Album Review: Liquid Spirit, Gregory Porter (Blue Note Records, Sept 2013)

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Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit album opens with beautifully lyrical track, “No Love Dying.” It’s a fitting start to an album that gives us the third chapter in Porter’s recording career. His debut album, Water (Motema, 2011) garnered a Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy nomination. His follow-up, Be Good (Motema, 2012) contained some fantastic tracks: “On My Way to Harlem” and the title track, making Porter the coolest vocalist in jazz.

What’s immediately striking about Porter’s music is the tone of his voice. Hearing him sing takes you back to a ‘Golden Age’ in jazz, even if you’re too young to have experienced it yourself.

In a recent interview on NPR, Porter discussed the influence of Nat King Cole on his musical appreciation. Although some draw the comparison between Porter’s and Cole’s voices, I liken him more to Bill Withers. Liquid Spirit features a couple of tracks where the Withers style emerges. “Hey Laura” is an easy-going song very reminiscent of the 70’s soul and R&B icon. “Musical Genocide” is another inspired vocal performance that evokes Withers.

Beyond the voice, there is great songwriting and, like his first two albums, Liquid Spirit doesn’t disappoint. Melodies in “Water Under Bridges” and “Wind Song” are refreshingly simple and perfectly suited to Porter’s storytelling vocal style.

The title track stands out. Driven more so by rhythm than melody, Porter makes it swing to thrilling effect. The song also serves as a nice allegory to Porter’s effect on today’s jazz music:

Watch what happens / when the people catch wind / of the water hitting banks / of hard dry land!                  – Liquid Spirit

Indeed, Porter’s music quenches a drought in jazz. His voice and songwriting can gain mass appeal, even without straying into pop. Porter may just succeed where Michael Buble didn’t — grabbing mainstream music by the shirt collar and dragging it over to Jazz’ corner once again.

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