Reedman Chris Potter is undoubtedly one of the most inventive and consistently brilliant musicians of his generation. Not only does he have the gift of composing his own incredible music, but he always excels at raising the bar when performing as a sideman or frontman in whatever group of musicians he works with. There’s such an incomparable grace and fluency to his playing that any recording featuring his talents is rarely anything less than inspiring.
Recent ECM releases have seen Potter move away from his earlier hard bop, funk-driven outings with his Underground band, to a more serene and subtle flow of reflection and compositional thoughtfulness. Less spontaneous, more studious. And then there’s the awesome partnership with Pat Metheny on the Unity Band sessions, truly remarkable performances from both musicians, Potter for his inspirational virtuosity, Metheny for what was perhaps a fresh reinvigoration to be working with a saxophonist once again (following his 80’s performances with Michael Brecker of course). And to further understand Potter’s true skill, it is worth going back to Paul Motian’s album “Lost In A Dream” to experience Potter’s mastery at work.
But for me, it’s hard to better some of those Underground recordings. Their raw edge and sustained improvisational magnificence will always stand the test of time. They still have that wow factor that few albums of any genre can boast.
“Circuits” is a kind of hybrid Underground back to the future thing. With Potter on saxes, clarinets, flutes, guitars, keys, percussion and samples, Eric Harland on drums, James Francies on keyboards and Linley Marthe on electric bass, the grooves are hard and the improv courageous. This foursome take no prisoners, their speed and fluency just jaw-dropping at times. The quartet seem to gel perfectly, this being reflected in the apparent fervent joy of the music blasting out from my speakers.
If “Invocation” invites us in, with its beguiling promise of what may lie ahead, the anticipation quickly turns to a groove-laden dramatic fervour as “Hold It” bursts into life, like a confirmation that the prodigal son has returned. The energy and uplifting nature of the music continue with the melodically alluring “The Nerve”. There’s an African feel to “Koutome”, and the feverish title track is both futuristic and intelligent as the band pull out surprise after surprise in textures and breathless interplay. “Green Pastures” is one of my favourite pieces on the album, it’s like a Potter signature tune and has absolutely everything going for it. “Queens of Brooklyn” gives a little rest-bite as a more reflective, tranquil tune, before the two final killer tracks “Exclamation” and “Pressed For Time”. These two tunes sum up everything that is so good about this album, Potter and co at their funkiliciously groove-laden best.
Put succinctly, this is the album Chris Potter “Underground” fans have been waiting for. It doesn’t quite live up to the heady days of “Follow The Red Line”, and it isn’t quite that blindingly obvious 5-star album as a whole, but it’s pretty darn close on both counts.