Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bottomless Swamp

Chris Potter's Underground, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Mon 15th Jan 2007

Chris Potter is a musician now really starting to find his own space. His phenomenal playing with the Dave Holland Quintet lead me to seek out his own 'Underground' album from last year (which I managed to find for just £1.49 in an Oxfam shop - some people are just foolish in what they decide to give away). The band is a quartet without a bass player, but no less groovy for that. In fact, the sound the group create shakes the relatively intimate Pizza Express club for all it's worth.

Opening with the superbly titled 'Next Best Western' ('it's a long story we don't need to go into now', says Potter evasively), the band waste no time and immediately hit their stride, the sound dominated by Nate Smith's crisp and ebullient drumming, full of unusual accents and unorthodox interplay between snare and hi-hat. Potter's playing is mostly loud and full, he plays a lot of notes, but mostly in a dynamic and musical way. Most impressive is his sheer physical ability - it's hard to imagine how he hits such levels of intensity in his solos in the first place, let alone how he sustains them for anything up to fifteen minutes at a time.

It initially seemed like there might be problems. Potter can blow so hard for so long that it looked like the rest of the group might not get a look in. Actually, some of the gig's most exciting and unpredictable moments came when Potter retreated to the back of the stage and allowed Smith, keyboardist Craig Taborn and guitarist Adam Rodgers to trade playful and concise phrases. Taborn and Rodgers play minimally, but in doing so add much to the group's sound - the style is taut and percussive, relying more on rhythm and phrasing than carefully voiced chords.

It would also have been a problem had the group settled in to their mightily impressive heavy swamp groove for the entire set. Mercifully, two new compositions, both calm and enthralling, showed the increasing breadth of Potter's vision as a writer. The concentration and energy of the players was first rate throughout, the icing on the cake being a spectacularly dexterous and innovative drum solo from Smith. Smith is not just a joy to hear, but fascinating to watch, his posture peculiar, his body constantly twitching and moving in tandem with his rhythms.

A consistently invigorating and entertaining performance, this has already set the standard for gigs in 2007.

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