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July/August 2004

Chris Potter Quartet
Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard
Sunnyside

In contrast, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter's Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside) is, by any and all contemporary standards, a superb live album, thanks to some unruly ensemble work driven by drummer Bill Stewart. Stewart is egoless: exciting without being overbearing, technically precocious without being garish. Most of all, he's got huge ears, hearing, responding to and enhancing everything going on around him. During Potter's solo on the drummer's own medium-up tune "7.5," Stewart responds instantaneously to the saxophonist's most pertinent phrases and accents-extending an idea in one direction and throwing it back to Potter for a response. Such impulsive interaction adds immeasurably to the music. Potter does his part, as well. A lot of guys his age come off as glib. Not Potter. He's a gutsy player who just happens to have huge chops. There's plenty of Coltrane in his playing; at one point in Potter's unaccompanied intro to "Boogie Stop Shuffle" I thought I was listening to Trane's "I Want to Talk About You" cadenza from Live at Birdland. Nevertheless, Potter has creatively synthesized the history of the jazz saxophone and made it work for him.

Like Stewart, bassist Scott Colley is both a provocative and responsive player. Pianist Kevin Hays does well, too, although his effects-laden Rhodes work doesn't always pan out. On the other hand, he takes chances, and taking chances is what performing live is all about. It's that sort of unselfconscious audacity that makes this such a fine album.

Originally published in July/August 2004
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