Archives for posts with tag: Gregory Porter

2013 in Review: New, New to Me, and Those We Lost

There were many solid new releases this past year and many had two things in common. First, they were introduced to me via Gilles Peterson’s (@gillespeterson) BBC6 program, Worldwide, a staple in my listening. Second, three of my top 5 were released on Blue Note Records.

New Releases:

Looking back just 12 months, there were so many good albums released that I had enough fodder for a top 10, with Omar’s The Man winning the year.

10. Kon, On My Way
9. Brand New Heavies, Forward
8. Mario Biondi, Sun
7. Alice Russell, To Dust
6. Ed Motta, AOR
5. Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, Leap of Faith
4. Jose James, No Beginning No End
3. Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2
2. Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit
1. Omar, The Man

Other notable releases were Quadron’s Avalanche, Da Lata’s Fabiola, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, RC & the Gritz’ Pay Your Tab, and Wild Belle’s Isles.

New to me: Rediscovered

Chakha Khan & Rufus – Before Chakha Khan’s 80’s resurgence, her career was launched with the 70’s funk and soul band, Rufus. Their album, Street Player (UMG Recordings, 1978) is a particularly good showcase of the bands smoothness and how well suited Khan’s vocal style is to their music. The track, “Destiny,” is essential listening.

Harvey Mason – I posted a Harvey Mason playlist after discovering this drummer who made his mark on numerous jazz and fusion classics.

Skee-Lo – An oddball find from 1995 when hip-hop albums were so prolific that it was hard to cut through the clutter to find those that would last. Skee-Lo’s album, I Wish (Ultra Moda Music, 1995) holds up today with its pleasing blend of melody and rhyme. It’s also a hip-hop album that’s not afraid to have some fun.

Ben l’Oncle Soul – Neo soul has been played out in my books for some time now. But Ben L’Oncle Soul’s self-titled release (Mercury Music Group, 2010) had a fresh take because a) it’s mostly sung in French; and b) the artist makes the music his own, not trying to mimic crooners from the 60’s and 70’s but celebrating his voice and music in his own way.

Notable Passings

  • Donald Byrd – One of my musical heros. An innovator and prolific melodist. Tributes to him abound on the internet as the year closes out. Nice to see him getting such wide recognition.
  • Stompin’ Tom Connors – A Canadian folk music treasure whose lyrics and music are essential Canadiana
  • George Duke – A keyboardist and innovator in the vein of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock
  • Lou Reed – Another innovator and catalyst who influenced rock and punk acts through the 70s and 80s

Most Anticipated in 2014

Q-Tip, The Last Zulu – This project has been on the radar for some time now but it’s hard to nail down a release date amongst the hype out there. The album is said to include, in some form, a reunion of original A Tribe Called Quest members.

Zara McFarlane, If You Knew Her – The follow-up from her excellent 2011 debut Until Tomorrow (Brownswood)

Jose James – His second release on the Blue Note label is in production, according to James’ facebook updates.

Prince, Plectrum Electrum – The recently released (and excellent) single, “Breakfast Can Wait,” will be on the album as will tracks featuring the rock-centered 3rd Eye Girl who are touring with Prince.

Happy, peaceful, and musical New Year!

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.

Album Review: Brooklyn Butterfly Session, The Rongetz Foundation, September 2012 (Brooklyn Butterfly Sound)

Yes this is modern jazz and yes this is cool. But don’t spell cool with a ‘k’ or new with a ‘u’. The Rongetz Foundation pulls off modernity and coolness with class and credibility.

Founder and namesake Stephane Ronget is a French ex pat who makes his musical home in New York City. Formerly the maestro behind the Metropolitan Jazz Affair, Ronget is said to have assembled the crew on this album to explore the intersections between jazz, soul, and hip hop. But he achieves so much more.

The magic of this album is that the seams between these genres don’t show. The influences are so nuanced, so natural, that it feels like you’re listening to a great contemporary jazz record. This is cool jazz all grown up. There are no contrived verse overlays or jarring electronic transitions. Rather, the tone and theme remain grounded in jazz. The musical spurs Ronget and his collaborators explore are blended artfully within the overall arc of the record.

The most outward expression of hip-hop / jazz fusion is found on the track, “A Composer of Modern Day” featuring John Robinson. The band adopts a tight hip hop accompaniment and resists injecting unnecessary improvisations, which are aptly left for Robinson to handle through his verse.

Similarly, “Eunice K” featuring Renee Neufville of Zhane fame, is a soul hybrid with velvety Rhodes accompaniment by Jeremy Brun. The pairing of Neufville’s vocals and the band’s backing track is so natural that it ebbs and flows between R&B and jazz without you really noticing the transitions.

The more straight-ahead jazz compositions, including “The Bolshi Drunk Ghost,” “Freaking Sunshine,” and “Sam’s Intro” are mature, well played tracks that rightfully show off the musicianship and jazz composition that gives this album some weight. “Sam’s Intro,” in particular, has an easy going groove reminiscent of Ellington’s Caravan and offers an utterly listenable tableau upon which talented improvisors like Bruce Williams (alto sax) and Ronget himself (trumpet) can play.

Gregory Porter brings his swing and his inimitable vocal timber to bear on the upbeat and danceable opener, “Go Go Soul.” This would be a crossover hit if there were any music broadcasters left on our airwaves with the courage to give jazz another chance with the masses.

The Brooklyn Butterfly Session is, as financial analysts might say, ‘wholly accretive’ to today’s jazz. It may very well be the wedge that opens the door to a new normal for jazz. One that embraces soul and hip-hop not as accents but as fundamental elements of a genre that is so good at absorbing its surroundings.

Players:

Stephane Ronget (trumpet, compositions, arrangements, production), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Bruce Williams (alto saxophone), Jeremy Brun (keys), Corcoran Holt (acoustic bass), Jerome Jennings (drums), Gregory Porter, Renee Neufville, John Robinson, Ansel Matthews, Marvin Parks (vocals)