Album reviews

Chris Potter – ‘Got the Keys to the Kingdom: Live at the Village Vanguard’

Chris Potter – Got the Keys to the Kingdom: Live at the Village Vanguard

(Edition EDN1214. Album review by Jon Turney)

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Another outstanding record to add to the long list of live captures from the New York room whose history inspires and challenges jazz players. Chris Potter’s date there a year ago saw him leading a stellar quartet with Craig Taborn, piano, Scott Colley, bass and Marcus Gilmore – also heard on Potter’s 2016 studio quartet recording for ECM The Dreamer is the Dream – on drums. That’s quite a band.

Unlike that earlier date, where Potter furnished all the compositions and moved between saxophones, clarinets and flute, here he sticks to tenor sax. And as the meaty title track suggests he gets the band to play an unusual set of folk, blues, spirituals and standards.

The band dig into this selection delightfully, whether the tune comes from Mississippi Fred McDowell, Jobim, or Charlie Parker. The set is a masterly display of fluid invention, with the leader’s tensile, rhythmically charged saxophone generally in the forefront.

It’s an impressive display of twenty-first century jazz playing in full flow. Does it have that extra Vanguard quality? I think it does. That’s epitomised by the treatment here of one of the more often heard tunes, Billy Strayhorn’s threnody for himself Blood Count.

Over the years since its first appearance in 1967, there has been a more or less consensual interpretation – by the likes of Art Farmer, Stan Getz or, perhaps most memorably, Joe Henderson – that emphasises pathos and even a tinge of self-pity in this final composition from Ellington’s alter ego. There’s a characteristically fluttery and slightly ineffectual version along those lines on the recent Charles Lloyd trio sessions.

Potter, who is the main voice throughout the nine-minute version here, develops a strikingly different treatment. After a solo piano intro he launches from the melody into a long improvisation that certainly evokes sadness, regret, and resignation, but also has a rueful quality here and there and moments that declaim a robust note of defiance. Taborn’s rippling piano obligato matches him at each step, with Colley sketching the bass line and Gilmore – who like Colley features more prominently elsewhere – laying out until the final minute. It’s a majestic performance, the highlight of a fine session, and indeed of Potter’s ever more impressive discography.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. Twitter:

Got the Keys to the Kingdom: Live at the Village Vanguard will be released on 17 February 2023. Purchase here

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

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