The US is coming to London this summer, what with Wynton Marsalis and Chick Corea to look forward to, and Chris Potter and Billy Cobham appearing in Soho clubs within the week.
Of these, none is more representative of the vibrant New York scene than Potter, a tenor saxophonist whose quartet sounds like the very distillation of "downtown". By this, I mean not just the basement bars found all over Manhattan, where scratchy pick-up bands produce music varying from the quotidian to the sublime, but whatever in its broader sense "downtown" represents.
One could talk of Potter's tone, which is medium-to-big, plain and with hacked, unvarnished edges; or of the loose-limbed post-jazz fusion his quartet plays; or of the contrast between the gorgeously muddy Rhodes piano and the super-crisp drumming; or of their ability to handle hugely complex time signatures with nonchalant expertise.
But, really, it's about feel. That's what Potter's group seems to have bottled; that's their "Eau de Downtown". It's a marriage of a modern approach to rhythm (not a bar of straight swing to be heard) to a sophisticated harmonic language in the solos, and none of it in the least dressed-up. The rawness and sweat are part of it, and the fact that they'd packed out the room on a week-night testified that the audience is not in the least put off by any lack of gloss.
The quartet lacked a bass player, but didn't suffer for it. Instead, the guitar played a multitude of roles, standing in for a bass where needed, but also able to add harmony and alternate melodic lines. It seemed just another part of the pared-down structure of the band, where every note told.
The material ranged from Potter's quirky originals - tipping a hat here to the Crusaders, or there to Kool and the Gang (the father of the Gang's leaders was a friend of Thelonious Monk) - to a grave yet grand version of Joni Mitchell's "Ladies of the Canyon".
For a couple of nights in July, thanks to Chris Potter and his band, Pizza Express in Soho's Dean Street felt like a portal through which one had stepped into Greenwich Village on a steamy New York summer night. That's a very great compliment indeed.Reuse content