Gregory Porter - Water (2010)

Gregory Porter
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Gregory Porter knows the power of a mother's words. His story also stands as proof that music can inspire and change lives. Porter wrote a song called "Once Upon A Time I Had A Dreamboat" when he was five years old. The enterprising kindergartner recorded himself singing the song and played it for his mother, who told Porter that he sounded like Nat King Cole. That comment encouraged Porter to continue singing and to learn more about Nat King Cole. Porter spent hours listening to Cole's recordings. The music comforted Porter, who grew up with an absentee father. The story of how Cole became Porter's surrogate musical father is the subject of a play in which Porter wrote, directed and served as the star.

Ironically, the four cover songs Porter included on Water, his debut album, were either made famous by vocalists other than Cole or were originally written as instrumentals. Vocally, Porter does share some qualities with Cole.

Gregory Porter knows the power of a mother's words. His story also stands as proof that music can inspire and change lives. Porter wrote a song called "Once Upon A Time I Had A Dreamboat" when he was five years old. The enterprising kindergartner recorded himself singing the song and played it for his mother, who told Porter that he sounded like Nat King Cole. That comment encouraged Porter to continue singing and to learn more about Nat King Cole. Porter spent hours listening to Cole's recordings. The music comforted Porter, who grew up with an absentee father. The story of how Cole became Porter's surrogate musical father is the subject of a play in which Porter wrote, directed and served as the star.

Ironically, the four cover songs Porter included on Water, his debut album, were either made famous by vocalists other than Cole or were originally written as instrumentals. Vocally, Porter does share some qualities with Cole. Like Cole, Porter has a rich and emotive voice. Porter shares the commitment to using precise diction that is characteristically found in all great jazz singers. It doesn't matter whether Porter is singing an up-tempo tune such as his swinging version of Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile" or a torch song like "Lonely One," the listener will understand each and every word. I'll have more to say about "Lonely One" soon enough.

Porter may count Cole as his primary influence, but his vocals and his ability to spin a musical yarn call to mind jazz vocalists such as Joe Williams, John Hendricks, Lou Rawls and Kevin Mahogany. The quality of the music on Water is equal to the quality of Porter's vocals. Porter as a songwriter brings the kind of lyricism to his songs that allow those tunes to fit comfortably with the songbook selections he included on Water.

"Pretty" is a love song that takes the listener across oceans. "Wisdom" is another bluesy number in which Porter sings about his understanding of the debt that he owes to our forefathers. "1960 What?" is a soul/jazz tune that tells the story of the riots that forever changed Detroit.

The high point on this very good album arrives at track number nine. "Lonely One" is one of those songs that the listener never gets tired of hearing.  Porter takes a conversational style in a song that tells the story of a woman who chose a man who turned out to be disrespectful, abusive and manipulating. "Lonely One" is the classic ‘I can treat you better' song that has been done and redone in R&B music over the years. However, Porter's jazz arrangement elevates "Lonely One" to classic status. The song doesn't sport overwrought vocals and Porter is more than willing to enter into a democracy with his sidemen. "Lonely One" is a relatively long five minutes and 43 seconds and it still seems that the song ends too soon and I find myself hitting repeat.  That's saying something, because the final two songs - the title track and an acappella version of "Feeling Good" - are both excellent.

Water brings to the forefront a new talent in Gregory Porter, an artist who has a number of classic, familiar elements in his style, but whose approach brings a freshness that  both jazz and soul fans should love. I think Nat King Cole would be pleased. Highly Recommended

By Howard Dukes

 
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