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Chris Potter Underground Orchestra: Imaginary Cities

Karl Ackermann By

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In the twenty year span since his debut as a leader on Presenting Chris Potter (Criss Cross, 1994), the Chicago born/South Carolina raised artist has been among the most prolific and in-demand reed players in jazz. Having performed and/or recorded with a wide range of artists from guitarist Pat Metheny to pop legends Steely Dan, Potter is most recognized for his numerous recordings with bassist Dave Holland and several outings with drummer Paul Motian. Beginning with Holland's highly-regarded quintet recording Prime Directive (ECM, 1999) through his most recent octet Pathways (Dare2, 2010), Potter has been cited as a distinct voice, clearly standing out even in these larger group settings.

Early on, Potter's work as a leader was being recognized in prestigious publications with his quartet release Vertigo (Concord, 1998) being cited in a number of "best" lists for that year. Long regarded as a premier tenor saxophonist, Potter's previous release as a leader— The Sirens—(ECM, 2013) drew praise as a significant step forward in his increasingly diverse skills as a composer. With Imaginary Cities Potter ventures further into an atmospheric mélange of sounds, adding a string quartet that includes violinist Mark Feldman, to a top-flight septet. Pianist Craig Taborn, guitarist Adam Rogers, bassists Scott Colley and Fima Ephron and drummer Nate Smith—all past Potter colleagues—are joined by Steve Nelson on vibraphone and marimba. Nelson's association with Potter dates back to Holland's previously mentioned quintet.

Imaginary Cities is bookended by "Lament" and "Sky" both featuring Potter's strongest composing and playing in a career that seems to hit a new peak with each release. Potter intentionally allows the strings and septet to play mutually exclusive of each other at certain points and more densely layered at others. In either case he avoids the cloying sentimentality that often plagues string and jazz coalitions. Feldman, flautist Erica von Kleist and David Eggar on cello are empathetic and experienced partners having previously worked on Potter's Song for Anyone (Sunnyside, 2007). The four-part title suite dramatically rises and falls in cinematic blues-laced Gershwin style, punctuated with stand-out improvisational performances across the board.

Imaginary Cities is an expansive album expressing divergent motifs linked together through a central theme. The septet is taut and adventurous; the strings impassioned and thoughtful and Potter's playing is his best to date. Though he emerged as a leader two decades back seemingly fully-formed in every creative aspect, he continues to evolve and surprise. Imaginary Cities is a superb album on every level.

Track Listing: Lament; Imaginary Cities 1: Compassion; Imaginary Cities 2: Dualities; Imaginary Cities 3: Disintegration: Imaginary Cities 4: Rebuilding; Firefly; Shadow Self; Sky.

Personnel: Chris Potter: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Adam Rogers: guitars; Craig Taborn: piano; Steve Nelson: vibraphone, marimba, Fima Ephron: bass guitar; Scott Colley: double bass; Nate Smith: drums; Mark Feldman: violin; Joyce Hammann: violin; Lois Martin: viola; David Eggar: cello.

Title: Imaginary Cities | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ECM Records

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