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Gregory Porter’s jazz Grammy projects singer into national spotlights

Gregory Porter’s jazz Grammy projects singer into national spotlights
Jazz singer Gregory Porter won a Grammy Award for “Best Vocal Jazz Album” for his release “Liquid Spirit.” (Photo: Peter Tea)

The release late last year of “Liquid Spirit” was met with muted reaction by national listenership. No matter. Gregory Porter’s latest album is a tribute to high artistic quality seldom experienced today in American music, especially among its vocalist performers.

Listening carefully to Porter reveals his intelligent understanding of the blues and also his sense of soul as he addresses the various particulars of the human experience — alienation, romance, renewal, endeavor and bitterness.

Yet, it is difficult to precisely put Porter into any category. For many he evokes Teddy Pendergast — sexually smoldering, a libido always unleashed. Still for others, Porter’s sound and perspective is in some way distinctly early Marvin Gaye, where simple stories of love reach complex epic tonal form and also budding political consciousness.

Porter’s home is in jazz. As such, his recent notoriety puts him in a tradition populated by greats like Jimmy Rushing, Joe Williams, and, currently with Kevin Mahogany and Andy Bey.

Just as we think that superlative, high-sounding male jazz singers had gone extinct, Porter proves that large, resounding talent can still find an eager and deeply appreciative audience.

In January, Porter was awarded a Grammy Award for “Best Vocal Jazz Album” for “Liquid Spirit,” which fitted for the beauty and imaginative power of the songs.

Like Romare Bearden in his water color period, Porter paints cool, contemplative, hazy images that are as reassuring as they are provocative — they are moving in a way that suggest world-weary, hard-earned wisdom.

The album’s title song “Liquid Spirit,” explores the religious impulsivity of black music with sophisticated syncopation and an upbeat hand-clapping verve that connotes kinetic joy and holy reverence. Porter’s sound in this song is true, referencing his deep religious background.

“No Love Dying,” is an overture to the persistence of amorous partners. With Porter’s emotional swagger the song is pure and propulsive, giving deep sentiment and celebrating the human spirit.

And then there is “Hey Laura,” which is about how men have, for as long as we know, tried to apologize to their lovers about wrongdoing. Here the pained lover rings the doorbell late at night with the “bothering” question of whether “the rivers of your love flow up to me?”

“Brown Grass” is pure blues in the American tradition — lament, but also budding optimism. Porter asks, who has not understood the regret of searching for the grass on the other side only to find deep regret and a certain melancholy?

Porter is a gifted song writer who has penned many praised lyrics in a career that has lifted only in the last five years with releases such as: “Water” in 2010, and “Be Good” in 2012.

What is so distinctive about Porter is his poetic tone which plays to matching words for rhyming effects.

At 42, Porter has broken into the national scene as an emerging musical leader in jazz and is giving the genre a renewed, substantive tone.

His latest, award-winning album — and the ones recently before them — offer terrific listening and are worthy of careful attention.

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