Hour 24 Tenor Titans – The Many Sides of Chris Potter

Chris Potter

Chris Potter came on the scene in the early 1990s and proceeded to collaborate with a “Who’s Who” of modern jazz including Paul Motian, Patricia Barber, Renee Rosnes, Billy Hart, Dave Douglas, Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler, and Pat Metheny. While his work as a leader is highly celebrated earning him standing among the best saxophone players and band leaders of his generation, his continuing contributions to the projects of long-standing partners like Holland, Motian and Rosnes add an almost unparalleled richness to his discography. Recent work illustrating the diversity of Chris Potter’s musical efforts in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

In 2013, Chris Potter released The Sirens on ECM with a remarkable quintet. Bassist Larry Genadier, first call bassist of the Brad Mehldau Trio, anchors the rhythm section with Eric Harland, long of the Charles Lloyd Quartet, but the surprise of the line-up is two keyboard players. Craig Taborn, who recorded with Potter on 2008’s Follow the Red Line, is joined by relative newcomer David Virelles, whose recent work with Henry Threadgill and his own projects marks him as a player to pay attention to.

Potter first recorded with Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band in 1994 and they got back together for periodic projects over the next fifteen years years, including the 2010 release, Lost in a Dream, one of Motian’s last projects before his passing in 2011. On AllAboutJazz, John Kelman writes, “[Potter] proves himself as much a master of restraint as Motian… Potter plays, in fact, with unusual economy and a softer-than-usual timbre, holding off until over 20 minutes into this hour-long set, and the aptly titled Blue Midnight, before turning up the heat and leaning more towards his typically robust tone and expressionist approach.

Wine Dark Sea. Chris Potter Quintet
(Chris Potter-ss/ts/bcl, Craig Taborn-p, David Virelles-p/celeste/harmonium, Larry Grenadier-b, Eric Harland-d). From The Sirens. ECM. 2013.
Blue Midnight. Paul Motian Trio
(Chris Potter-ts, Jason Moran-p, Paul Motian-d). From Lost In A Dream. ECM. 2010.

In 2016, a collective of bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Lionel Loueke, and drummer Eric Harland released the eponymous disc, Aziza. Numerous projects connect these players and Potter has played a key role in many of Dave Holland’s recent recordings. Despite the notoriety of the players, the group is anything but an empty supergroup. A wonderfully productive equality governs the bandstand and the results bring out the best in all the contributors. The tune Summer 15, starts with Potter showing his parallel prowess on soprano sax, before transitioning to his more familiar robust tenor work.

Potter’s small-group follow-up to his 2013 The Sirens was a 2017 quartet date, The Dreamer Is The Dream, with Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums, and again featuring the, then, 34 year-old pianist David Virelles.

Summer 15. Aziza
(Chris Potter-ss/ts, Lionel Loueke-g, Dave Holland-b, Eric Harland-d). From Aziza. Dare2 Records. 2016
Sonic Anomaly. Chris Potter Quartet
(Chris Potter-ts/ss/cl/bcl/fl/Ilimba, David Virelles-p/cel, Joe Martin-b, Marcus Gilmore-d). From The Dreamer is the Dream. ECM. 2017.

Benjamin Boone and Philip Levine’s Jazz-Poetry collaboration of 2018, The Poetry of Jazz, Volume 1, includes a number of tributes to masters like Charlie Parker, Howard McGhee and John Coltrane. The poem The Unknowable (Homage to Sonny Rollins) includes a guest appearance by Chris Potter bringing his full-bodied tenor to speak to Rollins’ legacy.

In 2018, Potter was back in the company of Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes, joining her quintet with Steve Nelson on vibes, Peter Washington on bass, and Lenny White on drums for the disc Beloved of the Sky. Everyone brings their best bop to the swaggering Rosnes composition Black Holes.

Between his two recent ECM small group recordings, The Sirens and The Dreamer is the Dream, Chris Potter assembled his Underground Orchestra to record 2015’s Imaginary Cities. John Kelman writes, “The four-part Imaginary Cities suite that takes up nearly half of the album’s 72-minute run time is Potter’s most ambitious piece of writing to date, taking full advantage of every sonic and stylistic possibility available to him… The joyous pizzicato start to Pt. 2 Dualities resolves into an Afro-centric groove driven by bassist Scott Colley and [drummer] Nate Smith who—with [the guitar of Adam] Rogers and [Steve] Nelson’s marimba blending into a wonderfully singular voice and joyous cross-rhythm—collectively bolster an extended and suitably fiery tenor solo, and a feature for Nelson that may have much to live up to coming, as it does, after Potter, but which actually manages to raise the bar even further.”

The Unknowable (Homage to Sonny Rollins). Benjamin Boone and Philip Levine
(Chris Potter-ts, David Aus-p, Spee Kosloff-b, Brian Hamada-d, Philip Levine-narr). From The Poetry of Jazz Volume 1. Origin Records. 2018
Black Holes. Renee Rosnes Quintet
(Chris Potter-ts/ss/fl, Renee Rosnes-p, Steve Nelson-vib, Peter Washington-b, Lenny White-d). From Beloved of the Sky. Smoke Sessions 2018.
Imaginary Cities [Pt. 2, Dualties]. Chris Potter Underground Orchestra
(Chris Potter-ts/ss, Craig Taborn-p, Steve Nelson-vib, Mark Feldman-vln, Joyce Hammann-vln, Lois Martin-vla, David Eggar-cel, Adam Rogers-g, Fima Ephron-b, Scott Colley-b, Nate Smith-d). From Imaginary Cities. ECM. 2015

In 1991, Chris Potter was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk institute of Jazz International Saxophone Competition. Almost thirty years ago, that prescient list of fellow honorees included Joshua Redman, Eric Alexander and Tim Warfield. Fulfilling that promise – as a composer/bandleader, as a contributor to collaborative efforts and as a guest soloist – the 49-year-old tenor player has made some of the most compelling music of the past decade.

Kelman, John. (2013, January 25). AllAboutJazz. Chris Potter: The Sirens. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/chris-potter-the-sirens-by-john-kelman.php

Kelman, John. (2010, March 2). AllAoutJazz. Paul Motian / Chris Potter / Jason Moran: Lost In A Dream. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/lost-in-a-dream-paul-motian-ecm-records-review-by-john-kelman.php

Bilawsky, Dan. (2016, October 19). AllAboutJazz. Aziza: Aziza. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/aziza-dave-holland-dare2-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Sullivan, Mark. (2017, May 24). AllAboutJazz. Chris Potter: The Dreamer Is The Dream. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-dreamer-is-the-dream-chris-potter-ecm-records-review-by-mark-sullivan.php

Heining, Duncan. (2018, October 27). AllAboutJazz. Benjamin Boone: The Poetry Of Jazz. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-poetry-of-jazz-by-duncan-heining.php

Jurkovic, Mike. (2018, May 29). AllAboutJazz. Renee Rosnes: Beloved Of The Sky. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/beloved-of-the-sky-renee-rosnes-smoke-sessions-records-review-by-mike-jurkovic.php

Kelman, John. (2015, January 6). AllAboutJazz. Chris Potter Underground Orchestra: Imaginary Cities. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/chris-potter-underground-orchestra-imaginary-cities-by-john-kelman.php

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