Although he was the youngest ever winner (at 29 in 2000) of Denmark's International Jazzpar Prize, the sadly-now-suspended most prestigious and lucrative award in jazz, saxophonist Chris Potter
has been better known as a super-sideman than as a leader over the course of his two-decade career, having been a prominent member of bands led by everyone from bebop pioneer Red Rodney to Jim Hall, Dave Douglas, Dave Holland
and many others. He occupies a middle ground between leader and sideman in the cooperative Monterey Quartet with mentor Holland and as leader in the new and first studio album from his electric band with groove and funk elements, Underground.
Potter, who plays tenor sax exclusively on Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival
and mostly on Ultrahang
, is one of the few tenors of his generation who mentions Sonny Rollinsrather than the more commonly referenced John Coltraneas an influence and hero. And more than most players today, he cultivates a rich tone and technique by exploring the harmonic, melodic and sonic possibilities of his instrument, just as Rollins has. His solos are fashioned to the context of the pieces he's playing, making each distinctive so there is never a feeling of sameness or repetition from track to track, even when his is the primary voice, as is often the case on both these CDs.
Anchored by Holland's bass, the rhythm section on Monterey Quartet is a marvel of flexible power and syncopation, swing for post-Swing Era jazz, mostly courtesy of drummer Eric Harland
. On Potter's "Minotaur"he says the title suggests a "maze of rhythms"the long tenor solo, ranging from keening trills to guttural ruminations, takes place over a post-swing 4/4 with eccentric bass accents. Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba
, whose work here harnesses his extravagant technique better than on some of his own records, contributes a bolero with a ravishing melodic statement from Potter as well as a funky, jaggedly rhythmic "50," with a tenor solo that incorporates the honks and squeals of R&B and avant jazz. A highlight is Potter's lyrically earthy solo on Holland's Arabic-tinged "Veil of Tears."
The quartet Chris Potter Underground of Ultrahang
doesn't even have a bassist. Drummer Nate Smith
with Craig Taborn
on Fender Rhodes electric piano and guitarist Adam Rogers
provides the funky rhythms. While groove and backbeat are prominent, each track takes a different rhythmic approach and Potter also varies his tone and attack, providing further variety with occasional melody statements and short solos on bass clarinet. The latter instrument is perfect for 'singing' the melody of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe," the only non-band generated tune. Potter's tenor sax solos throughout are both compelling and enjoyable, as he achieves his goal with this band: To be "exploratory, unpretentious and fun."
Tracks and Personnel The Monterey Quartet: Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival
Tracks: Treachery; Minotaur; Otra Mirada; Step To It; Maiden; 50; Veil Of Tears; Spoken Introduction; Ask Me Why.
Personnel: Dave Holland: bass; Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Eric Harland: drums. Ultrahang
Tracks: Ultrahang; Facing East; Rumples; It Ain't Me, Babe; Time's Arrow; Small Wonder; Boots; Interstellar Signals.
Personnel: Chris Potter: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Adam Rogers: guitar; Craig Taborn: Fender Rhodes; Nate Smith: drums.