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Music Review ~ Gregory Porter "Water"

This review has been a long time coming. Ian Fong has blessed me by writing an excellent review of Gregory Porter's album Water. After reading it, you should be compelled to check the album out (if you haven't already). Thank you, Ian!

Gregory Porter - WaterGregory Porter, a vocal virtuoso who exhibits promising talent, is often compared to such jazz giants as Nat King Cole. The BBC decribed him as a “talent ready to fill that gap,” whose “voice and musicality [is something to be] reckoned with”.  International exposure to appreciators of jazz and well-respected musicians followed his highly-praised debut album, Water, for which Porter received a 2011 GRAMMY nomination for the “Best Jazz Vocal Album”. 

This album demonstrates Gregory Porter’s exemplary powerhouse voice with the ability to belt it out, yet reveals his impressive understanding and aesthetic control.   Covering a musical gamut from gospel to blues, R&B to bebop to ballads, Water documents a musical timeline for Porter’s influences throughout his life and musical career.

Water is best described as a theatrical play with many acts. Ingeniously crafted with original compositions, arrangements of jazz standards, and an assortment of spiritually-tinged songs, Gregory Porter brilliantly orchestrates a modern classic that bridges the old generation with the new. Notable players appear throughout the album such as standout alto saxophonist James Spaulding (who has performed with Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Max Roach, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra).   

Beginning this progressive album is a mellifluous duet between Gregory Porter and pianist Chip Crawford called Illusions. An original composition with heavy lyrics, Illusions portrays Porter’s vulnerability as he tries to recover from the rippling effect of a fallen relationship. Emotionally driven, Porter puts aside his authoritative voice to offer a breath of reality as he sorts through his “illusions” in life. 

Following this introspective tune is a rhythmically soulful composition entitled Pretty. This African inspired melody starts with a bass line that is followed by a commanding horn section arranged by powerhouse alto saxophonist Yoske Sato. The saxophone, trumpet, and trombone configuration on this tune is also featured on “Magic Cup”, an up-tempo romantic 4/4 tune with a 3/4 bridge, and on “1960 What?”, a politically driven account of the civil unrest and race riots in the “Motor City” (Detroit, MI). 

Later in the album, alto saxophonist James Spaulding rejoins the horn section in Porter’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile. Throughout Black Nile, Porter displays aggressive, penetratingly raw vocals.  He showcases his range as he improvises through a daunting chord progression that works around the tune’s harmonic center. 

Of the remaining tracks on the album, Porter finds beauty in the softness of his tone in two songs - the Hoagie Carmichael/Johnny Mercer standard Skylark and a Daniel Jackson/Gregory Porter original Wisdom. Accompanied by trumpeter Curtis Taylor on Skylark and alto saxophonist James Spaulding on Wisdom, Gregory Porter gracefully sings over the rhythm section like a bird gliding over water. 

This same focused sound is found on Lonely One and Water, the title track of the album. Yet, above all these ballads, nothing identifies this unique mellow style more than Porter’s version of the standard But Beautiful.  The clarity and determination in his voice is absolutely refreshing as he does another duet with pianist Chip Crawford. 

The last song on this prolific album is Gregory Porter singing a cappella on the classic Feeling Good.  Focusing only on his voice, this track exposes his deep, sultry baritone tone that resonates as he climbs through his vocal range. It is here where we truly see his rich seasoned technique. Feeling Good, not only acts as a perfect conclusion to the theatrical play that Porter masterfully crafts, but it leaves us with a warm feeling that he is set free from all his problems, troubles, illusions, relationships, and lastly, fear of moving forward― all of which were presented in the album. 

Whether Gregory Porter belts out over a high-energy arrangement or sings an a cappella melody, there is a deep, soulful, emotional intimacy in his voice and his remarkable spontaneity commands attention. 

His music influences not only musicians but anyone who is willing to look past their perceived differences.  Porter explains, “Jazz is a dynamic music that should encompass all of the human experience: love and protest, soul and truth, passion.  Humans connect to that no matter the age or race.” 

Want more information on Gregory Porter and his debut album Water?  Visit his website by clicking here

Tracks: Illusions; Pretty; Magic Cup; Skylark; Black Nile; Wisdom; 1960 What?; But Beautiful; Lonely One; Water; Feeling Good 

Personnel: Gregory Porter (vocals), Chip Crawford (piano), Aaron James (bass), Emmanuel Harold (drums), James Spaulding (alto saxophone-track 5,6), Yoske Sato (alto saxophonist- track 2,3,5,7,9), Curtis Taylor (trumpet-track 2,3,4,5,7), Robert Stringer (trombone-track 2,3,5,7), Kamau Kenyatta (producer)


 Ian is a creative, passionate musician who thrives to explore jazz with a new perspective. Born and raised in the Bay Area, he was introduced to a variety of music at a young age. He started playing the alto saxophone when he was 9 years old and later switched to tenor saxophone 3 years later. It was not until 8th grade that he experienced a love for jazz. Auditioning and joining his school's jazz band, Ian began exploring the world of improvisation. His early and continuing influences include John Coltrane, Joshua Redman, Coleman Hawkins, Hank Mobley, Joe Lovano, and Wayne Shorter.

His blog is Jazz in Perspective.

Reader Comments (2)

love this CD, in fact driving home from the Rochester Jazz festival, we listened to it.

June 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwayne

Hi Wayne and Lady M!

I ♥ this album, too. I shared that with Gregory when I met him at the GRAMMYs. I got to chat with him on two different occasions while I was in Los Angeles.

I would really like to see him perform live.


June 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterDonna M
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