or with whom he's playing.)

It was my privilege to speak with Mr. Potter recently about the genesis of Lift , the unique relationship he shares with his fellow band mates, as well as many other topics.



All About Jazz: I want to jump right into the new album. This is a fantastic recording. I think this just might be the most powerful I've ever heard you. Why did you choose to do a live album?

Chris Potter: I felt it was important to document what we do live. The band had been out for a couple of months, and the whole year or two before that we'd done a whole lot of playing together. And we've been playing together off and on for years...I thought it would really makes sense to get down on tape what we sound like live. And not try to make the tunes short, or do studio versions. It didn't seem that was the way to best serve the music. The biggest draw back might have been that there was a lot more new material that we weren't able to get on the cd.

AAJ: You opted to do a lot longer takes?

CP: We just decided to forget the tape machine was on. To do what we usually do. It naturally ends up longer. But you also get the energy of the live performance and you get how we extend things, how the arc of a performance goes more than on any of the studio cds. I felt that it was time to show people that don't have the chance to see the band live what we are up to.

AAJ: You have a long history of playing with Bill [Stewart] and Scott [Colley], and Kevin Hayes. How did that come about?

CP: I met Bill the first night I was in New York. He was playing with Larry Goldings and Peter Bernstein. They were playing for tips. I recall thinking, 'Wow. New York is a really tough town if these guys are playing for tips.' They sounded amazing. I met Scott a couple of years later and we did a lot of playing together in various situations, really became good friends. I probably met Kevin around the same time and we performed together now and then. I guess we really started playing together as a band a lot more around the year 2000, there was a series of drummers that we were using, but there was always the trio with Scott and Bill, and I thought maybe I should keep this separate from the quartet. Eventually it was kind of obvious that it worked so well, and that Bill was the right guy. I'm just a huge fan of his playing.

We all have this long history together. We're all a similar age and have a similar jazz background. We all really grew up within the jazz tradition, learning to play bebop. We've all had experience working with the older generation of musicians, but also not wanting to do exactly what they did. We have a similar slant on being pretty familiar with the jazz tradition but not wanting to be locked in by it.

AAJ: What makes playing with them different or special?

CP: The level and ease of communication.

AAJ: Does that rapport stay steady when you haven't been playing together, can you drop right back into it?

CP: Seems like its fairly easy. Of course, the experiences you have when you're not playing together, you bring them into the situation. We're all doing lots of different things and growing, so whenever we do have a chance to play with each other we get the chance to bring those things into it. But we know each other's playing so well—and they are such great musicians. I feel like I can depend on them, and hopefully they feel they can depend on me. We can really play in such a way where we're not worried about playing the changes or keeping the form. It's about communication and trying to see what we can build on that particular night.

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