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 Saturday, 28 November 2015
Chris Potter "Underground" Winter TouróChicago, Minneapolis, and Beyond PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Tuesday, 31 January 2006
Photo by Andrea Canter
Winner of the IAJE Young Talent award for saxophone at age 12, a protťgť of Marian McPartland by 15, a member of the Red Rodney band while still in his teens, and with a long list of recordings as both leader and sideman while still in his 20s, Chris Potter is one prodigy who has lived up to his early billing. Familiar to jazz audiences through his performances with Dave Holland (Quintet and Big Band) and Dave Douglas, as well as his memorable gigs with his own quartet, Potter celebrates his latest release, Underground, with a cross-country tour starting off at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago (February 2-5) before heading to Minneapolis (The Dakota, February 6-7)), Toronto (Revival, February 15), Los Angeles (Jazz Bakery, February 21-26), Santa Cruz (Kuumbwa, February 27), Oakland (Yoshi’s, February 28-March 1), Albuquerque (Outpost, March 2), Boston (Regatta Bar, March 3-4), and New York (Jazz Standard, March 7-12). In addition to showcasing the energy and creativity of this explosive ensemble, we can expect a good sampling of the quartet's brand new release, Underground.

Born in Chicago and raised in Columbia, South Carolina, Chris Potter was introduced to music early, first studying piano and then switching to the saxophone after hearing Paul Desmond’s “Take Five.” He studied jazz and played in the
Photo by Andrea Canter
University of South Carolina band as a middle school and high school student. Named by Down Beat Magazine as the top high school jazz instrumentalist at 18, he then moved to New York, first studying with Kenny Werner at the New School for Social Research and later enrolling at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1991 he was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Tenor Sax competition, along with Eric Alexander and winner Joshua Redman. Over the next few years Potter recorded his first sessions as a leader, with Criss Cross and particularly with Concord; he was in high demand as a sideman and would appear on as many as 20 recordings a year, including a live date at Maybeck with mentor Kenny Werner. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, he toured and recorded with Jim Hall, Ray Brown, James Moody, Steve Swallow, Larry Carlton, Paul Motian and Steely Dan, among many others.

Photo by Andrea Canter

Potter’s career as been equally meteoric in the past seven years, highlighted by a 1999 Grammy nomination for his tenor solo “In Vogue” (on Joanne Brackeen’s Pink Elephant Magic), and winning Denmark’s 2000 Jazzpar prize as its youngest-ever recipient. Today Potter is probably best known for his outstanding collaborations with Dave Holland and Dave Douglas, but his own work with this quartet and other projects speaks volumes about his virtuosity on a variety of reeds and his individuality as a composer. His style is his own, with some echoes of Sonny Rollins and self-identified influences of Coltrane, Parker, Shorter, and Ornette Coleman.

Potter’s acclaimed 2004 release, Lift—Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside), featured then-working quartet of Kevin Hays (keyboards), Scott Colley (bass), and Bill Stewart (drums). His current band, however, usually eschews the bass for a pairing of guitarist Adam Rogers (regularly appearing in place of Underground’s Wayne Krantz who is currently touring with Donald Fagan) and Fender Rhodes ace Craig Taborn, along with drummer Nate Smith. Potter’s notes that his goal for the “Underground” band was to draw upon “funk rhythmic language” while keeping the music “as free as the freest jazz conception…a big inspiration for this has been Wayne Shorter’s quartet [featuring Danilo Perez, John
Photo by Andrea Canter
Patitucci, and Brian Blade], where you have themes that [delineate] a particular tune but basically it’s spontaneous group composition.” For the most part the band functions without a bass (although Tim Lefebvre’s electric bass sometimes replaces the guitar (and will do so in Toronto). Potter, who often plays as much soprano as tenor, sticks with the tenor in this ensemble. Recently, Nate Chinen (Jazz Times) described Underground as “an aggressive but consonant progressivism, often but not always rock-infused.”

Craig Taborn grew up in the Twin Cities where he jammed with Dave King and Reid Anderson, who went on to become two-thirds of the Bad Plus. Steeped in classical and jazz traditions at the University of Michigan, Taborn has a wide range of experience reflecting his eclectic chops and penchant for melodic experimentation across genres, from straight ahead jams with James Carter, Tom Harrell, and Hugh Ragin to the far reaches of avant garde with Tim Berne, and stops somewhere in-between with Roscoe Mitchell, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, David Binney, and Steve Coleman, among others. Increasingly his efforts have involved electronic experiments, and often he has one hand on the acoustic keys and the other on the Fender Rhodes or computer board. Taborn’s 2004 release, Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear), gives ample testimony to his ability to invent extra-terrestrial soundscapes of texture and motion. In his review for Pitchfork, Chris Dalen noted that “Taborn is a methodically swift pianist who can solo like Scott Joplin's player piano plugged into the wrong voltage.”

Photo by Andrea Canter
Adam Rogers
has been touted as one of the finest guitarists in jazz, pop and world music, and has worked with such diverse performers as Steely Dan, Terence Blanchard, Michael and Randy Brecker, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, and John Zorn. Noted Phil DiPietro in a recent review, ”his skills as a pure player are absolutely mind-boggling, with long lines and phraseology extending the lineage of Martino, Montgomery and Benson, extruding a tone from a Gibson ES-335 so phat and warm it could be coming from a jazz box three times the width.” Rogers has toured with Michael Brecker and in a duo with John Patitucci, among others.

Nate Smith’s profile took a major leap two years ago when he replaced Billy Kilson as the drummer for the Dave Holland Quintet and Big Band. A graduate of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead, he met Holland while studying jazz at Virginia Commonwealth University. A composer and songwriter as well as performer, Smith has also ventured into R &B and smooth jazz.

Take Lift, throw in some Junk Magic, and go Underground to mix a multi-layered funky soup. Then, pour it all onto the bandstand near you:

More information about Chris Potter can be found at See also the February issue of Jazz Times for a feature article on Potter by David Adler.

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