Jazz Lover? Dig This Review: Gregory Porter, Esperanza Spalding, and Robert Glasper

Posted: May 16, 2012 in Entertainment & Arts, LaCharles Ward, Music

If you, like me, are an avid listener of great music, but especially jazz then this brief  (not that long, read it) review of my three favorite albums will serve useful for you. I have been waiting to write up this review for quite some time—I like to listen to the albums thoroughly before conversing about it to others. Thus far, I have listened to each of the albums almost everyday since their release. Each of the albums unequivocally add nuance to the genre of jazz in their own distinctive way, which, to be honest, is what contributes to their amazing success. Not to mention the musicians and vocalists. The albums are: Be Good by Gregory Porter, Radio Music Society by Esperanza Spalding, and Black Radio by Robert Glasper (The Robert Glasper Project). If you have listened to any of these albums then you are, of course, listening to some damn good music. The albums are sonorous, the arrangements are just fire, and the tracks, well—you will have to listen.

Be Good by Gregory Porter, which is a follow up to his album, Water (which I should say, was like walking across water, excellent!), showcased (yet again) the agility, classic, and impeccable voice of Porter. His soulful voice takes one on a rollercoaster of classy originals to perennial familiars—his adeptness with his assured tenor voice is nothing par of exuberant. Oh, and the horns, the horns on this album are, in my opinion, worthy of bowing down to the “horn gods” if they at all exist, the arrangements are just pristine. His song “Be Good (Lion’s Song),” is a nice and mellow original piece by him—its like sitting on the lawn in Chicago’s Millennium Park daydreaming—the slow tempo song allows one to tangibly and vicariously live through the vocals of Porter. Likewise the horn, piano, and drums in this piece will have you longing for more as the song nears its end (climax). Nearing the end of the album, Porter ends with what I would label his dénouement—with songs like “Worksong”—which is a breakneck version of the great Nat Adderley’s “Worksong” that will indubitably give you chills.  Porter’s singing is flawless throughout the entire album, and there is some great blowing, the improvisations are vibrant—featuring saxophonist such as Yosuke Sato and Tivon Pennicott. If you haven’t listened yet, you should.

Ah, the great jazz vocalist and bassist, Esperanza Spalding, brings it on her new album Radio Music Society. Sidenote: I have always liked Spalding, before her feature at the White House. Oh, and to be extremely clear, I was glad Spalding won that Grammy! Anyway, back to my review. The Portland bassist-vocalist opens with a groovy up-tempo song “Radio Song” that is bound to get you moving your body (or for the reticent, bobbing your head), she will truly have you “singing along with love in your heart, because you like to, because you need to”. As with Porter’s, her album showcases her nimble voice and mastery with the bass—electric and upright. Just. Splendid. This album melds pop, funk, and soul with airtight jazz—no easy feat. For example, the soulful sound of “Black Gold,” which is an affirming song for all people of color but especially Black men who, to put it lightly, are constantly put down. This song is aimed at listeners who may not have a deep interest in Jazz; however, Spalding keeps the track firmly rooted in a jazz lineage. Then we get to a groovy, sexy, and soulful-jazzy cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,” between the saxophone great Joe Lovano and the vocals of Spalding, the two of them, listeners are bound to love this track. If you don’t have it already, you should cop Radio Music Society.

Lastly but certainly not least, Black Radio by Robert Glasper, in one word, is epic! Just the first track “Lift Off” will have you craving more. Analogous to Spalding, Glasper’s album is infused with pop, funk, soul, and, of course hip-hop, which we can hear throughout his album—just magisterial. This is a jazz musicians dream, the ability to fuel improvisations vis-à-vis pop tracks—Glasper does it with precision, soul, and adroitness. Oh, and be sure to adjust your ears to hear his excellent acoustic piano groove, wow! The album begins with a sultry rendition of Mongo Santamria’s “Afro Blue” featuring Erykah Badu’s sly voice while Glasper with his signature style keeps up the track with his acoustic obbligato, must listen! It is sinuous.  That’s not it.  On another track, Lalah Hathaway soulful and expressive voice covers  “Cherish the Day” by Sade—Glasper (with his incontestable skills on the keys) plays a running commentary around the vocal. Continuing his experiment, the sexy-as-hell voice of Me’Shell N’Degeocello sends chills down my spine as she does the vocals on the song “The Consequences of Jealousy,” her voice and the underlying soulful tones by Glasper on the acoustic piano is second-to-none. Oh, be sure to dig the groove session at the 5-minute mark. Then we have one of my favorites off the album, “Why Do We Try” featuring Stokley William (lead singer of Mint Condition), this is a track that is bound to send you on a nostalgic rollercoaster as it did me but also get you thinking about how underrated Stokely’s artistry is. As pop culture critic and professor, Mark Anthony Neal notes, “The genius of Glasper’s new recording is its willingness to expand the range of what we consider black music and what black radio might consider as appropriate for black or so-called “urban” audiences.  Similarly, scholar and musician, Guthrie Ramsey, who also just released his own album The Colored Waiting Room (review coming soon), writes, “[Black Radio] plays with sonic, social, and iconic symbols in a way that recalibrates calcified, boring ideas about genre and turns them on their head, all with a good sense of funky adventure. A must listen.

Pushing our intelligibility of “what jazz is”, all three of these artists remind listeners of the complexity and nuances of jazz and what can be done to it as a genre.  The albums are always on rotation at my home—they should be on at yours as well. In fact, I just ran 4 miles while listening to Black Radio. Peace.

  1. Dennis Stout says:

    Brother Ward,

    You highlight the true essence of music in this post. I can’t stress enough the resemblance of God in these melodic gifts. On a many occasions, Robert and Gregory have brought me to near tears as I rejoice at the sound of heavenly inspirations. God lives in the strangest places.

    Sad to say, the beauty of this dying art — creative instrumentation paired with raw vocals — will be overshadowed by the extensive marketing teams of the garbage we are force fed. Though the fate of good music, as this, only lives with those who think beyond the rudimentary human needs, my gratitude is extended in thanks to you for increasing the projectile of such a beautiful auditory experience.

    Peace. Love. And Soul Brotha.

  2. Joe D. says:

    You’re 3 for 3, and that ain’t bad! Don’t forget to check out Marshall Gilkes (Last Words), Oscar Utterstrom (Departure), and lastly John Daversa (Artful Noise) – Joe D.

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