Friday, September 23, 2022

Underscoring what jazz is...

Every once in a while, it is good to get a healthy reminder of what jazz is. Some people think it is a repertoire of classic material, be it beloved jazz standards or pages from the Great American Songbook. 

Dave Potter
But jazz is not specific material, though we all have favorites we like to hear now and then. It is the way a band plays a song. Any song. Originating in any genre.

The reminder that jazz is a process - and an intense form of communication between the musicians on stage shared with the listeners privileged to be there - was on full display Thursday, September 22 at The Grill at 1951 in Port Charlotte FL. 

Drummer Dave Potter's Retro Groove quartet put their hard-swinging stamp on a wide range of material, two-thirds of it from sources far from the standard repertoire. Potter's band mates included pianist Austin Johnson, bassist Terrell Montgomery and tenor saxophonist Miguel Alvarado. 

In addition to his own projects and teaching, Atlanta-based Potter is the drummer in vibes player Jason Marsalis's touring band.

To get into the audience's comfort zone, Retro Groove opened with a few jazz classics: "Have You Met Miss Jones?," Thelonious Monk's infrequently heard "Shuffle Boil" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova "Wave" before shifting to the 1979 Deniece Williams R&B hit "Why Can't We Fall in Love?" They closed out the first set with Ornette Coleman's "When Will the Blues Leave?"

The Deniece Williams hit was just a hint of what was to come. Potter's choices in the second and third sets were all extended instrumental versions of beloved songs from more popular repertoires - including pop, hard rock, R&B and in one instance, movie music. Most came from his newest recording, Retro Groove, which was released in March on Square Biz Records.

Johnson, Alvarado
Their take on the Chaka Khan hit "Through the Fire" preceded Steve Winwood's "Higher Love," on which Nashville-based Alvarado unleashed an extended solo reminiscent of Sonny Rollins' stream-of-consciousness journeys into a song's possibilities. His approach was consistent throughout the night.

Then came the Whitney Houston hit "Saving All My Love For You," composer Jon Williams' "The Flying Sequence" from the 1978 Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve. Living Colour's "Cult of Personality was a spotlight for Johnson's keyboard chops.

Retro Groove closed the night with Potter's arrangements of three more gems: the Michael Jackson hit "I Can't Help It," The Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You" (later covered by Houston and many others), and Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." 

In each case, extended solos delved into the music's possibilities. Potter's swinging groove and imagination were at the heart of it all.

Austin Johnson, Miguel Alvarado, Terrell Montgomery, Dave Potter

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