LIVE: chris potter underground/ Ronnie Scott’s

Adam Rogers
Ronnie Scott’s was virtually packed for chris potter underground last night, a Monday. Someone told me it was the Piers Morgan effect- he had chosen Potter in his Desert Island Discs selection. Whatever. With this quality of programming, the club deserves success, recognition.The band is on for one more night, tonight, Tuesday. Go.

I’d also like to hear it for Arnie Somogyi, hard-working regular bass player at the club, who was band-leading the support trio with Phil Peskett and Chris Dagley last night. Somogyi had placed himself right up close to Peskett in the hollow of the grand piano, and his gentle but rapid-fire dialoguing with his pianist in How High the Moon was a moment of complete joy for this pair of ears. And it reminded me that there’s another pianist who invites his bass player up that close: the joyous Monty Alexander: he’s back at the club Thurs 27th – Sat 29th August.

I heard Chris Potter years ago as a Mingus Big Band member, then as a member of Dave Holland’s band, but never as leader. Underground has been a working band for five years, and Potter is without doubt the real deal as bandleader too. He has all the authority and rhythmic assertiveness that could ever be needed in this role, and then some… He has more or less perfect posture, with the instrument in balance. He can also drop in a demonstration of just about any aspect of saxophone technique you care to think of- like a jaw-dropping altissimo excursion in a link passage during Interstellar Signals . And then get back to the music. Ellington’s Single Petal of a Rose showed off his bass clarinet presence and sound in all its gorgeous colour and depth.

The other band members are all top-flight New Yorkers with raw energy and contrasting personalities and roles in the band. Sharing front line duties is Adam Rogers on guitar. While Potter occupies centre stage, Rogers stands at the side, with the ever-alert quizzical look of a stag who has emerged onto open ground, eyes firmly fixed on the other band members. But Rogers nails and anchors every groove with accuracy and real character. Nate Smith is a powerhouse on drums, but he responds and picks up on everything, and misses nothing of the interchange. Craig Taborn has a “free electron” role, colouring the texture or floating away from it, rhythmically or harmonically. It’s a potent combination of talents.

The music often has, as its building blocks, simple rock grooves, like the rising figure in Time’s Arrow. But they form only a very small part of the story. The material is kicked against, sabotaged, set against a different and more complex groove from Rogers, subjected to a more or less free/open solo from Taborn (which got the loudest applause of the evening) , kicked back to life with a rhythmically insistent two-note figure from Potter. This is complex, unsettled music, it’s completely alive. I noticed people were infected by the physicality of this sound, and tried to groove along to it. Not a simple task. In fact the most settled moment came in the encore, Radiohead’s Morning Bell. Lyricism, repose and calm, in a gentle 5/4.

You re-emerge into Frith Street energized, refreshed and lucky after an evening like this. Thank you Ronnie’s.

Categories: miscellaneous

5 replies »

  1. I've seen Potter several times in various guises, and he's always left me feeling disappointed – technically excellent, but devoid of feeling – so muc so that I decided not to bother this time.

    I hope I'd have had my views changed!

    “A Single Petal of a Rose” is a beautiful tune – I can see how bass clarinet would work on that – a very Ellingtonian touch.

  2. Terrifically observant review, which hits the mark imo (as opposed to Jack Massarik's conservatism – note his whinging about Rogers' use of a Telecaster!) There should be more fireworks tonight!

Leave a Reply