May 28, 2024

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CD review: Chris Potter – Circuits 2019: Video, CD cover

Chris Potter is one of the world’s best saxophonists, a master at mixing modern musical genres with conviction, but it has been hard to embrace the diffuse, introspective discs he has recorded of late. With Circuits, his first release with the British label Edition, he consciously gets back to the groove and the result is a relief. His lyricism remains, but the music to which it is applied has far more grit and energy.

Following a successful run with ECM Records, Chris Potter found himself longing to return to the tough, tight jams that marked his electric Underground band days. That set in motion a change, starting with his jump from the courtly ECM to the UK-based upstart Edition Records and bearing fruit with his first Edition release Circuits. But this multi-instrumentalist and composer is always pushing forward with his craft, too, and his return to a contemporary sound didn’t mean a return to Underground.

In putting together a new band, the ace reedist first turned to a familiar face in veteran top-shelf drummer Eric Harland. Harland is a holdover of sorts from Potter’s ECM period having been behind the drum kit for Potter’s debut for that label, The Sirens. In turn, Harland turned Potter on to an exciting new keyboardist on the scene, James Francies (Marcus Strickland, Jaimeo Brown). Bassist Linley Marthe, formally of The Zawinul Syndicate, appears on about half the tracks to make this trio a temporary quartet.

Even given that Potter has laid out a certain blueprint for this latest set of recordings, there remains an ample amount of twists, surprises and disparity within Circuits. The stately “Invocation” is a head fake intro that leads right into the deep, poly-groove of “Hold It,” which is the real unveiling of Potter’s new outfit. Here, Potter (on tenor sax), is clearly relishing the return of electric, funk-jazz, mining the shit out of an urgent riff and the jittery rhythm, which is like a more sophisticated version of the L.A. Express. The same goes for the “Pressed for Time,” where Harland’s drums is bursting at the seams with vibrant, odd-metered beats.

“The Nerve” unfolds much more gradually, settling nicely into a mid-tempo cadence that offers hints of Middle Eastern harmonies. Potter’s sax is vividly expressive as it is effortless, taking a detour when Francies on piano offers a new figure that sends the band galloping to the song’s end. Potter’s world music fascination hardly ends there; he deploys a variety of reeds and flutes at an African folk-styled “Koutomé.”

“Circuits” is a sophisticated modern jazz piece that’s been electrified and funkified, as Potter is keeping well-developed compositions a high priority. Nonetheless, his wellspring of ideas that typically characterize his solos is the glaring peak of this tune, though the Francies and Harland solos that follow command attention, too. “Exclamation” injects kinetic bop concepts into rock-jazz, held firmly to the ground by the taut Marthe/Harland rhythm section.

“Queens Of Brooklyn” is a well-placed downshift with a soprano sax, but Potter is also heard playing bass clarinet, flute and even guitar in a song that is more chamber jazz than the funky fusion found elsewhere. And at three and a half minutes, it just whizzes by. “Green Pastures” has a pleasing spectral quality to it, thanks to Francies sprinkling soft Rhodes hues all over it.

It’s another directional change for the supremely talented Chris Potter, but with the same high mark of accomplishment and ingenuity that’s found on nearly all of his recordings. Circuits will drop on February 22, 2019 from Edition Records.

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