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Chris Potter Quartet: Conversation For Four

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Thursday February 10, 2011

From The New York Times

Conversation for Four, With Homeric Accents
By: Nate Chinen

There are moments, in the tumble of a typical improvisation, when the saxophonist Chris Potter seems to be embarked on a hero’s journey. With his strong, focused tone and top-to-bottom proficiency on the horn, he brings a robust physical presence to his playing and an onward-driving sense of purpose. His deployment of notes, parceled into staccato bursts or gracefully arcing phrases, suggests a split-second calculation of risk and reward. He works with an intuitive logic, venturing far from a theme and only gradually returning there, all the while responding to the changing conditions set by his band.

The quartet he’s leading at the Village Vanguard this week is brand-new, and so were most of the pieces in their spectacular opening set on Tuesday night. Mr. Potter wrote this music over the last few months, inspired by his recent study of “The Odyssey.” His partners in Homeric elaboration are the deftly sonorous bassist Larry Grenadier, the impulsively agile drummer Eric Harland and the searching young Cuban pianist David Virelles. A fledgling band, they’re off to an incandescent start.

On Tuesday, at least, they had the element of surprise on their side. For months the Vanguard had been advertising Mr. Potter with a trio; I learned of the addition of Mr. Virelles a couple of hours before I arrived at the club. That change of format amounts to a complete tactical overhaul, since it’s one thing to lead a tenor saxophone trio, with only bass and drums, and another to front a conventional quartet. (It’s yet another thing to lead Underground, the surging jazz-rock band that has been Mr. Potter’s main outlet in recent years.)

Unexpectedly, the group’s interplay highlighted the spreading influence of the current Wayne Shorter Quartet, which had its own stand in town this week. As a tenor and soprano saxophonist, and even to some extent as a composer, Mr. Potter has long been a disciple of Mr. Shorter, who is now 77. (“Penelope,” by Mr. Shorter, was the lone cover in the set.)

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