Chris Potter – This Will Be

Chris PotterChris Potter
This Will Be

(Storyville – 2001)
by John Barrett

In 1998 Jim Hall won the Jazzpar Prize, the world’s most lucrative award given to a jazz musician. When Hall played the award concert his band included Chris Potter, who got the award himself two years later … he was not yet thirty. His concert opens with the sad “This Will Be”, a fast ascent punctuated by honks. His sound is grainy, with some nostalgia; you hear a little Coltrane, and others from the era. Suddenly his band enters the picture (cymbals by Billy Drummond, a rubbery bass from Scott Colley) and the applause is warm. Kevin Hays’ piano is cautious, with tiny bursts of sound – his solo becomes restless, wandering fast along the scale. Potter pushes his solo, in high-pitched tense angles; here is the sound of the city.

“Okinawa” begins with a swirling soprano, tracing arcs in the sky – he then dances nimbly, as the band performs a minuet. Hays moves without meter as the dainty notes turn bluesy. Meanwhile the snares are moving fast, and Colley weeps in solitude. Chris slithers up like Desmond, Scott answers with speed, and then the rains come. It’s an open landscape, adventuresome like Trane without being a copy. Slowly the prim theme returns, and we have heard a total transformation. The performance is strong; the applause not strong enough.

The main work of the concert was the six-part “Jazzpar Suite”, where Potter’s group is joined by two horns and the guitar of Jacob Fischer. “Chorale” moves slowly – the theme is like Brubeck, the voicings like Ellington. Bitter harmonies frame “Medium”, from which Chris rises in a hopeful surge. This solo is stronger, more relaxed than those before; Fischer’s solo is cool, with a smooth metallic surface.

“Tribute to Ellington and Hodges” starts on an undulating bassline, doubled by Fischer; Chris’ “alto” sound comes through on a soprano, trembling as Rabbit used to. Cornetist Kasper Tranberg has a great Bubber-like mute. The tune shows dissonance and a little clutter – the parts are better than the whole. ‘Folk Tune” pulsates with quirky charm (this is where Chris gets funky) and the quartet closes with “In a Sentimental Mood”, where Hays is quiet and Potter exudes warmth. While some tunes seem weak, the best are shining examples of form, discipline, and tone. These are all good reasons why Chris Potter won the Jazzpar Prize.