Chris Potter’s Underground. Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho. Tuesday July 18th 2006.

The billing in the Pizza Express programme asserts that Chris Potter is America’s most thrilling saxophonist and composer. That’s a hard act to live up to but “Underground” did not disappoint.
Potter started with a “Wayne Shorteresque” number led by funky sax riffs and then moving to a sax solo and then one of several excellent guitar solos from Adam Rogers culminating in a heady climax. In fact the solos of this band were almost predictable in form – a dreamy quiet beginning gradually building to soaring climax. Potter was a generous leader allowing plenty of scope for his excellent band to improvise.
In the early part of the gig Potter’s sax was almost acoustic at times but then soaring sky high. The sound was breathy and uncontrived. There were few virtuosic acrobatics and even some fluffed notes. His range of sounds is remarkable from soft tender and acoustic to raucous screaming harmonics. There were times when his improvising would have been embellished by circular breathing – the phrases wanted to go on but were curtailed by his need for air. Unfortunately one of his most striking solos was disrupted for me by a disputed bill at the next table and protracted discussion over the prices on the wine list in spite of the club’s stated policy of silence during the performance.
There was “Pop tune number one” and a ballad in 6/8 which had a low guitar solo with bass support from the excellent Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes (the band had no bass player). This segwayed into a bebopish solo sax section and then a funky number with a free Ornette Coleman like section and a clean ending.
An inspired drum solo from master drummer Nate Smith had my daughter Hannah exclaiming in amazement.
There were later virtuosic sax solos with fingers flying.
Some of the rhythmic interplays between Potter and Smith and the others were excruciatingly wonderful. The tension was emphasised by dropped beats from the drummer.
During an extended Fender Rhodes solo Craig Taborn appeared to be in a trance staring continuously at a fixed point on the ceiling for about 15 minutes. He was possessed. The music appeared through him rather than being produced by him.
The performance was characterised by a lot of duo work within the band – sax and drums, guitar and sax and so on.
Whether or not he is “America’s most thrilling”, this gig was certainly a memorable, excellent evening of improvised music.

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