Chris Potter and Nasheet Waits were locked together telepathically. Surely. At the climax of ‘a blues’ that closed the Potter quartet’s set in front of a full Cheltenham Festival house , pianist Davide Virelles and bass man Joe Martin dropped out and showers of notes from the tenor, fused into jagged patterns. They seemed to be nudged and sorted into rythmic groups by Waits’ bristling drumming as the two paused and chopped up the phrases in lock-step at a dizzying tempo. It was an electrifying moment in a set full of burning intensity.
Playing mostly pieces from Potter’s latest release on ECM, the band tore into his compositions. Snappy angular themes and bursts of rhythmically arresting hooks bookended and provided a platform for improvisation. The explorations were unfailingly intense, frequently abstract and dense with explosive moments. The opener Yasodhara launched with a spiky rhythmic volley and Potter showed why he’s one of the most admired tenor players on the planet with a solo that started with exploratory, darting phrases, before building to a a blizzard of tangled lines. Ilimba, with an atmospheric sample of drums developed a an implied poly-rhythmic groove, before Virelles unleashed another solo. It was an extraordinary display, squalls of notes bundled up into clusters of rhythm with two fisted pummeling of the keyboard interspersed with glittering runs.
Waits was in danger of stealing the show even before the climatic dual at the close of the set. He boiled with energy continually, building and building momentum. On Ilimba by contrast, he developed a muted solo with beaters; call and response and space to draw breath, as the atmosphere thickened. A second solo later in the set was unbridled energy by contrast, the fusillade pinning us back in our seats. The Dreamer is the Dream was more overtly melodic and rhapsodic, Potter unfurling singing lines on soprano with Joe Martin stepping forward to solo.
On the final blues, the flavour of the form surfaced occasionally through the swirl of colour and texture; bursts of scintillating swing, a sudden switch to surging post-bop lines from the sax, a series of ringing chords from the piano. Then it would all be chopped up again, perhaps stitched together by a hooting riff from the tenor.
The energy and invention never let up. There was a sense of elation at the end and the feeling we’d witnessed something special. It is multi-faceted and complex music and the gig an invitation to get hold of the recording, listen again and take in more of that richness.