Chris Potter

Underground

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Chris Potter took his electric band, Underground, on the road throughout 2005, trying out new material and working through some of his gems. This Sunnyside date is the first time this band has been in the studio together. Underground features Potter playing tenor saxophone exclusively, guitarist Wayne Krantz (in a rare sideman role to be sure), Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, and drummer Nate Smith. Right, that's not an error: there's no bassist. The program is diverse, featuring six Potter originals and some startling choices for covers: Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom," Lennon and McCartney's "Yesterday" (which also features Adam Rogers on an additional guitar), and the Radiohead tune "Morning Bell." The obvious question is whether this a "fusion" record. The answer would have to be yes, given the knottiness of the arrangements, the twisting and turning original tunes, and the phrasing between Krantz and Taborn. But then, that's an obvious answer. The less obvious one is that this is fully an electric jazz record with plenty of groove and some swing in the mix, too. Potter is a fine composer and understands the strengths of the bands he writes for. He never leaves notions of hard bop or post-bop out completely -- check out the opener for evidence with its knotty head that echoes the Jazz Messengers. "Morning Bell" is beautifully illustrated here. Potter tempts the melody to come out of his horn, and then moves around and through it to bring out something else entirely. Krantz's gently pulsing guitar work and Taborn's painterly touch in the lower register keeps the dynamic static until the tension builds and then releases again. "Lotus Blossom" will piss off some because of its soft, space-age atmospherics at the beginning and Taborn's strange illustrative tinkling around Potter's melody. It feels so nocturnal, but more like Sun Ra haunting the backdrop of the tune. Yes, that's a compliment. Taborn asserts himself more as it plays out, but never removes (entirely) the shimmering angularity from his playing as Smith enters with his cymbals. It's simply a lovely and a truly poetic read. "Big Top" plays with different dynamic and thematic ideas, centered around the dancing pulse of Smith's drumming as the only constant in the track. It drives, dances, whispers, rolls, and shoves its way through its complex ensemble phrases that touch on funk, hard bop, and post-bop, and Potter takes his solo outside into some serious honking and bleating territory. The title track begins as a slow, bluesy nocturnal thing in a time signature somewhere between three signatures. Krantz and Potter play contrapuntal harmonic phrases in the theme and set a groove. Krantz's chord fills and short runs during Potter's solo are choice and keep him tight to the blues. On his own break, however, he plays all around the theme and never through it. He fires his lines tight and hot into the middle and lets Taborn fill in the holes while never missing rhythmically. Taborn is dead funky here -- he punches the center with big nasty chords and popping small runs. Underground won't come close to appealing to everyone, but so what? It's a fine Potter outing and studio documentation of a fine band that has actually kept the jazz in fusion and vice versa.

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