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Chris Potter: Circuits

Sammy Stein By

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Reedman Chris Potter is one of the most influential and inventive improvisors of these times. Circuits is Potter and keyboardist James Francies, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Linley Marthe

For more than two decades Potter's limitless creativity, effortless virtuosity and vibrant sense of swing have wowed critics, musicians and fans. Following three acclaimed albums on ECM, Circuits sees Potter with a new home at Edition Records and a return to groove, echoing his music from his earlier Underground group.

"Invocation" opens with smoothly sumptuous bass clarinet blowing under the multi-tracked recordings of other reeds, creating chorale-like harmonies. There is anticipation and intrigue here, a sense of something big and bold to come. And it does with "Hold It," which sets off from the start with a tenor groove over energetic percussion and solid keyboard chords. The track builds both in intensity and the improvisational exploration, all held together by Harland's energetic, inventive drumming and Francies' dexterous keyboards. This is modern jazz, commanding and strong, but with a definite old jazz feel infusion. Potter's rampant solo is mesmeric both in speed and technique, which of course means nothing without passion, which Potter delivers with generosity. The inclusion of a section with electronic sounds over gentle percussion towards the end of the composition's second third allows the contrast Potter introduces in the outro to be fully felt.

"The Nerve" begins slowly, tentatively and with both a tenderness and Eastern feel, gradually developing into a syncopated rhythmic track with those Eastern influences, but now tempered and developed into thematic styling and samples. The sax solo is lifting, sensual and driven by the rapid key traveling which Potter does so well. The bass line supports and the keyboards excel on this track.

"Koutomé" opens with a dancing theme instigated by Potter, which is joined by percussion to create a West African-inspired, body- swinging atmosphere, developed throughout the track with percussion maintaining the decidedly harem-esque accents with a particularly nifty solo section included. In the end section, the keys introduce floating linear scales which lift and rise over the percussive continuum. "Circuits" begins with what sounds like an orchestral tune-up, out of which the percussive rhythm emerges, then the bass line, keyboards and, finally, the saxophones imposing a powerful melodic theme over the slightly chaotic start. This is a vibrant track, full of different textures and several changes of tempo that combine world class musicians with electronic sounds, adding depths and texture while falling short of being overwhelming. Potter, using overdubbed horns, plays both against and with himself on this balanced and beautiful piece, whilst both keys and percussion get their place in the spotlight. The sudden switch in rhythm in the second third is a surprise, while the bass and drums work together well across this section.


"Exclamation" is a wonderful contrast that explodes into life with an immediate theme and complexity of rhythms, both working together to create an almost big band feel. The changes in rhythm, and the use of different textures from reeds, percussion and bass make this an ear-catching delight from start to finish.

"Pressed for Time" combines electronics and virtuosity in this breathtaking finale to a superb recording. The percussion excels here, in the solo and across the track—and so do the bass and keys. Topped with some eerie reed sounds from Potter and some gorgeous, voltaic soloing from the saxophonist on tenor, this is a good track to close the album as it brings everything together and shows the virtuosity of all the musicians .

Circuits is a terrific recording, and what it does is show Potter at his show-stopping best. But it also incorporates modern electronic sounds, demonstrating that there is no line in jazz. Modern can match with traditional influences and merge to develop something verging on the extraordinary.

Track Listing: Invocation; Hold It; The Nerve; Koutomé; Circuits; Green Pastures; Queens of Brooklyn; Exclamation; Pressed For Time.

Personnel: Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinets, flutes, sampler, guitars, keyboards, percussion; James Francies: keyboards; Eric Harland: drums; Linley Marthe: electric bass (3-5, 8).

Title: Circuits | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Edition Records

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