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Follow the Red Line - Live at the Village Vanguard

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Audio CD, September 11, 2007
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Product Description

A part of the jazz tradition is the live recording, and Manhattan's fabled Village Vanguard is the brook of fire through which every improviser must pass. That said, Follow the Red Line / Live at the Village Vanguard shows that Potter has come through the burning sands of that venue s bandstand in flying colors. Backed by an intriguing, piano-less quartet composed of Detroit's Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes electric piano, drummer Nate Smith, and guitarist Adam Rogers, Potter prances and dances on six extended-length excursions. Train leads off the set with some serious Staz-on-steroids swing, followed by the subcontinental syncopations of Arjuna, named for the Indian prince in the Indian literary classic, the Mahabharata. Pop Tune #1 is laced with some up-south downbeats in three, graced by Smith's tangy solo, while Viva Las Vilnius dances with Carib-cadences, contrasted by the hymnal hues of Zea. The disc closes on the powerful, Afrobeat anthemed Togo a propulsive ode to the delightful West African nation that Duke Ellington saluted in one of his last major suites. Here, Potter's in-the-pocket bass clarinet solo and accompaniment is an Africanized summation of that instrument s major voices from Eric Dolphy to Bennie Maupin, equaled only by Taborn's impossible keyboard solo.

Chris Potter s synthesis of the saxophone, flute and bass clarinet masters, and his ability to mold them into his own sound started with his first instrument, the piano, when he grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. He moved there after he was born in Chicago on New Years Day, 1971. He later switched to saxophone after he heard alto sax legends Paul Desmond, and Johnny Hodges. He was a professional by the time he was fourteen, and four years later, he moved to New York, enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, and joined bop trumpeter Red Rodney's quintet until 1994. He also worked with Jazz Mentality and guitarist John Hart. His other prominent gigs as a sideman include work with Marian McPartland on her 1993 CD, In My Life, and with Renee Rosnes, Paul Motian, Dave Holland, John Patitucci, Dave Douglas, Steve Swallow, and Kenny Werner. He also toured with Steely Dan and recorded on their 2000 recording, Two Against Nature.

Potter's first CD as a leader, Presenting Chris Potter was released on the Criss Cross label in 1992. His other recordings of note include Concentric Circles (Concord Jazz, 1993), Vertigo (Concord Jazz, 1998), Gratitude (Verve 2001), Traveling Mercies (Verve, 2002), and his first two sides for Sunnyside, Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard (2004), and Underground (2006). The reedman s gifts have also been noted by the critics, as evidenced by his winning of Denmark's esteemed Jazzpar Prize in 2000 the youngest to ever win the award.


In a rare move, saxophonist Chris Potter has released two CDs on the same day, and on the same label Song For Anyone, his first album for a large ensemble; and Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard, featuring the Underground band that s been touring for the past couple of years. Risky, perhaps, but Potter s significance the clear torch-carrier for the recently departed Michael Brecker continues to grow, and is one of a limited number of artists who can actually pull it off.
Potter s discography has been getting better with each passing year, but Underground (Sunnyside, 2006) was a true watershed, where conception, composition and performance came together for the most distinctive and fully realized album of his career. Follow the Red Line is even better, featuring the same group but with guitarist Adam Rogers in place of Wayne Krantz, whose sharp attack and oblique lines were amongst Underground s defining points. Those only familiar with Rogers largely acoustic Criss Cross discs, including 2005 s Apparitions, may be surprised to hear him kick such serious butt here, but those who ve heard his mid-1990s work with Lost Tribe know that he s undeniably capable of this kind of electrified, rock- and funk-edged music.

The gentle opening fanfare of Train starts the set on a lyrical and subdued note, but it s not long before drummer Nate Smith kicks in with a visceral funk groove, bolstered by Craig Taborn s uncannily dichotomous Fender Rhodes. Potter takes the first solo, building from ground zero to the stratosphere and demonstrating the kind of paradoxical blend of restraint and reckless abandon that makes his extended solos not just consistently captivating, but exhilarating. The same goes for Rogers, whose solo begins in melodic simplicity, but quickly takes off with a raucous energy and linear invention that s the main reason why he, along with Ben Monder, are two of New York s most in-demand guitarists across a wide swatch of styles. His tone is dense and sustaining, with a punchy attack and, like Potter, has an ability to milk the simplest of vamps for all it s worth.

Taborn gets to do the same thing during the unrelenting, single-chord vamp that s at the core of Arjuna, with Rogers soul-drenched single-line anchoring hand-in-glove with Smith s loose and unyieldingly responsive groove. Pop Tune #1 offers a brief respite; a countrified ballad where Roger s rich, sustaining chords support Potter s singable melody before taking a blues-drenched lead. Rogers builds dramatically, only to suddenly dissolve as Potter morphs the tune into another lengthy and funk-laden vamp where everyone raises the temperature during his blistering and idea-filled solo.

It s an exercise in futility to find a name for the music of Follow the Red Line. But as Potter blurs the lines between jazz, rock, funk and even a little afro-beat in ways that are finally being accepted again two decades after The New York Times declared the pestilence known as fusion is dead, the best word to describe this recording is, quite simply, great. - John Kelman - Sept. 4, 2007
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 11, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sunny Side Records
  • ASIN: B000SNUNR4
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,322 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Olukayode Balogun on April 13, 2008
Format: Audio CD
Chris Potter is one of my favourite saxophonists of all time. I'm also lucky enough to have seen a live performance (by another musician) at The Village Vanguard in NYC for myself. A friend took me there back in the 90s. I can thus easily picture in my head, what the gigs that led to this album might have been like. They must've been electrifying.

This six-tune set recorded live at the Vanguard over two dates in February of 2007, is fresh, exciting and bursting with energy and while not Potter's best album as far as I'm concerned (I personally prefer his studio sound), is definitely one of the best live jazz albums I've heard in a while. Apart from Potter himself of course, who plays tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and is always amazing, I am particularly impressed by Adam Rogers on guitar - unusually, he has a very individual sound that doesn't remind me of any of the better known contemporary guitarists - and Craig Taborn on the Fender Rhodes. Things sound a bit hectic here and there as they often do during live performances but most of the time, nothing but magic shines through. I love all the tunes (the Ed Blackwell-penned "Togo", the only one Potter didn't write incidentally, is my overall favourite) but I wasn't exactly overjoyed at the way "Pop Tune #1" morphed from a beautiful ballad into a so-so dance tune halfway through.

A minor quibble though, I suppose, with what is undoubtedly, an outstanding CD overall. Five stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stephen E. Jardim on October 1, 2007
Format: Audio CD
This is by far the greatest album that chris potter has released. The variety, style, improvisation of this group is unbelievable. Besides it being great music, I love listening to it. I think it's really cool music. Chris Potter's improvisation is through the roof. Let's not forget adam rogers and craig tanborn improvising, they are great too. Nate smith tears it up on the drums. I saw this group live at the Village Vanguard in February when they were making this live CD, and they did not dissapoint. This is great music, not that popular garbage that is out there today.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Guarriello on June 19, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Well I imagine there's not to much more that can be said about how great this album is that hasn't already been said by others but here I go anyway. I really love the blend of musical styles that Chris Potter & Underground have so beautifully melded together in a melodic, virtuoso and very accessible sound that I can hear again and again without becoming boring or stale. All the players are in peak form and I really enjoy the guitar of Adam Rogers who manages not to sound like most of the other jazz fusion guitarists out playing today. The drummer Nate Smith is great blending the loose swinging feel of jazz with the hard pocket back beat of funk with chops aplenty and much taste. I really like all the songs but if I had to pick two favorites they would be Pop Tune #1 & viva la Vilnius. Pop tune is simply beautiful with some unexpected twists and turns and a killer solo by Adam Rogers. Vilnius is a diverse mind blowing piece that merits careful listening as does this whole album, because this cd is not one to be listened to in small segments. You need to bring it on a long car ride or along walk with your ipod cause each tune is extended.Chris Potter really shines as always on this,blasting away on tenor and bass clarinet, and let me say that I'm really glad he chose to bust out his bass clarinet for two of these tunes it adds a dimension not often heard on most jazz records today and he plays it beautifully. If you like this check out Undergrounds latest cd Ultrahang. Bottom line is buy this album for a fresh new listening experience you won't be disappointed I promise.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Wepler on May 25, 2008
Format: Audio CD
It is tough to add a lot to the superlatives thrown around by the other reviewers, but I am so thoroughly blown away by this album that I am unable to resist registering my enthusiasm. The one thing that bears mention and hasn't been discussed enough is the sheer power of Potter's playing. Potter's solo on "Train," the album's first tune, is truly otherworldly, dynamically building in intensity over the course of more than five minutes (and his solo on "Pop Tune #1" is almost as powerful). I'm not sure whether the title of the tune is an homage to Coltrane (the spelling would suggest that it isn't), but Chris sounds more like Coltrane here than anyone I've ever heard. However, the rest of the band is like nothing Coltrane ever played with. Adam Rogers' guitar fulfills the simultaneous function of a guitarist and a bassist, adding funk to the music and giving it the feel of a jam session or even, at times, a garage band, a feel that is augmented by Nate Smith's heavily rock 'n roll style drumming. The key for these musicians is that the tunes are open enough to allow Potter a great deal of solo space, which he takes advantage of with a combination of intensity and virtuosity that is unparalleled in anything I have heard recently (Taborn and Rogers' solos aren't too shabby either). If you own five jazz albums recorded this decade, this should be one of them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Rogers on January 10, 2013
Format: Audio CD
The rest of the reviews give you the details if you want, but only one thing really needs to be said about this album. This is among the best, if not the single best Jazz album since 2000. That's it. Even if you aren't a jazz fan, this album will take you. The sound for a quartet is just huge. The intensity of the performances is unmatched. The compositions are genius. The solos are delicious. There isn't a sour note on this entire album. The entire thing is literally perfect. And better yet, it really sounds like nothing else you've heard before. The interplay between these musicians and their instruments will astound you.

It is depressing to me that reviews for this album seem to have trailed off after 2008 (which is why I'm writing this). This album deserves constant praise and new listeners. I bought it in '07, and I still listen to it regularly. It never gets old, and I'm always hearing new things. I recommend getting the album off iTunes (I know, I know...), because they offer a bonus track which is a cover of Radiohead's Morning Bell that is really beautiful, and a nice conclusion that feels like it brings the album full circle to the opening notes of Train.
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