Chris Potter brought the six-night Jazzwise to the Power of 15 festival at Ronnie Scott’s to a rousing close on Saturday night following support from talented newcomer singer Sara Mitra.
Potter began his two nights at the club the night before, supported by the promising quartet of trumpeter Laura Jurd, and it was a return to London for Potter as a leader following his appearance as a member of McCoy Tyner’s band at the Barbican in November at the London Jazz Festival. With Potter were avant garde pianist David Virelles (last seen touring in the UK in Steve Coleman’s Reflex), the nimble and very fleet-of-foot bassist Joe Martin, with the second avant gardist in the band drummer Gerald Cleaver, better known for his work with avant garde titan William Parker, but also as a member of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s genre busting hard bop quintet.
Potter has an easy going manner on the bandstand and likes to look out at the audience, familiarise himself with a room he has become accustomed to over the years and where he is a popular draw. And looking out at the first house of two on Friday he could see a very busy sold out club with extra seats and a few tables put out where space allowed.
The Chicago-born player, who was a key member of both Dave Holland’s high flying noughties quintet and the late great Paul Motian’s bands, paid tribute to Motian when he spoke briefly to the audience. In what turned out to be the biggest surprise of the night, which produced some of its most satisfying moments, his interpretation of Motian’s Ornettian ‘The Owl of Cranston’, a loosely structured mid-tempo number that allowed each member of the band to improvise as they saw fit collectively. On Motian’s JMT live recording of the tune released in 1996 following taping the previous year at the Village Vanguard Bill Frisell took up the baton harmonically, but here it was Virelles who on the tune and throughout showed his range by playing in the post-bop idiom rather than the way we heard him last time all MBASE-d up with Reflex. The Cuban hasn’t got the hard-as-nails sound of a McCoy Tyner or the salty sit-up-straight-and-listen Monkified technique of Jason Moran, but he got his ideas across and fed Martin in particular a great many jumping-off points. With Cleaver crunching away on some superbly lived-in cymbals and displaying lightning fast reactions, the first two numbers of Potter’s set kept everyone guessing as the saxophonist told the audience later that the tunes are still untitled. Let’s hope the titles are as memorable as the music was, full of mature heart-on-the-sleeve blowing, double time episodes with fine development. Potter did name check the Motian piece later, and also ‘Calypso’ from a to-be-released album to be put out by ECM in the autumn. Rollins-esque as Potter also proved to be at times in the set, the song took ‘St Thomas’ as a springboard for a new direction of his own, which Pottter through many years of study, touring and recording has found.
Clearly his own man, a master of the tenor sax and soprano, at one with the band, he has the ability to speak to the audience whether on ballad, mid-tempo number, Coltrane-like burn out, or the Caribbean rhythms inherent in a song like ‘Calypso’. A superb appearance to end the festival, and no better way to mark 15 years of Jazzwise.
– Stephen Graham
Chris Potter (pictured, top), and the Laura Jurd Quartet. Photos: Roger Thomas