Gregory Porter exudes presence. A portly bearded figure, he goes around in a distinctive combination of a hat and balaclava. And then there's the voice. A mellifluous baritone with warmth, emotional heft and the fluid melisma of black gospel and soul.
Named Rising Star in the Jazz Artist and Male Vocalist categories in this year's DownBeat Critics Poll, Porter is clearly on the ascendancy.
On his third album, his first for Blue Note, his self-written songs stand out. Liquid Spirit, driven by bass accents and insistent handclaps, combines jive rhythm with gospel. No Love Dying challenges with its tricky irregular metre, yet Porter delivers with assurance and eloquence.
The themes of regeneration and renewal, of water as spirit and as love recur in the lyrics - Porter's mother was a minister in California and these were often the theme of her sermons. Another childhood influence was Nat King Cole. This may explain the honeyed baritone that's so engaging.
Porter's long-time rhythm section of pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold keep the groove tight, and saxophonist Yosuke Sato contributes apposite solos. This is an excellent showcase for jazz singing and for someone growing into an important artist.
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