Lets face it, Gregory Porter is all about superlatives. With his impressive appearance and magnificent voice Porter is among today’s top jazz vocalists. Since the release of the debut album Water (2010) everything he touched turned into gold. Water was enthusiastically welcomed by the press and received a Grammy nomination in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category. In 2012 his sophomore release Be Good proved to be just as successful as its predecessor. Be Good was a number-one debut on the iTunes Jazz Album Chart and reached top ten positions on various other charts. Moreover Porter was honoured with another Grammy nomination for the single ‘Real Good Hands’. Recently I saw Gregory Porter perform on the North Sea Jazz Festival with the Metropole Orchestra and, to throw in another superlative, it was breathtaking. Porter is on a high, so there´s no surprise a new release in 2013 was on the stocks. Beforehand there was no reason for fans and critics to worry about quality of Liquid Spirit, for Indeed the brand “Gregory Porter“ already stands for high quality jazz and soul. I However am obliged to uphold a critical attitude to all that´s hyped and hip and therefore question if the towering achievements of Porter
don´t lead to a case of the Midas touch.
The Los Angeles-born Porter de facto broke through in New York where he performed in the many Harlem jazz clubs. On Liquid Spirit the intimacy of late nights in one of these clubs is rampant. Opener No Love Dying immediately sets the the tone with the vulnerable baritone voice of Porter. He sings, “The death of love is everywhere, but I won’t let it be. There will be no love that’s dying here for me” accompanied by tranquil piano play from Chip Crawford. Approximately two-thirds of the album consists of this sort of smooth jazz. Ballads such as Wolfcry, Brown Grass and I Fall in Love Too Easily have the potential to be classics. Porter’s strong and steady murmur is conspicuously present, yet he also manages to let the musicians do their job. For example When Love Was King, a song thats dedicated to this newborn son, is a solid interplay between Porter, Crawford’s piano and Aaron James’ bass. Liquid Spirit is not all about smoothness for other styles are cleverly mingled in. Without any doubt the title track itself and Free are the most lively tracks on the album. On the latter Porter acknowledges his parents and thanks them for his upbringing. Both songs have an uplifting tempo and therefore strongly remind of Porter’s previous album Be Good. Additionally Hey Laura tends to more of a soul song and The ‘In’ Crowd and Musical Genocide refer more to rhythm and blues. So after a few rundowns I’m ready to conclude that the credo ´something for everyone´ fits Liquid Spirit best.
In the end Liquid Spirit is a well balanced jazz album that works best when you’re a night owl who enjoys quiet conversations with a glass of high quality wine. The big difference with the two previous albums is that jazz improvisations and solo´s are less prominent on Liquid Spirit. Trumpet and saxophones are placed in the background leaving more room for the piano. Whilst the piano is more present, Chip Crawford still holds the role of a supporting musician. Musically Liquid Spirit is constructed around Gregory Porter and this is not a shame at all. Porter is once more in great shape and proves to be a versatile artist. One can also say that Liquid Spirit is more subdued than its predecessors and with it he returns to the smoky New York jazz clubs of yesterday. Gold is for the grabbing but instead Porter taps into his roots. By doing so he will probably will not become the new King Midas of jazz. At least for now, for Liquid Spirit still is a great authentic performance that holds up Porter´s legacy of being essential in contemporary jazz.
Label: Blue Note
- No Love Dying (3:56)
- Liquid Spirit (3:36)
- Lonesome Lover (3:11)
- Water Under Bridges (3:32)
- Hey Laura (3:19)
- Musical Genocide (3:45)
- Wolfcry (4:10)
- Free (5:01)
- Brown Grass (4:17)
- Wind Song (3:23)
- The “In” Crowd (3:37)
- Movin’ (4:49)
- When Love Was King (6:52)
- I Fall in Love Too Easily (7:48)
Gregory Porter with the Metropole Orchestra, full concert@Paradiso, Amsterdam
Review by Wander Meulemans // VOR140913