Every now and then a singer comes along who, on first listen, knocks you off your feet. His voice sounds fresh and yet it also has a touch of the old classic about it, his compositions have a modern approach but with a strong nod to the past.
The artist Killer Opening Songs has in mind is LA-born, but currently Brooklyn-based, new jazz sensation Gregory Porter.
Porter’s blues-baritone voice has been ubiquitous in the last couple of years. Not just his voice, mind, but also his tremendous physical presence. A bear of a man, this gentle giant would have been a loss to the jazz world had a shoulder injury not put paid to his American football career. He had been offered a full scholarship to San Diego University based on his sporting prowess. This is one of those occasions when K.O.S. has to say to itself: “what if...?”
Luckily, there’s no “what if...?”. Porter’s debut album, Water, was released in 2010 and it immediately earned the newcomer a Grammy nomination. It is easy to imagine why. The Killer Opening Song, Illusion, slowly peels away the layers of Porter’s many talents from the outset. What renders the track poignant is the subject matter: heartbreak. Not just any heartbreak, this is heartbreak that burns inside, that leaves myriad unanswered questions behind: “I've been searching all the corners of my room/sweeping dust and memories beneath the carpet that we purchased/somewhere on some cool retreat, somewhere in Africa somewhere”
That is just the start of what can be considered already a soul classic. As autumn songs go, this K.O.S. works perfectly for this time of the year, Porter’s articulate lyrics against a background of fallen yellow, orange and auburn leaves. In fact the weather plays an important part in this Killer Opening Song, with the singer building up a beautiful and yet painful simile based on his emotional paralysis: I've been checking for the weather and the time/I'm like a bag above that's dropped and drifting in the wind/that blows from hurricanes that comes just after grey clouds fill my eyes.
Honeyed tones, however, is not the only distinctive feature of Water. This is a very well-balanced album moving from musical brawn (1960 What?) to the title track, an invitation to address life’s essential questions using one of nature’s essential elements. The record closes with one of the better covers K.O.S. has heard recently, an a capella version of Feeling Good, a composition made famous by the inimitable Nina Simone. Well, Gregory Porter’s take on it is just as good.
If you are looking for a satisfying, all-round jazz CD with a dash of blues and old soul thrown in for good measure, Water is the album. And it all starts with Illusion, a monster of a Killer Opening Song.
Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 24th November at 10am (GMT)