Chris Potter's new Live at the Village Vanguard album starts jarringly enough. There is a particular knotty, unaccompanied solo saxophone intro to drummer Bill Stewart's "7.5" played via tape delay by Potter on seemingly three saxophones. He is joined by a series of freaky tones on Kevin Hays' Fender Rhodes playing what sounds like the keys on a telephone keypad to truly disorienting effect. Soon enough, however, the ensemble kicks in to fill out the rhythm, Hays switches to piano, and Potter brings the tune's melodic body into focus, swinging half-in-half-out, tightrope walking around a series of scalar figures that translate it into a wonderfully energetic ride. And this is merely the statement of purpose for the entire gig. On the original material, Potter's now truly unique voice on the tenor may have been influenced in equal parts by Dewey Redman, John Coltrane, and even Sonny Rollins, but his manner of phrasing and his distinct tone make him an original on the horn. Potter is a harmonic whiz kid. On "What You Wish," he and the quartet -- which also includes the amazing Scott Colley on bass -- move through augmented phases and interludes, evolving a melody into a modal concern in the breaks, and turning it out multidimensionally. Hays piano solo moves from modal groove exploration to Latin vamps to Bill Evans-styled harmonic extrapolation. Potter enunciates the Latin tinge, and takes it all the way over into streamlined free-and-post-bop with beautiful choruses. But then, as if the entire gig was going to lift right off, Potter slows it down beautifully, once again using his delay to introduce a spacey yet moving rendition of "Stella by Starlight." When the band reaches back into its own bag of tricks for the title track, the transformation is complete: Potter and his quartet are taking the gift of post-bop jazz and moving into new territories tonally, harmonically, and yes, thankfully, lyrically. This is forward-thinking music that is full of emotion, swing, and sophistication. It is readily accessible for anyone willing to encounter it either historically or on its own terms. Lift is a sharp, tough, and streetwise record of a fine gig played in a jazz temple with aplomb and sass. It points in new directions and offers a solid portrait of the artist as not only a strident voice, but as a visionary as well.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek