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Chris Potter Underground Orchestra - Imaginary Cities (2015)

There are essentially two types of “with strings” albums in the jazz, one is where you have (usually) a horn player take on ballads with the string framework. Think “Clifford Brown With Strings”. The other, and more rarely done is what Potter has done here. He’s using the strings as an actual instrument, such as Stan Getz’s work on Focus, and make the two tangle with each other like partners in a three legged race. It works amazingly well here. Even more intriguing is that the accompanying “jazz” team of Adam Rogers/g, Craig Taborn/p, Steve Nelson/vib-mar, Scott Colley/b, Fima Ephron/eb and Nate Smith veery in and out in lead and supporting roles as mood setters in an enriching way.

There is a four part “Imaginary Cities” suite which is the focal point of the album, and you get lovely moments as in the dainty pizzicato dance of strings and piano that turn in to a groove for Potter’s earthy tenor on “Dualities” as well as sparkling ivories and mourning strings for Potter’s crying horn on “Compassion.” Rich and lyrical string supply a tapioca thickness on the melodious “Lament” and eerie backgrounds are delivered by Taborn and Rogers on “Firefly.” The strings form a lurking nourish mood not unlike a Bartok theme while Potter broods on “Shadow Self.”Rogers, for his part, does some effective work here, making sonic moods with electric dashes as well as delivering some thoughtful soloing as on “Compassion,” while the rhythm section is flexible enough to make some kinetic movements as on the assertive “Rebuilding” with Nelson’s hammering or drift into never never land on the ballads. This might be Potter’s best yet, and that’s saying something.

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