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October 30, 2013 4:49 pm
Chris Potter’s last album as a leader was an atmospheric mood-piece for ECM Records, while recent sideman recordings have showcased the saxophonist scything through thickets of acoustic jazz harmony. This gig found him stretching out with the same mind-boggling fluency over the cutting-edge funk of his long-running Underground quartet.
Previous UK performances featured the cranked-up rhythms of Craig Taborn’s distorted Fender Rhodes, but at this gig, the pianist was replaced by Fima Ephron on bass guitar (Taborn is currently touring with Dave Holland’s Prism, who will play Ronnie Scott’s this weekend). With the line-up more orthodox, group interplay was less pronounced. The excellent Ephron, essential but unassuming, played a holding role and drummer Nate Smith shuffled and clattered in support.
Potter, though, was on fire, a technocrat with purpose and soul. And guitarist Adam Rogers closely matched him. Both musicians played with a clean sound, clear articulation and a tonal depth that resonated with tradition. And, with themes established, their long solos were dense with invention and devoid of clutter.
The evening opened with the fizzing, rhythmically awkward two-note motif of “Ultrahang”. The bridge was slinky – sax harmonised with guitar – there was a change of key, and Potter’s solo built inexorably over the chatter of Smith’s snare.
As each subsequent piece twisted, turned and took a radically different shape, the audience remained enrapt. “The Wayfinder” started as a tangle and found order with a groove, the bleak beginning of “Shadow Self” was long-sustained and solo sax segued to the earthy pulse of “Boots”. Each tune was stuffed with incident and full of surprise. There were solo flights and melodies that hovered across the pulse, intertwined duets and Potter’s beautifully nuanced piano played with a maestro’s touch.
The second set was given over to a new four-part suite, “Imaginary Cities”, which the band will record in December. New themes emerged, slow burns sizzled into life and the intensity never flagged. It seemed over in a trice but the encore, “Togo”, a west African dance, gave the bass a turn and took the set over time.
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