New jazz artist Gregory Porter exhibits such vocal mastery that no less a jazz luminary than Wynton Marsalis has gone on record to call him “a fantastic young singer.” The debut album, Water, is out now on Motema Music.
For the recording of Water, Gregory Porter tapped a powerful cadre of strong players, among them the iconic alto sax player James Spaulding (Max Roach, Freddie Hubbard, and Bobby Hutcherson, et al). The album consists of original songs, with musical references to the old jazz greats, and a few re-worked standards like the Wayne Shorter song, “Black Nile.”
Saxophonist, pianist and composer Kamau Kenyatta, who Porter also calls his best friend, produced the CD. In fact, it is Kenyatta who bears much of the responsibility for Porter’s career trajectory, which can be traced back to Porter’s early days singing in small jazz clubs in San Diego. He lived there while at San Diego State University which he attended on a football scholarship, as an outside linebacker, until a shoulder injury sidelined him permanently. Kenyatta, along with saxophonist Daniel Jackson (Ray Charles, Buddy Rich, Art Farmer and more) came to recognize Gregory’s other standout talent, and nurtured the burgeoning performer. Kenyatta “taught him what he needed to know.”
Gregory Porter – “1960 What?”
“1960 What?” is somewhat divergent from the rest of the album. This 12-minute soulful track is Water‘s most political song. It’s inspired in part by Kamau Kenyatta’s stories of life in Detroit and by the 1963 assassination of Martin Luther King, as well as Porters’s own experiences growing up in Los Angeles.
Gregory Porter – “Wisdom”
“Wisdom” is a song of deep spiritual force, which can easily be interpreted to be about post-Katrina New Orleans. Emphasizing his gospel roots with lyrics that echo the traditional biblical song “Wade in the Water,” Porter metaphorically positions water as an impediment, and wisdom as the means to overcome it.