Chris Potter: Got The Keys To The Kingdom

Live at the Vanguard, the saxophonist plays 'tunes people don't normally play', including Amazonian folk, country blues and lesser-known bop


Interviewing US saxophonist Potter for Jazz Journal in 2018, I talked to him about the countless great musicians he’d worked with, and what, in his mind, made a great bandleader. “If there’s a secret to how the big guys lead bands, it’s that they have found a way to express their own unique personality with whoever they play with,” Potter enthused, noting also the significance of players “pulling sounds and feelings from what’s happening around them” to ensure they musically move forward as artists.

The tenorist gave a highly charged performance at Ronnie Scott’s that evening that displayed his methodology, and listening to this beautifully captured new live record from the Village Vanguard I am again reminded of that memorable night, of Potter’s unique artistry, majestic tone and technical prowess and of just how thrilling a conversation he can have with whomever he’s sharing the stage.

Recorded in February last year, this is Potter’s third live release from the prestigious NYC club. But whereas  2004’s Lift was split between originals and popular standards and 2007’s Follow the Red Line was a funk-imbued set of all Potter cuts, this new record has Potter and a new trio  – made up of  pianist Craig Taborn, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Marcus Gilmore – playing what he describes as “tunes people don’t normally play” – a six-song set tripping  through Amazonian folk, country blues, lesser-known bop and two tracks you could stamp as spiritual.

Introduced with some punchy, Coltrane-like bursts from Potter, Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move is reimagined more soulfully and funk-driven, with our man blowing fervently over bluesy keys, bass and a loose backbeat groove from Gilmore that builds to a riotous solo nearing the end of this 14-minute fire-starter. The 3/4-felt Nozani Na has similarly soulful qualities. From a refrain like that of All Blues, the abstract folk tune lifts dramatically  with some unison riffing between Potter and Taborn and later a fleet-fingered piano solo, free across the rumble and clatter of a tom and rim-knock drum motif.

After bringing things down with a reading of the Billy Strayhorn ballad Blood Count (and Potter tenderly nodding to Johnny Hodges with some wistful, warmly inviting lines), the band picks up the tempo again for a ruthless swing through the rarely played Bird tune Klactoveedsedstene, Potter’s tenor swirling and violently squawking, pausing only for some fours and another ardent solo from Gilmore.

The disc closes with two of its more ambitious arrangements. First, underpinned by the deep and direct throb of Colley’s bass, the mesmerising Jobim, Buarque and De Moraes tune Olha Maria fuses modal and classical inflections, before the traditionally spiritual namesake of this set leaves an audibly exuberant audience high on Mozambique rhythms, jabbing horn riffs and some hard-hitting, eclectic improv hung around seductive ostinatos.

You Gotta Move; Nozani Na; Blood Count; Klactoveedsedstene; Olha Maria; Got The Keys To The Kingdom (61.00)
Potter (ts); Craig Taborn (p); Scott Colley (b); Marcus Gilmore (d). The Village Vanguard, New York, February 2022.
Edition EDN1214