chris potter looks to the next mountain

Chris Potter. Photo by Tamas Talaber.

The jet lag had barely lifted. Still, on the afternoon following Chris Potter’s return from a European tour with a new quartet he will show off Sunday evening for the Origin Jazz Series, the saxophonist seemed content – well, as content as a globetrotting, band-jumping composer, improviser and collaborator can be.

“It’s just nice to do a solid three weeks of work,” Potter said of his European run. “So now we’re feeling good about the band and its momentum. So we should show up in Lexington fairly well oiled.”

It’s been 15 years since Potter first played Lexington as part of the Dave Holland Quintet at the Opera House. Like Holland, he favors appealing melodic structures and robust improvisatory ingenuity for his music within arrangements and band interplay that often sounds strategically orchestral.

“For Mr. Potter, that involves more than the particulars of a given solo,” wrote Nate Chinen in a 2011 New York Times review of a Village Vanguard concert. “It’s about process and priorities, an investment in mystery, a resistance to habit and comfort.”

Not surprising, Potter and Holland have long enjoyed strong international reputations. Among their many collaborative recordings was Holland’s 2005 Grammy winning big band album “Overtime.”

“Working with Dave has been a very rewarding relationship, both musically and professionally,” Potter said. “Just seeing how he puts together groups, how he thinks about them and just witnessing the personal strength and commitment to what he’s doing has been inspiring.”

But Potter’s musical history is as varied as it is extensive. He toured with Steely Dan when it became a reactivated touring ensemble in the 1990s and was featured on its 2000 comeback album “Two Against Nature” (another Grammy winner).

“To even be a fly on the wall, to see how they rehearse the band and how they would think about the rhythms and then being a part of all that was incredible,” Potter said of his time with the band.

The saxophonist has additionally teamed with a lengthy roster of jazz giants that include Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and the Mingus Big Band. He last played Kentucky in 2014 for a Louisville concert with the Pat Metheny Unity Band.

“You’re always looking at the next mountain,” said Potter of the myriad projects and bands that have taken him around the world over the past two decades. “I feel very, very lucky that I’ve been able to spend years now involved in music that I really believe in and wanted to be a part of, both as a leader and with other people.

“I’ve been playing the saxophone now for a long time, but I still feel like I’m learning new things, even about the instrument, with every performance. So I’m just following that line the same way I always have.

Potter’s last three albums, all for the European ECM label, sport different bands and equally far reaching moods. “The Sirens” (2013) had him playing opposite two keyboardists (Craig Taborn on piano and David Virelles on celesta and harmonium), “Imaginary Cities” (2015) augmented his long-running Underground band with string players and “The Dreamer is the Dream” (2017) was a rich, acoustic quartet session highlighted by Potter’s playing on flute and bass clarinet as well as saxophone.

Perhaps fittingly, the band Potter will perform with on Sunday at the Lyric Theatre, presents a different lineup from all of those records. It plucks two electric players from the Underground – guitarist Adam Rogers and electric bassist Fima Ephron – along with drummer Dan Weiss, who has worked with another acclaimed saxophonist who recently visited Lexington, Rudresh Manhanthappa.

“I hadn’t really explored the more groove aspect of my musical influences, so this band gives me a bit of a platform to express that. I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire along with Weather Report and the Headhunters. That’s been a part of my musical DNA from an early age, along with Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. This group helped me find a way to explore that and play really organically in a kind of funk context.

“I’m not terribly methodical. I don’t really have a manifesto. The way I approach playing is that with whatever situation I’ve gotten myself into, the reactions I’m going to have and the things I’m going to say musically come from my thought process. It’s the same as if you’re going to have a conversation with someone. You could be talking with them about anything, but the way they process information and the way you express yourself come through no matter the subject matter. That’s what I’m trusting in. That’s what I’m exploring.”

Chris Potter performs at 7:30 p.m. April 22 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third. Tickets: $25. Call: 859-280-2218 or go to lexingtonlyric.tix.com.



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