Deep Dive: Chris Potter’s Underground

The album cover for Chris Potter's 2006 effort "Underground"

It’s a Deep Dive Wednesday on The Afternoon Cruise and we are going to check out Chris Potter‘s 2006 effort Underground. Ten albums deep into his solo career, Underground has been critically acclaimed as an album where many of the most promising pieces of Potter’s previous releases came together in one package. Chris Potter has a gift that I believe is relatively unique among saxophone players: he has the ability to get a little funky in non-funk songs. Too often with saxophonists I can hear when they deliberately move into “funk” territory, the horn starts barking a bit, the player sits on one note and starts telling their story with a heavier focus on rhythm and syncopation. LOVE IT, LOVE THAT, LOVE. . .THAT. . .FUNK. But, with Chris Potter I will often hear him sneaking into that territory without going full on Maceo Parker and I adore it. This album has plenty of funky moments, but it’s not a funk record and I believe Nate Smith (drums) and Potter deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that.

The record opens with Nate Smith setting up the groove on “Next Best Western” and some of the most defining features of the record come into focus in a matter of measures. Long before he was a celebrated leader Nate Smith was a metronomically oriented groove master delivering the goods on plenty of records from the mid-2000s. His playing always sounds so decisive, so driven. Craig Taborn is on the Fender Rhodes for this outing and he’s handling a lot of the low end as there is no bassist on the date, but beyond the bass register Taborn provides masterful comping support while saving plenty of firepower for his own solos. Wayne Krantz‘s guitar playing throughout serves similar purposes to Taborn’s Rhodes work, while still staying out of each other’s way. Krantz’s pedal board never seems too far away and from time to time on the record he serves as a percussive foil for Smith to work off of.

Chris Potter does a stellar job on this release, writing six of the nine tunes and shining on every track. Whether it’s Potter’s own composition or a cover, he seems to arrange the tunes in a way that maximizes opportunity for great improvisation. This often manifests itself in great sections where most of the band is playing a phrase in near unison but each putting their own spin on how they get in and out of the phrase. Though plenty of ensembles use similar techniques, most of ensembles aren’t as talented at delivering the mini-surprises that make these repetitive parts so engaging.

I hope you’ll tune in to today’s Afternoon Cruise to dive into this awesome release.



Thanks for checking this deep dive out and if you have music suggestions, contact me at

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