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Jazz Review

Chris Potter Practices Saxophone Wizardry at Bakery

At 31, the musician plays with magisterial authority, and his accompanists are up to the challenge.

September 26, 2002|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Chris Potter is one of the most highly praised young saxophonists to arrive on the jazz scene in recent years. And with good cause. Since recording his first album as a leader a decade ago, the 31-year-old South Carolinian has worked in a far-ranging series of musical environments, including gigs with Dave Douglas, Dave Holland, the Mingus Big Band, Ray Brown, Larry Carlton and Steely Dan.

In 2000 he was the youngest musician ever to receive the prestigious $26,500 Danish Jazzpar Prize.

On Tuesday, Potter opened a six-night run at the Jazz Bakery leading a virtual all-star ensemble of similarly well-regarded young players: pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Bill Stewart.

In past local appearances, his principal attributes have been centered in his great versatility--a capacity to find creative avenues of expression in genres stretching from straight-ahead jazz to edgy, avant-garde sounds. At the Bakery, however, he primarily focused upon originals such as "Migrations" and "Any Moment Now" from his just-released Verve CD, "Traveling Mercies."

In the peak moments of his performance--a stunning soprano saxophone cadenza, brilliantly controlled and executed fast-note passages, the engaging warmth of his tone--it was easy to understand the acclaim Potter has received. A magisterial-looking figure despite his relative youth, he fully controlled center stage when he was playing, chest thrust forward, arms held out in positions of power, playing his saxophones with an utter sense of physical and musical mastery.

His musical companions were fully up to Potter's performance level. Hays was a bit too busy at times, but there was no disputing his quest for new ideas as he occasionally reached inside the piano to add plucked string accents to his keyboard efforts. Colley, as always, was both a consummate accompanist and a probing soloist. And Stewart, who has appeared frequently enough at the Bakery recently to be viewed as one of the venue's house drummers, characteristically operated in pure rhythmic synchronization with the other players.

Despite the relative absence of the sort of musically shape-shifting adventurousness of some past appearances, Potter fully affirmed his ascension to the upper levels of the jazz arts. And it was interesting to note that the near-capacity audience seemed to consist primarily of listeners in his age range, underscoring the scope and reach of his career potential.

*

The Chris Potter Quartet at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Los Angeles. Admission: tonight, $20; Friday through Sunday, $25. Shows at 8 and 9:30 p.m. (310) 271-9039.

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