It used to be that 99% of all jazz sax players drank from the waters of Charlie Parker, but as Chris Potter displayed with his Underground quartet at the packed Blue Whale Friday night, another Parker, namely Maceo, can also be a major influence, as the ripples from James Browns’ Famous flames mixed with post bop jazz to serve a delicious stew.
Teamed up with members from his latest album (Imaginary Cities) were Fima Ephrom/eb, Adam Rogers/g and Nate Smith/dr who served up a funky Brown Bag groove on “Ultra Hang” that mixed a greasy backbeat and Rogers’ Memphis grit on the strings with Potter himself delivering a passionate solo that used his husky toned tenor in both long toned howls and tricky multi-noted themes. His full bodied sound filled the room on his solo introduction to “Viva Las Vilmias” that shifted from a “Milestones”-styled bopper to a soulful strut before Smith pulled out the tom tom mallets to shift to a somber volcanic lava of pensativity. Potter went from altissimo shouts to sub toned groans while Ephrom’s thick bass pulse supplied the forward thrust.
The quartet ended with a two song medley from the new album, with “Lament” and “ Sky” which included laconic unison licks from Rogers and Potter to build up into a Byzantine cantoral cry, with the tenor sax’s sound vibrating like an orthodox liturgy. Rogers then chimed his guitar and bent the strings with his #2 pencil thin toned as Smith tapped his hands on the ride cymbal for exotic effect. Just as the passion reached a crescendo, Potter switched over to piano and delivered a loving and longing solo, slowly adding electronic effects which added to the meditative atmosphere.
Returning to the front line, Potter picked up his bass clarinet and joyfully gurgled like a contented hippo as he cooed and hooted as Smith slayed his high hat before Potter returned to the tenor and closed out the evening with he and Rogers delivering a strutting high stepping juggernaut that could have felt at home at a Stax Session. The mix of music for both the feet, head and soul was a vivid example of why Potter is considered one of the most important reed players around. A rich way to enjoy the Lent season!