Saturday, 21 August 2010


With his rich baritone sound and intelligent, sensual lyrics, Gregory Porter’s star is fast rising on the jazz and soul scene. This highly anticipated debut recording, which features seven compelling originals and four standards, captures the intensity of Gregory’s live performances and establishes him an important new voice in jazz, gospel, and soul. “A fantastic young singer” is the word from jazz icon Wynton Marsalis.
Album Notes
“It’s an album of love and protest,” says Gregory Porter of Water. Love and protest: inextricably twinned emotional drivers of jazz, and primary elements, along with faith and perseverance, of the social and spiritual trajectory of a people. “The full color of jazz is love, its songs of redemption, its power to the people,” Porter says. “It’s pretty and it’s ugly, like the blues, like the people that the music comes from. I think about these things when I’m writing. But when I bring it to fruition, I try to make it feeling.”

Maybe that is why Porter’s compositions, no matter the theme, possess such unerring grace and sweetness. It dwells in the bittersweet nostalgia of love lost, on the opening duet “Illusions” with pianist Chip Crawford; in the desert shimmer and glittering ornaments of “Pretty,” which the ensemble renders with the quicksilver lyricism of a fugue; in the whimsy, light-filled joy of “Magic Cup.” Even the righteous epic “1960 What,” with its succession of horn solos that wax martial or indignant, arcs toward a catharsis in trumpeter Melvin Vines’ plaintive scream.

Beneath it all courses water, the album’s title element and, says Porter, an almost accidental guiding theme that manifested itself as the work took form. The Nile, water of ancestry. The water the slaves crossed in the Middle Passage and in which so many met their end. Baptismal water, the water of belief and redemption. Urban water that rains down onto windows and pavements, tears away grime and gushes angry into gutters. And pastoral water too, the water of morning dew and gentle streams.

“The points in the music in which water comes up, for me, are the most killing moments on the album,” Porter says. But those riverine qualities �— ebb and flow, swell and release �— are hallmarks of the album as a whole, and of the way Porter, as a vocalist, approaches a single song. “I’ll start big and go down, start small and get big �— there’s an emotional arc I go through, and I try to have a beginning, a middle and end to each song.” Blessed with great texture, warmth and control, he can cast away the crutches of formalism, and moan and holler or whisper and hesitate before bringing it all back home.

The blues is overt on Water. So are gospel and soul. Addressing these core seams of American music is as important to Porter as is appreciating the jazz songbook or the legacy of his hero Nat King Cole. In the textures of church and country dwell the echoes of Porter’s childhood in Bakersfield, CA., a place where agriculture and opportunity drew Black folks from the South.

“That’s where I got the gospel rearing I have,” Porter says. “Outdoor services in the dirt, a woman from Texas with three gold teeth in her mouth, singing her heart out. I don’t know if I would have got that if Bakersfield was slicker.” The place owned a kind of rough beauty: “Mornings the sun was bright and we’d go out and lie on some cement, there were birds and lizards and the smell of jasmine and honeysuckle, the water in the gutter seemed like it was a stream.”

Porter’s music still brims with this keenness to the lyricism of small things. He carried it through his training, the years of musical theatre in regional productions and a long Broadway run of “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” that established him on the New York scene. His artistic pantheon includes Cole, Joe Williams, Jimmy Witherspoon, King Pleasure but also Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gave.The a cappellas of Mahalia Jackson inspired his solo delivery of the classic “Feeling Good,” this album’s coda.

An old soul, Porter could not help but turn Water into a generational encounter, anchored by the stirring contribution of the great James Spaulding on “Black Nile” and “Wisdom,” a song of deep spiritual force. Crawford and Vines represent the new old-heads; the rest of the band are young guns on the New York scene. They recorded in a big open room, running the tunes down straight, top to bottom: “I wanted to get a live sound, the feeling of this music just coming together,” Porter says. “Any cool things that happened, just happened. That’s the way it went down.”

These days, Porter makes his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; when he’s not on tour, he’s often found in Harlem, stirring the hip, diverse crowd at the venerable St. Nick’s Pub. The city has changed; so has the country, and even the music as well. What Gregory Porter knows, and shares in his music, is that the spirit and the beauty remain.

-- Siddhartha Mitter

SPOTLIGHT ON The Mark Craddock Trio featuring Ken Sadak CDGoodbye Blue Monday

Album Notes

all songs written by MARK CRADDOCK (Fred James Music) BMI

Produced by Steve Hohn for Bluesland Productions
Executive Producer - Fred James
recorded & mixed at Fishin' Hole Recording Studio by Steve Hohn
mastered at Bluesland Studio by Fred James

Mark Craddock - Saxophone
Tom Reid - Bass
David Zehring - Drums
with special guest Ken Saydak - Keyboards

THE MARK CRADDOCK TRIO is actually the backup band for legendary Chicago keyboard player Ken Saydak. Ken has recorded for Rounder, Delmark and Evidence Records and has backed virtually every major Chicago Blues artist of the last 30 years, including Johnny Winter, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, Lonnie Brooks, Mighty Joe Young and Sam Lay. Ken was gracious enough to guest on the first solo effort by Mark and the band.

The Mark Craddock Trio hails from Southern Colorado, but Mark made a name for himself in the 1980s on the West Coast where he appeared regularly in the house band at John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room. Drummer David Zehring is originally from the Kansas City area but toured with Ann Margret in the early 1960s. He worked with KC jazz legend Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson in the 1970s and more recently with Nashville blues artists Fred James and Mary-Ann Brandon. Bassist Tom Reid has been a fixture on the Colorado music scene for many years and has worked regularly with Taxim Records recording artist Steve Hohn, leader of the band The Taints and producer of this CD. The MC3 has one foot firmly in the grand tradition of the 1960s sound of Blue Note and Prestige Records, and the other in the current "Jam Band Jazz" sound pioneered by Medeski, Martin & Wood.

The Mark Craddock Trio featuring Ken Saydak may be filed under "Jazz", but there is much to like for fans of any kind of funky music.