Notwithstanding the dire economic straits of jazz, the music appears to be as healthy as ever on the bandstand. Players are taking care of business; the rest of us need to keep buying their music and showing up at gigs. Here's a handful of titles that have lately caught my ear and are getting substantial airplay in Jazz a la Mode.
Liquid Spirit Blue Note
I got my first glimpse of Porter at the Montreal Jazz Fest in June. He was at Club Soda, but with his receptiveness to a chorus of front pew fans showering him with sweetness and requests, it felt more like Second Baptist Church. I found it exhilarating to see a new artist connecting so readily with an audience eager for down home swing and soul.
Dee Dee Bridgewater extolled Porter in a recent Jazz Times feature as an “old spirit reborn,” a stylist who brings tears to her eyes. “He’s like a composite of a lot of great black men. [He] speaks to that feminine wile in every woman I know. He makes us swoon. He projects this gentle giant, and he’s a good-looking man. He’s like, the whole thing.”
What Dee Dee and others love about Porter is the rich, commanding timbre of his baritone, the esprit de corps of his working and recording band (thanks, Blue Note, for your restraint), and a respect for tradition embodied in his declaritive, "Musical Genocide." "Give me a blues song, Tell the world what’s wrong/And what about the gospel singer, Heavenly messages of love/And the soul man with your heart in his hand, Singing his stories of love and pain/Whoa, I do not agree, I will not commit nor will I submit to musical genocide.”
Liquid Spirit is Porter's Blue Note debut, and follows on two previous releases for Motema, including last year's Be Good, which featured ten originals as well as "Work Song" and an a capella rendition of "God Bless the Child." His latest concludes with "I Fall in Love Too Easily," the Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn classic that closed the Montreal show, and includes Abbey Lincoln's "Lonesome Lover," and "The In Crowd." The rest are originals, songs rooted in love, hope, heartache, and timeless truths. Porter is especially skillful at framing his personal narrative within bonafide jazz arrangements.
On "Moving," he sings "I feel just like a kite/But one without a string/One that's floating around/I don't know what tomorrow will bring." True enough for all of us, but as contemporary jazz singers go, Porter is securely grounded.
Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band
Game Changer Capri
Talk about novelty: 16 flutists, 3 guest soloists, and rhythm. Hubert Laws, Nestor Torres, and former Northampton resident Paul Lieberman are among the featured players; Bill Cunliffe wrote some of the arrangements; and Ryerson selected impeccable material that includes “Stolen Moments,” “Daahoud,” “Speak Like a Child,” “Con Alma,” and “Impressions.” Flute fans will delight; flute skeptics, think again.
Stephen Riley Quartet
Stephen Riley first came to my attention several years ago when Lew Tabackin identified him in a Downbeat Blindfold Test. That I’d never even heard of him made me sit up and take notice of Tabackin’s observation that Riley took tone and concept seriously and impressed him as a unique combination of Paul Gonsalves and Warne Marsh. In other words, his sound is dry, airy, and subdued, his harmonics edgy and nuanced. The North Carolina native has toured with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and he's featured on Marcus Roberts' recent octet recording, Deep in the Shed: A Blues Suite. But he's heard to best advantage on the seven duo, trio, and quartet sessions he's made for Steeplechase, several of which feature this date's rhythm section of Neal Caine and Jason Marsalis. Pianist Peter Zak, who makes his debut with Riley on Lover, says the tenor player has a penchant for finding "old tunes off the beaten track...and comes up with really challenging ideas about every song." Here they include such delightful oddities as "When I Take My Sugar to Tea," and the Ted Fio Rito-penned, "When Lights Are Low," in addition to material that reflects Riley's ongoing interest in works by Monk ("Evidence") and Wayne Shorter ("Deluge").
Jay Clayton with Houston Person and John DiMartino
Harry Who? Sunnyside
Here’s a surprising combination, vocal innovator Jay Clayton with the mainstream tenor great Houston Person. Pianist DiMartino’s been featured on Person’s recent High Notes, and Freddy Cole’s terrific new This and That. He’s a sensitive, stimulating accompanist, and Person’s an old hand at blowing behind singers, principally the late Etta Jones. But it’s Clayton’s dry, unaffected take on the well-crafted movie songs of Harry Warren that makes this worthwhile. Clayton notes that she'd been singing "There Will Never Be Another You" long before she learned who it was composed by, and she's chosen well from Warren's vast array of 800 songs, including "I Wish I Knew," "September in the Rain," "This Is Always," "I Only Have Eyes for You," "At Last," and "You'll Never Know," for this tribute from one Italian-American, Judith Colantone, to another, Salvatore Antonio Guaragna.
My Groove, Your Move Sharp Nine
Gilad is the son of Sharp Nine proprietor Marc Edelman, but worry not of nepotism. The 25-year-old is an impressively mature stylist on alto, a player who sounds like he's absorbed soulful, big-toned masters like Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Red, and Lou Donaldson. His debut should satisfy his goal of making "the kind of album that I would enjoy listening to." With front-line partner Joe Magnarelli on trumpet, and his former teacher David Hazeltine on piano, Edelman offers fresh takes on tunes by hard bop heroes Hank Mobley ("My Groove, Your Move") and Duke Pearson ("Sweet Honey Bee"), and the Songbook evergreens "I Love You," "On the Street Where You Live," and "The Way You Look Tonight." The rarely heard bossa nova, "Foi a Saudade," which Gilad credits Esther Phillips's "incredibly soulful version" for inspiring, is the session's most surprising discovery. I was heartened to see a straight-ahead date like My Groove earning four stars in this month's Downbeat, where reviewer Jon Garelik maintained that while it won't "transform jazz...jazz rarely gets better." Well said, Jon. Well done, Gilad.