To say I was excited about receiving my copy of Chris Potter’s ‘Imaginary Cities’ would be one of the biggest understatements of 2015. When he made his debut for ECM in February 2013 I was excited at what would happen; Manfred Eicher’s legendary label has always been one of my favourite record labels but add to that the original and exciting voice of Chris Potter as a performer and composer.
If you’re a fan of Chris Potter’s Underground group, consisting of Craig Taborn on piano, Adam Rogers on Guitar and Nate Smith on drums, the enlarged ‘Underground Orchestra’ won’t disappoint. It still has the same energy, driving groove, complex meter changes and solos which seem to float effortlessly between the written material on some pretty intense harmony.
The new band, as the name suggests, is an augmentation of this original band. Added are not one but two bass players, Fima Ephron and Scott Colley. (perfectly blended panned left and right in track 3: ‘Dualities’). Steve Nelson on vibes and marimba gives the grooves lift, not dissimilar to the piano-less Dave Holland quintet recordings Potter recorded in the 90’s (ECM).
“The opening notes on tenor (with the strings) put a big smile on my face.”
A strong quartet of strings are integrated seamlessly. They are rhythmically vibrant and give the group a depth and richness. They perform a backing role in solos, a melodic (sometimes Arabic sounding) solo role and are often intrinsic to the rhythmic groove. The string writing is subtle, clever, thoughtful and often blur the edges between the written and improvised sections.
Despite some incredible solo playing from Potter, for me the unsung hero of this collaboration is engineer James Farber. The blend and detail in the recording is surely the best I’ve ever heard in recent years. Potter’s sound is consistently central without losing detail and balance in the rest of the group.
The opening notes on tenor (with the strings) put a big smile on my face. I may have even made a gleeful jazz noise whilst sitting by my hifi, sleeve notes in hand. As a fully fledged member of the Potter fan club, surely this is his finest record to date. Three days after it arrived on my doorstep, I’m still excited to put in on my CD player.
Imaginary Cities by Chris Potter Underground Orchestra is released on ECM records.
About the author
Carl Raven teaches at the prestigious Royal Northern College of Music in England and is a member of the Apollo Saxophone Quartet.