Chris Potter, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Sunday 30th April

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.


David Murray Infinity Quartet, St George’s Bristol, Wednesday 16th October

As a twenty something year old in the mid 70s, David Murray started a loft jazz space in New York called Studio Infinity, part of scene that was characterised by the sort of free jazz playing for which he’s now legendary (hard to improve on the All Music‘s biography description  of ‘slurred glissandi, indefinite pitches, ambiguous rhythms, and altissimo flights’). It’s surely not too fanciful to make a link between that venture and the quartet of the same name he brought to St. George’s. There was a whiff of a late night New York club about the band as they strolled on stage, had their respective pedigrees rehearsed by Murray (including winning this year’s Downbeat Poll for drummer Nasheet Waits) and launched in into ‘Sorrow Song’  a medium tempo swing tune over which Murry seemed to drape the melody with a big fat tenor sound, before reeling off into melodic lines that slid over and round the chord changes or ignored them all together as he squawked and honked before sliding  back to the tune. It’s a style he’s made his own. It gripped me when I first heard it on a record more than twenty years ago playing on a ballad and was powerfully reminded of it again last night as he drenched ‘Body and Soul’ with emotion, deconstructed the harmony and then left the rhythm section to continue. Whenever he was playing it was riveting.  The bass clarinet came out for one, Art Blakey like tune and provided the evening’s most compelling moment as he exploited the full range of the instrument, snapped and squawked intensely rhythmic phrases and departed on a low feeding back note reminiscent of Pharaoh Sanders exploitation of that technique. It’s impossible not to be moved by his playing. At its best it’s like being exposed to raw emotion.  Like all raw emotion it  feels a bit unstable at times and the band seemed a bit chaotic at times, with Murray and pianist Rod Williams constantly disappearing on mysterious errands out of the door at the back of the stage during and between tunes (Williams even missing the cue in to a tune at one point) and bass player Jaribu Shahid visibly and audibly explaining what should happen next as a flight of fancy or ambiguity of rhythm from Murray seemed to lose the pianist. More than one tune was rescued by thunderous drum solos by Waits. And then they would find their pace and as on ‘Obi’, a Butch Morris tune, the trio of Williams, Shahid and Waits delivered a sizzling post bop workout. Edgy, chaotic, exultant and never dull. The Infinity Quartet certainly blew any stray cobwebs out of St. George’s last night.

Talks with a punter – Jonthan Gee Trio, November 21st, Chapel Arts Centre: Bath

Jonathan Gee played to small but enthusiastic crowd at Chapel Arts Centre last night. Sadly I was not there to boost sorely needed numbers (how long can they continue to put on gigs of this quality to tiny audiences? It’ll not be just Bath’s loss if it goes). I was attempting to entertain a somewhat larger but considerably less attentive audience nearby. Happily, I was able to discuss the gig with a pair of ears that were present so here’s what I’ve gleaned.

Sometimes words fail. We just hear music. The experience isn’t filtered through language and description. So the very first notes of the trio last night evoked a simple sigh of recognition for my spy. “Ah… that’s what it should sound like”. There were a few more ‘Ah…’ moments as lyrical, unaccompanied, piano intros morphed into a melody with the bass joining at the perfect moment. Joseph Laporte on bass appeared like Gee’s ‘third ear’, hearing what he was hearing and responding as if they were one. Many tunes built from these beginnings into driving post bop swing, surfing on the urgency of Nasheet Waits drumming. This was the pattern repeated perhaps once too often for the taste of my informant, but there were plenty of other moments. The first set closed with a beautiful Hermeto Pascoal ballad Santa Caterina and the second set contained a somewhat unexpected vocal number from Gee and a couple of roaring drum solos from Waits. This was an evening of world class piano trio music with the ceaseless flow of lyrical ideas fron Jonathan Gee at the piano to the fore.

Thanks then to R for the report. This is a first for me – remote reviews! I’d be happy to relay, post or link to comment and reviews if anyone else would like to chip in who comes across this little blog.