Playing to the second house on the first night of a two-night residency on Dean Street at the resurgent Pizza Express Jazz Club basement club open and getting into its groove again a few months on from re-opening definitely a coup for bookers Joe and Ross of the club getting Chris Potter, the Chicagoan who is just about the greatest tenor saxophonist alive, of course ex-Dan, Metheny, and a significant leader and composer in his own right and the natural heir (if any others exist answers on a postcard please) to Michael Brecker. There were a lot of musicians in the audience including the great altoist Zhenya Strigalev, trumpeter Nick Smart head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, and top new generation bassist Conor Chaplin, among an array of faces from the UK scene.
Gig of the year without a shadow of a doubt the trio was not as advertised because the idea was to have James Francies, who is now with Potter's ex-Unity Band leader Pat Metheny and the Charles Lloyd-ian Eric Harland who are both on Potter's excellent new Edition record released earlier this year and titled Sunrise Reprise.
Instead, an extraordinary dream team the equal of Francies and Harland took their place with Craig Taborn unbelievable a few years ago on the classic trio record The Bell and more recently solo in Vienna taking to the Pizza's fine Steinway. And joining Potter and Taborn, Nasheet Waits best known for his work with the great piano polymath Jason Moran as one third of The Bandwagon reinventing for instance Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk.
Playing completely new music Potter told us without giving away any details, all untitled pieces (to us in the audience anyway) the Chicagoan opened on alto flute and hardly spoke apart from saying ''I can't see your faces but I'm sure they're lovely!'' and ''See you at the other end''. A masterclass, later of course he played immaculate tenor flowing like a river and best of all the most delicate soprano sax, the interesting factor was how Taborn, an avant player very different to the kind of pianists Potter usually works with, gelled with him. Of course it's easy although a little while back to forget that Taborn is on Underground, Follow the Red Line, Ultrahang, The Sirens and Imaginary Cities with Potter. It's just since he has such a strong personality as a leader himself in different idioms. He played brilliantly and there were no compromises or any cognitive dissonance in terms of style variation or lack of focus.
Early on the energy fire music came through but it is so stimulating to hear how Taborn comps, no pianist sounds like him in finding the most savoury chord, like blues and the abstract truth, time and time again. Waits was powerful and his drum solos if anything while extensive could have gone on and on much longer. The reggae-type groove later was good as too was a kind of an AfroCuban passage which really worked. It's hard to compare him with anyone but it's clear he is a different class entirely because he can react and be pro-active just as convincingly. You could see Potter listening to him when he took his horn out of his mouth after yet another prodigious solo to dig the groove. Equally Waits just seemed to be loving hearing what Potter and Taborn were able to conjure together.
World class improvising and all the more remarkable given not at any time did you crave the presence of a bassist. Let's leave it at that. Cancel all plans if around this evening. Call the club and you might get lucky if quick to bag one of the last tickets left.
Review: Stephen Graham