COMPOSERS: Chris Potter Quartet
LABELS: Concord Jazz
PERFORMER: Chris Potter (ts, ss, b cl, p), Kurt Rosenwinkel (g), Scott Colley (b), Billy Drummond (d), Joe Lovano (ts)
CATALOGUE NO: 48432
Here are two superlative but very different albums by young jazz musicians both born in 1971. British born Alex Wilson is, to quote his witty title, Afro-Saxon, three quarters English and one quarter African via his paternal grandfather. His wit, confidence and sheer exuberance pervade this masterful debut album, which is the culmination of several years’ work as a sideman for other leaders, both as pianist and composer/arranger. His penchant is for Latin jazz and salsa, and the human voice is often integral to his music.
The opening ‘Afro-Saxon (Overture)’ sets the tone and pace with bravura changes of tempo and rhythm, pinpoint punctuations, the piano taking the main melody, and the music expressing very different emotions, all in less than two minutes. Wilson’s writing for brass, reeds and rhythm section is brilliant and there are some magnificent solos – Paul Jayasinha’s long flugelhorn outing in ‘Africa is Da Place for Me’, and tenor saxophonist Paul Booth’s plus Wilson’s own rangy piano solo in ‘Judy’.
The great American alto saxophonist Bobby Watson is featured in Wilson’s rearrangement of Charlie Parker’s ‘My Little Suede Shoes’, and Watson and Wilson play an impassioned duo version of Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady’. In all ten tracks, whether the canvas is large or small, the colours are dynamic. American born Chris Potter also has the makings of a major talent, and is similarly in huge demand as a sideman.
He was recently in the UK on four separate occasions with four different leaders – Dave Douglas, Steve Swallow, Jim Hall and Dave Holland – and Potter also leads his own groups when he has time. Vertigo is his seventh album under his own name, and he wrote all nine compositions, which offer a great variety of structure and mood.
The opener, ‘Shiva’, has a fascinating theme with an eastern flavour, cunningly displaced accents and powerful solos from Potter and guitarist Rosenwinkel. ‘Act III, Scene I’ is inspired by Hamlet’s soliloquy ‘To Be or Not to Be’, which begins with a deeply felt unaccompanied tenor solo and ends with a ravishingly tender theme redolent of Coltrane.
Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano plays on three of the tracks, and ‘Modeen’s Mood’ has the pair playing the theme together out of time, in unison and unaccompanied, then in harmony with a free rhythm accompaniment. Their free improvisations based on the melody and not the harmonies are totally coherent and captivating. The final piece, ‘Wake Up’, with Potter on soprano is an exquisitely lyrical valediction.