Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit, Blue Note

From 2013. Everyone who hears this record will want to talk about it and hit replay. The same happened with Water, and especially Be Good. And it doesn’t matter that Gregory Porter is on a big label now, the magic is still there. Not every song here …

Published: 25 Dec 2019. Updated: 10 months.

From 2013. Everyone who hears this record will want to talk about it and hit replay. The same happened with Water, and especially Be Good. And it doesn’t matter that Gregory Porter is on a big label now, the magic is still there. Not every song here is a classic, however, that would be a bit much to ask, but the positive ‘No Love Dying’ is; and so too the moving song-of-regret ‘Water Under Bridges’. Not to forget ‘Wind Song’. But possibly best of all and prepare yourself for a sensory overload on the tearjerker ‘Wolfcry’. Title song ‘Liquid Spirit’ is a gospelised grower once you move properly into its 'Wade in the Water' ambience past the hand claps, and the band throughout is as workman-like and real as before.

Musical director Chip Crawford on keyboards understands the Californian instinctively; and alto saxman Yosuke Sato has the right attitude particularly on the title track. Bassist Aaron James in the catchy ‘Liquid Spirit’ outro crys out to be sampled a good deal. ‘Hey Laura’ has that youthful innocence someone like Gregory’s friend Jamie Cullum used to capture so well at the start of his career, while ‘Musical Genocide’ by contrast is a complicated song about the validity of older styles of black music. It’s where Porter really starts to testify and the alto and tenor sax response chorus to the “I do not agree” part is embued with a visceral near-eastern raggedy quality that’s very effective. Again I guess this latter bit will be sampled. ‘When Love Was King’ relates to the same socio-political-religious side of Porter’s musical personality as ‘1960 What?’ endowed with the compelling story-telling dimension he does so well. ‘Wolfcry’, which follows ‘Musical Genocide’, is the big love song on the album, where Porter goes deepest and the lyrics go into another sphere: “After I have saved you/and gathered all the pieces of your heart/that’s when it starts/then you gain your confidence/and leave your innocence/and vulnerability with me.” ‘Brown Grass’, again a song of regret, fundamentally, is also about admission, “now I’m open wide to the truth I’ve left behind/a love so hard to find/now I find myself falling down on brown grass.” The very 1970s piano intro to ‘Wind Song’ is a joy, and Porter’s use of the higher part of his register gives this veritable road song an urgency and emotion not found anywhere else on the album.

Liquid Spirit is an album with some thoughtful and sincere lyrics throughout on the original songs, a facet of Porter’s artistry that is easy to forget about given the majesty of his voice. I’m not amazingly taken by the version of the Page brothers’ ‘The "In" Crowd’ but next song the rootsy and hooky break-up song ‘Movin’' (with drummer Emanuel Harrold key) and again the horn arrangements shine. The refrain “movin’ in the wrong direction/so far away from me” rewards your patience. In a good room this song will fly. When Porter adds the extra word or two, like “lady” or “yeah, yeah”, as the song develops it’s the Lou Rawls side of his performance craft that comes through, and then the horns practically dance. The sobering line: “What does it mean when you say you want to be free?” the clever come down. ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’ at the end feels brand new. SG

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Alex Merritt Quartet, Anatta, F-IRE

From November 2015. This quartet album – debuting tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt with old hands bassist Sam Lasserson, pianist John Turville and drummer Jeff Williams is one of the best UK jazz recordings I’ve heard this year but I’ll try to curb my …

Published: 25 Dec 2019. Updated: 10 months.

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From November 2015. This quartet album – debuting tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt with old hands bassist Sam Lasserson, pianist John Turville and drummer Jeff Williams is one of the best UK jazz recordings I’ve heard this year but I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm to give a bit more detail. Anatta, the title comes from Buddhism and means ‘no self’, is a Cool School record and relies on that diffident, seemingly casual cultured cold storage bebop style familiar from Warne Marsh, Lennie Tristano and vintage Lee Konitz records (in Williams there is a direct connection with Konitz).

Clever and very musically advanced the band play around with contrafacts that Merritt has written based on lines of Tristano, Marsh and Konitz plus the material also includes treatments of Monk, Eubie Blake and Thelonious Monk material and Merritt’s own tunes that match well.

Merritt, who studied at the Birmingham Conservatoire, has a softly spoken slightly gruff sound that navigates a lot of territory often manipulating little half scales and elaborative forays, almost pushing at the tune to reveal some hidden trapdoor. And he is elegantly backed by Williams, Turville and Lasserson.

You might think you have stepped back into the 1950s and entered in on some post-midnight jam session in New York when you hear this or even have found yourself transported into a photograph by someone like W. Eugene Smith. But it’s more a successful musical universe the four have created than any laboured sense of pastiche. SG