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Saxophonist Chris Potter’s London dates are part of a European work-out in front of an audience for a new live album, soon to be recorded in his native New York. The opening tunes carried work-in-progress titles – a brace of “Untitled pop tunes” particularly caught the ear – and the venue was suitably intimate. But at this knockout gig, Potter’s quartet’s ability to change direction and shift gear at the drop of a hat seemed like the finished article.
Potter’s approach to the saxophone evolved from the strident pyrotechnics of Mike Brecker, who died last Saturday, aged 57. Potter has the same jaw-dropping facility, affinity with the blues and control of harmonics. Like Brecker, Potter’s improvisations have an iron inner logic but his tone is more ambiguous. His unaccompanied improvisations are appealingly devoid of histrionics, and reveal him to be a furry-toned virtuoso losing himself in melody and harmonic development.
The single-set gig opened with an untitled medium-slow lope of a groove built by drummer Nate Smith supporting a thoughtful melodic sequence from guitarist Adam Rodgers and Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes piano – unusually Potter’s band does not have a bass, but the textures are so refined that this is hardly noticed. The band brilliantly raised the tension but not the volume, before a tricky linking passage upped the tempo for Rodgers’ guitar solo.
Other compositions – he played seven in all, including Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies in the Canyon” and the encore, Radiohead’s “Morning Bell” – varied from raw-edged funk to hints of bottleneck blues, but all had a contemporary, paired-down fusion edge.
For almost two hours, Potter and his band maintained a compelling collective intensity. And with Smith’s loose-limbed, impish drumming supporting Taborn’s tonal ingenuity on keyboards the band have an identifiable group sound that is rare in jazz.
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