Post-bop saxophonist Chris Potter quietly became one of the more sophisticated and respected stylists of the '90s and early 2000s, both as a leader and as a sideman in several prominent groups. Born in Chicago on New Year's Day 1971, Potter grew up mostly in Columbia, South Carolina, and started playing piano as a child. He took up the alto saxophone at age ten, initially inspired by Paul Desmond and Johnny Hodges, and went on to learn tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet, and flute; by 13, he was performing professionally. At age 18, he moved to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music, and quickly joined veteran bop trumpeter Red Rodney's quintet, with whom he performed until Rodney's death in 1994. Meanwhile, he started playing on the side with Jazz Mentality and John Hart in 1992, and at the end of the year cut his first album as a leader, Presenting Chris Potter, for the Dutch Criss Cross label. In early 1993, he guested on Marian McPartland's In My Life on Concord Jazz, which led to a deal of his own with the label; despite their generally mainstream output, they promised the more adventurous Potter full creative control.
Unfortunately, Potter subsequently suffered a bout with Meniere's disease, a recurring condition that eroded much of the hearing in one ear. It didn't prevent him from continuing his career, though, and his next solo offering, 1998's Vertigo, consolidated his growing critical goodwill; it also found him leading his own quartet, anchored by bassist Scott Colley. That same year, Potter took on two of his most important side gigs: he joined Dave Holland's acclaimed quintet, and also began playing with fast-rising trumpet star Dave Douglas. For the next few years, Potter concentrated mostly on playing and touring with those artists, as well as Motian and Jim Hall; he was also nominated for a Grammy thanks to his solo work on "In Vogue," a track from Joanne Brackeen's 1999 album Pink Elephant Magic. In 2000, Potter was named the recipient of Denmark's prestigious Jazzpar Prize, making him the youngest person ever to win the award. He was also heavily featured on Steely Dan's Grammy-winning comeback album Two Against Nature, gaining his widest exposure yet. He left Concord Jazz to sign with Verve, and offered his label debut with 2001's Gratitude, a widely acclaimed album paying tribute to past saxophone greats. At this point, his quartet included Colley, keyboardist Kevin Hayes, and drummer Brian Blade; Blade was replaced by Bill Stewart for the 2002 follow-up Traveling Mercies and Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard, the latter of which appeared in 2004 on Sunnyside. A new band with guitarist Wayne Krantz, keyboardist Craig Taborn, and drummer Nate Smith was introduced on the 2006 release Underground. Song for Anyone appeared in 2007, featuring a new quartet and a pair of string players. He appeared as part of Motian's trio on 2010's Lost in a Dream, and led the NDR Bigband on Transatlantic for EMI in 2011.
Also in 2017, Potter delivered his third leader date for ECM, The Dreamer Is the Dream. Recorded at New York's Avatar Studios with producer Manfred Eicher, the album also featured pianist David Virelles, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and bassist Joe Martin — all ECM veterans who deliver a rhythm-heavy sound. The quartet developed the six new tunes and worked out charts over a few days in Switzerland before coming to North America to record. The saxophonist returned in 2019 with Circuits, a quartet date that found him exploring the use of samples and electronics alongside keyboardist James Francis, drum virtuoso Eric Harland, and bassist Linely Marthe. ~ Steve Huey