Live reviews

Chris Potter Trio at PizzaExpress Jazz Club

Chris Potter, Craig Taborn & Nasheet Waits

(PizzaExpress Jazz Club, 22 October 2021. Second of two nights. First and second houses. Live Review by Charles Rees)

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Chris Potter at Pizza Express. Dean Street. Photo courtesy of Alan Hayward

Performing without bass is a familiar aspect of Chris Potter’s music, heard on several albums with his Underground Quartet and, more recently, his Circuits Trio. But, whereas studio recording affords the option of multi-tracking, performing with this lineup in a live setting causes plenty of obstacles to overcome. Craig Taborn, does however have the benefit of several years with Potter as keyboardist in the Underground Quartet.

Taborn performed predominantly on piano, with only the occasional interlude on keyboards and other electronics he had available; yet, somehow he generated the presence of a great bassist’s spirit throughout the concert. As the two sets progressed, it was fascinating to observe his increasing freedom. If at the start of the first set he had perhaps seemed constrained by the responsibilities of anchoring the harmony, by the end of the second set he was clearly and visibly relishing every moment. 

Craig Taborn. Photo courtesy of Alan Hayward

In the absence of bass, a lesser drummer than Nasheet Waits might have risked becoming third wheel to a sax and piano duet. But Waits’ sheer unrelenting energy gave constant drive and life to every note and rhythm from his band mates. He would seamlessly drift between regular time and free feel during solos, which absolutely gripped the audience and put big grins on Potter and Taborn’s faces. His composition Between Nothingness & Infinity was played and complemented the overall set nicely.

Potter’s own superhuman technique was on full display through every phrase he played. Yet a very sensitive element runs through his phrases—a sort of unassuming charisma. There were some magical moments where he commanded complete audience attention, comparable to Joe Henderson’s The State of the Tenor, almost pouring his soul into every listener’s ears. Potter is commonly regarded as one of the top saxophonists in the world, and it is not hard to see why. 

He also exhibited wonderful skill as a flautist on his composition The Sirens, the title track of his 2013 ECM album. Though the piece was originally recorded on bass clarinet, Potter had opted to use the more portable bass flute for touring purposes and demonstrated a range of sonority so impressive that, at times, he could make it sound like a regular flute.

Nasheet Waits. Photo courtesy of Peter Freeman

Other tunes performed include Chris Potter’s composition Ziggurat, which opened the show; and Force Field, another Potter chart and the closer. Both are brand new and currently unrecorded. The trio also played Ed Blackwell’s Togo which the drummer originally recorded with, among others, Dewey Redman – who sounds to have been one of the influences on Potter’s playing. It was a nice touch to include one of Blackwell’s compositions. They are rarely performed by groups of this calibre.

The numbers which the trio performed were individually well chosen, but also worked remarkably and consistently well as a set. The musicians also seemed to have a knack of catching the right moods for the two Friday night audiences. This tour was an adventure for the players – I spoke to Chris Potter later and he told me they ‘weren’t sure what to expect’ – but it was also an adventure for the audience, making for a constantly exciting experience for all parties.

Sadly, this tour has now concluded. But this is a band not to be missed, and PizzaExpress Live did well to enable them to be heard in London at a time when many European tours seem to be missing out a UK leg.

LINKS: Chris Potter’s website

Pizza Express Live

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