It’s been said before, but you wait years for a great male jazz vocalist and then several come along all at once. Gregory Porter stands out, though – not just because of his strong, deceptively-simple singing style via Donny Hathaway and Nat King Cole, but also because of his insistence on writing his own quality material.
New album Be Good continues this trend with nine originals and three choice covers. Recorded in just three days, it might just give Porter a crossover hit Norah Jones-style, because it maintains its serene, utterly melodic mood throughout without ever being mawkish. His songs still possess that magical but elusive ‘this-is-familiar’ factor, but the revelation this time around is the lyrical compassion and complexity.
The album rarely veers far away from mid-tempo grooves and ballads, though there’s lots of room for high-class soloing (special mention to trumpeter Keyon Harrold who’s never scared of pushing the envelope). Porter is incapable of over-singing, apparently taking his cue from the long, effortless lines of horn players like Lester Young or Dexter Gordon.
The delicious spoken word intro to ‘Real Good Hands’ leads into a moving, Bill Withers-ish tale of family and loyalty, while the gospel-tinged ‘Mother’s Song’ feels like the centrepiece of the album with its uplifting lyrics, extended solo sections and exalting finale. ‘Bling Bling’ could be the ‘1960 What’ of this album, an instantly catchy jazz riposte to material obsessions with the memorable line ‘I am so rich in love and so poor in everything that makes love matter’, a blazing alto sax sermon by Yosuke Sato and a pleasingly-scrappy drum breakdown. Porter tears up ‘Work Song’ with some real passion and channels Nat Cole on the elegant closing a cappella ‘God Bless The Child’.
It’s a solid album from a major artist that sustains its mood beautifully. Definitely one for romantics everywhere.