REVIEW: Chris Potter Trio at the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival

Chris Potter Trio: L-R Joe Martin, Marcus Gilmore, Chris Potter

Chris Potter Trio
Monument National Ludger-Duvernay, 30th June 2016. Montreal Jazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

There is probably no saxophonist around who can do what Chris Potter does. Can any other player match his combination of that forceful and assertive sound, the superhuman technique and velocity, and the pace and complexity of his idea-generation? Marius Neset perhaps(?) but his sound is not as consistently robust (that is not a value-judgement, just a comparison). During Potter’s closing sequence of Ask me now (remembering Joe Henderson) followed by Little Willie Leaps there was one chocks-off, full-throttle section of about five minutes which had, first, a linking passage of extreme intricacy and contrapuntal bravura for solo tenor saxophone, then leading into the final number where the notes were just flying in vast quantities. It was one of those powerhouse moments in jazz that you can’t forget.

This new trio gives Potter harmonic liberation and the freedom to explore, and it is certainly a contrast from his last two recorded projects for ECM. Both of those involved marshalling larger forces. First there was the harmony-rich, two-keyboard set-up with David Virelles and Craig Taborn in Sirens, and more recently the large ensemble Imaginary Cities.

He is enjoying the freedom of this new context, and the work-in-progress, journey-still-to-be-travelled feel of the trio with Marcus Gilmore on Drums and Joe Martin on bass. He was enjoying being able to explain that most of the titles are not yet set in stone, because, with no recording planned for about a year, they just don’t need to be.

The material has range and interest, from Dream 3 (provisional title) a gentle composition which showed Joe Martin at his persuasive best on arco bass – it was refreshing to hear a second melodic voice - to a fascinating and characterful number called Dr Benway trying to capture the enigma of the curious sage in Willian Burrough’s The Naked Lunch. In Marcus Gilmore he has a drummer who knows how to match and sustain the feeling of energy and busy-ness. They had many a handover with the temperature set at white heat. Gilmore just rises to every challenge thrown at him. My only quibble would be that Bassist Joe Martin was only indistinctly audible in the sound mix for about the first half an hour, his presence just a shadow and a colour. Once he was audible, it became clear quite why he is in such demand in New York.

What this setting reveals about Potter is the organisation, the planning, the order he brings to this setting without a harmony instrument and where he is leader. It feels like the right project at the right time with the right people. The Montreal audience - the downstairs and the mezzanine of Canada's oldest theatre from 1893 were virtually full on a night with many other things going on - was appreciative, and gave the band the full attention, the well-schooled applause and the final standing ovation that the trio deserved.

The trio happily acknowledging a standing ovation

LINKS: LP Review Imaginary Cities
Review of Chris Potter with Overtone Ensemble from Cheltenham in 2011

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