REVIEW: Chris Potter Ensemble at Cheltenham (UK)

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Sunday May 06, 2012


Chris Potter Ensemble at Cheltenham
By: Jon Turney

Last seen at Cheltenham in the all- star Overtone Quartet, Chris Potter returned with something completely different: an intriguingly instrumented group of Birmingham Conservatoire students. They had worked with the leader to present pieces from his 2007 recording Song for Everyone. Its string and wind trios enrich the settings for Potter’s virtuoso reed playing and offer some challenging ensemble writing.

To begin, there was that slight sense you tend to get with maestro- and-student ensembles of the younger players being, not overawed exactly, but certainly on their best behaviour. But they all soon warmed to the task of rendering Potter’s nicely textured scores. He’s no Maria Schneider, but the music deploys some pleasing sonorities – a brief encounter between violin and bass clarinet; tenor sax combining with bassoon.

These pieces are mainly written to offset the tenor man’s dry, angular facility, and it goes without saying that the leader played brilliantly. With a soloist of Potter’s calibre calling the shots, the students’ contributions were, understandably, more tentative, but there were spirited efforts from Rebecca Woodcock on clarinet, Gareth Fowler on guitar and, especially, Pei Ann Yeoh on violin. Outstanding for me, though, was Dan Casimir on bass. He did everything a bass player should, cruising with the orchestra, responding creatively to the soloists, duetting impressively with Potter on one number. And when it came to the gospelly encore, he dug into a superb, rootsy intro which laid a trail for some of the most heartfelt sax playing of the afternoon. The least orchestrated of all the pieces they played, it swung mightily. But it needed the ambition of what had gone before to make its contrasting simplicity so simply enjoyable.

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