In September 2013, Gregory Porter released his third album Liquid Spirit to widespread acclaim. What caught the attention of many of his listeners was not just Porter’s smooth, cascading vocals but his ability to make Jazz, a fading genre, current once more. Porter seamlessly straddles across genres such as Gospel, RnB and Soul which is what makes his music so accessible in a market with very little space for Jazz-inspired music. The album has been an unbridled success; over 80 weeks in the UK Chart and the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. This places Porter in a position of cult status amongst a small, but devoted Jazz audience. Following its success, Porter has released a Special Edition of Liquid Spirit with six bonus tracks. They feature appearances from Jamie Cullum and a Claptone remix of ‘Liquid Spirit’.
The album’s opener ‘No Love Dying’ plays off of a delicate piano arrangement with Porter demonstrating a wide vocal range within the opening seconds of the track. The entrance of pattering drums and saxophone work terrifically well with Porter’s sumptuous vocals.
‘Liquid Spirit’ sets heads nodding and hands clapping with its pace and erratic piano. The rapidity of tracks like ‘Liquid Spirit’ and ‘Free’ inject a sense of urgency and energy into Porter’s Jazz infusions which make them perfect for festivals. But critically, Porter balances this with eloquent ballads in the form of ‘When Love Was King’ and ‘Hey Laura’. With these tracks, Porter keeps the arrangement minimal so his vocals can provide an emotional punch- it gives his music that versatility. The album flits effortlessly between fragile ballads and upbeat jazz which as a live performer, makes Porter someone who could fit into a stadium bill as easily as he could into an intimate gig in a basement bar.
“The howl of the horn solo chucks us into a time machine and sends us back to the heyday of 1960s Jazz”
As much as Porter is trying to update Jazz for the 21st Century, there are still tracks that hearken back to the Golden Age of Jazz. ‘Lonesome Lover’ in particular is a highlight for any old-school Jazz enthusiasts. ‘Take me back where I belong’ wails Porter over the playful stutter of drums. As for the horn section, it answers Porter’s call. The howl of the horn solo chucks us into a time machine and sends us back to the heyday of 1960s Jazz. Here Porter sits besides his finest Jazz contemporaries with confidence.
The six tracks featured on the Special Edition again nod to the past with covers of some real classics that are not just limited to Jazz, but some of the finest crooners of the 50s and 60s. ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ is a dreamy affair under Porter’s velvet vocals. ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ finds a renewed elegance with Porter’s voice juxtaposed against the aggressive clatter of drums and the suddenness of the horn section. ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, a collaboration with Julie London, again shows off Porter’s flexibility as a vocalist, his voice echoing over an orchestral arrangement.
The final track features fellow contemporary jazzer Jamie Cullum on a cover of Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. The song was also recently covered on Lana Del Rey’s Honeymoon but Porter’s rendition is much more cheerful. The cover is perhaps the most modern on the album as a whole and that in itself is a testament to Porter. With Liquid Spirit, there is a transition of traditional Jazz that is respectful and celebratory of its roots. The covers are worthy embellishments on an already brilliant album and if the original release didn’t hint at it before, we can now be sure that Porter is more than just the voice of Jazz’s 21st Century generation, he’s the complete entertainer.