by Sylvannia Garutch
Chris Potter was born in Chicago, Illinois, but his family soon moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he spent his seminal years. Potter showed an early interest in a wide variety of different music and easily learned several instruments including the guitar and piano. He quickly realized after hearing Paul Desmond that the saxophone would be the vehicle that would best allow him to express himself musically. He played his first professional jazz gig on alto sax at age thirteen after mastering the complex musical language of Charlie Parker. He developed a devoted local following while performing with the Columbia jazz musicians Johnny Helms and Terry Rosen, as well as with others in the jazz community.
After leaving Columbia upon his graduation from Dreher High School, Potter attended college in New York City, first at the New School, and later at the Manhattan School of Music. Upon his arrival in New York he began performing with Red Rodney and gained a reputation as a rising new star of the saxophone. Fast forward to 2019 after countless pivotal achievements in Potter’s career as one of the most influential and inventive improvisors of his generation with a discography of 21 strong releases from 1993 to 2019. Potter finds a new home with Edition Records for his most ambitious record titled, Circuits. Though Potter is recognized predominately as a saxophonist, on Circuits, he employs tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinets, flutes, sampler, guitars, keyboards, and percussion. He is joined by James Francies: keyboards; Eric Harland: drums; Linely Marthe: electric bass (tracks 3, 4, 5, and 8).
“Invocation” is an interesting listen into the creative mind of Potter. The entire track is composed and performed by Potter. The composition is essential a woodwind ensemble with Potter performing flutes, saxophones and clarinets. It is obvious that Potter has spent time studying the classic literature of the great woodwind composers. His orchestration is balanced and each section within the ensemble plays an important role in both melodic and harmonic functions. The counterpoint is also very clear and builds the overall interest of the colors and movements of the piece. Also, of note, is Potter’s technical abilities on all these instruments, his tone and intonation are outstanding. Potter is certainly a gift to the jazz genre and music in general, as this composition easily expands his audience beyond the jazz listener.
More in line with past Potter projects is “Hold It.” Here the trio of Potter, Fancies and Harland build a massive sound scape. Set to a sixteenth note pulse that is given a funk feel, the form takes us through many sections and densities of sounds and instrumental colors. Potter’s solo is remarkable, his chops are in top form as his ideas leap from the speakers with passion and technical flawlessness that is stirring. The bass-less rhythm section of Fancies and Harland do an amazing job of building under Potter’s solo. Especially Harland, his drumming and interaction with Potter and Fancies is the bridge that builds excitement and the intense communication between the three players. The trio delves into an interlude of sounds. They build and bring in influences of electronic instruments, the play between Potter and Fancies, all while Harland add his spice of rhythmic creativity signifies outstanding modern jazz.
To say that Potter is hitting his stride would be an understatement. A move to Edition Records after three consecutive releases on ECM is a new direction musically and professionally. If Circuits is any indicator of the future, it looks quite bright for Potter’s fan base, filled with creativity and groundbreaking records with an eye towards the future of jazz exploration.