Friday, February 03, 2006

Chris Potter - Underground (Sunnyside, 2006)

Saxophonist and composer Chris Potter has quietly become a major player in the world of jazz. His role as a featured soloist in Dave Holland's very popular quintet and big band and his brief flirtation with major label fame on Verve Records have thrust him into the spotlight and he is now consolidating this strong position with a new record and tour with his working band. On this album, he is joined by an interesting electric trio of Wayne Krantz on guitar, Craig Taborn on fender rhodes electric piano and Nate Smith on drums. The music takes on something of a funk and groove angle that hadn't been immediately present in some of Potter's earlier work. He really stands out as a soloist on this recording, with a confident and robust sound that is becoming immediately identifiable.

They bring the funk a little bit right off the bat with "Next Best Western" which leads off the album with some nice bump 'n' grind fender rhodes piano from Taborn. "Morning Bell" is a nice, slow building song with some dark flavored tenor saxophone and mysterious sounding electric piano. "Nudnik" really sets Taborn free for a nasty solo amidst a spacey interlude. Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom" keeps things comparatively mellow with a saxophone and keyboard duet. Things open back up and stretch out on the epic length "Big Top" where the band trio cuts a super-solid groove for Potter to build a lengthy saxophone solo to an exciting climax.

After the bluster of "Big Top" comes a ballad called "Celestial Nomad" which slows the pace down considerably with a haunting, eerie electric piano and guitar backdrop for a beautifully restrained solo from Potter. The title track "Underground" finds Krantz getting the opportunity to cut loose with a nice solo, before Potter comes in with an enthusiastic and well paced solo. Wrapping things up is a short melancholy reading of The Beatles "Yesterday" which is a beautiful meditation on the melody. Overall, this was a very good CD showing how successful working bands can be when they have time to let their music grow into something special. Chris Potter has grown into one of the must exciting musicians on the scene today.

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